There are many reasons why I am living in Ubud. A big one is that despite it being a small town, there are tons of amenities to keep a Western expat happy. I can pretty much get anything I want here in town. It might not be my favorite brand, but I can get a reasonable alternative.
There are some things, though, that I just can’t get here. Besides dim sum, and Chinese food in general, I can’t buy underwear. Ok, yeah, I can buy underwear at the local supermarket, and maybe it makes me a snob that I feel like I need to buy underwear some place else, but it is one thing I just can’t buy in town. It is also hard for me to find yoga tops and bathing suit tops, for obvious waist up reasons.
Similarly, Eric has a hard time finding t-shirts large enough to fit him, other than the Bintang beer tank tops and tees. And, once we moved into the new house there were just a few items we needed. We used all of these expat “issues” as an excuse to get out of town for a day. We hired a driver to bring us down south, to the big city of Kuta.
I am not a fan of Kuta. I generally refer to it as the arm pit of Bali, loaded with drunk Australian tourists and aggressive touts. I avoid it at all costs. But, there are occasional times where even the most adamantly anti-Kuta person, finds themselves shopping in Kuta. Even if somewhat against their will.
After grabbing a morning yoga class, our driver, Kadek, brought us, along with our good friend Joe, straight to the Mall Galeria, in hopes of finding some dim sum. We walked through the somewhat depressing mall and could not find the supposed dim sum restaurant. Instead, we bought some towels for our guest room, an air freshener, and a grill basket.
We walked to the mall next door, DFS Galleria, run by the famous duty free shopping company. We actually aren’t even able to shop at DFS because we do not have tickets showing that we are flying out of Bali. Instead, we were still in search of the supposed dim sum restaurant. My belly was crying out for food.
We found it, tucked away on the upper level. It looked decent enough, like many similar Chinese banquet halls back in the States. The big difference: all of the round tables had reserved signs on them for Chinese tour buses that would begin to pour in later in the day. We quickly ordered some passable dim sum. Honestly, I was hoping to find dim sum that was so good that I would want to hop on my motorbike and drive the hour to Kuta just for some dumplings. Instead, this place was “eh.” It was fine. It scratched an itch.
ACE Hardware in Bali
Now, I have been hearing about ACE from every expat in Ubud for months and months. They have everything I have been told. What I did not expect was that it was an actual outlet of the ACE Hardware store in the US. It was clean, orderly, fluorescent, all things I have not fully experienced on Bali before. It was, in fact, slightly disturbing.
And, they did have a ton of stuff I would not expect. If I were still a huge shopper, like I was back in the States when I was trying to fill up a three bedroom condo, I would have been in heaven. Instead, we bought a shower caddy and a power strip.
I was amazed at how much entirely useless stuff there was at ACE, including lawn art, one of my pet peeves. I just wonder who is buying the ceramic deer for their lawn in Bali.
There were omelet pans to make eggs in the shapes of pigs and bunnies. There were not just one or two, but a whole collection of funny shaped frying pans.
It felt like a little bit of the over consumption of the US had made its way to the tiny island of Bali. Under a sign that read “MUST HAVE!” were a collection of fancy and oversized book ends, certainly a must have on a tropical island. I felt like I was at a Target, but in a very bad way.
Between the three of us we left with a measly few items, and made a pit stop for the main reason why I had to go to Kuta. Donuts.
J. Co Donuts and Coffee have been an infatuation of mine for about a year now, with branches in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I am slightly addicted. And, as I was taking a day off of my healthy Ubud eating, some donuts and coffee sounded great. We ordered six donuts, and me being the practical person I am, assumed we would each down a donut with our coffee and then we would take the rest with us to snack in a bit.
My mistake. I have never seen six donuts disappear so quickly. Before I could say bon apetit, our donuts and coffee were demolished and we were back in the car, heading to Beachwalk Mall.
As we neared the water, and the heart of Kuta, I was reminded why I never go down there. The traffic crawled, people everywhere, nothing but cheap souvenir shops and tattoo parlors lined the streets. This is the town that gives Bali a bad reputation.
Then, Kadek dropped us at Beachwalk. It had been a few months since we were last in the civilization of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, where shopping malls are the norm. Beachwalk, though, made me think we were in Miami. An open air shopping mall with brightly colored and fluorescent lit store fronts. They even had a Gap. Yeah, there was also a bubble tea stall and other stores that reminded me that we were in Asia, but it felt so foreign to me. It is even advertised as a “contemporary shopping and lifestyle hub.” It was a slice of Americana in the heart of Kuta.
Eric was able to buy t-shirts. I bought a yoga top. We even found the necessary cord to hook the MacBook to the TV at the house so that we can watch our downloaded movies on a larger screen. Suddenly, the trip to go shopping in Kuta felt like a success.
We downed a few happy hour mojitos overlooking the strip, with the waves in the distance. I felt for a moment like I was on a holiday. It seemed so far from the feel of Ubud.
We grabbed a few beers on the beach, overlooking the waves, and the piles of rubbish. During the rainy season, the currents bring in tons of natural debris, and right along with it, loads of plastic. Each day, someone comes out to rake it all up into piles. The following day, the garbage is strewn again on the beach. It is a reminder of exactly how over built the beach areas of Bali are becoming, and of how antiquated the sanitation system is on the island.
Regardless, we tried to enjoy our beers, feeling like very bad yogis, particularly when we stopped at McDonald’s on the way home. One thing I really cannot get in Ubud – a good burger. I understand that McDonald’s is not a good burger, but something familiar and recognizable was exactly what I needed. I relished that Big Mac and fries.
I am sure I am not alone as an expat. I do love living in Ubud, and am happy most days here. But, there are times when you need to escape the expat bubble for the familiar. For us, it happened to be ACE Hardware, donuts, the Gap, and McDonald’s. It was a day well spent in Bali. I knew, though, I was in no rush to return to Kuta.