You Might Say We’re Ballin’ in Bali
To my mom and anyone else who might not be familiar with colloquial ‘hood: ballin’ is urban speak for “doing really well, specifically pertaining to a certain lavish affluence”. It derives from the notion of being a baller, which refers to one who transcends urban poverty by making it as a well-payed athlete, say, playing basketball.
The night we got into Bali there was what we perceived to be magic in the air. In fairness to observable reality, that was probably just the cool breezes wafting over the nearby greenery and the soothing symphony of the insects within, easily audible above the very sparse hum of traffic.
When we awoke to a thermos of rice tea set out on the table of our second floor porch, we saw the beauty of our rural settings more clearly: rice paddies extending in all directions, set against a backdrop of wafting palm trees and buildings adorned by surprisingly ornate carvings and statuary. As tropical architecture goes it was a beautiful upgrade from the cinder block and corrugated metal rooftop construction seen so prominently around Central America.
This felt like a whole new world, one of mindful attention to detail and beauty woven into all aspects of life, an attention that showed from the temples & compounds spanning decades (centuries?) to the ubiquitous offerings of flowers & incense laid out several times a day as a devotional practice. And there are more statues of Buddha, Ganesh, and other spiritual figures and figurines than you can shake a banana leaf at.
Our potentially premature bleary-eyed fascination with Bali turned out to be well justified indeed. This was a rare instance of neither of us doing really any prep research about a country, and for it I think we were rewarded by the heightened attention to and appreciation of what actually is, rather than a cursory comparison to pre-cultivated expectations of what should be1. That first morning we decided we should be delighted to spend a month in Bali.
With the aid of the internet and a friendly cab driver named Kadek we set about our quest to find a suitable home for the month. When you’re white and stepping out of a guest house, drivers know there’s like a 20% chance that yes, you actually do need a taxi, thank you, so the offers in that setup come quickly and regularly. Grateful am I that Kadek called out to me that second morning when we were about 4 steps out of the guest house, for, left to our own devices, Tracy and I will stubbornly walk everywhere (this is in defiance of the fare dance which usually leaves us feeling screwed). From the prior day’s research we had a few places in town to go look at, and Kadek explained he was available for hire for 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah per hour, minimum two hours, to take us around town and help us in our quest.
For those not savvy to the conversion rates in Southeast Asia, that’s about $5 an hour for a knowledgeable ally and ride around town. Sold. Hey, can you take us some place to get a cell phone? You can? And the phone plus SIM card will only cost us $20? Let’s go!
Three hours later we were spent but had 2 viable places in the winner’s circle. Our barrage of inquiries about other promising properties found online was much less fruitful, but we did get one thoughtful note back to the tune of “Sorry, my place isn’t available but you might contact my friend Jared, a broker in town who might have something for you.” We decided to give him a call.
“Ah, I’m just on my way to Denpasar. But, okay, you’re looking to make a decision today… if you can meet me in 10 minutes there’s a place I can show you before I head out.” Whether or not Jared was really on his way out of town or if that was just consummate showmanship to create a sense of urgency and excitement, we may never know. Either way, we went for it. We left our guest house once more and I handed the phone to the first cab driver who detected our Caucasian, ride-needing presence. We rendezvoused with Jared at the location hashed out with the driver, and he on his scooter led us out of the city and towards the property.
In Bali there’s a culture of getting around on motorbikes and scooters. What you mostly see on the road are motorbikes and minivans (all suitable for toting around 4-6 tourists), and the ratio is easily ten to one. Yes, cars are permitted, but motorbikes rule the road and the automobile drivers are well trained to be aware of their presence. Tracy and I observed this on day one and, being safety conscious and head-splitting accident averse, resolved that we’d need to get a place close enough to things so that we would be generally set as pedestrians.
But now Jared was taking us far out of the city center, more like the middle of no where, it felt, as the 7 minutes of following him down the rural road ticked on. “I’m not sure this place is going to work” I said to Tracy, concerned that perhaps we’d wasted the man’s time.
