bali is from different from anywhere i've been before. it's a land of little touches everywhere -- the electric stone lamps perched on the top edge of a wall between two hotels, tiny offerings of rice and flowers are left in palm-leaf baskets all over the place, the fabrics draped on religious statues topped off with a shade umbrella, temples appear in unexpected locations, and there is a higher density of surf shops here than almost any other place in the world. (part of their ability to profilerate is that almost all of them appear to be selling either copies of the acutal clothing, or locally licensed versions that are cheaper to produce). Note: Volcom appears to now be one of the top 5 brands of grey-market clothes sold out here... i didn't realize that they'd jumped the surf fashion shark. and there's also the "italian lira" school of math to be used here -- with the exchange rate of roughly 10,000 indonesian rupees to 1 US dollar, some extra attention is needed when paying for those souvenirs.
of course, it also feels good to have the superficial benefits of southeast asia: USD $0.80 beers (and since brunei's laws do not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages [you have to bring your own alcohol into the country with you and drink before going out], it's nice just to be back in the land of beer at all), cheap guesthouses with private rooms, and tons of grey-market clothing and media. the video bars are back too, so dinner last night was accompanied by episodes of family guy and scary movie 3.
there is a cultural incongruity in seeing giant ads from US-based surf brands (billabong, stussy, quiksilver, rip curl, etc) covering the walls in the incoming immigration/visa portion of the Bali airport. even the mcdonald's by the beach has ronald riding on a surfboard. and any visit to the beach is not complete without getting hassled by the hordes of surf touts that hang out on the beach ("want to rent a surfboard? free lesson included!")
tourist numbers appear to be way down from kuta's former status as an australian surf haven. most of the travellers i've seen here are visiting from asia or scandinavia, and many of the hawker's stalls are empty of any customers.
after doing some last-minute research on lonely planet's excellent thorn tree message boards to update my 4-years-old guidebook, i found a place named the AP Inn on Poppies 2 (sort of the bali equivalent of khao san road). i know that many people out there may hate me for saying this about KSR, but i actually find places like it really handy for getting organized before heading on to more remote destinations.
i'm moving on pretty quickly from here -- i'll head out to ubud tomorrow morning, and come back on thursday to head out to the gilli islands. for some days spent scuba diving and just to get away from urban life. any island whose sole form of transport is horse-drawn carts or rented bicycles sounds like the right pace for me right now.