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

The Ubud Handbook « Diary of a Market Girl

“I gave birth to my first three children at home. Komang and Upi were born in the sawah (rice fields) while I was working. I'd always carry a piece of freshly sharpened bamboo with me, and I cut their umbilical cords myself before wrapping the babies up and carrying them home. 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...”

By John Storey. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2021 Ubud High.

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

Photo-realistic urban art by an anonymous street artist of a 1930s market scene in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

“I DON'T KNOW how old I am. I was born on Pagerwesi Day – a Balinese ceremonial day where we put out offerings for God, our ancestors and the spirits so that they'll 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.

My dad worked as a rice farmer in the fields around our village in Buleleng. There wasn't anything he didn't know about rice. I used to follow him around when I was a child, helping him to plant young stalks of rice and cutting down the harvest.

We always got huge harvests.

When I left school, my grandmother taught me how to massage pregnant women – she was our village midwife. That was my first job. I learned how to help turn the baby around as it was still growing, and how to massage the mothers as they were giving birth, and massage them afterwards when they were in pain.

I still massage women, but mostly elderly widows who are ill or sad. I'm a widow too, now, and we're in a kind of club.

My first experience of men was when I was beginning to menstruate.

My other job was selling fruit at the market. I was walking home one morning when two young Javanese men stopped on their motorbike. One of them suddenly lifted me onto the back between them. He held me tightly and put his hand over my mouth so I couldn't scream. It's like they'd done it before. Then they drove me to an empty beach, and they held me down as they were trying to take my pants off.

My mother always told me that if men did this to me, I should throw dirt in their eyes and kick them as hard as I could in the groin. She showed me exactly where to kick them. So I got some sand and threw it in the eyes of the first one, and then I threw sand into the other one's eyes until they couldn't see, and I stood up and kicked them both in the groin as hard as I could.

Then I ran away.

I came to an empty temple on the beach, and I went in because I knew God would protect me. I spent the night alone there, and the men never found me. I spent the next two days walking home.

My parents thought I'd died. They were worried sick about me. I think the men were going to throw me in the ocean after they'd raped me so that I couldn't talk.

A lot of girls in Buleleng used to disappear in those days.

I met my future husband while I was working in the sawah – the rice fields – during a harvest. I fell in love with him. We started dating when I was about 13, and by 14 or so I was pregnant. This is how most Balinese girls get married. We date one man, and when the girl falls pregnant the families get together and arrange a marriage ceremony. Almost all the girls on Bali are a few months pregnant when they get married, except they're older now, maybe 19 or 20.

But we used to get married very young then.

Of course we didn't have money when we got married. My husband was 15 or 16 and he didn't have a job, so we lived in an open hut in the rice fields with a cow and some chickens, and we farmed the land for a rich landowner. We would give him half of our harvest and keep half.

Until now, I have never been so happy as I was then. My son was handsome. I loved my husband. Living in the hut was so romantic. We were deeply in love.

Then I got pregnant again.

My pregnancies always lasted less than eight months. On Bali, they call this a uni burung – a 'bird' pregnancy. A ten-month term is a uni kerbau – a 'buffalo' term. But I always had bird pregnancies, and within a few months of giving birth I would always fall pregnant again.

My husband would just have to touch me and I'd fall pregnant.

I gave birth to three of my children at home. Komang and Upi were born in the sawah while I was working. I'd always carry a piece of freshly sharpened bamboo with me, and I cut their umbilical cords myself before wrapping the babies up in a sarung and carrying them home. 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.

I wasn't allowed to have sex for a year because the doctor said it would be too dangerous for me. That's when the trouble started. There was a young Javanese woman working in the fields where we lived, and she would always flutter her eyelashes at my husband. And he would flutter them back. He was a very handsome man. And because he couldn't have sex with me anymore, he had sex with her instead, and she fell pregnant.

My husband ran away with her.

But when she had her baby, it was very thin, like a baby with ayid (AIDS), and its belly grew very fat and it died. A male relative of the woman came over from Java and invited my husband out for a night to drink arak with him. Then the man went back to Java. A week later, my husband's belly grew very fat and went purple, and then he died in awful pain. I think the Javanese man poisoned my husband because he wouldn't divorce me and marry his relative.

After we cremated my husband, I fell apart.