When he finally stopped we got out of our cab, followed him on foot down the narrow alleyway between two family compounds, and through the gates into the house he had to show us.
We’d seen some nice places in our two day quest. This villa blew them all away.
Bedroom & bath on the first and second floor, very new and modern fixtures, wide open space with vaulted ceiling on the second floor, upstairs terrace overlooking rice paddies, well appointed kitchen, and a pool right in the living room, all enclosed into a private little paradise with lush tropical vegetation serving as a garden for ambiance. Only photos do it justice.
Perhaps we might reconsider our self-imposed motorbike ban, after all. To business then, I said to Jared “Like we mentioned on the phone, $1100 a month is pretty much our splurge price point… what does this go for?”
“$1500 a month, but in Bali everything’s negotiable. I’ll let the owner know you’re interested, and I won’t show it off for the next 24 hours to give you guys a little time to think about it. I’ve got one more property to show you, but she’s not picking up right now. How about we meet tomorrow morning and you can have a look at that one as well?”
On the cab ride back Tracy and I considered Jared’s words about motorbikes: they’re easy to learn, the conditions are safe because people ride slow and cars know to look out, you can rent one for $50 for a month, that we’ll be much happier and more autonomous with our own transportation.
The next day we met at the other property, this one a sprawling estate that had four bedrooms and three (three!) pools, located on different levels fitting the slope of the land down to the river upon which the property was perched. Jared explained “Here if you guys wanted it I’d only rent you whichever one room you liked, and just not rent the other 3, so you’d have it to yourself.”
Wow. This castle would’ve felt much too sparse and deserted for just Tracy and I, but darned if I didn’t have a few lovely visions about taking it over for a week or two with some family and/or friends.
“We like the other one, and if $1100 can be done we’ll take it.” Jared phoned Nyoman, the local who lived right next door and owned the house. $1200 plus electricity is the offer that came back. Electricity was apt to be between $50 and $150, depending on how much we ran the AC. Not too bad, because we’re pretty good about keeping our usage low. We told Jared we’d think about it, and he zoomed off on his motorbike to go to his next meeting.
We walked along the street from the castle towards our guest house, and perhaps 2 minutes later Jared zoomed back in our direction to say “Just talked to Nyoman again, $1150 plus electric and it’s yours.” Tracy and I exchanged glances briefly, and then to Jared I nodded “done deal.”
And that was that. In real estate there’s this concept of moving in (to a place you’ve been shown and like) in your head. It’s when you start to let excitement grow and attachment build before you’ve actually made a deal. From a negotiation standpoint, this is a dangerous thing to do, for it makes you less free to walk away and woe is your position if the party you’re negotiating with knows you’re already attached. We were careful not to mentally move into the villa with a pool in the living room before we we had actually secured it at a workable price2, and so in that moment it was very sweet indeed to finally let ourselves get excited for where we would spend the next month3.
Two hours later we called Kadek to take us to our shiny new digs, dropped off our bags, got the keys, and let ourselves be chaperoned for a proper grocery run by which to stock our fridge and pantry. After the 2 and a half days of house hunting, we were elated to kick back with confidence that we’d made a perfect landing.
After all that running around on top of our 22 hour day of travel from Australia, things caught up with me and I pretty much immediately came down with a nasty cold which lasted a week. If I had to be sick, this was a space in which to do it and keep in good spirits. I was so happy to be where I was I just patiently waited it out. Every day at some point I would just look around, be struck by the fact that in this moment this is my home, and giggled to myself that we should find (and be allowed to live in) such a place.
I felt like a baller.
- Our only real intel on Bali going in was from reading Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago, which was surely our hint to seek out Ubud. If you haven’t read it already, go ahead, I’ll wait. Skip the movie with Julia Roberts, though, that’s garbage. On a plane we stopped watching well before she got to Indonesia, so yeah, we had fresh eyes going in. ↩
- It became tricky once thoughts of skinny dipping in the moonlight crossed my mind, but manageable. ↩
- I was now free to embrace thoughts of skinny dipping in the moonlight. ↩