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Adventure prone


Waking up at 4 am is a hellish experience I wouldn’t ever want to wish on anyone. But the Travel Companion and I did it, in my 4th iteration of what has so far been an annual pilgrimage to Bali, that has now gotten past just scuba diving off the east coast of Bali and off Nusa Penida.

I had a great time on Christmas with Jan and Markus (just the 3 of us, it seemed), since tourist numbers are madly erratic for this period. But perhaps what made it worth it as always, was the accidental conversations I fall into during these journeys. Jan and I spoke at length about conceptual art, the European far-right, losing face and how stupid people can get on the way back to Sanur, while TC got badly sunburnt in the meantime.

But that was only the start of the trip. Blame my growing thirst for adventure.

Thus far, I’ve done a dive off the drifty little islands off Padang Bai (Mimpang and Tepekong), gone off-roading on a Buggy/quad bike tour off the villages past Ubud and recklessly decided to up the ante and head far north for canyoning.

“Do not hesitate,” Adrien (the Icopro instructor) said. And he’s right. It gets worse when you think and re-think the angle of the jump, the probability of hitting your head on the rocks.

I ended up lobbing off the edge, 8 metres into a deep pool, and straight on my arse like a demented cannonball into the water.

Add that embarrassing thing to sliding down slippery rocks, zip-lining partway down and rappelling off waterfalls…and I found myself having an absolutely brilliant time while at it, then wished I’d chosen to do a full day of it. The Kalimudah part of the Kerenkali Canyon in the mountainous north of Bali (Git Git) is the most technical of the parts which the TC and I had signed up for with Bali Adventure and Spirit, and the hellish experience of waking up at 4am just to make this journey from Sanur more than made up for the adrenaline rush and the thrill that came from working the stunning scenery and getting dunked straight into ice-cold water. TC, who couldn’t even swim, was so enthused and challenged by the entire experience that swim classes are finally, finally on the cards.

Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t in 2 minds about this when we first started out—straight out of a furious thunderstorm in Sanur to rain that persistently didn’t let up until about 8 am after we finished breakfast in Gigit. We went past numerous lazy dogs, endless rice plantations and cloud-covered misty mountains framed by rows of corn and coconut trees. The drive back had worse traffic, but bluer skies and colourful towns where tourists don’t seem to register much on the locals’ quotidian.

But it was mostly filled with memories of the hard kick of the water up my nose, the thrill of the slides and the pull of the abseil rope, as well as the exhaustion that crept in slowly as the day wore on.

My canonying-initiation card will proudly stay in my wallet for now.

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Bruised, battered, victorious


The travel companion (TC) finally tells me – on the way to the airport – that Bali has been, on hindsight, quite an enjoyable experience. It helps that we’ve both passed the different dive courses we’ve signed up for, even though we’ve been bruised, battered and badly cut in the process.

For that I’m thankful, even if we’ve spent most of our time shopping at Guardian pharmacy (TC simply bought more and more bottles of shower gel and muscle ache packs for god knows what reason) and eating at the same Italian place more times than I can count.



We’ve finally trudged along Sanur’s beachfront walk, done the obligatory shopping and rub-downs at spas and eaten more Balinese and Indonesian food than we should. But I’m astounded that TC finds it hard to admit that Bali is really quite civilised and sort of tourist-friendly, but I’m also grateful to learn that I’ve managed to spin several tentative thoughts that planning for the next dive trip isn’t too bad an idea as well.

We’re cosied up in a corner of the departure lounge and TC’s gone off to take photos of the very modern Bali airport to prove to some friends that we haven’t visited a dump in some corner in the world.

Sometimes, TC needs a little nudging in the right direction.

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Oh, such luck


It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you never always get what you wish for.

Translated into diving terms: I didn’t see a damn Mola Sunfish in sight.


But at least a manta ray or 2 graced us with its presence at Manta Point in Nusa Penida. Crystal Bay was supposed to be dive stop 2, but the extremely choppy sea meant that the captain of the speed boat took us to S.D Point instead where I actually had my first drift dive experience over a coral plateau. 7 kg heavier with a 5 mm wet suit in colder waters, I felt like a complete beginner struggling with buoyancy in the gentle drift over the amazing reef.



