Two Weeks

I have been in my beloved Ubud for two weeks now. The time here seems to evaporate, like rain. I don’t know where it goes. I can only remember a series of moments. Sitting on the bright, round cushions in front of my room furiously trying to finish the amazing The Undoing Project, being immersed in the lives of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and being amazed and questioning all my life choices (again). Then I’m just meters away listening to director Vikram Gandhi (who starred in this documentary that I wrote about a while ago) talk about his new film Barry, about the college years of one Barak Obama. He (Vikram, not Obama) spoke after we watched the film together. Of course I had to pinch myself that if I was in his presence. Some days later (how many, I really don’t remember) I saw another Obama film about his first date with Michelle. What an interesting, complex, high maintenance man I thought. Let it be known that I do crush on the former president, but just imagine living with someone with a law degree from Harvard who feels the need to question everything.

Since there’s not much to do at night, there have been more movies. And yoga. But not as much as last time. Yesterday while ‘practising’ under the guidance of a Jewish yoga goddess, I felt how my fitness level had decreased and how sad that made me. I struggled through, consciously trying not to let that second arrow (how could you get so unfit? why don’t you exercise more? you’ve become so lazy…). Another night, I found myself on a dark, rainy night slipping into a traditional health resort and ended up having an incredible massage, guided into a boiling hot sauna then gently urged into a freezing cold jacuzzi for ten minutes while listening to the music from a ceremony at a nearby temple and looking up at the blinking stars. I’ve been riding around on a bike, taking in all the green. I’ve been hanging out with my friend who has been kind enough to introduce me to her friends. We have been debriefing after her days of anthropological fieldwork, gossiping about the ridiculous fairies that wander around seeking enlightenment from raw food and dreadlocks. We’ve been walking in the mornings through rice fields, dodging stray dogs and eating breakfast together. In stark contrast to Cambodia where I spoke to maybe one person in five days, it feels really good to have a friend.

There are the characters from my previous visits – I know where to find them, they are so predictable in that way. At the same cafe, at the same studio, giving the same class at the same time, with the same people, in the same clothes. But, appearances can be deceiving, for they have come so far in the year since I’ve last seen them. New relationships, marriage, divorce, new businesses, new travels, new opportunities, life and death swirling around them as it should.

I ride my bike down the main road, past the locals dressed in their sarongs for their ceremonies. I bump over a dead snake and see a monkey sitting on a motorcycle. I dodge ugly mating toads. When it’s really hot, I crash the pool of the hotel next door and try to block out the obnoxious Australian accents. It’s hard to get annoyed here, though, amongst so much vitality. There’s literal jungle, blue skies, giant clouds, and an abundance of delicious flowers whose scent evokes the word paradise. Every afternoon it rains, but of course, even rain in Bali is beautiful – the way it falls over the temples, feeling of it on an overheated body is sensual. There’s not long to go now and there’s still a volcano to climb, yoga to learn, online study to be done, oh and a novel to write. Everyday is a battle between discipline and freedom. But this is a lifelong battle and I hope that I can at least, if not win, then make some progress.

Awkward Encounters on Gili Meno

img_4881Now that I have a new computer, I have been able to download and actually edit some of the thousands of photos I have been hoarding on various memory cards  for the past year. So today I will release some of my photos from Indonesia’s beautiful but tiny Gili Meno island, not too far off the coast of Bali. Warning: travel essay equivalent of ten year old suburban white girl lyrics comes first.

Some context: Gili Meno is known as ‘Elizabeth Gilbert Island’. It was featured in the book Eat, Pray, Love as the place Liz goes alone for ten days at a low point before the shit hits the fan. Here she tries to confront her demons and make sense of the chaos and pain. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but recently she has said that it was a mistake to do that while in such a state of depression and despair. What she in fact needed was an entourage of therapists – so don’t try this at home folks.

Anyway, Gili Meno was forever etched in my mind after reading that book and I decided I would visit when I made last minute travel plans to Bali last year. I would take a side trip there (alone) and bask in the beauty and solitude (and also spend large chunks of time trying not to brood and ruminate over my recent heartbreak). A friend also told me about some kind of turtle sanctuary on the island. This was another pull factor – turtles!!! As usual, I didn’t make any plans and just plodded along with only a Lonely Planet guide. It took a couple of boat rides to get there and on one of them I started talking to a young Canadian woman on a gap year (is everybody who travels in that region on a gap year?) Accommodation options were limited so she suggested I follow her to an eco-hostel. This means everything is made out of bamboo and there is no hot water. OK, I thought, I’ll rough it for a few nights. Upon arrival my friend (whom I suspect is living off a trust fund) promptly disappears into a copy of The Power of Now and into the arms of a rugged Eaton-educated ‘gappy’ and so I have a virgin cocktail at the outdoor bar and chat to the American couple who own the place. I’m a little surprised at the age gap between them – the woman seems at least ten years older, but this is the age of Madonna and Demi Moore. I’m even more surprised, however, when the guy starts flirting with me. Wow, this is awkward. Not just because his wife is standing right there, but also because he’s not my type. I slither off my stool and head to the beach to watch the sunset. I later learn that his partner is in fact his mother. Note to self: live on a tropical island in order to preserve youthful appearance.

The next day I’m determined to see an elusive sea turtle while snorkelling (and after a few attempts, I do!). I also check out the ‘turtle sanctuary’ which was perhaps the most disappointing experience of my adult life – there’s just a bunch of smelly little turtles flapping around in what appear to be baths. There’s a woman there to take care of them but you can’t really touch them or, as in my imagination, ride on the back of them. And there’s still 9 more hours until it gets dark. I fill the few days I’m there with snorkelling, exploring, taking pictures and reading. I have a few conversations with the gaggle of strapping young British men who are probably related to Prince William and Hugh Grant. They’re here for volunteer work which involves building more bamboo things. They sleep outside in hammocks (with their shirts off) and enjoy the company of the ubiquitous drunk, loud-mouthed Irish girl.

