We arrived in Bali at about 12:30 in the morning after our flight from Sydney was delayed by 5 hours. It was dark, quiet and the streets were empty except for the stray dogs. Although we couldn’t see the surrounding view, our welcome to this country hinted at the incredible beauty that would surround us for the next few days.
The airport itself was one of the most stunning we have seen so far on this trip - open and artistic with lush gardens. As the taxi travelled through the streets towards Ubud (the cultural centre of Bali) we saw ornate temples on the corner of each plot of land, incredibly large statues representing the stories of Hindu gods and stores filled with stone statues and wood carvings. When we got to our hotel (which was certainly not top of the line in terms of price) it was like we had entered a spa with a canopy over the bed and a secluded outdoor bathroom.
I won’t lie. The book, Eat, Pray, Love, was the first time I really took an interest in Bali, but not for the reasons that many other people (OK, mainly women) did. I was more interested in the description of the landscape. In the movie, there is a scene where the main character walks in a valley surrounded by lush vegetation and brightly coloured flowers. This is when I decided I wanted to go Bali.
I wasn’t looking for enlightenment or opportunities to meditate like the main character in Eat, Pray, Love, or many people who visit this area, but I think Bali by nature, invites some type of self-reflection. Although we were there only 3 days, our experiences and the people we met taught me many lessons and left me thinking about life in North America.
Many of these lessons came from our day tour of temples (the Holy Water, Elephant Cave and Gunung Kwai) and the rice terraces. We had a lovely guide for the day, Sembah, who openly shared with us information about Bali, Hinduism and life in Indonesia. These lessons are...
Tat twan asi - “I am you and you are me”
Simply put this means that everything is connected - people, animals and earth. While I’m sure the meaning is far deeper than I came to understand it, ultimately, it has a lot to do with karma and your treatment of others. Boy, do the Balinese have this down.
We were shown much kindness during our visit. Interactions with locals, conversations with market vendors and Sembah was incredibly kind - even making us a CD of Balinese music after a discussions the day of our tour. The girls received a lot of positive attention too in our time on the island with lots of comments about them being good girls and how beautiful. It went so far as being shown how to fold napkins in unique ways (what we named napkin origami among ourselves) by waiters at restaurants. There were no expectations because of this - the Balinese are simply kind and friendly people always wanting to make connections.
However, this notion of connectivity went deeper. Sembah explained how after the bombings in Bali, many were out of work as tourists were too afraid to visit the island. This had an impact on the island for years. He said he needed to ensure each visitor was having the best time so Bali would continue to do well. Unlike other Indonesian islands, Bali doesn’t have natural resources to fuel the economy. Tourism is most important. His actions impacted the whole, in his mind.
Perhaps though our greatest lesson in this idea of “I am you and you are me” came from the man who drove us to the airport. What took us an hour when we arrived, took us 2 hours to get back given it was the morning rush hour. The traffic was crazy! At numerous times there were near misses as scooters wove among cars and trucks and horns beeped all around. Our driver just kept his calm though. One driver in particular honked quite incessantly to which our driver simply asked (more out of wonder than out of anger), “What happened to you?”.
We all had a good laugh when we compared a typical North American reply to a similar road rage situation but, maybe our driver is onto something. If we instead looked to others in a way of understanding others’ motivations more than paying attention to how the behaviour affects us, perhaps we might feel more empathy and compassion.
Everywhere we went in Bali we saw offerings - at temples, at statues of Gods, on the sidewalks in front of stores and on the dashboards of cars. As Sembah explained, they usually consisted of the same things - water as all things are given life from water, flowers representing the earth, incense so the prayers rise to the sky and, if the family had money, a piece of food as an addition.
The offerings were beautifully created with so much attention to detail. Sembah explained this was because the women in the village were so strong. They got up each morning very early to make breakfast for the family and then prepare the offerings for the day. He said this was very important work and therefore, needed strong women to do it.
It was incredible to see and hear how much gratitude played a role in Balinese daily life. Although I’m not suggesting that we should all take up this practice, I certainly wonder if North Americans as a whole, might not benefit from recognizing what others do for them a little more and show more appreciation rather criticism.
We were in awe of how incredibly hard people in Bali work. Sembah not only was a driver but also worked in our hotel. Our other driver to and from the airport was in the process of launching his apartment on Air BNB. We learned that the ‘holy man’ at the temple lived there and had very few hours of sleep as his work and availability for the community was so important. Yet, it was learning about the labour intensive work in the rice paddies that made us all appreciate how hard these people worked. I will never look at a grain of rice the same way again.
Each time someone spoke to us about their job, their was pride in their voice. They were providing for their families, contributing to the community and demonstrating initiative. While I am not suggesting that as North Americans we don’t work hard (one could argue maybe we do too much working), to take pride in our accomplishments is just as important as the work.
Surround yourself with beauty
Everywhere we looked there was beauty in Bali, whether it was how artistically our fruit was cut at breakfast, to the marigolds that were placed on temple stairs, to the intricate carvings on temples. Everything showed care In presentation and a value for aesthetics.
Now I will be the first to brag about my city and country (even after travelling the world as we are doing, the view of the Rockies is still one of my favourites). However, I wonder if we could make it even more beautiful. Often there is so much argument about money when it comes to art that we forget that as humans we are drawn to places that are beautiful, both naturally and man made. As well, beauty doesn’t always have to be on a grand scale, but just paying attention to how things are displayed, like a small bowl of flowers, helps us to bring a bit of beauty to the world. Already I’m thinking of what flowers will fill the vase on the kitchen table when we get home.
Although these lessons are things I certainly knew before (and try to live), to witness a whole group of people living in this way, made these simple reminders more profound. I know there is sadness and certainly hard times in Bali (as we witnessed on numerous occasions). I also recognize that we spent a very short time in one part of Bali and if we had visited other places within the island, we may have experienced very different things (as we have been told by others we’ve met). However, there is certainly something to be said for these lessons contributing to quality of life.
Thanks for reminding me of them Bali.
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).