Christmas Lunch with Four Bali Students and Drinking the Most Expensive Coffee in the World

From left to right -April, Muliardomen, Wawan, and Iwan

These four young men are attending Balindo Paradiso, a specialty school program that gives training for work on cruise lines. It is one of the few schools in Bali that offer youths a chance to make a fairly decent salary. The students go for classroom training for three months learning Spanish, English, and German. They also are trained in different jobs that are available on the cruise lines which basically fall into two categories; housekeeping – the making of the cabin beds and cleaning the guests’ rooms and waiter. The school currently has 31 students all are male except for one female. The industry is male dominated partly because of traditional beliefs about men’s roles on boats. The student’s curriculum also involves learning the important regulations of the USPHS- the United States Public Health Service. Temperatures of food , kitchen cleanliness, and even the way to hold a glass are all regulated and standardized through this agency. Infringements of these regulations can result in having a whole boat grounded at a port. The students learn other areas of etiquette such as how to serve the guests and even how to fold a napkin into ten different styles.

After the students have attended three months of classroom, which they have paid $600 they then are employed, though still unpaid, at local hotels and restraunts for nine to twelve months to get on the job experience. Later they must pay for a license to work on a ship which costs $2500. Usually they get this license after receiving an offer from a cruise and they then can get a loan from a bank to cover this extra expense. Students must also attend a special two week safety course in Java as a pre requisite for the license, which adds on another $350 to the final cost of the tuition. Once on the boat working they can expect a salary of up to $2,000 a month.

There are twelve cruise lines affiliated with this particular school, and are Italian and U.S. operated. The crew will sign a nine-month contract with a company. Typically, staff is made up of mixture of nationalities that include Italians, Balinese, Philippines, and Romanians. Four people share a cabin that measure two meters by two meters with a toilet and shower in the middle of this tiny room.

They work usually work twelve hours per day on the boat and have access to some on board facilities such as a gym and weight lifting facilities.

I invited them out for Christmas lunch in the nearby town of Kuta and afterwards to a coffee shop in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. I previously new Wawan, and only had briefly met the others several days before.

Taking local people out for dinner is a great way to get insights into a culture and learn about the lives of people that otherwise, as a tourist, is often hard to really understand or for that matter even be exposed to.

Waiter bringing an order to the table

Muliardana demonstrating the art of folding a napkin

Iwan ordering

Chicken cooked at the table

Traditional Balinese foods


Many Balinese make up nick names for themselves as they are born with one of five names. The traditional name gives reference to the number in the family that a person is born and also what cast system a particular person belongs to.

April is the name made up and yes, the nick name comes from the month he was born. April is 23 years old and joined the school in hopes of working on a cruise line to improve himself. His parents are cooks and also run a catering business near the village of Pandagbai. April also wants them to feel happy with him. He previously attended University for one year. He has one older sister, one older brother and one younger brother. He has a cousin that works at McDonalds in Florida.

Muliardana, 24, attended high school in Klung Kung and then got a job in Kuta at a hotel working at “housekeeping”. This job was also cleaning rooms and making beds. His salary at that job was $60.00 a month. His father is a fisherman and before Muliardana also worked at that profession briefly. He likes boats so thought this new career with the cruise line would be a good idea. He has one younger sister.

Wawan, from Klung Kung is 27 and has been selling necklaces that he strings, to tourist in Pandagbai for the last three years. He has a wife and a daughter and decided on attending the school as he badly needed to change his life style. Pandagbai was changing fast and he was getting fewer customers. A tourist from Norway offered to pay Wawan’s tuition.

Iwan comes from Tabanan, a town in the west of Bali. His age is 22 and at 15, Iwan started working in the rice fields.  He previously attended University for three years and studied accounting. He found a job as an accountant at a hotel and was working there but just three weeks after working was told he could attend the cruise line school, so he quit the accounting job and started the program at the cruise line school. His father is a rice farmer and he has an eleven-year-old younger brother.

I have talked with many Balinese about their experiences with paranormal and discovered that almost all have had some sort of encounter with this, so I brought up

the subject again at this meal. It turned out that April. Iwan and Wawan had some experience with the paranormal. Muliardana talked about being beaten by a gang and ending up in a hospital for 4 days with a concussion, but did not reply about paranormal experiences.

April while working at the Bali Beach Hotel was on the tenth floor at about 9:00 PM and had to go to the toilet. When he entered it he saw what he describes as a 3-meter-tall shadow that resembled a man. April ran out and called his coworker but then later could not find anybody in the bathroom. He told me that he see’s ghosts “all the time” while at a friend’s house. He describes the ghost as white with long hair.

Iwan, while living at the University he attended heard a baby crying at about 2:00 AM. He explained it was not a dream and later because the noise it was determined came from a ghost. A special ceremony was then performed, because of the incident

Wawan related about two incidents he had. One when he was about 10 he saw a ghost in front of the house he was living in. Later when he was about 19 he had a job in a guest house in the town of Ubud. He saw a shadow of a ghost in a window. He later made a painting of it, which he still has on his wall at home.

After the meal we ride to Denpansar where a coffee shop sells a very unique type of coffee. The taste is supposed to be extraordinary.  This coffee is named Kopi Luwak, and it is processed only in the Indonesian Archipelago on the Islands of Bali, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. It is sold throughout the world but is rare, as only 300 kilos per year is produced.

Kopi Luwak is made from coffee beans which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet, a wild cat. The digestion process of the cat that takes place is supposed to give the coffee bean its unique flavor. After the cat excretes the bean it is collected and processed hygienically, and then given only a light roast so as to not destroy the complex flavors that develop through the process.

Only about 300 kilos per year of this coffee is collected and it is distributed around the world, so it is relatively rare. It is also the most expensive coffee in the world.  This coffee is sold in Australia for $48 per serving. It has been known to be mixed with another more common coffee and with a new name and sold for $99 per cup!

My four Christmas lunch guests at the coffee shop in Denpasar, Bali

Palm Civet, an Indonesia cat

The coffee is grounded and sold in a plastic bag which holds two espresso sized servings. This two portion serving is sold for $20.00 at the coffee shop we were at.

The package is opened at the coffee shop and put into an espresso pot and cooked for five minutes.


I had decided that because the coffee was $10 per cup that we would draw numbers to decide which two people would get the two and would be responsible for drinking the most of this unique coffee. We agreed before had that the coffee would also be tasted by everyone.

We all pickled our numbers and me and Wawan were the winners. After sharing the coffee, the two of us would drink the remaining coffee.

First I took a sip – Terrible coffee!


Then Wawan had some of this coffee – Terrible!


Next Muliardana tries a taste

Terrible Coffee!

Iwan tries the coffee


April after drinking this strange coffee


We all agree that this was the worst tasting coffee that we had ever drunk.  We gave the cat back to the waitress and said goodbye.


© Story and Photographs by Peter Hemenway



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