I dropped in to see my friend Olive Adams after she sent me a note about some stories she had recently penned. The topic; colourful people she has known in Bali. Adams is a well-known figure in the Ubud community and there are few expatriates who have frequented local temples and ceremonies as often as she has, few “tamu” who have donned kebaya and sarong with such grace and enthusiasm. Affectionately known as Niang Olive by the Balinese, at 94 years old, she is every bit as sharp and witty as our first meeting nearly twenty years ago. Until recently, she would be seen strolling along Monkey Forest Road, a regal, impressive, tall figure carrying a carved walking stick, grey hair swept up in an elegant bun, wearing softly coloured dresses and always, always long beads around her neck.
For as long as I have known Olive, she has written poetry. “I have always had to write,” she said, a phrase I have heard time and time again from writers at the Ubud Writer’s & Readers Festival. While we sipped tea on her front porch, gazing at her neat garden set with small Hindu statues, Olive chatted about her early days in Ubud. “Many foreigners have come and gone but I stayed on”. Olive first arrived in 1978 and was instantly smitten by the verdant landscape, but more so, by the people. Tragedy had brought her to Ubud and after several return visits, she assisted a Balinese friend to build a small guesthouse near Monkey Forest Road that has now become her home. She became Hindu a number of years ago and has attended just about every temple ceremony in that time.
“Nowadays I also paint but it’s just to pass the time. I’m about as talented as a green apple.”
Her poetry is a quirky celebration of nature and human foibles; of language and clever rhymes. Bali is often the inspiration.
A Ballad of Bali
This is a true and sorry tale
Of an over-ambitious foreign snail
Who hid in a plane as a stow-away
Landed in Bali and decided to stay.
The vegetation in Bali is lush
So he went around on a gourmet rush
He filled his stomach to bursting point
Then went on a tour to case the joint.
The snails in Bali all wax fat
So he thought he could cash in on that.
He’d advertise for tourist snails
To visit Bali and leave their trails.
He searched around, saw several ares
On a gentle slope, with views as far as
Eye could see. He decided he
Would build a lovely spa resort
Where meditation would be taught:
Have gourmet food for gastropods
And other tasteful ends and odds
This little racket soon earned him a packet
Of cash which he sent to a bank overseas
He gave some employment (but little enjoyment)
To the gastropod staff who were all Balinese.
But some one unknown rose up in revolt
And smothered him in a big heap of salt.
All night he sizzled and frizzled and fried
His fate so tragic, they said was black magic
And no-one was really upset when he died.
The forest grows now where he once had been
And merely a tourist snail can be seen.
The Balinese staff went their separate ways
And happily work in their own home stays
Making pancakes, serving fruit salad.
And that is the end of this snail-paced ballad.
DRAGONFLY FAMILY PLANNING
I’m a dragonfly, handsome and trim
The young girls say “wow, I’ll have him”
But I’ve got my eye on a dame
Though, as yet, I don’t know her name.
They say she comes from Japan.
(I’ll verify that if I can)
They also say she’s not wealthy.
No matter, as long as she’s healthy
And has some wealthy connections
(That will fortify my affections)
Sounds greedy? Perhaps I should mention
In Bali, we don’t get a pension.
Although I’m still pretty spry
I’m not a young dragonfly.
I have to prepare for retirement
In a salubrious spot
Where I can squat
Before my final expirement.
I can’t keep flitting about
Saying to friends “ it’s my shout”
In circumstances like these
I’d do well to learn Japanese.
The lass is so slim and petite
And I’m sure she’s a pleasure to meet
I’ve said before that I
Am a handsome and trim dragonfly.
Somehow I must make her aware
That we’d make quite a beautiful pair.
She’s from Japan – I’m Balinese
An Asian Alliance like biscuits and cheese.
If all goes to plan and not otherwise
Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see in the skies
A new generation of beautiful young Jap Balinese dragonflies.
I think you’ll agree
My planning is wise.
After chatting about various characters who have come and gone, I finally departed with a pile of Olive’s poems tucked under my arm. “Some peoples is funny,” she chuckled, as I bid farewell.