A real life fairy story from the strange streets of Ubud …. Gather up fair souls, and listen well upon the Wonderful Tale of The Dark Lords of Quiz Night at Ubud’s notorious Fly Cafe. The true story of a difficult path to wisdom, the villains along the way, and the secret of ordinary magic, fiercely guarded by the Cretins of Quiz.
The setting: Hordes of vampires dressed up as yoga teachers, shaman, healers and magicians take over a small town on a tropical island. They rampage through an orgy of confused souls, feasting on a tide of naive flesh and liquid dollar, dazzling their victims with their hypnotic synthetic light and crystal bowls. Who will save us? What to do?
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Friday Night Quiz, Fly Café, Ubud, Bali, 8.43pm: among those epic ritual battles remaining to ordinary man, the struggle to be heard at the central table on Quiz Night is one of the most primal.
There we all are; the least admired, the most dreaded and maligned tribe of boozers, smokers, meat eaters and cretins in all this fair village of yogis, vegans, tantric goddesses and buff sacred DJs, squabbling passive-aggressively over being right, being shouted over, being the best, quaffing our beer and heaving our Marlboro in a heinous display of debauched adult insecurity, as quiz nights tend to celebrate.
We are the scum of the Ubud barrel. We are the monsters under the four-poster beds.
We are the image of what you might turn out like if you fail to get your cosmic shit together!
We are the face of those Not Living Their Dream Life, Not taking four yoga classes a day, Not trading chakra activation or exploiting the poorly researched secrets of a mystery cult to make a buck as a mystical healer… or pull in hordes of unwitting tourists to our Kundalini Pyramid Scheme for $5,000 a pop (yes, we all know about that nasty little racket).
We are the epitome of ordinary human behaviour, of your dread destiny, in fact, should you fail to transcend your wobbly humanity and pass, shimmeringly and with enlightened colon, wallet and morality, into the Special Radiance of Shamanicly Activated Awesomeness our New Age peers back down in Ubud Centro are busily selling tickets to.
We are the ones you warn your kids about. “Moonbeam! Stay away from the scary man! Can’t you see he’s less evolved than us?”
This particular posse of our world-wide League comes and goes through Indonesia, which means the prizes at Quiz are meager, and the displays of unbridled human vice are amplified. Here, among an alarmingly shrinking raft of ‘undeveloped’ locations on Earth, civil liberties, personality quirks, antisocial habits and unfashionable tendencies are very much still allowed. You don’t have to be pretty, or enlightened, or vibrating at a higher freak-wency to join us.
You don’t need to be wearing amulets of Shiva, tattooed to the back teeth, waxed, buffed, doused in essential oils, gluten-free, third-eye activated, or in other way special to be here. But you can do all that if you like, and you will be as welcome as the fat guy next to you, who is wearing a piece of old roadkill, with the tracelines of a lifetime of 3am horrors all over his grizzly face, furiously arguing his case about What is a falchion.
Quiz Night at the Fly is a fiesta of true democracy that takes place under a thick haze of tobacco smoke, over the beaten hulls of an armada of cheap beer bottles, though a sweaty marsh of daggy clothing, and over the crushed hopes of anybody not loud, brave or moody enough to win the rowdy scraps over every trivial question.
A quick glance across the pinched, grizzled, smeared and salacious forms around our table at Quiz might persuade the greenhorn anthropologist that he has indeed arrived at the Bacchanalian haunt of the lowest of sub-human flotsam.
Most of Ubud sees us that way.
We are the collective face of what it looks like to drop all pretenses, abandon all airs, surrender to the slings and arrows, reveal your warts, wrinkles, wounds and weirdnesses, and show up at your worst to jelly wrestle over meaningless facts.
We are Ubud’s Least Wanted poster kids – those who have struggled, those least fit, those who have nothing to add, who are to be avoided, or perhaps offered compassion, if you are going to be nice about human degradation. We are those who do not drink purified essence of bluebell tincture while out partying. Those who choose beer instead of Kombucha, who do not dwell on matters of Cosmic Importance, or aim to be Gods or Goddesses, but revel in the trivial, excel at the real, and awkwardly practice the humble art of being Ordinary.
