It first happens the night we arrive in Bali. In an open-air restaurant, punctuated by tiki-torches and paper lanterns, my friend asks the waitress, “What does the chicken curry come with?”
She looks at us straight-faced and replies, “Chicken.”
We smother confused smiles, then giggle until our drinks arrive. The next night we realize the joke is on us. Once again we order a chicken dish, and once again the waiter serves up a wry comment.
“Ah, yes,” he replies, glancing out to the stone courtyard. “The chicken is still…. running. You wait.”
This time we catch the teasing eye.
Among all the wonders of Bali, the island that most likely (and deservedly) gave birth to the world’s travel clichés: tropical paradise, breath-taking views, and mouth-watering flavors, it’s the playfulness of the Balinese people that tickles me most.
In Ubud, an energetic town famous for its role in Eat, Pray, Love, offers of taxi tours, foot massages and fire dancing shows greet us as we climb the ancient streets. Touts lounge in front of coconut carts, ornate stone walls and shops that sell everything from handmade batik and wooden masks to silver jewelry and Western fashions.
“No, thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
“You sure? To the moon is free!”
One sly driver holds up a laminated sign as we pass. Taxi? We shake our heads. He smiles with gapped teeth and flips over the sign. Maybe tomorrow? We laugh, accepting his offer and ingenuity.
We set out the next day, driving past Hindu temples and wooded thickets of tropical fruit trees. A stray animal runs out from the curb.
“Chicken!” I yell.
“Sa-TAAAAY!!” Says the driver, licking his lips and pretending to rev the engine.
We reach the rice terraces and trek alongside neon-green paddies in harvest. Sweaty workers stoop over the crops cutting rhythmically with curved scythes. The mid-sky sun flames their backs as they slosh in knee-deep mud. It is nauseating and low-paid work.
Around a bend, four farmers rest beneath a banana tree. They see us and perk up.
“Hello! English! English! Hello!”
We stop to greet them.
“Yes! English! Yes!” They call.
“I speak! I speak!” Says one.
There’s quiet and a pause before she continues, “Hello! How are you! I love you! Goodnight!”
Laughter follows. The group begins singing it as a chant.
“Hello! How are you! I love you! Goodnight!… Hello! How are you! I love you! Goodnight!…. Hello! How are you! I love you! Goodnight!”
Later, as I’m leaving, I realize the full truth of those words… Hello People of Bali, I think I love you. Goodnight!
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