A page over the intercom turned the afternoon a little sour when theory became reality: 2 missing divers – an instructor and a beginner – in the waters around Nusa Penida. The boat I was in powered through the choppy sea and found the stragglers on another speedboat. “We” took them in – the poor beginner looked stressed and exhausted while the instructor was chirpy but grateful – and handed them back to their proper boat whose inhabitants were crying with relief.

That made me wonder about the rescue training that I was taught just yesterday. Just how useful can I really be in that situation except to commiserate and comfort?

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Bali Redux


“I’d sooner be eaten by a shark than be rescued by her.”

So says a person who’s actually related to me when asked to volunteer as my unresponsive dive ‘victim’.


As much as I’m able to ignore that particular lack of confidence in my rescuing skills, I’ve found the PADI rescue diver course with Joe’s Gone Diving to be the most challenging that I’ve ever done in my very…short diving experience these past few years. But everyone speaks highly of it (most shop owners/instructors I’ve met say the same thing) and someone had even gone so far as to say that it should be a necessity for all divers – at all levels – all except my instructor who was dubious from the start of my ability to actually save people.

To expect the unexpected and to be prepared for it is probably the underpinning principle of the course, but isn’t that true of life in general? Well-said and taught…up until the point I nearly drowned my own instructor when using a pocket mask to tow him back to the boat in a relatively strong current. He gleefully brought up that incident time and again, making me wonder if he not so secretly enjoyed Schadenfreude.

It has been a tough 2 days of a full classroom session followed by a pool session and finally acting out those rescue scenarios in the open sea. I’m sort of familiar with the environment (both hotel and dive shop to minimise the unfamiliar) at least; being back in Bali in 2015 isn’t very much different from being in Bali in 2014, and going back to Padang Bai and the Blue Lagoon is like visiting a friend whom I’ve not seen for a while.


Essentially, I’m treading old ground – except for the dive course – with a belligerent and very sullen travel companion who is determined to think the worst of everything, sometimes comically so. What most Europeans consider ‘exotic’ and ‘ambient-rich’, my TC calls it ‘deluded’, ‘run-down’, ‘dirty’ and ‘incomprehensibly stupid’. The only draw for TC, is that prices are staggering low and the spas heavenly…by TC’s own standards. To be fair, TC hasn’t seen the nicer side of Sanur and its seaside stuff; the only places we’ve been back and forth are the street the hotel’s on and to the dive school.

But I’m glad that TC’s open water course is going fairly smoothly, despite all the complaints, fears I’ve been privy to and the numerous scrapes, cuts and bruises we’ve all miraculously acquired in the pool.

TC and I head to different dive sites tomorrow, of my own making really, because I really need to see a Sunfish.

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Manta Point


Along with 2 partying Aussie women, a Belgian who sounds vaguely Russian, a Swede who sounds too much like American TV and an unnamed European who loves Taiwan and Hong Kong, I made a quick trip down Sanur’s Jln Kesumasari and then we were trudging down the beach at low tide to get to the speed boat aptly named ‘Halloween’ given the time of the year.



An hour later, we found ourselves at Nusa Penida’s Manta Point under the care of Ethel and Imam and gearing up awkwardly in the cramped space of a speedboat. And then it was a backward-roll and straight into bloody cold waters.

“Great idea. Diving in a shorty!” The Big Belgian proclaimed loudly and sarcastically to himself when it became apparent that the water was too cold for anything that ended at knee level.

I only managed a choked chuckle while shivering with the cold. Of all the people in the group, he was the most boisterous and the most entertaining.

In short, Manta Point was a disappointment lasting 45 minutes. Visibility wasn’t too good and the state of the reef could not compare to the one at Tulamben or even at Padang Bay and nary a Manta in sight.

We all ascended except for the Big Belgian who, in his own words, said later, “I have 100 bars left, so I thought ‘Fuck it’, I’m going to stay down. I must see a Manta.”


In all his 500 dives around the world, he’d apparently never seen one and the desperation was showing, having already promised a few beers for everyone for every Manta that he spots. The only conditions were that he had to see it with his own eyes and that the Manta had to be bigger than him.

