Sanur, Bali, 2010.
After taking another tasty, turmericy bite of Nasi Goreng, Indonesia’s version of fried rice, and sipping a semi warm Bintang, I look up and see her. The Market Lady—she is standing, waiting just at the sandy edge of the beach restaurant where we are eating in Sanur, Bali. As I make eye contact, she smiles and waves. Waving back, I look down at my rice.
“Kurt, the Market Lady is staring at us.” I tell my husband, since, from his plastic patio seat, his back is to her. “She’s following us.”
“Well, you told her we’d come back to her store.”
He is right. Earlier in the day, on our way to play in the Indian Ocean, we walked through a marketplace near the beach in Sanur. Despite the lack of customers, it was full of stalls with proprietors selling items, including wind chimes, kites, scarves, batik sarongs, bags, T-shirts, jewelry, straw hats and beach mats. Most of the shopkeepers were middle-aged women.
Sweating, Kurt and I trundled through with our kids, Eddie and Kasey, and lugged all our beach gear as one of the women approached us and gestured toward her store. She wore a turban-like head wrap, button down blue shirt, a gold and black batik printed sarong, as well as faded red plastic flip flops.
“Come, I have beautiful things to show you. I will make you a good price,” she announced. Limp tendrils of hair, which had escaped the wrap, stuck to her forehead; her temples glistened. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled and she exuded calm, which wasn’t surprising, really, since the entire island of Bali seemed to project that particular personality trait.
“Yes, they are beautiful,” I said, slowing my gait and giving her shop the once over. She walked with me for a minute, holding my gaze.
“I will show you pretty sarongs right now.”
“We’re going to the beach, but we’ll definitely come back,” I said. Returning a quick smile, I kept walking with Kurt and the kids.
Meanwhile, Sanur’s local beach was, I’ll say it, “magical.” Although the warm water was somewhat murkey and the sand coarse, treasures washed up onto shore: coconuts and floating bamboo sticks with fabric tied around them, presumably, used for ceremonies. They made perfect shovels for five-year-old Eddie and three-year-old Kasey.
Escaping the heat, Balinese boys played next to a fishing boat that floated near the shore. Eddie slowly sloshed his way over to them in the shallow water. Soon, he was in their midst. Within a few minutes, all the boys were hanging off the sides of the boat.
When the local boys tired of the boat acrobatics, they went back to shore and launched a kite into the breeze. They invited us over for a turn. The kite bobbed and twirled against a backdrop of the volcano, Agung, shrouded in clouds.
As it happens every day when you visit the Island of the Gods, synapses, chakras, chis, inner nirvanas and happy places all fire up and converge into a unified über state of Zen. However, growling stomachs and tired kids brought us back to reality. After saying goodbye to our new friends, Kurt, the kids and I gathered up our towels and beach bag and headed back to the shops and market. Because the day was so hot and humid, we ate at an outdoor restaurant with an ocean breeze.
Back to the Bintangs….
“Let’s finish and go to her store,” Kurt tells me as we polish off the Nasi Goreng.
“I know—after we drink our beers. I wave to the Market Lady again, and lift the Bintang bottle. Pointing to it, I motion that we’re going to consume the beverages and then join her.
The Market Lady waits, smiling like an elementary school teacher watching over her students who are completing an in-class assignment.
Needing that last bit of liquid courage, I guzzle the rest of the beer. I dread going to the market. Checking out the wares is always intriguing, especially for a souvenir connoisseur. That’s never the problem.
Bargaining, on the other hand, is stressful and a horrible shopping strategy for a people pleaser. Getting just a few cents knocked off is enough for me. Ultimately, I never get it right. The other day in Ubud, I completely offended a woman for lowballing her scarves. She yelled, turned away from me and didn’t return when I lingered at her stall. Little did I know she carried only silk scarves, and I managed to do what seemed unthinkable. I pissed off someone from Bali.
And I don’t want to offend the Market Lady—after all, she waited for us to finish our meal. Kurt and I gather up our beach gear along with the kids and follow her to her shop.
Despite motor scooters and mopeds parked everywhere in the vicinity, the shop corridors are virtually empty. All the shopkeepers beckon for us to buy various Southeast Asian goods as we pass their stalls.
Kids play in the corridor with a small ball and a sock. They all know each other. Surely, coming to work with their moms every day creates solid friendships.
She isn’t pushy.
In her fully stocked shop, the Market Lady shows me sarongs and sassy sundresses. She selects a pretty blue kid-sized sundress and holds it out for my daughter. Kasey turns her head into my sandy knees. However, already a clothes hound at three-years-old, she peeks out at the dress.
Bending down, the Market Lady extends the frock to Kasey. Then leaning over to catch Kasey’s gaze, Market Lady laughs and instigates a game of peek-a-boo from behind the blue sundress.
She looks up at me and says, “The color is like her eyes.” Indeed the aqua blue makes Kasey’s eyes jump out even more.
“I’ll take it.” I cave without even naming a price. Next, I walk over to a table with scarves. Fortunately, the Market Lady goes over to Kurt and Eddie who, inspired by our fun with the local boys, check out some 3D kites.
A complete sucker for scarves, I eye a pretty white one with a sequined design. I set the beach bag down and feel the gauzy material. Kurt comes over with a pirate ship kite for which he already settled on a bargain price.
“Steph, how many scarves do you have?” (That’s a rhetorical question, right?)
“Dozens,” I answer.
“You don’t need that scarf.”
“I don’t need it, but I want it.” I fondle the scarf’s fringe and see the Market Lady out of the corner of my eye. She is watching us, but does not say anything.
“I thought we were going to focus on gifts for other people,” he adds.
Damn. Kurt’s using my words against me. Ironically, that’s been my line to get us into the shops in the first place.
I put the scarf down and Market Lady asks, “Do you want to buy it with the dress and the kite?”
I shake my head as she eyes me one more time.
After purchasing our items and leaving, we move down the still empty shopping corridor. Surprisingly, Kurt checks out another store. So I search for bracelets and wind chimes, gifts that could potentially be stocking stuffers in four months.
I keep thinking about how a four-dollar scarf is not a big deal and that buying it might mean at least a few meals for the Market Lady and her kids.
While Eddie and Kasey play with some of the children hanging out in the doorway, I feel a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I almost knock into the Market Lady.
“Excuse me,” she says. “You left your bag in my store.”
She motions, picking up an invisible beach bag.
The Market Lady has me. Of course, I follow her back to get our beach bag full of soggy towels and drenched rash guards. As I enter her shop, she hands me the bag and the white scarf, wrapped up.
Geez, is there a Hindu secret for reading minds and subliminal sales? Or is it just that I subconsciously left the beach bag, so I would have to come back?
The look in her eyes is that of a woman who gets it. Her expression says she’s a businesswoman who wants the sale, but also that of a fellow mother who knows I still want to look pretty.
“How about this, too, for just the price of the scarf?” the Market Lady shows me a ball of twine for the kite.
“Yes. Yes, both of the items for the price of the scarf,” I confirm as if I had wheeled and dealed the price.
She takes the money, puts the items in a brown paper bag and indicates that she will place the goods in the beach bag if I want.
I grin. It doesn’t’ matter that we grew up thousands of miles apart from each other. The Market Lady and I are on the same wavelength.