What we can learn about Bali from my $400 manicure
What we can learn about Bali from my $400 manicure

If you think your life could have been ripped straight from a movie, you’re not alone. Anyone who knows me could tell you that I constantly find myself in comical situations. Let me tell you about the surprising lesson I learned traveling in Bali. On Gili T island I paid over four million dollars for a crappy manicure/pedicure. Alright, so maybe it was only four million Indonesian rupiah – a little over 400 USD. But US dollars sounds much more dramatic.

As any girl going on holiday knows, I had to jet-set to Bali with a fresh manicure and pedicure. But this was a two-month trip; a normal manicure just wouldn’t cut it. Gel manicures may be a pain in the butt to keep up with, but they last much longer – and look fabulous! So, gel it was. But after three weeks of romping my way around Bali, my nails were way too long and in need of some serious help.

After a morning of sunbathing with some new girlfriends, I let them know I’d meet them later for dinner after I took care of this nail errand.  A few girls at the hostel had already bragged about the good manicures they had received on the island, so I was optimistic.

Off I went on my journey. Luckily for me, Gili Trawangan is a small island with dirt roads, no motorized vehicles, and is mainly sustained on tourism. I knew while traveling in Gili T that it wouldn’t take me long before I found a nail salon. A pleasant local woman sat me down and told me to pick out my polish colors. As I was deciding between pink flamingo or if I was feeling more big apple red, my beautician made a sad discovery. She didn’t have the supplies that would take off my old gel manicure. (For any guys who are utterly confused, you cannot take off a gel manicure with regular nail polish remover. The process is a bit trickier and time consuming.) She then kindly directs me to a few salons that should have the right supplies, and I thank her goodbye. I was still hopeful!

I should not have been hopeful.

To my surprise, five or six shops later and I was still on the hunt. None of these salons could take off my gel. I should have taken into account that this is a very remote island. They make most of their money off of divers and drinkers. Nail salons here are very basic and don’t get the supplies that the western world does.

traveling Gili T, learn about Bali, traveling Bali
Photo Credit of Vegabondway.com

But I didn’t give up hope! After 30 minutes of roaming the streets, popping in and out of salons, I finally found one that could help. Hallelujiah! This is what it must have felt like when Harold and Kumar found White Castle.

Without hesitation three women quickly sat me down and went to work. One was ripping foil, one was clipping my nails onto the floor while the other was grabbing random supplies. They were all extremely friendly and smiley, which instantly put me in a relaxed mood. Unfortunately, that good mood didn’t last long.

About halfway through this experience I realized this mani/pedi was not worth its value. Although they did get my old gel polish off (thankfully), my nails didn’t turn out well. The nails themselves were the only thing given attention, they were misshapen, it was $16 extra for nail polish (without a base or top coat), and they didn’t give my polish enough time to dry. Taking one minute to fan my freshly-painted nails with a paper fan clearly didn’t get the job done.

My nails were screaming, “I’m going to get smudged if you don’t let me dry more!” but I was being rushed out. I was both relieved to have functioning nails and annoyed I was paying 400-thousand-something-rupiahs for something I wasn’t happy with. I had just run out of the rest of my cash, so it was my credit card to the rescue. As I handed over my card – smudging my nail polish in the process – I tried my hardest to smile at the manicure I just received. I took back my card, pondered over how long it’d be until I could get a drink, quickly signed my receipt, and headed back to the hostel.

Back at the hostel I met up with my friends who quickly asked how my nails turned out. After I shared my experience, we had a good laugh and headed off to a sunset dinner. Once our bellies were full and the sun had set, we came back to the hostel to get ready for another night out. But I had no idea of the surprise waiting for me there.

As we walked into the hostel I noticed two women from the salon standing there. They immediately came up to me, smiles and all, and began talking quickly and nervously. I couldn’t even try to understand what was going on because the only thought running through my head was, “How the hell did these women find me?! I don’t recall ever telling them where I was staying. This is kind of impressive!”

I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. Mainly because of the language barrier, but also because it’s impossible to comprehend anything when two people talk at the same time. As I stared at these two visibly troubled but smiling women, I got nothing but gibberish. The local guy working the hostel check-in area saw the scene and came over to help. As he got their story straight, I glanced around the outdoor common area. All my new friends were laughing at me in confusion. After a light palm to the face, I was ready to hear the verdict. Turns out these ladies accidentally charged my card for 4 million rupiah instead of 400 thousand. Naturally.

They found me to give me my money back. They grabbed their bikes and pointed for me to jump on their handlebars so they could tow me back to their store. I quickly asked if there was another way. I was thrilled and amazed at their good nature, but our trust was severed. We weren’t quite “there” yet for me to put my life in their hands. But much to my surprise, they gladly offered to go get the money and bring it to back to me at the hostel.

Once I was showered and dressed for the night, I stepped out of my room to find my new beautician friends waiting for me with an envelope full of money. (If you haven’t held 4 million assorted rupiah before, I highly suggest it. I’ve never felt like a richer poor person in my life). Their only request was that we take a photo together to show their boss they had made things right. I wholeheartedly embraced the idea and even had a photo taken for myself.

So in the end I received a free crappy manicure. I had no more cash to my name but ended up with a fat stack of cash to ball out with. What’s even better though, is I now have this hilarious story that broadcasts these good-natured women.

So, what can we learn from this story?

Many things. Call it dumb luck. Call me an idiot for not checking the receipt. Call it good things happening to good people. I may even file this one under “the world has a funny way of working itself out.” All of these statements may be true. But more importantly,  I think one thing we can learn about Bali is that Indonesians can be some of the most good-natured people out there. These women went out of their way to not only find out where I was staying -I still can’t get over how the heck they found me- but to also return a lot of money to a tourist. This action alone speaks for itself.

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