Travel Diary: Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, where even the sacred monkeys read The Economist

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2


Whenever I see anything related to literature, my internal monolog breaks into a musical, “I WANNA BE WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE.” Exactly like Disney’s Ariel The Little Mermaid. So, when I heard about Ubud’s Readers and Writers Festival (URWF), I decided: I must go. That’s what my savings are for.

URWF was my first writing event. So, the schedules overwhelmed me. By 1 hour, they have 3-5, sometimes more, interesting panel talks and workshops running simultaneously. I have to choose only one session per hour for 4 days. They had a scheduling app for Android users only. Unfortunately, I’m an Apple fangirl.

Naturally, I put off scheduling until the very last days.

That’s when I know the workshop I wanted was sold out. After sulking, “WHY?!” to my friend Raisa, who was going to be there too, I emailed the organizers, asking if they have extra seats.

5 minutes later, they replied yes.


H-1, I walked 11kms around Ubud to find 2 erotic Ms: Museum and Monkey

With so many galleries, creative people, and temples, I pictured Ubud as artsy and cultured, like your hipster friend who watches French movies, raves to Israel’s pop songs, smokes Vape, and uses incense as aromatherapy.

Since this is real life, this is not fantasy, it was not as I imagined it to be.

True, Ubud is artsy. But, Ubud is also erotic.

Wait, what?

Yep, we accidentally walked into an erotic museum. Okay, read on:

UWRF opened at Blanco Museum. A couple of locals mentioned Blanco Museum. Tripadvisor said Blanco Museum. If the monkeys could talk, they’d blab about the museum too.

Ubud Pura

Ubud dog

Ubud Dirty Duck

So, since Philip and I had an irrational FOMO (fear of missing out), we walked and had many stops along the way: tasty crispy duck lunch, Hubud co-working space (surprisingly sauna-like: hot and full of people barely wearing clothes and not talking), little bookstores, minimarkets, Ubud Palace (where I got bitten by black-white stripe dengue mosquito), an animal rescue organization (occasional rescued stray dogs lounging in front of the display) and other interesting things that would take pages to write.

Ubud Blanco Museum

Ubud de blanco museum 2

Ubud blanco art museum bird

Long story short, we’ve arrived at Blanco Museum just before the closing time. After we bought the ticket, we ascended the stone stairs, avoiding stepping on orange flower decors, passed a green garden, greeted by the quacks of multiple colorful Faber Castell birds, mounted UWRF stage, which was set at the museum entrance, step on the wooden door,—all to find naked ladies on the canvases.

Nobody told us the museum is erotic.

Later that day, I remembered my friend Grace said something about Ubud’s erotic museum, but I couldn’t remember the name.

Yea, it’s probably Blanco Museum. Figures.

What are the paintings like?

I leave the surrealism/ neo-surrealism /other –isms explanation to the experts. Without any offense to the art communities (all the paintings are beautiful. I loved them all.), let me describe the paintings via the topic everyone understands: porn.

The subjects of the paintings were either a naked girl or fully clothed man—most of the paintings are naked girls, obviously. The painter, Don Antonio Blanco, if he lived in the internet era, would bookmark his browser with categories: Asians and blondes.

“The women were either from his imagination or people he knew,” piped in a girl, wrapped in Balinese traditional clothes.

The style is abstract, so say goodbye in seeing in-your-face nipples. It’s blurred, but not like those Japanese videos or KimK’s revealing cleavage in Indonesian medias. The blurs consisted of gorgeous subtle swirls. Off the canvas, some paintings were covered with glass, which was spray painted to deepen the illusion, you’d notice if you look closely.

“You would think the painter’s a playboy,” she batted her doe eyes, “But, no. He was faithful to his wife. His wife would sit close to him when he painted. He thought women’s bodies were beautiful, so he appreciates them by painting.”

My insides died a little for his wife. I would run amok if my man spent his day painting erotica of other (real and imaginary) women.

“In his time, Ubud was different. Girls didn’t wear tops. Before doing their household chores, they carried water on the top their head, so their upper muscles, including their breasts, are tight. Seeing those scenes, the painter fell in love with Ubud and with one of the locals, got married to her and decided to stay.”

That explains it. No wonder his wife was chill with him painting naked women. Everyone else was topless.

D-Days (UWRF and Sacred Monkey Forest)

I skipped the festival’s first talk to see the monkeys. No regrets.
Ubud Monkey Forest 4

We passed Monkey Forest street to get to the Monkey Forest. At a first glance, the road looked like ordinary Bali road—cafes with small leafy offerings.

As we strolled, we noticed gray statues of monkeys doing human stuff, for instance: wearing sunglasses, closing eyes like see no evil and hugging passionately, mouth opening in pleasure like the girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Two palm tree high monkey statues greeted us as we entered the Sacred Monkey Forest. The real monkeys didn’t greet us, though. Yesterday noon, when we passed the entrance on our way to Hubud, the monkeys were all over the stone courtyard. They were like:

  1. “STOP.  DAMN IT. STOP MOVING, KETUT. I saw something moved in your fur. Ah, a flea! Yummy.”
  2. “So. Hot. So. Thirsty. Going. to. keep. splashing. water. from. the. fountain. to. my. face. AH. that’s. better.”
  3. “OMG! I’ve never seen a tree so white before. Holy crap, it moves! Let’s jump on the top of it!” Then, they hung on the top of the Avanza car. Inside, the driver didn’t even look amused or surprised, like he went through this situation every day.

