A collection of short stories, essays, blog-posts and photographs from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

The Ubud Handbook

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your free guide to living in Ubud and Bali in an online nutshell.

Tales from the heart of the island.

The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

Tourism & Self-Enrichment ~ Eat, Pray, Self-Love

I'M SITTING IN Ubud's Black Beach Italian restaurant on Jalan Hanuman waiting for my spaghetti bolognese. A tattooed Australian woman in her thirties – all swinging-tits-in-the-salad and no bra – picks the table in front of me. Her obedient female friend, all frumpy and over-forty and painfully low on self-esteem, takes the opposite chair.

The Tattooed Lady kicks off with a beer...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Culture Bites ~ Cinema Paradiso

BOOBS AND POLITICAL CENSORSHIP have never been far from the Silver Screen. In Indonesia, they're its bedrock.

The silent flicks of Thirties' Bali sucked hungrily on the island's bare-breasted cabinet-postcard image that encouraged so many gilded tourists – and dodgy stars like Charlie Chaplin – to visit its sultry, forbidden shores...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Getting Around ~ It's Silly Season Again

I'M WAITING FOR a friend on Jalan Suweta in Central Ubud. Three young Scandinavian women are at the side of the road clinching a deal on their new scooter rentals. They mount, and look non-plussed as they hunt for the ignition. The rental lady demonstrates how to switch their motorbikes on.

It really doesn't bode well...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Holidays from the Jungle ~ The Heads of Trunyan

MAYBE I SHOULD have taken Lonely Planet's guide to Bali and Lombok more seriously. Three times they warn the unwary: 'Don't go'. I'm stopped at this remote village's edge by a tough-looking man in his twenties who wants me to change an Australian twenty-dollar bill for Indonesian rupiah. 'And don't worry about the exchange rate'. On his black T-shirt are near-foot-high, white letters that read:

'YOU SUCK'.

Welcome to Trunyan, one of the oldest villages in Bali...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Tourism & Self-Enrichment ~ The Land of Self-Healing and Snake Oil

MAN-BUNS, CAMEL-TOES, hipster beards and Buddha tattoos flood the downtown Ubud scene. Not enlightened yet? Then you're late to the Conscious Party, kid.

Shake out those Kundalini Awakenings with some HoopYogini™ and Bhakti Boogie® at the Yoga Barn. Celebrate The Divine Feminine with a splash of Shakti Dance. Puff up your lungs in a Sacred Breathwork Immersion Workshop, insert a Jade Egg at The Womb Temple for luck and polish it off with some tantalising Manifesting And Abundance.

You know you're worth it...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Religion Matters ~ An American Calonarang

NOW YOU KNOW how Jim Carrey felt. Several nights ago, to celebrate the grand opening of the newly-renovated, Disney-style temple in Campuhan, there was a Calonarang ceremony – a spiritually-charged ritual drama where sacred masks are donned, souls are possessed by the unseen and deep trance ensues.

But this one was a little different...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Getting Around ~ Surviving Bali on a 'Bike

CHRISTINA IS A SAVVY 60-year-old American who's come to Ubud to set up nest. She's never ridden a motorbike before and has already fallen off twice in two weeks.

– "I've just learned how to turn left," she says, "without feeling as if I'm going to tip over..."

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Getting Around ~ The Other Side of the Coin

IBU KETUT'S LATE. She's normally at my house by 10 in the morning: I'm the second job of the day. After me, she'll spend another eight hours cooking in the kitchen of a five-star Ubud hotel to support her seven children.

It's a great life if you don't weaken.

She starts sweeping, and I notice she's limping. There's a spreading bruise and an angry graze running past her knee and onto her calf. She wants to carry on cleaning: I sit her down and ask her what happened.

She's shy; I press...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Personal Stories ~ Diary of a Market Girl

"I DON'T KNOW how old I am. I was born on Pagerwesi Day – a Balinese ceremonial day where we put offerings out for our Gods to protect our homes and compounds from evil. Pagerwesi means 'iron wall' in Balinese. That's how I remember my birthday. We didn't use Western calendars back then.

I think I'm about 49 years old.

I left school when I was nine. My parents had ten children, although two of them died – my younger sister when she was still learning to speak, and my older brother when he was about ten. We don't know why they died – they just didn't wake up in the morning...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Food Talk ~ The King of Stink

SOFT, SUCCULENT, SPIKY and stinky, the durian fruit is canonised by some and demonised by many, many more. Known to its fans as the 'King of Fruits', it's heavily rich in minerals and vitamins and a sworn enemy of free radicals.

The thing is, not everyone's on the same page – and its critics don't pull any punches when it comes to the pong.

"Ungodly."

"Like a three-week-old dead cow in custard..."

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Religion Matters ~ The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter

The Indian Lord Ganesha certainly got around. First stop on his round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinayaka and then as the dancing red Nritta Ganapati – before a full-blown alter-ego revamp as the scarlet, twelve-armed Maha Rakta Ganapati. Now, Maha Rakta Ganapati was unusually fond of skullcaps filled to the brim with human flesh and blood, and this we might charitably put down to a bad trip.

After all, what happens in Tibet stays in Tibet...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Tourism & Self-Enrichment ~ From Ubud With Love

I'M STAYING AT A CUTE, family-run bed-and-breakfast – a homestay – on Ubud's trendy Jalan Goutama. A young member of the homestay's family tours her compound, blessing it with incense and rice and jepun-flower offerings in little hand-made palm-leaf boxes.

