Two-Minute Noodles and a Privilege Check
I have just finished writing for the night. After hours at this internet cafe, I am in need of a feed, and too lazy to cook my own instant noodles.
Across the street hangs a tattered yellow banner advertising cooked food. It reads a mix of Indonesian and English words, but “free Wi-Fi” reels me in like snapper on a fishing line. I’m not after anything fancy, like my usual Balinese spots one suburb over in Canggu – just something quick and cheap to sleep on a full tum.
“Malam!” I greet the men outside who are seated around the table, chatting boisterously. I’m not sure what makes me assume they’re not patrons, but I ask “Buka?” Open?
The man closest to me stands up and gushes, “Yes, yes we are open!”
He calls for someone to attend on me and invites me to sit where I like. Awkward at what feels like special attention as the only actual diner, I take the nearest spot – just inside the doorway and right by the fridge.
A petite woman walks over to me from the wooden counter. She hands me a menu laminated a long time ago – with a price change scribbled in, and the corners curling up. No Wi-Fi password is printed but I don’t ask for it. I have data anyway. I just choose water from the fridge and mi goreng – fried noodles – for simplicity’s sake.
The thin plastic of the water bottle is as bendy as a contortionist, and the temperature difference between the liquid and the air makes for rapid condensation. Between the two, it’s a mission to not spill anything. I’m failing massively, dripping water across the table, my leg, and my phone screen on nearly every sip.
I’m trying to scroll Instagram, but my attention is drawn away to the children laughing, watching TV in the next room. There’s a pink tricycle in the corner behind a pile of other toys. The foam number puzzle-mats in front add to the feeling I’m dining in a stranger’s living room.
The mi goreng is served on a plain white plate with standard metal utensils. It was no $6 NZD smashed avocado toast my basic side had been living off and living for while in Bali, that’s for sure. Just a square of noodles, some bok choy, a fried egg on top. I chow down ravenously, only just noticing how hungry I’d become. The noodles taste familiarly salty and soon I realise why – it’s the same packet stuff I get from the convenience store.
Up from here, after the roundabout, it’s petrol stalls, clothing shops, and a small grocery. The food places have some written English where I’m lucky, like this place. I start processing the differences between Dalung, where I am now, and Canggu, just a village over – one an insight into how the Balinese really live, the latter just a suck-up to the tourist dollar.
How privileged am I, as an English speaker from New Zealand, to be able to go almost anywhere in the world and find my mother tongue spoken well enough for what I need and the same food available that I enjoy in my own home?
Realising my money for three weeks had gone to foreign businesses projecting foreign cuisine, instead of real families in need of a livelihood, was a mortifying pill to swallow.
After finishing my food, I head to the counter to pay. A meal and water only came to $1.30NZD, almost nothing under the exchange rate here. I think about my close proximity to Canggu, the surfer’s paradise, and its bougie international/vegan/paleo/ *insert dietary requirement here* western-owned-and decorated cafes. For something with a penchant for too many hanging pot-plants, it’s ironically fitting, as sad as it is, that they seem to sprout up like weeds. But hell, I was just engaging in the digital nomad scene less than 40 minutes ago. I’d managed to taint Dalung too.
Tipping in Bali is normally only 5-15% of the total bill. Tonight, I give the value of a second mi goreng. Not for anything exceptional, but for the scrawled crayon on the back wall that caught my eye. Its artist had probably been watching TV while I ate.
Cover by Kuuan