Culture shocks rock!
‘We’re gonna crash, we’re gonna crash, we’re gonna crash!’ Josh is bouncing gaily on his bed at the news that we’re going to Bali – his first time in a plane and his first holiday overseas. ‘We have two chances of crashing,’ he continues brightly. ‘Once on the trip over there and once on the way back.’ I assure him nothing of the sort is going to happen and give him the old ‘you have more chance of being run over by a bus’ line.
Taking our nine-year-old overseas is part of a promise I made when I became a parent: make good memories. I’ll never forget travelling at the age of 10 with my aunt and uncle to Surfers, eating out every night, falling in love with Anthony Barnes in the swimming pool. I’ll never forget travelling at the age of 17 to Fiji with my schoolfriend, eating out every night, falling in love with Peni Tapu in the swimming pool…
Now we’re ready for our own adventure ! Jetstar gives Josh a great first impression of the flying life having us all walk through the heady atmosphere of Star Class. Ahh, yes I think we can live with this – before finding our seats, miraculously shrunken, at the back of the plane.
In spite of the dire warnings – check out the oxygen mask above, life jacket under the seat, vomit bag in front – Josh sucks away on his counter-ear-popping gobstoppers with gay abandon.
Hooked up to every gismo known to Jetstar technology, he even manages a casual ankle twist now and then to avoid deep vein thrombosis. The closest we come to death is flushing the toilet, believing we must surely be sucked into the shrieking vortex, bringing the rest of the plane down with us.
There is nothing like arriving in a tropical country and feeling the humidity wrap around you like a comforting cardie. The hotel-transfer man doesn’t have a red hibiscus behind his ear but he does wave a banner with our name on it and – here is a pivotal part to the story – immediately gives Josh a HUG, grabs his HAND and walks him like a long-lost little brother to the waiting van.
You have to understand that Josh is a typical no-kiss kid. The sort you must never ever smooch within a one-kilometre radius of school. Now here he is walking hand in hand with Dewa of the broad grin, big heart and shiny white teeth. (Sort-of-Nice) Culture Shock Number One.
Culture Shock Number Two is a little more intense. As we travel through Denpasar at night Josh has his first taste of a country that looks nothing like his own.
Tiny snaking streets, tiny shops that don’t look like shops, people sitting in gutters, motorbikes and cars that stop for no one. Inside the hotel room he says: ‘I’m scared’. Hopefully it’s just excitement overload reaction.
Bali is beautiful. Bali is bewildering. Even adults can find the cut and thrust of life beyond the luxury hotel walls confronting. Josh’s dad seems to have a little sign on his forehead saying ‘I’m a nice guy’ and becomes a magnet for merchants offering him anything from chess sets to – (Crazy) Culture Shock Number Three – wooden penis bottle openers. Ian declines politely.
But all is not haggling and Josh gets to experience real Bali delights like sipping hot chocolate on a cacao plantation, playing the gamelan, decorating wooden eggs, rooming with geckos, spotting little squirrels – tupai – running up and down the palms in search of coconut seeds. Even the scary-looking Barong, protector of the island, seems an okay guy to hang above your bedhead.
Josh’s confidence is growing by the day. This is in large part due to the Balinese love of kids and their jokey way with them. Josh’s name is misheard as George so he becomes George Bush or James Bond because of his little muscles or James Blount because of his curly hair. The Balinese men seem concerned that Josh is alone with his parents. ‘Hey, George Bush, tell your mum and dad to make another baby!’
Our son is rapidly adapting to the life of the British Raj. This begins with the staggering realisation that he can go down to breakfast every day and eat as much as he wants. He makes five separate trips to bring back one waffle (rhymes with jaffle) on a plate. And another two trips for chocolate milk and bananas the size of your ring finger.
At night, Josh is no longer shy about asking the waiter for the Kids Menu himself and is adept at ordering macaroni and gelati for dinner. (Cool) Culture Shock Number Four. I am letting him drink Sprite at every meal because water is verboten.
Ten days fly by and Josh declares this the best holiday he’s ever had. We celebrate with a day on the water, glass-bottom boating, visiting Turtle Island, having a python draped around our necks, an iguana plonked on our heads. Josh is now sporting a tatt, a sharktooth necklace and Bob Marley dreadlocks.
Living newly on the edge, we decide to go on the ‘Flying Fish’ – a giant lilo that soars high into the air, pulled by a speedboat. The Fish takes two passengers and a nimble Balinese ‘protector’ who hovers over us adjusting the balance as we hang almost vertically in the air.
Josh gives me a reassuring grin as he looks across and reads my mind: ‘We’re gonna crash, we’re gonna crash, we’re gonna crash!’
By Jo Stubbings
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, October 2008.