LOS ANGELES – Its morning. The sun’s sublime light is peering through my window adorning my face with 50 million year old photons giving me the energy I would need for this long journey of mine. Called room service the night before so they would would wake me in fear of oversleeping. I should’ve known that notion would be folly. How could one sleep in the day before they travel to paradise. The excitement was overwhelming so I headed down to the gym to burn off a little.
Once I had a little breakfast, showered and packed I was out the door. I arrived to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) in plenty of time. Oddly on a Sunday afternoon there was no wait. I was at the gate in less than half an hour. Normally I’d be pleased with that outcome, but this just meant that I had to wait even longer on what already was sure to be a very long flight.
The wait was shortened a bit by this tiny 8 year old Vietnamese kid who took a keen interest in me from the security check line. He was staring at me and asking me questions. His mother kept apologizing, but I told her it was ok. The kid seemed to be very bright and inquisitive. He reminded me of myself when I was his age. So me and my new found pal ended up being on the same flight to Tokyo. He let his father carry his heavy bag and walked with me as his mother and older brother seemed to struggle a bit. I guess he was occupied.
Once we arrived at the gate I sat near an outlet so I could try and deliver some emails and organize some things before I boarded. The kid just couldn’t seem to let me be so he came over to ask me more questions. One of them was, “What’s your name?” I told him “Neiman.” I then asked him then to which he replied, “Its a mystery.” I smiled. I see he wanted to play a little game so I asked for a hint. “What does it begin with?” He answered, “M.” and without hesitation I guessed, “Your name is Minh.” Now I said the kid was Vietnamese but you wouldn’t have been able to tell as wide as his eyes got after that. “Mom!! He knows my name! How did you know that? How did you know that?!” he exclaimed. I simply smiled, although I was perplexed to how it came to me in an instant. I was so sure it was his name. Then I looked at my ring. Usually this type of mysticism is commonplace in Bali, but I was still in the airport. That’s when I confirmed it. The island had called me back.
Finally it was my time to board the plane after waiting for a couple of hours. One of these days I will be able to afford better than coach. Going from state to state isn’t that big of an issue, but the long arduous journey overseas can be brutal in a cramped space for 11 hours. Especially when you have a 7 year old little girl kicking you in the lower back for 6 of those hours. I won’t bore you with the details of the flight, I’m not that cruel.
Landed in Tokyo a few minutes early despite leaving 23 minutes behind schedule. When traveling overseas I usually like to get a very long layover so that I may traverse the city; but since one of my main objectives was to get to Bali to visit my good friend David Sutton (who was only going to be there 4 of the days I was there) I chose the flight with the hour and a half layover. See you next time Japanese people.
Hopped on seemingly the same plane to head to Singapore. Yet another 7 year old kid was kicking me for 4 out of the 7 hours this time. Just my luck. I had a 6 1/2 hour layover in Singapore but we arrived at 2 am. So I had to twiddle my thumbs for most of the time. It was torture knowing that I was only a 2 hour flight away from my destination. So I made friends in the airport and passed the time.
27 hours in, I board the final plane headed to Bali. I am elated. Knew I would not be able to sleep from the sheer eagerness of anticipation. The first person I knew I would see that was familiar to me was my brother Gusti Badra. Oh how I missed Gusti. The last we spoke on Skype I was teary eyed I missed him so much. He was a dear friend to me on my last trip and wanted to see him badly.
29 hours have passed since I boarded that plane in Los Angeles. I wasn’t fresh. No shower. No changing of clothes. Yet I was probably the happiest guy in the airport. It was apparent as I listened to the new Daft Punk album through my headphones. I was literally dancing in the line for Visa on Arrival. People were staring at me and one Balinese guy was smiling uncontrollably as I was gyrating back and forth in the line. The energy from the island magnified my boisterous mood. I felt as though I was home.
