Reasons to Join Me in Bali #8: Bargaining in Action with Laura & Karyn: A Comedy in Cross-Cultural Communication

Travel Writing Tip #8:  In travel writing, much is left out and much is magnified.

In my last email in this series, I shared Judy’s bargaining lesson with you.

At first, I was shy and scared to try it, but by the time we got to Ubud, the urban stop on our trip, I was getting pretty used to it. It actually was pretty fun.

Judy took us on a walking tour of the city and we ended up having a great lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, The Three Monkeys. There, we had some of the most delicious and prettiest food I’ve ever seen.

I ordered this salad for 59,000 rupiah, the equivalent of $5.90. It featured watermelon, feta cheese, red onion, mint, rosewater and balsamic vinegar. I could eat this salad every day and die happy. Best of all, we have mint growing all over our backyard. This is something I could learn to make at home.

 watermelon dish

This was red snapper breaded with lemon sesame crumbs, topped with mango salsa and served with wilted bok choy and sautéed parsley potatoes. Is that beautiful food or what?

 fish with mango sauce

After lunch, Judy brought us to a huge fabric store, full of bolts of amazing hand-made batik and other incredible fabrics. There was a tailor on the premises and this was a place where we could have clothes made to order in the couple of remaining days we were going to still be in Ubud. Karyn and I had decided that we were going to buy tablecloths while we were in Bali. That was what we were going to bring home with us: we entertain a lot and all our tablecloths were funky, old and stained. I figured we could get a great deal since we were in Indonesia. Everything is cheap here, right?

So Karyn and Lizzy and I chose a couple of bolts of gorgeous fabric, one for inside tablecloths and the other for the tables out in our garden. I had six different tablecloths on my list. I had measured all our tables at home, as well as size of our back bathroom that needed new curtains. So I huddled down with the saleswoman and with some help from Judy and a tape measure I used to translate inches into centimeters,  we started to calculate what the first tablecloth would cost. After about twenty minutes of measuring and miming and getting partial translations, we found out that even with our 20% discount for begin part of Judy’s group, our very first tablecloth was going to cost us $120 dollars, just for the fabric. I’d thought maybe, since we were in Indonesia, where everything is so inexpensive, that we could get them all for that price. And so we put that very pretty bolt of fabric back on the shelf.

After some discussion with Karyn, we decided to go for the curtains in our bathroom instead–one sewing project, instead of 8. We chose another fabric and then with the saleswoman and the tailor, who came up from downstairs. We spent the next hour working out the dimensions of the curtains, the amount of extra fabric we wanted so they’d curve rather than lay flat, how we wanted the top of the café curtains sewn and so own. Judy helped translate at a few crucial junctures, but basically we were on our own.

Here’s the fabric we chose:


‘This was Kadek, the saleswoman:


 This was Nyoman, the tailor:

By the end of the process, when Kadek brought out her calculator, we knew we were going to buy the curtains. We’d all invested so much already. And the final price came out: a million, 300 rupiah or $130. She smiled and gave them to us for $120. And all of us were happy.

As we paid our deposit and made arrangements to pick up the finished curtains in two days, Kadek looked at us curiously and asked us about our relationship. “Are you friends?¨ she asked.

¨No,¨ Karyn said. ¨We’re partners. Married.”

Kadek looked confused. “You have husbands?”‘

“No,” Karyn said. “No husbands. That girl over there, Lizzy, she’s our daughter.”

Kadek looked at me. “Where’s your husband?”

¨No husband,¨ I said.

Karyn repeated, No husbands.¨

Kadek looked absolutely perplexed. And that is when I remembered the story Judy told us at dinner the other night, how everyone in Bali wants to marry and have children, and how the Balinese feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t had children. To them, not having children is a terrible tragedy and a great cause for sadness. Judy and her Balinese husband, Surya, do not have children.

Judy told us when she talks to someone casually, someone she isn’t going to see again, the first thing they always ask is, “Sudah kawin?” Already married? And then next question inevitably, is, “Sudah punya anak?” Already have children? Judy told us that in these casual social conversations, she often makes up imaginary children and talks about them, just to make the other person happy, to keep the social wheels greased.

Maybe Karyn and I, with our lack of husbands, trying to explain our 22-year relationship  to this young Balinese woman were headed down the wrong road. But it was too late to turn back now. What the hell. Why not?

I searched both sides of the worn vocabulary sheet I’d been carrying around all week, until I finally found the word I wanted. I gestured at Karyn and I. “Kawin,” I said. Indonesian for married.

Kadek’s eyes grew wide. “Kawin?” she asked with surprise.

“Yes,” I said, laughing. Then I added, “San Francisco,” as if that would explain everything.

Soon Kadek went from shock to laughter, her eyes wide.

I conferred with my tattered vocabulary sheet again, “Siapa nama mu?¨I asked. What’s your name?

“Kadek,” she said.

“And the tailor`s name?” I asked. She wrote it down for me. Nyoman.

“I am going to make you famous,” I said. “I am going to write a story about you.”

“Eat, Pray, Love?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, laughing. “Eat Pray Love.”

I handed Kadek the 600,000 rupiah, our down payment for the curtains. It was just as Judy had told us. Going into a store in Bali was not about buying goods. It was about building relationships. I felt like we had made a new friend.

We were all clearly enjoying ourselves. Karyn looked at the palm of her hand, where she had cribbed the one phrase she was trying to master today. “Terima kasih,” she said. Thank you.

“Selamat sore,” I added. Good afternoon.

And it had been. It had been a very good afternoon.

This is a typical offering made in beauty outside a tacky tourist shop.

Only 5 spots left for Bali 2014!

P.S. f you’d like to have your own adventures with shopkeepers and build your own relationship with the Balinese, join me this June. There are still a few spaces available!

In the spirit of adventure,

Laura Davis
The Writer’s Journey

P.S. This year’s trip is filling up with some incredible people. Here’s what a few of them have to say about what they’re looking forward to next summer in Bali:

Here’s Emily, in snowy New Jersey:

And here’s Julie, who came to Scotland with me last year. She’s coming to Bali, too!

If you’d like to join Julie and Emily and and a wonderful community to welcoming writiers in Bali later this spring…there’s still time to become part of our delightful family of travelers. Sign up here!


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