I drank a bottle of insecticide and started to die. My family found me making strange noises in my room, and poured lots of young coconut oil into my throat until I vomited, and then they made me drink young coconut water until I could breathe again.

My throat's been sore ever since, and I cough every day now. I went to see a doctor about it a few years ago, and he told me I had a tumour in my throat that he wanted to operate on. But I wasn't brave enough to let him cut it out, so I left it.

Anyway, I can't afford the operation, so I never went back.

When I was strong enough after drinking the poison, I put all of my children into Hindu orphanages and ran away as far as I could. I think I ran away for about a year. I used to sleep by the side of the road or in temples, and I would eat food that I found on the street or left as offerings, or sometimes people used to feed me. I stopped washing, and in the end I was walking around with no blouse on, just a sarong wrapped around my waist.

I didn't care about anything.

I found myself in Ubud, in the middle of Bali. A young Dutch woman saw me at the side of the road one day, and she bought me some clothes, and asked me to live with her. I got better, and I started to wash again. I shall never forget her.

Her name was 'Beah'.

She was Indonesian, but had been born in Holland. She gave me a job washing and cleaning in her home, and I stayed with her until I could look after myself again. I loved her. Beah saved my life. She opened a bank account for me, and after she left for Holland she kept putting money into my account so I could live.

I went back to the orphanages where I had left my children.

Anggrek and Mawar, my twin girls, were more than a year old. Ketut – my third son – was four. Kadek, my oldest daughter, was seven. Komang, who was nearly six, had been beaten with an iron bar on his belly for not working hard enough at the orphanage, and he had a huge hernia. He couldn't walk, and his gut was wrapped around one of his testicles. Gede, my eldest son, had also been beaten severely.

But my daughter Upi, who was nearly three, wasn't there. I asked the orphanage owners where she was. They said a white couple had taken her to Denpasar to adopt her. I told the owners to bring me straight to meet the couple – I was so angry, and I insisted they drive me straight to the foreign couple's house. We met them in a big villa with a swimming pool on the coast near Denpasar, and I took Upi away from the couple just as they were getting ready to leave for their country.

I don't know if they were good or bad people.

All my children cried when they met me. I swore to them that I would never leave them again on this earth, and I took them all back to Ubud with me for a better life.

I've kept that promise ever since.”

Scarlet flower petals used for Balinese-Hindu offerings for sale at a stall in Ubud Market, Bali, Indonesia

Scarlet flower petals used in Balinese-Hindu offerings for sale at a market stall in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

© 2021 John Storey. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Pic

Portrait of the Day

Portraits from Bali by Ubud High
Young female beggar from Muntigunung, Bali, on the streets of Ubud

A beggar from Muntigunung on the streets of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia.
Portrait by © Ubud High.

The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

© 2021 John Storey / Ubud High. All rights reserved.

Street art mural of a young topless 1930s Balinese girl using social media on a mobile cellphone painted by the street artist Wild Drawing in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

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Street Art, Urban Murals & Creative Graffiti on Bali

Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, depicted as a spray-can- and roller-wielding street artist in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

➤ Bali's Street Artists, Murals & Graffiti in the Wild ~ From Canggu to Ubud

Street art, graffiti and murals for the masses – the most public of Bali's urban art scene hidden in plain sight on the walls of Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak and Kuta.

Street art and graffiti murals at Batu Bolong beach in Canggu near Old Man's bar and restaurant, Bali, Indonesia

➤ AllCaps Park ~ Street Art, Graffiti and Mural Paradise in Canggu, Bali

Bali street art - Graffiti and Mural Heaven at the AllCaps Park in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

➤ Taman Festival ~ Ghost Town Graffiti, Murals and Street Art on Bali

Urban art, murals and graffiti galore at the derelict and haunted Taman Festival Theme Park in Bali
The Ubud Handbook

The Ubud Handbook

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

Religion Matters

The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter ~ Bali's Elephant-Headed Hindu God

Street art graffiti of Lord Ganesha with his mouse or rat, on a mural wall in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘First stop on Shree Ganesha's round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinãyaka, and then as the dancing red Nritta Ganapati – before a full-blown alter-ego revamp as the scarlet, twelve-armed Maharakta Ganapati. Now, Maharakta Ganapati was unusually fond of skullcaps filled 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...’

.. ➤ ..

An American Calonarang ~ Trance & Possession on Bali

Graffiti street art of a Balinese Salvador Dali sipping on a cup of kopi luwak in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘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...’

