Bangkok was once Southeast Asia’s city that never sleeps. Now last call is loosely policed, the title is up for grabs. As for Jakarta, the Ibu Kota mother city of Indonesia, an extensive after-work rush hour might see cars shared – under the 3-in-1 rule – with clubbers on their way to the D.B.T; daerah bebas tuhan refers to the Chinese club district ‘area free of god’. Malming traffic jams on Saturday night may merge with Churchgoers or Muslims doing their morning prayers. Taxi drivers, who are named Mohammed, have shaved heads and prayer beads hanging from their rear-view mirrors as if taking refuge in the all-equanimous Buddha.
Midnight on neighbouring Bali Island, the night is still young. The hustle at Pasar Badung, the island’s largest night market, stalls on the horizon with the sun. Marketers, having scattered their wares, take a rest. Sales will peak before dawn as restaurateurs converge on stands of fruits and vegetables, seafood in buckets, sharks and tuna pooling blood in the potholed streets, and a tarpaulin spread of cheap, foreign-brand, second-hand footwear with toes full of beach sand. This pasar is not the kind of place tourists choose to spend their holiday nights – a good thing for me and hawkers of the latter.
If you’re an anak dugem, a clubbing kid, you’ll note the equatorial heat makes nightlife in Southeast Asia that much more sufferable. If fruits and veggies are more your scene, all around Indonesia, you’ll notice the odd parking lot framed in inglorious stalls like stacks of old lobster traps, buzzing at witching hour presumably by the same, climatic token. Bare white bulbs backlight pyramids of vegetation, and most of Bali’s is just marked-up retail from Badung Market.
Here in the Piscean Dutchess of Local Pasar, flanking and bridging a grungy inner-city river, there is one side street that smells especially strongly – of flowers. This 300-meter night safari supplies the local Balinese Hindu community with raw materials for their daily offerings awarded to well-dressed trees, volcanoes, the ocean, their ancestors, office spaces, cement statues, toilets, motorcycles, everything else, and busy intersections. Artful packages made of folded banana leaf contain geese eggs, the fibrous hairs of old coconuts, cotton, strings, rice, Chinese coins, and other fetish objects fulfilling the wish list of divine decadents. This strip of square, cement storefront enclaves, stocked with coloured grasses, bales of blue flowers, unripe yellow coconuts, and origami chandelier thingamajigs, more resembles adjoined community art spaces; the underlying volition here is spiritual – with a Dadaist mysteriousness of function.
Though durians and rambutan also have pips, seedier options for nightlife in Bali – towards which I hurl my purple, snotty mangosteen – take up most of the guidebooks. For its fruit and veggie dunia malam world of the night, Denpasar is my kind of seedy city that never sleeps.