20 minutes into the second dive at Manta Bay, 4 of those graceful creatures glided in like thieves in the night and frolicked on the surface where our exhalation bubbles were. I floated (or tried to) enraptured as they swished and turned and flapped along with shoals of fish, and developed an equalisation problem at the worst possible time.

The Big Belgian was so satisfied with the Manta spotting that he couldn’t care less about the rest of his dives the next day and looked puzzled when no one seemed as excited as he was. Truthfully, I stopped caring once the ear started giving problems.

And just like that, our 50 minutes were up. Back to Joe’s gone diving for lunch (Big Belgian said that he was hungry enough to eat a manta, god forbid) with Buttons the Beagle, with loads of time to spare to collect the laundry I sent in yesterday.

We never got our promised beer.

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Sanur Beach walk


I’m bad with free days on vacation. Without something planned on the agenda, I’m as lost as a pigeon without feed. Waking up late is a side luxury when I’ve been getting up at the arse crack of dawn the past few days and wandering down to the hotel’s bakery, I decided that the 4km-length of the Sanur beach walk might do some good.



Under the scorching heat, I lasted merely a kilometre or so before hailing a taxi back to languish in the pool for a bit, while wondering how people manage to do this all day.

But here, in Sanur, there are things to do still: shopkeepers to bargain with, spas to visit, day trips to other parts of Bali to do, tons of Balinese food to try. Apart from diving – which is a relatively recent rediscovery of mine – Bali’s rightfully known for its innumerable spas of which I’m unashamedly taking advantage. The array of services is bewildering but cheap and mouthwateringly good, as is the smell of the herbal concoctions that practiced hands rub onto skin.

I’ll miss it loads when my run in Sanur ends.


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Diving Deep into Hot Waters


The weeks leading up to an impulsively booked trip to Bali for Advanced and Rescue/Recovery Diving passed in an anxious blur of respiratory specialist visits, spirometry testing, frights over difficulty breathing and a steady stream of decongestant medication.

And all of that for a doctor’s signature on the PADI diving medical form.

I packed my bags with trepidation a few days ago and headed off after several sleepless nights and was pleasantly surprised to be the first at a sleepy immigration corner upon arrival. Even the hastily-arranged driver from Putu’s gang of merry men actually turned up a few minutes late – his arrival finally caused the rest of the taxi hustlers to drop away like salt on leeches.

Monday arrived too quickly and those cold feet returned when Joe’s Gone Diving’s driver whisked me off to the office to meet my instructor Ezra, who said that he would be supervising the entire course for two days. Joe’s Gone Diving is run by 2 Dutch expats and attracts people from all over the world, meaning, a motley crew of hedonistic expats, serious Indons and everyone else in between seeking some sort of deep-sea gratification can be found here.

I was made to study in the van on the way to Padang Bay and to Tulamben, covering topics like Wreck diving, Deep Diving, Peak Performance Buoyancy and Navigation (not my favourite at all). So far out of my comfort zone, I’ve managed to: Tumble head first into the water after some weak protesting, doing a forward somersault with the damned BCD and tank, stabbed my toe hard against the rocks on Tulamben beach, hit the knee even hard and get quite sunburned.

Not too bad for someone who hasn’t dived in years.

Buoyed by the high of actually completing the course, I ditched the rescue one and chose to do a fun dive instead at Manta Point in 2 days.

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The Art of Marinating


Perhaps I have read too many spa reviews/experiences written in the female voice that typically crows over the stress-relieving touch of the masseurs, the potent ambience of the location, and the overall sense of peace they come out with.

TC presents a rare but entertaining read of his own experience at the spa after I cajoled, begged, forced persuaded him to try a rub-down at least once in a lifetime.

Finally, a male voice describing all.


The row of shops the driver stopped us at seemed normal enough. What did not make sense was that the driver was now gesticulating at what looked like an attached garage telling us that this was Bali Botanica. The trouble was, there was no door and no sign.

Where, I thought, is this spa?

It was then that I realised he was not talking about the small garage like building but the narrow grassy path to the left of it. So, I turned and walked down the path TB (the babe, for those of you who have forgotten) following behind, only to find that the end of it appeared to be a patch of forest. The path wound right, which seemed to end in more jungle.

Fine, I thought, let’s just see where this thing leads to.

