Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rice Field Recovery

 Updated 16/1/15
Jan Cornall's novel TakeMe To Paradise (Saritaksu) was launched at the Ubud Writers & ReadersFestival in 2006 and tells the story of Marilyn, a western woman arriving in Ubud a year after the first Bali bombing.

In the piece below, a mini sequel to the novel, Jan imagines Marilyn’s return several years on when Bali’s recovery is in full swing. 


You arrive.
And it’s not the same.
Where palm trees once swayed in the hot jet fuel breeze, bill boards have sprouted and taken hold; every little crack and cranny selling something, but not the thing you need

You need to recover, from what you’re not sure. It worked last time last time you were soothed back to life by rice paddy green; all-around-you-green, everywhere-you-looked-green, as-far as-the-eyes-could-see-green. Now you have to cut your way through a forest of advertising, a mangle of metal, a sea of shiny fat bumper-to-bumper SUVs, joining you on your search for the pristine green sawah that will help you retrieve that something you think you have have lost - if only you knew what it was.

Last time you met a driver who took you in, took you home to meet his family, offered you a room. You felt so happy within the walls of his family compound, so well looked after, so safe every time you up and downed the steps of the traditional entrance gate to his house where all the slithering, ground traveling demon spirits couldn’t follow.

Then the whole island was in recovery, picking up the pieces after Bomb One, performing endless purification rituals and self-examinations and coming up with ingenious ways to convince the world that Paradise would be retrieved from the wreckage. And it was, just look around you, the place is booming, everything bigger and better than before; “even the Balinese are getting fat” you remark as you watch them rolling out the doors of the Hungry Jack/Kentucky Fried/Dunkin Donut/Macca’s fast food by-pass strip, trying to heft themselves onto their motorbikes. Where once you could fit a family of four, not even two fatties can fit.

“I’d rather eat babi guling any day,” your taxi driver chortles, “every day, if I could. The place might be booming but it hasn’t helped my pocket. I’m working three times as hard, stuck in the macet all day for same money as before, and then if some family member has to go to the hospital… well, it’s all over.”

You mutter some words of commiseration as your driver leaves the macet behind, taking the back roads through small fields and villages. You wind down the windows and let the smoke from afternoon gutter fires fill the car. Its carcinogenic fumes make your nostrils run and your eyes smart but you don’t care, it feels like coming home.

Last time you were recovering from the big one; the big break up, the big divorce, the one that left your outline filled with a thousand tiny holes, like someone had used you for target practice (you suspect that someone was you). Bali’s green patched you up, healed your scars, injected its chlorophyll into your veins through your eye-sockets. You went home with a new spring in your step, determined to do all the things you once said you would, no holding back this time, no holds barred.

Only now it seems that this idea of ‘living your dream’ has gotten much more complicated. Not only do you have to live it, but also blog it, boast it, crowd fund it, film it, sound-bite it, you-tube it, instagram it, win an award for it...

“Where did you say you want to go?” your driver asks.

“Kaja,” you reply, “kaja, as far north as you can go...”

“You want to go to Agung?” he laughs.

You remember fondly how kaja means to face the mountain and kelod to face the sea, but you tell him, “I just want to go to the sawah, the best duck-eating, bug-eating rice paddy you can find, where I can sit for a week or two and reclaim, recoup, re-calibrate, realign, repair, redeem, re-salvage, restore... a little bit of stillness to my over-mailed, over-tweeted, over-shared, overwrought, underdone dream life.”

Your driver grins in the rear-view mirror. He understands, as drivers always do.

“Oh, too much traffic in your brain - you got mind macet! Ok, we go north all the way, no macet there…my family lives in a small village near to Singaraja, they have small bungalow in the sawah - only you and the swallows.”

“Perfect,” you tell him, “no wifi?”

“No wifi.”

“Bagus sekali!” you exclaim as you lean out the window, drinking in the early evening cool, not in the least bit worried that once again you are putting your life in the hands of a complete stranger.

“What your name?” he asks. “I am Nyoman.”

“Marilyn,” you reply.

“And tonight Mar-a-lyn,” Nyoman adds,  “we have very important ceremony in our village temple. I am very lucky that your fare brings me home or I would not be able to attend. Would you like to come? You have kebaya? My wife has plenty, you can borrow...”

You reach into your bag and turn off your iPhone, iPad, iPod, stow them in a secret inner zip lock pocket and throw away the imaginary key.

Cold turkey in the sawah, for as long as it takes. If you run out of money you can always sell off your electronic devices one by one, or better still rent them out, that should keep you in nasi bungkus for a good few months. Maybe even start a support group, iAnon, “I am a recovering iAddict and I have not turned on any of my screens for seven days (everyone clap).”

One step at a time, one step at a time…

(c) Jan Cornall 2013

The Ebook version of Take Me To Paradise launches on Feb 3, 2015. Get your sample or copy here!

In July 2015 Jan will lead a Backstage Bali Writers Retreat 
Jan's most recent book is Archipelagogo - Love Songs to Indonesia.
Join an international writers retreat with Jan at

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