#Indonesia: unexpected journeys of an accidental religious peddler

The view from my hotel window: my former house in Ubud, with a new tiled roof.

Arriving in Indonesia again wasn’t as I’d expected. For starters, my luggage was brimming with religious artifacts of various sorts. More by accident than design,  several circumstances had arisen that might have led a customs officer to assume I wasn’t a holiday maker but some sort of religious peddler.

An old Indonesian friend, a Roman Catholic nun, had recently on a spiritual and personal development program in Australia. One of the topics covered involved techniques for working with puppets. I was already broadly aware of such techniques, I think they’ve been widely employed in the child child mental health. So, when she asked me to help her out by taking a box of puppets to Indonesia I didn’t hesitate.

In the end she changed her mind and gave me 10kgs of completely different items, mostly religious. The collection consisted of prayer books and papers; what seemed like dozens of minature fridge magnets of St Mary Mackillop; some larger printed icons of St Mary; assorted religious DVDs; and, a tube of religious posters. I felt so well equipped I could have instantly set up business at any number of the world’s holy sites.

After making adjustments to what I planned to take and resolving myself to the reality that my own luggage would be limited to 10kgs, I felt that I had a workable plan. Then I had a call from one of the monks in my own church. He wanted me to take an original hand painted icon to some friends within the Orthodox Church in Jakarta, not something I could refuse. By the time I left Sydney I had 22.5kgs of stuff in my bag.

Since the days of the Schapelle Corby case the customs examinations at Denpasar airport have been transformed, they are highly efficient and completely unambiguous. All incoming baggage is x-rayed. I was wondering just what sense Indonesian Customs would make of all those tiny little rectangular iconic fridge magnets. I needn’t have worried, they were completely disinterested in my artifacts.

Flying on to Jakarta

My intention, once in Denpasar, was to buy a domestic sector and fly straight on to Jakarta. Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the exodus of holiday makers from Jakarta to Bali for the Christmas New Year period but was soon reminded. There wasn’t a Garuda seat to be had on the Denpasar-Jakarta sector.

I tried hanging about on the off chance that I might squeeze onto a flight as a wait list passenger. It didn’t take me long to realise that lots of other travellers had the same idea. Although my name seemed to be at the top of a wait list form, I soon noticed that there were several forms, all with just one entry at the top.  It was time for a decision, I fly tomorrow and stay in Bali tonight, but there were no available flights for two days.

Stepping out of the terminal, with an electronic ticket for two days hence,  I walked towards the car park and within moments negotiated a transfer to Ubud.

The discussion was typical of a lot of conversations about price.


“Yes, I need transport.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“I want to go to Ubud. How much to go there?”

Ubud’s about 36 kms from the airport by road, a lot closer as the crow flies.

“250,000 rupiah”

“Surprising he’s offering me such a reasonable price, straight off”, I thought. At current exchange rates 250,000 rupiah is about $25.50.

“Yes, that’s a fair price”, I answered, “Let’s go then”.

We walked on 50 meters or so, then he confided, “I hope it’s all right that there’s no air-conditioning?”

Now this was a different matter. In effect he was actually offering me an opportunity to resume negotiations and I did, without hesitation.

“Oh, if there’s no air-conditioning, I’ll pay you 200,000 rupiah”.

He agreed, and so the journey began.

Desa, Kala, Patra

In Bali there’s a maxim termed simple ‘Desa, Kala, Patra’ that I’ve discussed elsewhere on this Blog, it relates to the need for flexibility in life, the need to apply the fundamental principles of life in a manner that accommodates different times, places and situations. According to this approach the fundamentals remain in place but immediate actions might call for innovation and adaptation. An awareness of this concept and the capacity to apply it stands one in good stead for that particularly difficult year 8 class that timetabled for last period on Fridays.

Our journey was interesting.  Reaching a red light on a major intersection in Sanur, Ketut, the driver threw a left turn into the cross street, cut in front of on coming traffic, maneuvered to the left lane on the other side of the road, then drove back to the intersection to take advantage of the turn left at any time sign – Belok kiri, jalan terus.

“The car isn’t licensed to carry tourists, because it’s too old. Do you mind if I avoid the main roads in case there’re police?”, Ketut enquired.

I answered “Tidak apa-apa” , that’s ‘No worries” in Indonesian. I had no problem with this it just added colour and gave me an opportunity to see paces I hadn’t been to in years. Eventually it rained so we turned back to the main road, the theory being that the police wouldn’t be out in such weather.

The conversation was excellent, the traffic a nightmare but in the overcast conditions we certainly didn’t need air-conditioning and the view from my room is beautiful.

Intersecting paths in the sawah (rice fields) at Ubud

Sent from my iPad

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