The path took another sharp right and there, strangely, enough was the reception room of the spa, built at the back of a house, next to forested land. We were given a brief explanation of what our requested treatments involved, then assigned our masseurs. Our masseurs led us to an adjacent building, then down a flight of steps, where in a white tiled passageway, our massage rooms beckoned. In mine, in one corner of the room, was a large, modern bathtub adjoining the wall. In another corner was a shower area, built into the corner itself. Oddly enough, there was no door or shower cubicle, just the two tiled walls of the corner. In the centre of the room, was what appeared to be a doctors examination couch, decked out in faux leather with a hole at one end. Directly under the hole was a small bowl of water, with some flowers floating on the surface. Softly played mood music was piped into the room by some unseen speakers.

I was instructed to change out of my clothes into disposable underwear, after which the masseur left the room for a while.  The trouble was, no matter how I adjusted it, the underwear seemed unbalanced. After attempting to wear it back to front and even inside out with no relief, I took the underwear off and examined it. That was when I realised that the silly thing was poorly made, with the waist band on the left side thicker than the one on the right. By this time, the masseur was knocking on the door wanting to know if I was done. I asked her for a minute, hurriedly jammed on the underwear and adjusted it as best I could, then jumped on the table, face down. For some reason, I thought that the best thing to do was to rest my chin on the edge of the hole in the table. Possibly I did not fancy staring into a bowl of water for half an hour. Side note: I still do not understand why staring into a bowl of water with floating flowers is supposed to be relaxing.

The masseur started the massage working from my feet upwards. I found myself trying hard not to laugh as the action of the masseurs fingers on my feet was ticklish. As the masseur worked on my thighs, I was impressed with the amount of strength she exerted. She was after all, of fairly slight build. The problem was, that same strength of her pounding hands on me was now pounding my chin into the table. It was then that I realised how the hole in the table was really supposed to be used. In between the pounding, I crawled forward and dumped my head face down into the hole, grateful for the relief against the pounding it brought me.

By the time the masseur had worked her way up to my neck and finished working with on that, I was nearly asleep. So I was slightly shocked when I felt something sticky being thrown on the back of my legs. The substance had a grainy, pasty texture with an oily run-off. It had a spicy odour which reminded me of a sweet version of rendang gravy with a strong eucalyptus background. After being applied to my skin for a few seconds, I felt a hot sensation similar to that of the medicated sports massage cream. The masseur continued and applied the substance to my arms and back. She then left me to lie for a while, as I spent time reflecting on how on earth I had agreed to pay to have myself marinated like the meat in a curry dish.

So, they have come to rub the marinate into the meat. Not bad, quite thorough. The dabbing process had the effect of removing most of the oil that the spicy paste contained.

The masseur then asked me to turn over and placed a blindfold over my eyes. She then repeated the massage on the front of my body. I was again treated to the same tickling of the feet, then lulled near sleep. The burning feeling of the spice on my back was by now, reduced to a slight warmth, which was somehow assuring and comforting. When she finished the massage, she again applied the same spice to the front of my body.

After a slight pause where nothing seemed to be happening, the masseur came over and removed the blind fold. She quietly informed me that the massage was over but I was to finish the process by relaxing in the bath.

Heavily marinated and feeling rather foolish in my ill-fitting underwear, I thanked her, then climbed off the bed and walked towards the bath. It seemed to be filled with some brownish water, with leaves floating on top. Upon climbing in, I found that the water exuded a sweetish aroma with a eucalyptus tinge. Digging around in the water, I discovered large sticks of cloves in addition to the leaves, which seemed to be the source of the eucalyptus like odour.

I finally decided that I had better wash up and get out, before TB started wondering what had happened to me. I got rid of the ill fitting disposable underwear, then proceeded to wash off. I had quite a lot of problems getting rid of the oil on my skin as the soap provided by the spa seemed rather insipid. After soaping and resoaping my body several times, I was finally able to get rid of most of the oil. The sweetish, spicy odour however, remained on my skin.

