The last time we blogged, we were in the S.E. corner of Sabah, Borneo, waiting for an Indonesian visa and a boat to take us to Tarakan in Kalimantan. The purpose of this was to make a more direct – although less-travelled – route between the Philippines and Jogjakarta in Java.
If “Tarakan, an island city in Kalimantan, Borneo” sounds intriguing and exotic in a Joseph Conrad way, the reality is a bit more mundane. Notable moments came when our boat docked and the cabin door was opened – and we were stormed by an invading force of motorcycle-taxi drivers. They barged through the first row of passengers, including us, in their haste to secure fares for the long ride down the pier to customs and immigration. Welcome to Indonesia. We, of course, walked, and once there had to smile and mime our way through an inspection of Katheryn’s bag which turned up two suspicious items: tampons and a bag of black peppercorns. Both, apparantly, unknown in the world of the (male) inspectors. Our verdict on Tarakan? Nothing exciting. Although all we did there was spend an evening wandering around finding food, accomodation, and a ticket out.
The ticket was for a flight, ostensibly in the morning, to Surabaya, Java. Surabaya, known as the “necessary evil” of Java, is a massive city on the central north coast through which everything passes. Our plan was to go straight to the station and take the 4 p.m. train out, but our Lion Air flight being 5 hours late put paid to that. We were forced to arrive after dark and spend an overnight. Nothing unpleasant happened; still I can’t say I hold the place high in my affections, and we were thrilled to be rolling out in the morning into the lush countryside of central Java.
We gave Jogja a chance. We spent days wandering the markets and shops by foot and becak, and went by motorbike into the surrounding villages. We found painters and potters and sculptors and sewers – but apart from discovering a great big stone monument called Borobudur, it wasn’t what we were looking for. We had better luck in Solo, a more conservative, less touristy city nearby, known for its massive textile market. There we bought a few samples, and one superb piece: a copper batik chop. If we go back, it will definitely be for Solo rather than Jogja.
Back in Bali, and for the first time since leaving Vancouver we are on familiar ground. We have a little Honda motorbike, a room booked in Ubud, and it’s time to get down to work. OK, this is the fun part of the job: scooting around a stunning tropical island, meeting friendly craftspeople and giving them lots of money for beautiful things. Then again, there are the torrential deluges which periodically catch us out far from home…
The first stop is our Timorese friend Victoria, and her great collection of tribal art. We were sold out of her coconut tree masks before the end of last season, so this year we are getting more. I will put a price list below, so anyone interested in reserving a specific piece can email us, and we will give more details and set it aside. Victoria also had some new masks which caught our eye. These come with the metal stand.
Next we dropped by Wayan. Of all of our contacts, he is one of our favorites. Like most Balinese, he seems to take life as if it was a ripe mango dropping, pealed, into his open mouth. Yet for all of that, it hasn’t been as easy year for him, and the stress shows. He is our umbrella and Balinese banner (umbal-umbal) man, and apart from running the shop he and his uncle do most of the sewing. With a young family he is struggling to make ends meet, so our order, the biggest ever with him, came at a welcome time. Apart from the whimsical banners (if you want rainbows, order now!) we are buying his hand-made 2m diameter patio umbrellas, as well as smaller decorative table top ones.
Southern Bali – from Ubud to Denpassar to Kuta – is an unbelievable road side shopping experience of small and medium-sized producers. Apart from the sheer quantity of inventory, what is almost as stunning is how much dross there is. After awhile you get repetitive craft disorder, and just can’t look at another identical coconut Buddha, and you wonder who can possibly be buying all those tacky maiden-in-a-rice-field paintings. The same is true with the cast stone sculpture. There is so much of it – and a lot of it isn’t bad – but the trick is to find a small business you like, and who does quality work on site. After MUCH looking, we met Gus, who had beautiful pieces, and was able to walk us through the process in the workshop behind his tiny store front.
It’s similar with the metalwork. We are buying lamps this year for the first time, and we sourced out Jero, who we like for her enthusiasm, and who makes everything in a small family business out back.
The last items we are shipping out of Bali are not easy to find; they aren’t in every second shop on the road side. Maybe that’s why we love our New Guinea pieces – they were a lot of work! One memorable day, trying to re-find a small shop with these amazing necklaces on the edge of Denpassar, we spent 4 hours fighting unbelievable traffic through the city. I am crazy enough to consider city driving in Asia fun – you aren’t constrained by rules like “stay off the sidewalk” – but this was exhausting (literally). We finally bailed out of the humidity and pollution to a small restaurant, who gave us some directions. Back on another 6 lane horror show, after negotiating another chaotic intersection, my prized progressive lens glasses made a suicide leap out of my shirt pocket into the middle of traffic. Miraculously, after we pulled over and ran back, they were still alive – until the last truck taking the corner scored a direct hit. And we never did find the shop.
But now I know where it is, and we spent a lot of time with Kadek, and her near-neighbour Andi. The necklaces are all wearable, but also come with the stand, and are displayable works of art. Andi’s shields come from Jayapura, Irian Jaya, and could also conceivably be used in a skirmish/raid/war with your enemies. Perhaps better just put them on the wall. Kadek’s necklaces, she is honest enough to tell us, are made by her in Bali, in the Irian Jaya tradition – except for one style. These elegant sculpures, called Kalabubu, come from Nias, off the coast of Sumatra. Kadek is an expert, but she says people here lack the skill to reproduce them. They are as smooth as bone or horn, which is what they look like, but they are actually polished discs of coconut shell, with a brass clasp. She only had two, and we are keeping one for ourselves…
I am currently putting the new stock up on our website. Please check it out by going to http://www.kebeandfast.com, go to “our store”, and look for these goods in “jewelry” and “arts and crafts”. Below is a sample of what we have. If you find something you love, please contact us by email about details, delivery and payment. You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Foreign Devil Correspondents