Gusti was set to pick me up from the airport. He originally told me I would have to wait for an hour because he had some business to attend to. I waited 3. That was about the limit of how long my energy could last too. Then it happened. I saw Gusti! We embraced in a hug and to both of our surprise we had each lost a significant amount of weight. I was so happy to see his smiling face. He told me he wanted to take me to a warung he liked. A warung is a local Balinese restaurant. I couldn’t wait. It had been 16 months since I tasted Nasi Campur.
After we ate I knew the next phase in my trip was upon me. I would see my good friend David. Incidentally he had already set me up with accommodations at Bening Bungalow where he was staying. He told me the key would be in the door to my room and for me to just come right on in. The traffic in Bali was massive. A lot has changed since I was last here. They have built up the roads a bit and made an underpass. Doesn’t sound like much, but here that is huge.
We arrive at Bening Bungalow about 2 1/2 hours later on a drive that should have taken 1 hour or less. We walk back to the room and I see the key in the door. I unload my stuff and there is no sign of David. On the way to Ubud (where the bungalow is located) I told Gusti I wanted a motorcycle to rent. Not a motorbike or scooter, but a big boy bike because I am still a big boy! We traveled over to the spot and met with his friend Allo. A testament to my pull I have in Bali I rented the bike from him for 1/3 less than what they go for. I don’t know how many foreigners can say that?
Once on my motorcycle I knew the 1st place I would stop would be Seniman Coffee Studio to see my other dear friend David Sullivan. David is from London complete with all of the crude British humor. The 1st time I was here he was away back in the UK. Everyone kept comparing me to him. When he finally came back I knew why. He was like my curly red-headed long lost brother.
I arrived just before he was closing. He was surprised to see me. We shared a beer or two and then I knew… the party had just begun. David called a couple of friends which included another good friend Pauline “Pau” Ko. Pau is a character like no other. I love her candor and spirit of life. She is half French half Asian. She once told me that she spent half of her life in France, now time to spend the other half in Asia.
We all met up after I went to the room to take a quick shower. I still saw no sign of David. I figured I would see him out and about so I wasn’t too worried. I met with David, Pau and crew and chummed it up for about an hour. The beers and jet lag were hitting me so hard I nearly fell asleep at the table. I slapped myself a few times to snap out of it and somehow I got my second wind. It was Tuesday so I wanted to go see my friends Abu. Kadek & crew play at Napi Orti on Monkey Forest road. Since this is a regular occurrence, David and Pau declined. That didn’t stop me because I know quite a few people in Ubud. That’s really putting it lightly.
Once I walked up the stairs to the lounge I was instantly greeted with a huge smile and open arms from Wayan. You should see this guy! He has an afro that would make any soul brotha jealous. Abu and the band were playing and the place was packed. They saw me and announced my arrival over the microphone followed by a greeting of hugs in the middle of their set. People were all looking and probably thinking to themselves, “Who the fcuk is this guy?”
I danced and then danced some more as I drank some of the local spirit, arak. When the guys finished playing I knew where I would head next. Its where everyone in Ubud that’s partying ends up… CP Steakhouse & Lounge. Dewa is the owner, a very good friend of mine as well. I told him I was coming on Facebook. To my great surprise he was waiting there with all of my old friends Gopale, Pas & others at a table just for me. He grabbed a bottle of Red Label and we commenced to getting whiskey bent & Hell bound!
I was overwhelmed with the grand gesture and hospitality. Then something special happened. A Balinese man walked up to me and said, “Neiman Catley.” I knew I never met him but he seemed familiar to me. I asked him who he was and then I was completely humbled. It was one of the great talented artists, photographer, musician, etc from Ubud, Miyoshi Masato. I had heard of him and had marveled at his work through Facebook and here it was he knew who I was. The craziest thing was he was complimenting me on what a talent I was. This is one of the greatest honors I have ever had in my life and I was taken aback. I quickly reciprocated to him and told him how I truly loved his work and felt his talent was worldly. He then told me he wanted to have a photo shoot of me. I can’t wait. I am so honored and fortunate. After a few more drinks, I headed back to the bungalow. Layed across my bed with a smile and thought to myself… “I have arrived.”