How did I find the massage? It was curiously relaxing. The spice actually felt quite good on the skin. I suspect most men might actually enjoy that massage. I was certainly glad my whim of trying the spice massage paid off.
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A returning nightmare


Lunch on the last day consisted of pizzas made with eggplant, spinach and ricotta, and tasted like raw plant. Then it was back to Bali Botanica for a rather strange rub-down that involved twisting of joints, and more alarmingly combined with some sort of prayer on the masseur’s part. The weather was unkind that day, and with much sweat pouring off my back despite having thoroughly showered off earlier, my top was pretty much soaked through.

The “son” – which we later learnt was the nephew of the first driver – was already waiting for us in the parking area and spent the first part of the journey over-enthusiastically thanking us for our business, lauding the achievements of his own son, and how hard he needed to work to support the children’s education. I think I’ve never been more pleased to see that blue taxi, called by guides as the most reliable and trustworthy in Bali. For 190,000 IDR (the same price that we paid for going to Ubud), the fare was still marginally cheaper than what the hotel and all the various transport touts offered.

I counted the number of vehicles we had sat in for the past couple of days, and they came up to a whopping 9 of them in a short 3 days. Taxi touts clawed for your business everywhere, while some moonlighted as drivers when they could; the transportation system is chaotic, only exorbitantly reliable and based on the cut-throat law of natural selection.

“Bluebird taxi the best!” The driver exclaimed frantically while simultaneously attempting to accomplish the mean feat of overtaking multiple vehicles and avoiding a motorcade.

I kept a wary eye on the road, terrified of being driven onto the kerb at high speed as the taxi meandered its way out of Ubud slowly. We got to the airport early, thankful for the relatively fuss-free traffic, only to find out that the plane had been delayed. Screaming children dominated the entire journey back, which made it doubly arduous after the flight delay and the chaotic boarding process in Ngurah-Rai. The over-obliging flight attendant’s (misplaced) anxiety to please those who travelled in large groups, and the pilot’s insipid, excuse-filled address 45 minutes from landing needlessly contributed to the pervasive imbecilic atmosphere.

We dealt with it differently.

I think that was the time my mind became the most wonderfully inventive as it conjured up new ways of inflicting pain that all lead to death. Mentally applying them to the noisy things were satisfying…almost. TC threw a hissy fit worthy of Paris Hilton suffering chipped nail paint, made things difficult, proclaimed it the “worst flight I’d ever been on” and then departed unhappily to do – what I presume as – some soul-searching.

I returned from Bali without the eye-opening wonder that accompanies most Westerners, but not without some interesting insights into a place that is still so foreign from what I knew. Bali is after all, both all and not that the guides (I refer both to the books and the actual folk on the island) purport it to be.

Perhaps the rest of Southeast Asia can wait a little bit more.

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Noodles, rice fields and a side trip


Long before we left for Bali, I had a (stupid) dream. It was to buy Super-mi (a type of instant noodles produced in Indonesia) ever since I last ate them while visiting a friend in Melbourne in 2003. It was a silvery packet with a road-duck flavour, and since tasting them, I was completely lost and raged against the dying light and the dawning day when I simply couldn’t find them anywhere else. Weeks before we departed, I dreamt again that TC had already bought his box, while I struggled to buy my own. I related this very earnestly to TC, explained that I really needed the noodles after those years of deprivation, and after laughing his head off, he agreed that this request wasn’t actually too frivolous after all.

It was just that we needed to slot some time in trying to source for those noodles and that time never seemed better than when we decided to do a half-day tour around eastern Bali. After all, we were satisfied that we looked quite carefully in Ubud only to come back disappointed.

It seems like I did not have to think so hard about hiring a decent driver after all. The criteria I had initially mentally listed and stored were: trustworthy, owns an equally trustworthy vehicle, peaks a smattering of English, knowledgeable enough to tailor a suitable itinerary, preferably non-smoking, looks “un-seedy”.

Maybe the last part was asking a bit too much. It took me a long time after all, to get over the fact that many people smoke.

On the way to town in the resort shuttle service, I asked the driver if he knew anyone who was good with side-trips, and rambled about needing to find a driver who most importantly, had an air-conditioned van.

Wayan was thus first introduced to us not as a person, but through his vehicle, a nondescript white jeep parked halfway on the pavement.

