Hanoi is relentless. The traffic drives me mad, overloading my system with so many close calls as I cross the street that I’m numb to danger, numb to noise. Honking horns, grinding circular saws, rushing crowds, chaos funnelled hither and thither beneath the green canopies shading the old town’s grimy boulevards.
The static of the city still hums in my head as the jet’s landing gear thumps on the tarmac in Bali and the pilot whacks on the reverse thrust; gravity sliding me forward in my seat till the fuselage slows and taxi’s to the gate. The engine noise winds down, and I’m back where I belong, the island of the gods where everything, especially noise, is turned down a few degrees.
Our driver whisks us away from the airport and into the night time road leading north to Ubud. Red tail lights bleed into high beams, making the rushing traffic as fused as a Batik painting to my tired eyes. We’ll be staying a week with our friend who lives in a villa right in the middle of a serried bank of Ubud rice paddy fields. When we arrive, I’m stunned by the silence surrounding our room.
I go out alone onto the moonlit veranda to let it all dial in. The washing movement of wind in the palm trees, planted in rows to protect the rice plants mired in muddy paddies, hip high now in the growth cycle. New layers of sound come. I hear the soft calls of frogs and the clicking of geckos hunting insects on the walls. And down low, so low I could be imagining it, comes the steady rhythm of Gamelan, Balinese sacred music, wafting on the breeze from a darkened temple somewhere beyond the tree line.
The music lifts my head to a sky shot with high clouds silvery in the three quarter moon, rising fast above the leading edge of a black storm blowing in from Batur, the pyramid volcano on the horizon, a soft grey shape like a pantomime backdrop. The sky flashes electric blue and thunder rolls, rumbling low, signalling a race of gusting wind that animates the palms into clacking semaphores.
Each lightning flash takes a photograph of the rice fields, dark shapes suddenly white hot, cooled by a slow trickle of train, growing in intensity till all I can hear is perfect noise – hissing rain running from the rooftops, churning the swimming pool, smothering the rice paddies. I’m in relentless traffic once again.
Where’s your favourite place to relax?