.. ➤ ..

'Nyepi' ~ Bali's Hindu New Year, and the Day of Silence ~ Melasti, Ngerupuk, Ogoh-Ogoh & Manis Nyepi

Balinese-Hindu devotees pray as sacred temple objects are bathed and cleansed during a Melasti ceremony before Nyepi on Pantai Purnama in Bali, Indonesia

‘If previous New Years' Days have seen you waking up with a crippling hangover trying to remember what you did the night before, maybe it's time you headed to Bali in March. Nyepi – the Balinese Day of Silence, and the start of the Hindu Saka New Year – is a day, a night and a day you'll never forget....’

.. ➤ ..

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

Film poster for Indonesian horror film 'Kajeng Kliwon: Nightmare in Bali'

‘Kajeng Kliwon is the kind of day when anything that can happen will happen. It invariably does.

You have been seriously warned...’

.. ➤ ..

Personal Stories

Diary of a Market Girl

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

“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...”

.. ➤ ..

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 back up...”

.. ➤ ..

Culture Bites

Cinema Paradiso ~ Bali's Seat in the History of Indonesian Cinema

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

‘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

Surviving Bali on a 'Bike

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

“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...”

.. ➤ ..

It's Silly Season Again ~ Renting a Scooter, and Crashing it, on Bali

A monkey tourist crashes his scooter in a road accident in Bali, Indonesia

‘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...’

.. ➤ ..

The Other Side of the Coin ~ Just Another Motorbike Accident on Bali

Mural by an anonymous street-artist of a crashed, burned-out Honda 70 scooter on a wall near Badung market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

‘She starts sweeping and I notice that 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...’

.. ➤ ..

Health Matters

Let's Get Wet ~ The Rainy Season on Bali

Blue sky pokes from behind a gathering of stormy monsoon clouds over Bali, Indonesia

‘Rule number one on a monsoon day? Don't get wet.

You may not realise that getting caught in a cloudburst or shower on Bali – particularly if you're on a motorbike – is the tropical equivalent of walking naked outside during a Prague Winter after a lukewarm bath.

It'll really slow you down. The shivers, hot-and-cold flushes, a chesty cough, diarrhoea, sneezing, stomach pains, a belting headache and aching bones are all at the top of the list...’

.. ➤ ..

Bali's Scorpions, Hornets, Mosquitoes, Poisonous Caterpillars... And Other Strange Tails

Bali hornet or Tabuhan, a dark brown, stinging, flying, wasp-like insect that may cause anaphylactic shock

‘Nowhere is free from the tax of life. We all have to pay for our slice of Bali paradise – and this often comes in the shape of our biting, stinging, crawling, flying insect-cousins.

It's the downside of environment-sharing...’

.. ➤ ..

Holidays from the Jungle

The Heads of Trunyan

Human skulls in the open, outdoor cemetery in Trunyan village, near Batur in Bali, Indonesia

‘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...’

.. ➤ ..

Lombok ~ 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...’

.. ➤ ..

Tourism & Self-Enrichment

Eat, Pray, Self-Love

I love-heart Ubud, Canggu, Seminya, Sanur and Kuta in Bali, Indonesia

‘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...’

.. ➤ ..

From Ubud With Love

Will you marry? in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘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 spiritual capital...’

.. ➤ ..

A Dutchman Goes to a Gypsy Fortune-Teller

Wooden cock bottle openers, Ubud Market, Bali

‘A Dutch boy in Holland goes to a gypsy fortune-teller who tells him that he is, in fact, Balinese. Afterwards, his uncle 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...’

.. ➤ ..

The Land of Self-Healing and Snake Oil

Yoga-wear for an Ubud yogini manifesting her abundance, exploring her Divine Feminine and inserting a Jade Egg at The Womb Temple near The Yoga Barn in Bali

‘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...’

.. ➤ ..

Graffiti street art of a young 1930s Balinese girl looking at social media on her mobile cellphone in a mural near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

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Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions in Bali & Indonesia Today

The volcano Anak Krakatau erupting in the Sunda Strait, Indonesia

Gunung Anak Krakatau – the infamous 'Child of Krakatoa' volcano – erupting in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, Indonesia.

And finally, the weather

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

Today's weather forecast for Ubud, Bali, Indonesia ⇨