Bali, Hi - Eight months in Bali

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Part XIV
Strangeness in a Strange Land
by Mad Dog

 

This inertia could be caused by the constant heat and humidity taking its toll, much like a tropical E-Z-Bake oven where your brain is the cake mix and youíre either always half-baked or permanently fried. 

    Thereís something about an island that causes inertia to set in. Iíve felt it in St. Maarten, Iíve felt it in Hawaii, Iíve even felt it on Long Island, where it got so bad I didnít even care about getting hair extensions or acrylic nail tips, better yet bother going to the club for dinner. And yes, Iím feeling it here.

    I donít know the physics behind this phenomenon, but I suspect Einstein predicted it in one of his many theories. After all, anyone who couldnít be bothered combing his hair must have understood the lassitude of island living. Day by day, nap by nap, you find yourself losing momentum and, as anyone whoís even slept through a physics class will remember, inertia slips in to take its place. Itís the natural order of thingsómomentum and inertia are the yin and yang of activity. Of productivity. And of something else too but I really donít have the motivation to be bothered thinking about what it might be at the moment.

An oga-oga at Nyepi (Balinese New Year)    This inertia could be caused by the constant heat and humidity taking its toll, much like a tropical E-Z-Bake oven where your brain is the cake mix and youíre either always half-baked or permanently fried. Then again it might be the force of the waves pounding against the shore which surrounds an island, setting up a resonance that vibrates at frequencies which block alpha wave activity in the brain. And beta. And theta. And any others too.

    But I suspect itís actually because the gravity is light here, which may explain why so many strange people float down and land here so easily. And trust me, there are plenty of them.

 

  Not all expats are strange, though you do have to be a little different to reject your homeland in favor of a place where you can never completely fit in, not even after 30 years, a native spouse, three kids, and a Certificate of Inertia signed by the village chief.

    First, there are the Balinese, who fish in streams with electrified rods to stun the fish, stand next to the Coke machines at the airport so they can put your money in the slot just in case you canít figure out how that works, and talk on the handphone while wearing full ceremonial dress, driving a brand new car on the way to see a balian (traditional healer) so he or she can counteract a black magic spell someone put on the baby, and not even bat an eyelash at the incongruity.

    Then there are the tamu (tourists) who, in addition to the usual touristy foolishness, go to Lovina to see the dolphins, which entails getting up at 5 A.M. to climb in one of 30 small boats which sit in the water, then race en masse to a spot where the dolphins have surfaced. The dolphins, of course, dive underwater before the boats get there since they have this innate fear of being run over by a flotilla. Itís called survival instinct. This slapstick farce goes on for hours. Itís like the Whack-a-Mole game at the carnival without the hammer, though I wouldnít be surprised if they used to hand them out before someone convinced them it was an unnecessary expense.

Wayan's one-month baby ceremony    But the expats might be the strangest of all. Iím not sure at what point youíre technically considered an expatriate, but for our purposes weíll consider it someone whoís here longer than the average holiday. Of course that would mean Iím an expat, though the saving graceóor rationalization if you insistóis that Iím leaving soon so I wonít be an expat much longer.

    Whew, that was close!

    Not all expats are strange, though you do have to be a little different to reject your homeland in favor of a place where you can never completely fit in, not even after 30 years, a native spouse, three kids, and a Certificate of Inertia signed by the village chief.

 

 

Everyone in the Ďhood thinks itís a real hoot whenever they see me sweeping the porch or ógasp!ó mopping the floor. Seven months Iíve been doing this, and each time they still smile and call the kids over to see how wacky we tamu can be.

    Itís surprising how many of the expats here are, well, damaged. They come here to find themselves, to examine their lives, to find spiritual awakening. They end up staying because itís dirt cheap and they hardly have to work, giving them plenty of time to sit around drinking arak, the local rice liquor, while trying to remember what a coherent thought pattern was like. Itís a place where misfits fit in. You know, my kind of place.

    Of course the Balinese think all Westerners are strange, and Iím certainly not in a position to argue the point. Most of them live in a rumah keluarga (family compound) their whole life, being born there, getting married and having kids there, then watching the kids get married and raise their kids there. A typical rumah keluarga houses more people than a Canadian province. Thus they go through life with no privacy and lots of people around. Twenty-four hours a day. You have to wonder when they have enough privacy to create the kids.

    Thus they think that anyone who spends time alone is doing it because they have no one to be with. It couldnít possibly be voluntary. They donít understand the concept of, say, quietly reading a book by yourself. Thatís why they keep you company all the time, like it or not.

Oga-oga at Nyepi    When Iím working on the verandah itís not uncommon for a Balinese Iíve never seen in my life whoís walking by to come up and sit next to me. He usually speaks no English, has never seen a laptop computer, and feels very sorry for me since Iím all alone. He sits and quietly watches me type, and trust me, I do some of my best work when someoneís staring at my fingers on the keyboard. After about five minutes he smiles, gets up, and leaves, having done his good deed for the day, received a little karma boost in the process, and knowing he can go home and have something to tell the 287óor is it 288 today?órelatives at dinner tonight.

 

 

Even though I kept telling them ďtidak mengertiĒóI donít understandóand their family told them Iím not Balinese (duh!), theyíd look at me like I was an idiot and kept repeating themselves. They probably thought tamu actually meant moron.

    They also think Iím strange for doing the housework. Most Westerners hire pembantus, literally ďhelpersĒ, to take care of the cleaning, cooking, shopping, and laundry. For all of about $40 a month. But my place is small, Iím used to being independent, and, to tell the truth, I really donít want anyone hanging around all day long. Yup, thereís that Western aloneness rearing itís ugly isolationist head again.

    Everyone in the Ďhood thinks itís a real hoot whenever they see me sweeping the porch orógasp!ómopping the floor. Seven months Iíve been doing this, and each time they still smile and call the kids over to see how wacky we tamu can be. Iím surprised there isnít a TV show here called ďTamu Do the Strangest Things!Ē Iím sure it would be a hit.

Ubud and Komang with Pak Kumis    My landlordís niece and nephewóokay, two out of a slew of themóused to think I was really weird. Okay, they probably still do. They had the hardest time understanding that I donít speak Indonesian or Balinese. Even though I kept telling them ďtidak mengertiĒóI donít understandóand their family told them Iím not Balinese (duh!), theyíd look at me like I was an idiot and kept repeating themselves. They probably thought tamu actually meant moron. But they figured it out eventually. Now they speak to me the same way they do to their two-year-old relatives. And I understand perfectly. Well, on a good day, anyway.

    But Iím small potatoes on the strangeness scale here, and since Iím ranking it I can place myself anywhere I want. Probably the oddest person Iíve run into was a budding cult leader I met last week. He seemed innocuous enough as he talked to a friend of mine about being socially and environmentally conscious. It wasnít until he ended up declaring that he was Shiva, a shaman reincarnate, Michael Jacksonís evil twinóor was that the good twin?óand that everyone who didnít join up with him would be dead soon that it became apparent he was the frontrunner in Bali Bonkersfest 2001.

    Obviously that was an extraordinarily light gravity day. Even for Bali.

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