Ubud Monkey forest

Today, unfortunately, no monkeys were seen on the entrance.

“Because it’s still morning,” said Philip, assuming, like him, the monkeys are not early risers.

We bought the ticket from a bored Balinese lady. I grabbed some brochures. Then, finally, we stepped into the forest.

I didn’t know what the monkeys were thinking. Sure, the lush green trees were no Avanza cars. However, they’re more majestic. They’re about four to five times taller than the cars. Unlike cars, they have hanging roots, perfect for jumping grips from one tree to another, for, you know, casually exploring the jungle, taking the kids to the humans who hide food inside plastic bags or sometimes escaping sex from a persistent monkey from another clan.

Ubud Monkey Forest

Stone pathways cut the forest, leading us to temples, holy springs and more trees. The roads were safe to walk on, but you’d have to watch out for the monkeys. At some points, they’re casually lounging, doing nothing in the middle of the road. Other times, they’re staring at you, probably scanning for bananas, from behind mossy Balinese statues.

Ubud Monkey Forest 2

Ubud Monkey Forest 4

If you’ve been to a lot of bars without getting your eyes punched, you’ll have no problem with the monkeys. Interacting with the monkeys were like dealing with drunk dudes. There were many rules. For instance: you can’t look the monkeys in the eye. It would be interpreted as a sign of aggression. Another rule: you can’t touch the monkey. But, the monkey can touch you. If you break any of these, expect getting bitten (and freak out about rabies later). Or, if today’s your unlucky day, expect getting bitten without any reason at all. HA.

If I could add a rule, I would put this up, “Do not even think about watching monkeys mating.” There are just some things you wish to un-see. You have to be careful. I saw 3 couples did it on a non-mating season.

“Smells like a poop,” Philip said as he avoided a huge male primate on our right.

We ended up exploring not even a third of the monkey forest. We mistook the time (and Philip’s becoming more and more fidgety each second we’re there).

Before I took off to UWRF, we drank coconuts straight from the shells. Mine had a large black ant swimming. Ew.

The venues were quite far from our hotel. Blanco Art Museum was only halfway through (and we’ve walked for 11kms). I couldn’t find my usual Gojek/Uber/Grab, so I hired a local motorcycle driver with much higher price to take me… the wrong place.

Haha. The venues were all over Ubud. So, with all those huge banners, one can still get lost.

That’s okay, though. I followed multicultural people wearing shorts and URWF lanyards on the streets and arrived at the right venue.

Ubud Writers and Readers festival

Despite their island getaway attires, the panel talks and workshops were serious.


I heard stories like:

  •  “You’ve never been to Congo until you’re arrested.”
  • Little monks playing smartphone games
  • The way British power players influence citizens to vote for Brexit
  • Heard a Guru singing prayer in Sanskrit (one of the most magical experiences in my life)
  • Desi Anwar’s early career journey (not a smooth one)
  • “If you kill a writer, you would make his/her words immortal. Other writers would try to find out why you killed him/her.”


I learned to:

  • embrace my own writing pattern (turns out: every writer has a different pattern)
  • not think too much about the facts, then trust my imagination and emotion
  • take better notes (very important)
  • write authentic characters
  • set a tone in a story description

….and so much more.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

During these few days, I felt like growing– intellectually richer and physically full (it’s the vegetarian fried rice, dirty duck and the main venue’s Balinese spiced chicken talking). So happy. I totally understand why Raisa chose to spend her birthday here (she bought her cheesecake from a Starbucks overlooking a large temple. I bought her present from a pop-up bookstore on the venue. Heck, I want to spend my birthday here too).

It’s not only about the sessions. It’s also about the place (Ubud).

On the last day, our minds were so tired, overloaded with too much serious information. I’d love to say we sucked it up and swung higher from one knowledge to the other knowledge from another edge of the Earth, the way lady monkeys escaping from horny alphas. However, we ended up skipping most of the sessions and going to a small library cafe instead.

Ubud breakfast airbnb

Raisa took me to see the monkeys before the last day’s sessions started.

Not long after we arrived, monkeys approached her.

She tried to hide behind another scared Asian girl.

“Drop the plastic bag!” I screamed.

As Raisa dropped the plastic bag, 2 monkeys searched the plastic. One found my bottled mineral water, opened the cap and drank it like it’s the brand’s commercial. Another one went after Raisa’s yellow The Economist book, flipping the pages, staring at the words, then biting the cover.

We watched in horror until a guy took the book back for us.

I felt bad. If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be at monkey forest. I apologized to Raisa.

She analyzed the monkey’s mini fingerprints and bit marks “Well, the book has its own personality now.”

Share the ideas here:
Email this to someoneShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *