Nyoman's warung circa 1976


Hey, the memories come flooding back. That's Nyoman, the only woman on the bench and this is her 'warung' or makeshift stall. Nyoman is a Balinese word for 'first born'. There's Ketut (fourth born) still eating that nasi campur showing his country bumpkin heritage, relaxed and comfortable in his sarong. Budi, in the middle, was the sharpest dresser in Kuta - dig those '70's flares! He was a driver. The others worked as employees of Kartika Plaza, an expensive tourist resort nearby.

Nyoman's warung was just around the corner from Ketut's homestay, "Bunut Gardens" along a little lane of crushed coral that led to a coconut plantation. Nyoman's husband drove a lorry taking sand and gravel across the mountainous spine of Bali from one side of the island to the other. He was often away for days at a time.

I once asked Ketut what Nyoman's other name was as I wanted to give her something before I left for home. "I don't know Daarh-vfid", came the surprising reply. It seemed to occur to him just at that moment that it was a little odd he didn't know her name either, so he yelled out, (as neighbours do in Asia), across the laneway and over the wall to where Nyoman lived, "Hey first-born! What's your name?" - They had been close friends for years!


Acting more like a newly married couple than just friends, a lovely portrait of Nyoman and Ketut. Look at their hands. Isn't that sweet? Ketut was still a bachelor and Nyoman was married with a daughter. Actually public displays of affection like this, even between husband and wife, are rare indeed in Indonesia. It just isn't done. Its far more common to see friends of the same sex holding hands.

One of my distinct impressions when first arriving in Indonesia was how heavily militarized the country was after the ousting of Sukarno some eight years before. I had never seen so many uniforms and guns. At that time Australian police were yet to carry weapons. I became more relaxed about this when I saw a pair of hunky soldiers in green and kaki fatigues walking down the main street of Denpasar bristling with all sorts of testosteronic weapons. They were holding hands. How nice.


Balinese are wonderful conversationalists and warungs like Nyoman's are perfect places to exchange gossip. Balinese men enjoy chatting at least as much as the women and take great pleasure in the simple pleasures of talking. Strangers strike up conversations with ease, and if you didn't know otherwise, you'd get the impression that they'd been close friends for years. So different from the Anglo Saxon stiffness that requires an introduction before anything can happen.

Ketut in particular is a great story teller. He could hold an audience spellbound by the way he put across a yarn. From time to time when I stayed with Ketut, there were new additions being built at Bunut Gardens. The workers would sleep on site. The end of a day would be a time for conversation. Ketut rarely sat on his comfortable bamboo lounge suite on the open verandah, but preferred to sit cross legged on the tiled floor together with the workers sharing his food and cigarettes. Not only are Balinese good talkers, but they also listen intently. I watched them staring wide-eyed at Ketut, hanging on his every word. Exaggeration and embellishment were obviously part of the art.

Although I only know a handful of words, I love listening to the Balinese language. So modulated and expressive with an amazing richness of sounds. It rises and falls much like the Balinese Gamelan. The words that I could mimic first with some success gleaned from such conversations, were, you guessed it, swear words as I discovered to my embarrassment.

Nyoman sold coffee, cigarettes, cheap dry biscuits, simple home cooked meals, and later, cold drinks and mosquito coils for the tourists. Why, if you were lucky, you could even find a roll of toilet paper in her little warung - and once in a while, that could be you most valuable possession you owned.


A few years later, Nyoman moved her warung out into the main road in the hope of attracting more business. She's a wonderful lady who didn't mind a cuddle from a lilly legged six foot tall dork from Australia. Being an Aussie, I was not used to the novelty of being able to keep my mouth open in the outdoors without a dozen flies flying into it, so I made the most of it. Its also the reason why we're a nation of mumblers. Nyoman spoilt my mum rotten when I took her to Bali on a holiday to escape from dad's retirement blues.

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© david.atkinson@rmit.edu.au
created 26 february 1999
modified 6 october 2002