I fired off just 2 places – Kintamani and Sidemen road – that we were both interested in seeing. After thinking for a moment, Wayan suggested we try Tegallalang (where the rice terraces were), Tampak Siring (a small eco-plantation to have a look at native plants), Kintamani (the mountainous area with a view of the volcano Gunung Batur), and finally the Sidemen regency with purportedly even more views. A bit of haggling lowered the price slightly from 500,000 IDR to 400,000 IDR for the places we wanted to visit and though it was a fair bit more pricey than I was willing to pay, we agreed, and it was off for a half-day around the eastern part of Bali.


The rice terraces of Tegallalang was the first brief stop, and while it was an experience seeing Secondary School human geography finally coming to life many years too late, I suspect I was more horrified to see young boys riding scooters and motorbikes helmet-less by the droves for some part of the way. I recall asking TC in incredulity if I was really seeing a boy on top of one.



For all our preparation and rush to leave the resort at 10am, we forgot the much-needed insect repellent, only beginning to regret it when we entered the eco-plantation at Tampak Siring. I was blood-sucked quite a fair bit while TC escaped completely. The rather fun activities there – sampling drinks, identifying seedlings, browsing the small shop of spices and scents – almost made me forget the itch, but not quite. On hindsight, perhaps we were foolish to think that the vanilla pods, and some instant lemongrass drink/ginseng coffee powder were worth the amount we were paying to bring back for the respective mothers.


We zipped around the mountain road through Kintamani – thank god for the brief respite from the heat in the cooler air uphill – and I started to ask whether the Bersakih Temple Complex was worth a visit.

“The place [Besakih] nice,” Wayan replied, “But the people not nice. They offer guide, make you pay money. Follow you long.”


“If you want, I take you there,” Wayan insisted, “I try help you with bad people.”

I eye-balled TC pleadingly, hoping that he would ask Wayan about our ludicrous request for instant noodles. He sighed in acknowledgement.

“Er…Do you know where we can find super-mi?” TC asked somewhat nervously. I was certain that Wayan’s eyes would have popped out of his sockets at this absurd request from the odd pair behind.

“Many kinds of noodles!” To his credit, Wayan did not sound too shell-shocked. “Mi-Sedap, Indo-mie…”

“No, no, must only be super-mi,” TC insisted.

“Ubud no find? So you no want Sidemen road?”

“Yah, we want the Sidemen road, Ubud don’t have!”It seems that our language abilities had to be adjusted accordingly.

He relented, and promised that we could make our way to KlungKlung (Semarapura) after we finished touring the Sidemen regency.

Satisfied for now, I asked if there was a Warung anywhere near so that we could stop for a quick lunch.

Wayan answered in the definite negative, and told us that in the rural areas of the region we were visiting, there was one and only one restaurant opened by Europeans. The alternative was to settle for road-side stalls whose food as he put it, had been displayed for days and probably illness-inducing.

We reluctantly agreed simply because of the lack of available choices, and had to admit that the site they chose pretty much guaranteed them a monopoly of business for miles around. Our first view of the restaurant however, was that of the queue of Western tourists waiting to pose with a blue statue of a Hindu god that took the form of an elephant whose snout was noticeably glued back. We sat in a quiet area with ridiculous views of the terraces, and snorted with amusement when I told TC that the Western tourists seemed more interested in the Balinese performance at the far side of the restaurant than in having their meals.

The Sidemen area was the last activity of the day and despite our determination not to pack activities, we seemed to move speedily from place to place, refusing to stop unnecessarily to the point that Wayan asked if we were in a rush for other things. Sidemen was gorgeous, and the mountain roads that Wayan took were obscure but picturesque, and sometime unfamiliar to the driver himself.

I got impatient, despite the surrounding greenery. Truth be told, my noodles were waiting. Waiting to buy Super-mi, as I told TC, was the fulfilment of my life’s dream up until that point. TC laughed and fretted whether 100,000 IDR was enough to spend on noodles. I think I became visibly excited as KlungKlung came into view. I scrambled out of the car just as it stopped and made a beeline for the supermarket that Wayan pointed to, feeling wondrously pleased as we cradled our packets of instant noodles as though they were precious gems to the cashier. They turned out way cheaper than we thought and the careful packing we needed to do for those fragile packets momentarily eluded me. That silvery packet still eluded us; the supermarket had the plastic packaged ones with similar flavours to the Indo-Mie – but that had to do for now.

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