Sharon and I first went to Bali in 1987. We had met in China in 1986, and had an amazing long-distance love affair over the next year or so (it was long distance because I lived in Beijing, while Sharon lived in Changsha -- a 24-hour train ride away).
Bali was our first extended trip together. It was supposed to be two weeks of bliss to cap off our time in Asia, before we both returned to the U.S.
As it turned out, it was almost our last two weeks together, as I had the poor judgment to break up with Sharon during our stay. (I know, I know – what was I thinking? Long story.) Of course, ultimately our life together got back on a wonderful track.
We had always dreamed about going back to the island paradise that is Bali, and we especially wanted the girls to experience Bali's special magic. Now that we live in Beijing, spending the Christmas holiday there seemed like the right time to go. Even better, my cousin Charlie, his wife Jessica, and their seven-year-old son Daniel, our favorite traveling companions, were game to join us from New York for a week of family fun!
Google led us to the Puri Santrian, a fantastic yet inexpensive hotel right on the beach in Sanur, a quiet suburb away from Bali's most glitzy hotels. Here's the mellow beachfront we enjoyed every day:
We all loved the Balinese details everywhere, and the kids especially enjoyed the swimming pools adorned with statues, fountains, and even a cave.
The cousins had fun on Sharon's Puri Santrian photo shoot:
You may have noticed the checkered "skirts" on some of the statues, which are actually sarongs; the black and white, a distinctive feature of the Sanur region, represents the balancing forces of good and evil. The hotel's statues were carefully tended everyday by an army of groundskeepers, who tucked fresh flowers behind the statues' ears and adjusted their sarongs.
One of the reasons that Bali is so magical is that there is no clear separation between religion, fine arts, and everyday life. The statues are a great example -- they're not just for decoration, but also serve as vital representations of the spirits, both good and evil, that Balinese believe affect all of the island's inhabitants and activities. Adorning the statues demonstrates to the gods, on a daily basis, that people are attentive to the gods' needs.
This isn't just a show for tourists -- every shop, village and even the roundabouts on major streets includes many representations of gods and Balinese heroes, all tended multiple times a day and presented with offerings of flowers, edibles and incense. The intermingling of the spiritual and mortal planes is, to me, the essential ingredient of Bali's "magic."
But enough about religious customs! On to the most important thing about a vacation -- food!
Sharon and I rediscovered – and introduced the girls to – the pleasures of Balinese food, which is very simple and easy to like. It features lots of chicken (cows, considered sacred, are rarely eaten, while pigs are thought of as "dirty,") tasty peanut sauce, and rice, which sometimes came in amusing shapes. Miranda's favorite dish was chicken satay with peanut sauce and the occasional rice "volcano."
Conveniently, our favorite restaurant, the Batu Jimbar, was close to the hotel, on Sanur’s main street.
We spent the first few days lazing around the hotel and catching up with our cousins, who had arrived a week before. Sanur's main street was an interesting stroll, and the hotel pools demanded constant exploration.
Before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve! We celebrated in Balinese style.