All is well in Bali's spiritual capital...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


Holidays from the Jungle ~ A Line in the Sand

GILI AIR, LOMBOK. We take a morning walk along the pristine beach, past the new dive centres and manicured lawns where the dry jungle and coconut groves and lazy, grazing cows used to be. Two sun-bathing white men sit in a little home-made nest in the virgin sand. One has balanced a camera on his knees and is pointing it steadily at the edge of the shallow sea...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


© 2021 John Storey.
All Rights Reserved.

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The Last Pic

Portrait of the Day

Portraits from Bali by Ubud High

© 2021 Ubud High.


The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

© 2021 John Storey. All rights reserved.


The Ubud Handbook

There is no book. There is no e-book. Just what you see here. It's all imaginary. Enjoy.

The Ubud Handbook

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your free guide to living in Ubud and Bali in an online nutshell.

Food Talk

Durian ~ The King of Stink

"On the third bite," says one hater, "it was as though I'd just eaten a diseased, parasite-infested animal with a bad case of rabies. I prayed I wouldn't be sick because I really didn't want to taste it again on the way up..."


Personal Stories

Photo-realistic urban art by an anonymous street artist of a 1930s market scene in Bali, Indonesia

Diary of a Market Girl

"When I had my sixth and seventh babies at the hospital – my twin girls – the doctor ordered me to have a Caesarian. And without asking me, he tied my tubes off as well. I think he thought I'd had enough babies..."


Religion Matters

Balinese-Hindu offerings of rice, money, sweets, holy water and flower petals at Sebatu Springs, Bali, Indonesia

An American Calonarang

'To cut an all-night story short, the mask was donned by a dancer who fell into a deep trance. But instead of staying in the temple, he began to run. And run. He became violent and uncontrollable. He ran for four kilometers down the road – the crowd scrambled after him. He ended up in a cemetery just past my house, and in the dead of night began to do frenzied battle with unseen foes...'

'Kajeng Kliwon' ~ A Very Bad-Hair Day on Bali

'Kajeng Kliwon is the kind of day when anything that can happen will happen.

It invariably does.'


Culture Bites

1932 Virgins of Bali Thirties' nudie-cutie bare-native film poster 1930s Bali, Indonesia.

Cinema Paradiso

'Boobs and political censorship have never been far from the Silver Screen – in Indonesia, they're its bedrock. The silent flicks of Thirties' Bali sucked hungrily on the island's bare-breasted cabinet-postcard image that encouraged so many gilded tourists – and dodgy film-stars like Charlie Chaplin – to visit its sultry, forbidden shores...'


Getting Around ~ Bali 'Biking

Motorbike accident victim being treated for a leg-injury in an Ubud clinic in Bali, Indonesia

Surviving Bali on a 'Bike

"For me, some of the most dangerous people on the road are white people. I avoid them like the plague. You can tell the ones who are going to hurt others – the fixed grins, the hunched over the handle-bars, the wobbling around corners and shouts of indignation when they finally hit someone – because they have absolutely no idea how life and the road works around here..."

The Other Side of the Coin

'She starts sweeping and I notice she's limping. There's a spreading bruise and an angry graze running past her knee and down her calf. She wants to carry on cleaning – I sit her down and ask her what happened. She's shy; I press...'

It's Silly Season Again

'She tears into the traffic. She can't stop. She narrowly misses hitting a car head-on, swerves past a mum on a 'bike and slaloms across the road. Before she hits anyone – it's a miracle she doesn't – she falls in a bad-sounding heap of bent metal and smashing plastic. A group of Balinese rush to pick her up before the cops see her...'


Tourism & Self-Enrichment

Yoginis bliss out during an outdoor HoopYogini hula-hoop yoga class at the annual Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud, Bali Indonesia

Eat, Pray, Self-Love

'My concentration's shot to pieces. The spaghetti keeps falling off my fork. She's on her third large beer now. She starts to say 'facking' even more, and is speaking so loudly that people passing on the street have begun to look her way, and she's spitting bits of ciabatta bread and tomato and fish into her friend's dinner...'

The Land of Self-Healing and Snake Oil

'Shake out those Kundalini Awakenings with some HoopYogini™ and Bhakti Boogie® at the Yoga Barn. Celebrate The Divine Feminine with a splash of Shakti Dance. Puff up your lungs in a Sacred Breathwork Immersion Workshop®, insert a Jade Egg for luck at The Womb Temple™ and polish it off with some tantalising Manifesting And Abundance.

You know you're worth it...'

From Ubud With Love

I'm staying at a cute, family-run bed-and-breakfast – a homestay – on Ubud's trendy Jalan Goutama. A young member of the homestay's family tours her compound, blessing it with incense and rice and flower-petal offerings in little hand-made palm-leaf boxes.

All is well in Bali's cultural capital...'

A Dutchman Goes to a Gypsy Fortune-Teller

'A Dutch boy in Holland goes to a gypsy fortune-teller who tells him that he is, in fact, Balinese. His uncle then visits the Island of the Gods and brings him back a wooden carving of a bare-breasted lady.

Lucky for him it wasn't one of those funny-shaped wooden bottle-openers that looks like a cock...'


Holidays from the Jungle

The Heads of Trunyan

'Agricultural, and unpractised in the dark art of handling international tourists, the aristocratic farmer-people of Trunyan have acquired a damaging reputation for aggression. Their unique tourist draw – a jungle-cemetery where bodies are left in the open to disintegrate underneath a magical banyan tree – is regularly shunned by travellers on the time-sensitive tourist circuit...'

A Line in the Sand

'Ten meters away and the young man finally looks up – an inane, animal-like grin taped across his face as his girlfriend grips his porcelain butt and grimaces towards the empty blue sky. They disengage like street dogs, utter an invective in Russian, and stare...'


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And finally, the weather

Fake styrofoam clouds over the main 'Cloud' stage at the 'Plastic-Free Gili Air Music Festival' near Lombok, Indonesia

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