I’m sitting on a red plastic stool, surrounded by bolts of fabric five feet high. So many colours and designs, so hard to choose.
I hadn’t expected to enjoy coming to the Klung Kung markets in Bali. I’m not a good shopper, becoming tired easily and quickly disinterested. Going to an outdoor, hot, noisy, crowded market is not my thing, and I’ve easily said “No thank you” in years previously.
But when Iluh, one of my Balinese sisters, invites me to go with her to the markets, I find myself pausing and then saying “Yes, thank you.” Iluh has an art shop on the street front of the bungalows and often goes to markets for stock.
I’ve had a quiet two weeks so far on my annual stay at Iluh’s family bungalows at Candidasa in east Bali (https://www.facebook.com/segarawangibeachfrontcottages/). Apart from a half day excursion with my friend Paula and the family to Amed, a quiet coastal town popular for its diving, I’ve had a peaceful existence. Starting with Bali coffee and a swim in the pool, then delicious breakfast, maybe a massage or facial, or a luxurious hair wash at the salon next door, or a snorkeling trip, reading, a delicious locally cooked lunch brought to my bungalow, some more reading, Bintang time watching the sunset and dinner out with Paula or brought to me. Serious relaxing, doing nothing, life simplified. Each trip to Bali, with this deep resting of body and mind, I return home a new woman.
But too much of even paradise gets boring and I enjoy spicing up my leisure. Given my response to Iluh’s invitation, evidently I’m up for another adventure. I worry I’ll have too much standing around, but I figure, when I’m tired, I can find somewhere to sit and watch the world, one of the best pastimes in travelling.
I’m a terrible tourist. Visiting a tourist site with hundreds of others, in the heat and hassle, is not my idea of a good time, more like hell. I end up hot and exhausted, wondering if it was worth the effort. Besides in my thirty years of staying at Candidasa I have been to many of the attractions of East Bali. While I enjoy bursts of exploring, I prefer to immerse myself in a place, with the people, as a far more enriching travel experience. But my Bali family are wonderful hosts and are always wanting to take me somewhere, hence the invitation to the markets.
Klung Kung is about a 45 minute drive from Candidasa, the next major town on the way to Denpasar. I travelled through it on my way to Candidasa, in my first twenty years, back in the days before the dual carriage road directly along the coast was built, cutting the travel time by about an hour. Iluh decides the other markets at Amlapura, the next big town to the north east, which are closer and cheaper, has too many stairs, so, with only two steps, this is the one for me. She is attuned to my special needs.
Made (‘marday’), owner of the bungalows and husband of Iluh, and his sister Nyoman are along for the ride. They stop at a sports wear shop to buy gear for their new fitness regime of a morning walk and yoga. Since I was here a year ago I’m happy to see that all three are embracing a healthier lifestyle, less sugar, they’ve replaced sweet drinks with water, and more exercise.
Made (marday) sensibly settles himself for a coffee at a small stall, and we sisters enter the market building (not outdoors after all). I am pleasantly surprised. It isn’t crowded or noisy and not so hot. This is my kind of market. The lovely women at the stall we spend an hour at, tell us it is only crowded on the weekends.
And oh the array of wonderful batiks and other traditional Balinese fabrics, such a variety of designs, creativity everywhere. I say to Iluh in my pidgin English, as we enter “Ooh, problem, problem. So much wonderful material, wow! Ooh there’s too much!” She smiles. And it’s all available by the metre, which I’ve never seen.
Possibilities, ideas start to germinate. Stall after stall, the colours, the designs, so rich and interesting and appealing. I love Balinese creativity, their eye for colour and design is extraordinary.
But I don’t need more clothes. The last two weeks I’ve had a wonderful time being my own designer with my dressmaker Sherly in Candidasa. Clothing my unique body in style is possible at the prices charged in Bali, and before that in India, where I discovered the wonderful world of cheap tailoring and amazing fabrics in 1989.
I’m loving the new additions to my wardrobe, despite my famous last words two months ago “I don’t need any more clothes so won’t get any made this year”. It was the new mid-season dressing gown that was my undoing. After twelve years of wear, my light wool “happy coat”, as the tailor in Sanur called it, holes were beginning to appear, and it’s not a good look when staying with others. It’s now or another year before I can produce another one. With no similar light wools available in local shops, what else can I use? My creative juices start flowing.
Inspiration comes when I remember the thick cotton shawl from India, with a rich pattern of turquoise, gold and dark blue, which my friend Shazar gave me. I’ve got the basis, but I have to go into temptation territory because the shawl is only enough for the body, and in search of good cotton for sleeves, I make my first visit to Woven Textile Stories. I’ve been following the owner on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wovenstoriesofficial/), and her adventures in India searching out beautiful hand-made, ethically sourced fabrics. Her photos are full of vivid colours. Oh the temptation of a glorious array of natural textiles and every shade of colour. I have to succumb.
My new pants, fabric from Woven Textile Stories. Photo by Maria Wilson.
After all the effort and cost to produce them, I wear many of my creations to death. My friend Nims says “Those old skirts you wear around the house are worn thin, isn’t it time for new ones?” So when I venture to the main local fabric shop for the trims and lining of the dressing gown, temptation and possibilities bombard my senses. Ideas crystallise and I have fabric for new pants, new skirts, and new white shirts. Half my luggage is taken up with fabric.
Sitting overwhelmed by the choices available at the Klung Kung markets, I’m thinking “I’ve just had all these clothes made, I really don’t need any more. I’m working on having less stuff in my life, not more. And these traditional Balinese designs I’ve stayed away from, they feel a bit old school to wear at home.” But now I’m here, brought especially by my Bali family, who I discover aren’t buying anything for themselves, I’m feeling an obligation to buy something. I figure having patterned tops of unique designs that match my plain pants and skirts, will expand my possibilities, I can use more of what I have. How sensible of me.
After deliberation with my Bali sisters, I decide on three new pieces of fabric, and, in another first, having a new sarong made to fit while I wait (even though I don’t need another sarong either). As we walk out laughing and join Made for a coffee, I realise I’ve had a rare experience in enjoying shopping. While sipping the strong coffee I’m offered a little pyramid-shaped sweet I’ve never tried. As I bite into it, out gushes its sweet nectar-like centre, all over my chin and down to my top. Iluh smiles and puts a whole one in her mouth, “Ah that’s how you do it!” The explosion happens in the mouth, not down one’s chin. Many new experiences on this adventure.
On our way home we stop at their favourite warung (café) for bakso, a soup with meatballs (chicken or beef). Despite my many visits to Bali I’ve never tried bakso and it’s delicious. Eating what the locals consider the best version of their food is high on my list of excellent experiences while travelling. Same as the chicken satay at a warung popular with locals near Candidasa. My mouth waters just thinking about the charcoal flavoured, super rich peanut sauce with a hint of heat from chilli, it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. And it costs one dollar for a serve. The local food is far more interesting, more spicey than the bland food served to tourists.
My rewarding trip to Klung Klung is another lesson about being open, not staying stuck in a fixed position, not closing off to invitations or opportunities that at first I may balk at. To try to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’. Though I will still say ‘no thanks’ to going to big ceremonies, which are hot, physically demanding, go for many hours, noisy, uncomfortable, not that interesting and did I mention hot? I could have stuck with my usual response of “No thank you, markets aren’t my thing.” But instead I had a rich and interesting day, with new sensual delights, and bonding with my Bali family.
Ah! Now for more rest and relaxation, soaking up the ocean views.