You might think then, that all this means we are not very nice.
But the truth is, as my years of scientific study and field research have proven, that it is precisely those actually capable of turning up at their most sloppy, letting out their inner orks and goblins, who you can actually trust in the end.
Why? Because while the special trade in transcending their struggles, they end up dodging their humanity. They focus on looking good, sounding wise, and not wasting the precious cosmic energy they harvest on anything that does not serve their superior interests.
They often do end up looking good, but being good is another thing. They also end up sounding good, as they cobble together slogans and insights from the Sounds True marketplace, to turn into books or blogs or marketing material – and in so doing end up a very long way from the true power in life, which comes from being your self.
In this town, if you get sick, crash your scooter, contract dengue, suffer heartbreak, have your soul sucked out by one of the hundreds of apex narcissits, get heatstroke or melancholy, the yogis and the health freaks will for certain leave you for dead – unless you’re on their books, that is.
If you are not actually paying for their special wisdom, and their even more special friendship, should you suffer a real-life hiccup, downturn or disaster, they will cringe at your lack of purity, frown at your low vibrational condition and swiftly glide away, while the quiz beasts, grizzled and addicted as they may well be, will without doubt or hesitation, most certainly save the day.
If you crack three ribs, tear up your dress, lose half your skin and struggle home bravely after a bike crash, as I did, you’d better hope like hell its a Dark Lord of the Fly Cafe that’s hanging out at your place, and not a Yoga Teacher.
I made that mistake once, when my villa was being used for a healing workshop, and was flatly told to go away when I limped up to my own front door after a very bad scooter accident. I was told it was a ‘bad time to disturb the yogis’ and sent to drip blood over the back steps of my own home, so as not to disturb the profound workshop in human intimacy that my inconvenient injuries and low-life neediness were spoiling.
I sat in a coagulating puddle of my own tears, sweat, plasma and shredded lycra for an hour while the yogis learned about how to be intimate behind the closed door, and eventually recovered enough sense to call upon those unsung heros in this operatic town, The Cretins of Quiz.
I reported my broken state to one of the shabbiest, craziest, drunkenest geniuses of Getting Real in all Ubud, who said, “Shit, Jade! That’s terrible news! Don’t panic. Sit pretty. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
And he was.
He came with unbrushed hair, in a stained T-shirt and a very ugly pair of flip flops. He came with two dark little vessels of reishi mushroom essence he makes himself, cotton wool, antiseptic, a playlist of 80s rock, two packets of cigarettes, a bottle of rum, some coke, ice, and as much time as it would take to get the scary story out me, and the creepy yogis out of my house. He patched up my leg, knee, cheek and elbow with dressings, put me to bed, and did not require me to eyegaze meaningfully at him before he blasted off on his bashed up Yamaha, trailing Lucky Strike smoke behind him into the night, shouting, “I’ll be back to check on you with breakfast after 10, or 11 ….”
And he was.
When I got dengue this year, and whimpered to my healer/ yogi/ let me be your spiritual mentor-sort of friends, I got a lot of ‘Oh dear’ and a confetti of sad face smileys on facebook.
When the Cretins of Quiz found out, late on a moonless night, there was an immediate intervention. Symptoms were demanded. Evacuation offered. Within an hour of word reaching their Fly Cafe Headquarters, a courier was dispatched into the wilds, yonder to my villa, baring a ready-to-go bottle of bitter medicine, a bag of strange anti-dengue powders, and the blessings of the Dark Lords of the Fly Cafe. And I was cured by morning.
Which all brings me to the beautiful moral of my tale – the thing I want to share with you all as we head into a New Year, and make our wishes, give our thanks, and imagine a life, a society, a vision more splendid for us all.
The highest insight one can learn while living in a Spiritual Community (yawn) is the beautiful revelation that it is the ordinary, and not the ‘superior’ among us who are the greatest human beings.
The treasure of our species is hidden in the most humble, and can never belong to any of those who make even the least claim of being special.
