The Best Day of the Year. Some Random Thoughts.

Phew, I’m glad that’s all over for another year. Without a doubt, the best day of the year is Boxing Day. It’s a significant turning point in the Australian calendar, marking the start of summer holidays in earnest, a time to indulge in guilt free relaxation, simple foods, barbecues, books and trips to the beach. As much as I tried to avoid the Christmas mayhem this year, the gift giving merry-go-round, and the over indulgence in rich food, I admit I did succumb. I guess I’m too well-trained: Christmas, with all its trappings, is ingrained in my DNA. It’s a romanticised and mythologised Christmas that bears no resemblance to the modern-day version. Next year, I might run away.

Peach time, always ready on Boxing Day.

In my retrospective analysis of that over- rated day, one bonus was that I avoided visiting large department stores. Most gifts were purchased online ( from some of those large stores) which were delivered to my front door. The extra shipping cost was far less than the return drive to the nearest bastion of commerce, not to mention the enormous saving to my sanity. No Christmas carols, no maddening queues, no parking angst. I also found a few gifts in a nearby village, two novels for my bookworm granddaughter, purchased in a newly established, tiny children’s bookshop. This shop needs supporting.  I also found a hand made shoulder and neck heatbead pack from the local osteopath. The same village has a Japanese gift shop with an array of tempting goods, jewellery and clothing, a little gold mine of inspiring gifts for the hard to please at any time of the year.  And my gift from Mr T were two young black Silky chickens from a livestock poultry cart at the local farmers’ market. I plan to support more small local stores in the new year. 

Although Boxing Day is a secular holiday, it most likely has roots in St Stephen’s day. It’s derivation is worth noting in this modern day of  online delivery service. In 19th century Britain, Christmas boxes ( gifts or money donations)  were left out for post- men, errand boys and servants on the 26th December.

“In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This custom is linked to an older British tradition: since they would have to wait on  their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.”

During the Middle Ages, alms boxes were left at the door of churches to distribute to the poor. This, in turn, may have evolved from the late Roman/early Christian era, when metal boxes were placed outside churches and used to collect special offerings for the Feast of Saint Stephen, which falls December 26, or  Boxing day. 

Life’s peachy

I’m now wondering whether we should leave tips for those van drivers who bring our shopping to the front door. I remember a time when we would leave a gift of beer for our garbos, ( rubbish collectors). Recently a wine delivery courier arrived in a rental van, a charming and very chatty Sikh. His father came to assist in the weekend deliveries but didn’t speak English. The younger turbaned chap explained that his father had been visiting for a year, but the cost of an extension to his temporary visa amounted to well over $100,000. Our new  postal carriers work harder than ever in this day of online shopping.

And like those masters of yore, I too have a surfeit of food when it comes to Christmas leftovers. Yet in this age of plenty, my palate yearns for simpler delights- a freshly plucked peach from our laden tree, a simple zucchini and basil soup, or a spoonful of leftover creme caramel flan, a simple thing made from our fresh hens’ eggs, a little sugar and milk.

Some cheeky visitors retain their Christmas colours all year round. Very rude when they take a fancy to the mixed nuts on the table.

I’ve been thinking about Western over indulgence lately, all that plastic, the indulgent gift giving, the accumulation of junk, the groaning table of food. We need to return to simpler practices. Will a shift in the economic tide bring with it an appreciation of basic things- a hand-made gift or a longed for book? Has the internet era killed the joy of Christmas in the young? What happened to toys? In the age of electronic device, do children still run and play? Do I need my sleep measured by an app?

I hope your Christmas went well, dear friends and readers. Was it merry or quiet? Are you glad it’s over? Do you love Boxing day too?

 

Shiny Moments

I’m heading back to Hong Kong momentarily for a look at a few window displays. I’m always a sucker for cooks who enjoy their trade. The header photo shows a noodle and dumpling chef working in the window of a small cafe. He was pleased that I wanted to make him my shining star, while simultaneously the proprietor was attempting to shoo me away.

The photos below, in contrast, show the ugly side of big business, the Ooh Shiny moments that attract Hong Kong shoppers to big shopping malls.

Oh so sad, what would Van Gogh think of this? Louis Vuitton handbags, in Van Gogh fabric, embossed with bold ‘Van Gogh’ letters. You pay a lot for bad taste.
Gucci store. Why are these people queueing? But then, why do people queue for new iPhones? The world of commerce is insane.
Gucci handbag, black and shiny, embossed with the word REAL. Really?
Get yourself a good suit, boy. Hong Kong tailor shop. Oh so British.

Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part 2

By popular demand, here’s Part 2 of my  Guide to Bali. Thanks Mick for reminding me.

  • Don’t buy package deals from the internet. These deals are often deceptive. They may seem cheap but they are cheap for a reason. It is important to actively choose where you want to stay and not be swayed by some cheap deal or package. I pay around AU $55.00 a night a double for a small quiet hotel with glorious gardens and large swimming pool. Importantly, the hotel is close to the beach, restaurants and other facilities. The room is large and air-conditioned and the included breakfast is substantial. You can pay a little less, or a lot more!
  • Don’t bring too much luggage. Everything can be purchased here. There are many supermarkets selling all the usual brands and products you would expect to find at home, modern chemists, shops to tempt you with summer clothing, and so on. If you fill your suitcase at home, there’ll be little room to add anything. If you need another bag to bring items home, soft fabric Bali bags cost around AU $6.
  • Commerce helps the Balinese people. They often make only a small cut on each item and depend on tourists buying a few trinkets from their stores. When bargaining, remain cheerful and smile.  Don’t start negotiating unless you intend to buy something. When bargaining, I usually halve the quoted price and negotiate from there ( if I don’t already have an established price in mind).

