The rice fields glittered vibrant green at me from my breezy verandah on my first afternoon in my brand-new flat in Ubud, Bali. I’d spent all day looking at apartments before settling on this two-story bungalow in the suburb of Penestanan, and I allowed myself a few moments to take in my good fortune before racing off to the supermarket, unpacking, and starting in on my paying work on my laptop. I was lucky enough to be the first inhabitant of the flat. The new house ceremony, common in Bali, hadn’t even happened yet.
I hoped the Balinese gods didn’t punish me for moving in before the ceremony.
I stood up and padded around the small apartment. Bed. Chair. Closet. Desk. Power point by the desk. Oohhh, someone had been thinking ahead. Laptops like power points.
I examined the giant soaking tub in the bathroom, and contemplated what might be whirlpool jets. That reminded me I’d left my laundry soaking in the sink – best get to it. There was a washing machine somewhere on the premises, but I wasn’t yet sure where, and when I eventually did find it, I’d quickly learn to time my visits for when the staff wasn’t washing sheets and towels from the compound of guest bungalows.
The flat’s kitchen was by no means luxury, but it had a kettle, refrigerator, two-burner stovetop, and a sink. Breakfast wasn’t included with my flat, but that was fine with me. Over the last year of travelling around the world, I’d eaten far more eggs than any person needs.
In search of yogurt and muesli, I headed through the rice fields, down a path in search of the main road of Penestanan, which I’d heard would lead me to a large supermarket. I came to a series of 100 steep stairs that headed through a tunnel of foliage down to the street below. These were the Champuan Steps. I climbed down them, sweating in the humidity – later I’d explore and learn the shortcut along the ridge, past the yoga studio and the organic vegetarian café, almost to the back of the Bintang supermarket. I’d only need the stairs when I wanted to walk down to the main road to town. I’d soon find I preferred hiring a motor-scooter taxi to bring me home at night.
I picked up enough food to get through a few days and headed back up the stairs to unpack and move in. I was looking forward to a simple meal of rice and vegetables, but mostly, I was looking forward to lounging on my verandah in my pyjamas. All this travelling can make a person tired. I was here in Bali to recharge my batteries.
Over the next few days, I learned my way around the rice paddies and explored the centre of Ubud. I found the pots and pans and cutting board I needed for my kitchen, but I never did come up with a good way to make fresh coffee. I ended up using a mini-strainer and a coffee filter after a few botched experiments with Balinese coffee, where the grinds just sink to the bottom of the cup.
And then, a few days later, I was sitting inside at my desk, after having given up on the verandah post-breakfast. My coffee table wasn't the best spot to work over a laptop. The view was great but there was no way to sit on the sofa with the laptop on the coffee table for too long without starting to ache.
Suddenly, the dishes in my Bali villa rattled, like my kitchen did when I used to live in Manhattan and a bus would roar by every 20 minutes. Or at home in Jersey City when the group of young men on sports motorbikes would zoom by, helmet-less, on a hot August night.
But I was in the middle of the idyllic rice paddies of Ubud, Bali. There wasn't a road within 100 metres. Everything that comes in to this compound arrives on someone's back or head. Not even scooters could zip back here.
I didn't stop for my shoes or my phone or my laptop. At least I was wearing clothes and not pyjamas.
I have to get out of here!
I ran down the stairs and got clear of the house, then glanced up at the terra cotta tiles on the roof of the guard house I was standing next to, then moved away from there too. I glanced up at the coconut tree above me and moved again.
The young woman who cleans the villas came over too. Together we watched the cottages shake. The water tower, which catches rainwater, was particular frightening to watch as it swayed precariously.
And then the shaking stopped. We stood uncertainly for a minute, then looked at each other. I shrugged and headed back into my bungalow.
Nothing was broken, so I went back to work. Or rather, went straight to Facebook and Twitter to tell everyone I knew about the earthquake. And to wonder if maybe I needed that new-house ceremony after all.
We had an aftershock later in the day.
And the next time, I remembered my shoes and my phone.
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