©Linda Watanabe McFerrin
So, here I am in Indonesia—Java and Bali—where novelist (That Paris Year) Joanna Biggar and I are leading a travel writing workshop in the hills above Ubud.
We’ve covered some interesting ground, literarily speaking, but the nut that we seem to be coming back to again and again—yes, yes, we are talking incessantly about “nut grafs” in the workshop—is why, exactly, are we all here … in Bali?
The answer from many of the writers we’re working with on this journey is that the impetus is the desire to discover something about a place, about a culture, even about ourselves, which leads me to a quote from a recent interview with friend and Snake Lake author, Jeff Greenwald, in Himal.
When asked, “As a writer are you more predisposed towards finding relatively ‘undiscovered’ places, people, things?” Jeff answers, “I once read a funny comment by one of the Russian cosmonauts. ‘Every day, a new discovery’ was the motto for our mission,’ he said. ‘If we didn’t discover anything new in our experiments, we would discover what was for lunch!’ I feel the same way.”
As do I.
So, here are a few of the things I’ve discovered so far:
That you need an embassy pass get into the Bantar Gebang dump in Bekasi Jawa Barat, a few miles southeast of Jakarta, one of the largest dumpsites in the world … unless, of course, you are garbage.
That the ketchup in Indonesia is as tasty as the ketchup in Malaysia, where the condiment originates, and that it is quite spicy and as good on rice as it is on fries.
That the incredibly cute macaques in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud are indeed provoked by the color red.
That there are lawyers in Bali.
That diamond pythons can leave their teeth in you when they bite.
That someone will always get a better price on the sarong, the bracelet, the necklace, the hand-carved coconut than you will.
That there are no mosquitoes until you think there are no mosquitoes and neglect the “OFF!”.
That a little imodium goes a long way.
That not ALL the dogs in Indonesia are rabid, although they appear to be VERY malnourished.
That the best coffee in the world is ground from red coffee cherry beans ingested, digested, and deposited on the forest floor by the tiny, bear-faced luwak, and that a quarter pound of this oddly ambrosial substance—which I had the pleasure of tasting—is really, really expensive. Yum!
—Linda Watanabe McFerrin