In 1973 I went on a school excursion to Bali. It was for 12 days and included a group of various aged Penrith High School students and three teachers. It’s one of my favourite memories. My first time on a plane, first time travelling without the family, first time to a country that wasn’t Anglo-centric.
While all of that might not be such a big thing now, it certainly was 47 years ago.
And it wasn’t just fun and games in Bali. I learned a few things too. Like how to use chopsticks and how to tie a sarong.
I even remember being taught. I was shown how to use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant in Kintamani that overlooked Mount Batur, a volcano which had erupted in 1968. One of the waiting staff showed me how to use them and, up until we visited Beijing in 2013, I had always used them the same way.
As for the sarong tying…our group was visiting a temple and most of us had decided to buy sarongs in order to fit in with the locals rather than the smattering of tourists. 1973 was a peaceful time in Denpasar. Even Kuta Beach was pleasant.
Outside the temple there was a line of stalls selling all sorts of stuff. Not so much tourist tat (which hadn’t arrived in Indonesia yet), more local produce, and, most important, sarongs.
I chose a predominantly yellow one with a pale batik pattern through it. Having paid for and unravelled it, I was suddenly surrounded by three woman.
They proceeded to show me how to tie my sarong. After a few times tying it and instructing me in a language of which I had the barest of inklings, they indicated that I should now try. Which I did. They applauded my success.
Quite often something like a holiday purchased sarong would be folded, put away and forgotten for a lifetime before being rediscovered and used as a makeshift tablecloth, but my sarong was different.
Once home, I’d wear it all the time around the house. Living, as I did, in the humid sweat box that was the Western Suburbs of Sydney, a sarong was way more comfortable than shorts or jeans. It became a favoured wardrobe addition.
As I moved away from home and set about drifting around various inner Sydney suburbs, I lost track of my sarong. Perhaps it did become a tablecloth. I have no idea.
The reason I’m writing about this long ago experience is because about six weeks ago, on one of those really hot plague days we had, it suddenly occurred to me that I should buy a sarong.
I went onto Etsy and flicked through a lot before I found a plain cotton one which I thought would work. I swiped to buy, then promptly forgot about it. Until today. When it arrived.
I unwrapped it and immediately tied it the way I was taught all those years ago by those excellent ladies. It was perfectly tied and I hadn’t had to think about it. That’s some good muscle memory.
Sadly, there’s not many photos of my trip (I don’t know why because I certainly had a camera) apart from the bemo above. However, I did cut out a piece from the Penrith Press following our return.
While I don’t remember the bomb scare at the airport I certainly remember the cremation ceremony. It was amazingly serendipitous.