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Friday, September 10, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Augusta - Part III: Bali (Love)

This is the (slightly bare) third part of a three part series. Read parts one and two.

Bali – Love
So, we get to Bali. And, in Augusta, that’s the tough part of the journey. Because there’s not a whole lot of Indonesian culture readily available in Augusta. You'll have to do a lot of this exploration on your own, but many Augusta activities  can be substituted for exotic excursions to create a memorable experience.

Bali is an island in the country of Indonesia, and is also one of the country's 33 provinces. Indonesian culture is a mixture of Muslim, Hindu and tribal religions, with cultural and culinary influences that range from the Colonialism of the 17th-19th centuries, to maritime commerce and piracy, to modern, industrial China. But Bali, in specific, is primarily a Hindu culture. However, it's not the same form of Hinduism associated with India. Technically, it's called Agama Hindu Dharma. The differences are complex. But they don't matter, because you won't be there.

And it's not so bad to miss out on the experience of visiting Bali. Despite being a beautiful and overwhelmingly polite country (like Canada with sarongs), it's also a huge tourist operation, named the best experience in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. So, even if you were able to visit, you'd be surrounded by faked antiques, Westernized notions of Balinese culture and overpriced mass-produced textiles passed off as hand-made. And, also, no Javier Bardem. So poo on Bali (Dear Bali, not really - it's just an expression).

Bali has this great art form called gamelon music, wherein the belief is (if I'm getting this right) that the spirits of the instruments are what make the music. As grads of Augusta State University will remember from the dreaded humanities classes (which I quite enjoyed), Claude Debussey incorporated it into some of his compositions. A group out of Athens called Macha incorporated gamelon instruments in some very accessible Westernized music. Click on the links to get an introduction.

But Debussey and Macha won't be playing around here any time soon. Debussey is dead, and Macha disbanded. So start your exploration off with a community drumming session at idrum2u, every Thursday night. Drum circles exist for the purpose of including everyone, no matter their experience. And studies have shown a correlation between music-making and improvements in anxiety, loneliness and depression. And owner Not Gaddy is a nationally - if not internationally - respected musician and teacher.

Bali is also a tropical paradise, with amazing snorkeling, scuba diving and other aquatic activities. Obviously, you won’t find a coral reef in Augusta - maybe we can get Mayor Deke on that. But you can enjoy a serene, early-morning paddle down the Savannah River or across Clarks Hill Lake. The mist rising off the water, combined with the fluidity of movement and sightings of native fauna will bring you a similar sense of wonder. You can rent kayaks and canoes at any number of local providers. At the lake, try Little River Marina or Hayes Marine. For the canal or the river, try American Wilderness Outfitters, Broadway Tackle & Canoe Rentals or RiverCat Kayaks.

You can also combine these two activities - primal music-making and aquatic activities - with the Sept. 17 Moonlight Music Cruise at the Augusta Canal. Not Gaddy will be leading boaters in a drum circle as they navigate the water in the historic Petersburg boats.

Now for the food. Can you name a traditional Balinese dish? I can't without Google's help. But you'll recognize a lot of the ingredients as having the Southeastern Asian flavors that Americans have grown to love over the past couple of decades: coriander, peppers, cloves, nutmeg, sesame, turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, lime, soy, garlic, onions and lots of seafood. There's not a lot of pastureland in island cultures, so beef and lamb don't often make appearances in traditional cuisine.

The closest you'll get in Augusta is Thai and Vietnemese food. I recommend trying anything with shrimp, fish or pork at Thai Kitchen in Evans. Try the Mee Krob, the Kaeng Khua Saparot, or anything else that strikes your fancy. The service is slow, as they work with fresh ingredients and everything is made to order. The decor is spare. But the flavors are phenomenal. If you can get them to serve your food in a traditional Balinese banana leaf, you've probably captured the essential experience of dining in Bali.

If you've eaten there, and are looking for something new, head down Washington Road to a former fast food spot turned Asian catch-all restaurant. Wasabi Express has its many fans of its "Japanese" drive-through selection; but the inside menu has grown by word of mouth and through those "in the know." Their Pho is said to be as authentic as one can ask for in this area. Their spring/summer rolls (depending on who you ask) are so fresh and vibrant, you'll think they caught the shrimp out behind Second & Charles. Again, you're looking for a flavor profile that is as close as one can get. So look at the list of ingredients above, and find them on the menu at Wasabi Express. Like Thai Kitchen, the service can be slow. Very slow. And the local barbecue joints are fancier. But it's more than worth it.

Finding Love

Aside from calling an escort service, there’s not much that you can do to ensure that you’ll find love. But if you’ve gone into the experience – or experiences like this - with an open heart and a clear head, enjoyed the culture, art and cuisine along the way, and worshipped and nurtured your spirituality in your own way, you might discover that love finds you.

Because when you reduce the needs of mankind, it’s all about love: Love for a husband or child, love from family or friends, love of a God. So I hope you find love. Whether it’s through this journey, or one of your own.


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