And why is that? Simple. The basic law of the universe, as we are reminded all over Hindu Bali, is that life eats life.
Life thrives on life – that’s the design, the basic arrangement.
It’s a hard lesson, a tough fact described in biology and all the ancient myths, which explain, as gently as possible, that to be born on Earth means to feast of her other children; chickens, carrots, cacao beans, coriander, cumin seeds, cows, cabbages – all, and to be eaten up by the Earth and her other babies in the end, in return – deal with it!
Coming to terms with this, the life eating life cycle, in which we are helplessly caught, both as devourers and the devoured, is the fundamental terror that can cause an otherwise useful human being to freak out completely and clutch at transcendental fishing hooks.
These sorts are like Great White Sharks who want to be vegetarian – they are the very bad news indeed, because they are at war with the nature of things, and that, my friends, is the worst of all wars.
They will do anything to escape the basic design of life on Earth, inevitably seeking to out-class it, thereby setting themselves up as gurus, goddesses and other peddlers of special magic to lure their very special sort of prey ~ disciples, followers, clients… with cash, which is the food source they hunt on, but hate to admit to.
They often wrestle with a psychological terrorism about the body – terrified of its impurities, fearful of parasites, of being eaten up by candida, worms, cancer, negativity, aliens… and a morbid horror too, of eating other things, like animals, plants (except special ones). They dodge the dirty ordinary menu provided by the planet and graze on rarified organic, shamanic, orgiastic products which support their fantasy that they are better than human.
In short, and out of a tragic failure to see the splendour in the Earthling story, many of these types set up shop in a Hall of Mirrors, a fictional reality where they are no longer dreadful ordinary people, but goddesses, gods, shaman and teachers. From here they spin all manner of glittery tresses and sales pitches to lure others out of the magical world of Ordinary, and into their Synthetic Kingdom of The Special for what they usually call healing, but could better be described as making a living.
The beauty queens, yoga addicts, cranky vegans, raw food posers, reincarnated Egyptian priestesses and botox victims of Ubud might look more glossy than the Quiz Monsters, but they are at war with the base fact of life. And sadly, because of this, you cannot trust them in the end.
Their teeth might sparkle, they may be ‘organic’, ‘shamanic’ or ‘orgasmic’…. their brows may be neatly frozen, and their figures remaining weirdly adolescent, but they are at odds with reality – they cannot handle the facts: that life is messy, it gets wrinkly, it sometimes hurts, it goes wrong – and all of that is ok too.
They want to live as though life won’t weaken, age and kill them, before gently turning them into worms at last – just like every body, and every thing else.
They can be so deeply interested in their own ascension that they completely fail to notice the situation of those around them – which has always confused me, given that they routinely insist they are empaths, healers and variously psychic.
It’s because of all this that the so-called spiritually fittest – the self-proclaimed more awake – who are (coincidentally?) also at pains to be the most beautiful, the most persuasive, the most translucent and cool, are not nearly as gorgeous inside as the wisened quizzers.
The Cretins of Quiz, and others like them have the ordinary wisdom and the rough grace to know that life is going to beat them at it. Knowing this, they rage not against the inevitable, but celebrate the incidental. They have taken the Dalia Lama to heart when he said, the purpose of life is to be happy, and to help others be happy, and they do their best to share the rounds.
They do not lust and fawn and network with the most radiant, golden and dazzling among us, but turn up for the cracked, the meek, the weird and imperfect on their beautiful and perilous way through this adventure.
Which is why, after seven years of being a purified yogini, a walker of the path less middle class, a candidate for higher spirituality and superiority, in general, when I found these ordinary monsters and studied their code of chivalry, I tossed aside my yoga mat, canceled my daily delivery of crystal-charged coconut water and ordered a burger and a Bintang among the cheery ghouls at Quiz, and was most secretly delighted to jump in among them.
I stripped back all the ‘being good’. the ‘being pure’, the desperate search for a healer, a guide or even a friend among the special – and learnt that the highest grace is innocence – to be simple enough to accept what is, and strong enough to stand by others as they learn to do the same.