  • Fixed price shopping. There are some very cheap fixed price stores in Sanur and it is a good place to start so you can get a sense of prices. Jenny’s shop in Sindu Beach market (opposite Sarina’s designer store) is one of these. Flashy, glass fronted shops along the main street are also fixed in price, but may offer discounts for multiple purchasing. It’s always worth asking. Also be aware that some fixed price shops may be simply overpriced shops.
  • Transport. Around Sanur, a short trip in a bemo (green truck with bench seats and usually an open door) will cost 5000 rupiah (50 cents) per person. Using bemos keeps this form of transport functioning for the locals. Take taxis or private cars on day trips – usually a good price can be negotiated for a long distance trip.  A trip one way to Denpasar market is around 50,000 (AU$5.00), the trip to the airport is 125,000 – 150,000 IDR (AU $ 12-15.00) Blue Bird taxis have meters if you prefer. A car and driver may be employed to tour various parts of the island. We usually pay a driver around AU$50.00 – $75.00 a day but prices have increased in 2015.
  • When staying for a month, it is more economical to stock your own beverages. Assuming your room has a fridge, stock up on beer, lemonade or other things you may need for the duration. Cask wine (Balinese Hatten or Plaga brand) can bought at Hardy’s supermarket for around $30.00 for 2 litres. It isn’t the best wine in the world but it grows on you. Bottled wine is expensive by Australian and European standards. Beer Bintang (a big bottle)  is a tasty drop and retails at AU$2.70 in a small store. Spirits (one litre per person ) may be brought into Bali duty-free. Mixers at supermarkets cost around AU60 cents per can.
  •  Smile and talk to the locals. Learn some of the language: even though most Balinese converse well enough in English, they do appreciate you having a go. Most Balinese speak three languages or more- Balinese (their own dialect), Bahasa Indonesian, and English. Learn about local customs and culture. It is amazing what you can glean from the locals as many of them are under employed and enjoy a good chat. This makes the holiday far more interesting.
  •  

    A funeral march along Jalan Danau Tamblingan, Sanur
    A funeral march along Jalan Danau Tamblingan, Sanur
  • Some European women dress in skimpy clothing when away from the beach. This only demonstrates cultural insensitivity and ignorance. Sleeveless shirts and dresses are fine in Sanur and other tourist/beach resorts. If visiting a temple, wear a shirt which covers shoulders, cover legs at least to the knees and take a sarong along. Of course, different dress codes apply in other parts of Indonesia.
  • Speaking of sarongs, invest in a few. Male and female patterns abound. These beautifully printed fabrics become sheets, cover ups, leisure wear, scarves and skirts and cost somewhere between AU $3.00 and $7.00  Mr T has always enjoyed wearing a traditional patterned cotton number around the hotel room- and it suits him.
  • Bali is a wonderful place to wind down and relax. Indulge in a pedicure, manicure or massage, another way to support the local women. One little shop I can highly  recommend for massage is Suar, Jalan Tamblingan, near the corner of Jalan Kesuma Sari,Sanur. A one hour back, neck and shoulder massage costs AU $6.00, and a pedicure with nail polish $4.50 (nail art extra). Bliss!!!
  • Daily offerings of kanang sari, Sanur
    Daily offerings of kanang sari, Sanur

Finally, to the question that many ponder. Is Bali over-touristed, and therefore not worthy of visiting? Some comparisons are interesting. Bali’s population is 4.25 million and 3.2 million tourists visit per annum.

Cities such as Paris, with 15.6 million visitors per annum, Venice’s historic centre with 25 million (where residents number 60,000) and London, with 16.8 million yearly visitors,and even greater totals for their respective countries, tourism in Bali is relatively quiet.

The pool calls daily.
The pool calls daily.

Next episode. Top 5 restaurants in Sanur.

Secret Designer Store, Sarina of Sanur

Take a stroll with me down to the far end of a one way clothing market lane to visit Sarina’s designer clothing shop. I was introduced to Sarina by my friend, Helen: others learn about Sarina in the same way. Most of her customers come by word of mouth or introduction. Unlike the other persistent but friendly women along this lane, Sarina has no need to beckon travellers to her store- they flock here annually to stock up on well made, good quality fashion basics more suited to Melbourne and Sydney’s mid seasons and winter layering. Most customers are Australian women over 40. Sarina keeps a few stools outside for bored husbands who have tagged along.  A dress and shirt maker by trade, this is evidenced by the cut of her garments. She often refers to other stock (not her own ) as ‘Bali Shit’.

The first thing you notice about her store is the absence of display. In fact, a kind of ordered chaos rules. The floor is covered in black plastic bags full of garments, hidden treasure, only to be revealed by Madame Sarina herself, once she assesses your size, style and taste. The experience might be compared to having a personal shopper and dresser all rolled in one, not that I have had the luxury of this back home. Try things on, have fun and let Sarina dress you.

She will know your size instantly. Forget about changing rooms and false modesty: off comes your top and on go her well cut basics, accompanied by cheerful and amusing banter. She will adjust the sleeves, pull back the shoulders and make the garment look like it was tailored just for you. Women leave Sarina’s feeling good about themselves – and they spend far more money than they intended.

Sarina- so delightful.
Sarina- so delightful.

PS. She also copies anything so if you have some favourite pieces, take them along and have new ones made to order.

Shop details:

  • Sarina’s shop, No 19, Sindu Beach Market, Sanur.
  • Prices are fixed and very reasonable- ranging from 90,000 IDR ( $9.00 AU) to 150,000 IDR ( $15.00).
  • Don’t go too early: 11 AM or later.