While I’ve been assured that the island is safe, I do feel slightly scared when I walk around in the evening. The muslim call to prayer occurs at sunset and the island being undeveloped and populated by only a few small fishing villages, does feel eerie. Nevertheless, I don’t let that stop me. I head to one of other beaches around the coast to watch the sunset. There are a few local kids running around and only a few white people lounging on chairs, beer in hand.

I spot a young-ish looking white guy sitting on the stony sand, playing around with his camera. We start talking and compare lenses. Turns out that he’s Canadian and bears a striking resemblance to Ned Flanders (he later tells me that his nickname is ‘Ned’ because he’s so nice. I don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise). We order some juice and he tells me his life story – of how he recently got concussion and was unable to do anything except lie in a dark room for three months with no movement or stimulation and how he was wracked with anxiety. I feel compassion towards him and don’t begrudge him the fact that he’s traveling for an entire year or more by living off his savings after quitting his corporate job. He became heavily involved with all kinds of energy healing modalities, and after we’ve eaten an 80 cent dinner of rice and vegetable curry made by a woman in her house, I find him sitting opposite me cross-legged doing some kind of non-invasive reiki on me. What does one say in that situation? I just tried to stifle a laugh. Millions of stars pop out in the now ink black sky and it would be very romantic if I actually saw Ned as more than a friendly fellow traveler. I don’t. He offers to walk me home which I gratefully accept, not sure that I could find my way back in the dark. We see the faint glow of light and hear the happy, drunk slurring of whippersnappers. It’s time to say good night. “Do you know what would make this night even more perfect?,” asks Ned. I start to feel uncomfortable. “What?” I ask. “If I could kiss you,” he replies. Talk about awkward. “Um, I don’t think so,” I quip as gently as possible. “I had fun hanging out, but let’s leave it at that.” It pains me to see the hurt expression on his face, but I don’t look back as I dodge toads and stones on my way back to my creaky bamboo bunk.

And your reward for reading (or more likely scrolling) through that are these photos of gorgeous Gili Meno.

Bye bye rationality, hello another healer

water_lillies_black_and_white_by_sugartasticvalentineIn Ubud everyone, especially the foreign travelers (i.e. rich white people) are seen first as potential customers, second as people. It’s like you’re some kind of defective muppet in desperate need of more yoga, more dance classes, more detox, more healing. My friend told me of an interesting healing experience he had with an Indonesian friend of his (“He barely touched me and I was thrown onto the floor!”). This man, who I would later learn is a well-known, award-winning documentary producer hailing from the island of Java went through a five day awakening and was apparently given superhuman powers. Before the end of my coffee date with my friend, he had sent me his name and number and told me to call this guy. My friend’s girlfriend, who has also had a session with him claimed, “He’s the person who knows me the most in the world.” That actually sounded quite terrifying to me (you know me that well so now I have to kill you).

But of course my insatiable curiosity won out over my rational brain and within a week I had contacted and made arrangements to meet this man. He came to my guesthouse, in his hipster black jeans, boots, t-shirt and obligatory man bun. He told me a little about his job and his family. Hard to believe that someone so young was married with three kids. I made him wait out on the balcony. “Wait here, I need to quickly clean my room,” I ordered. “Don’t worry, I’m going to see all the mess inside of you anyway,” he chuckled. I nearly choked.

The session got underway as I lay on my bed and him perched on a stool next to me. He told me that he didn’t heal people per se but talked them through their own healing. I’m not ill so I don’t really know what I needed healing for, but I guess he works on an emotional/subtle energy level. First we sat in silence. “I’m accessing your files,” he said. And then what he said next was unexpected. According to the information he received from his cosmic database, I had a twin when I was in my mother’s womb that died and was absorbed into the placenta. This means that I have attachment issues and experience separation anxiety more than most people. The grief from losing my twin means that I have been holding onto this emotion for a long time. He told me that one in eight people have this experience and that he also lost his twin in the womb. Consequently, he met a woman who he had a very strong, primal connection with and his relationship with this woman threatened his marriage. Luckily, he found out about this phenomena and felt that she was his long lost twin before his marriage imploded and now they share a familial rather than romantic bond. Apparently, I’m going to meet my twin next year (he was reborn from a different mother, and it’s a ‘he’ because I’m the feminine energy, so he must be the masculine energy). He wanted to make me aware of this because he said in his experience it was very unsettling and I should be prepared to be emotionally thrown by the encounter. Ooohhhhhhkkaaaaayyyy.

We went through the motions of him talking me through clearing what he perceived to be some blocks in my energy, letting go of particular feelings, letting in others. It went on for well over an hour. I have to admit that I lost track of time and went into a kind of light sleep state, although still conscious. I like to think of myself as open minded and open to new experiences, but things like this I am skeptical about. But then, near the end of the session something weird happened. He said he kept hearing a name in his head of someone that was close to me. He said the name aloud several times and I was slightly freaked out because indeed, this person had been very close to me but was no longer in my life, although my grieving had not ended. He said that he would sever the ties energetically so that I could get closure. I have to admit that I found this freaky and felt weird afterwards. After two hours of lying on my bed I really needed to pee. I opened my eyes to see him moving his fingers over me before I got up off the bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I peed for what felt like five minutes and then when I returned we slowly finished the session. He gave me some good advice about giving love in relationships, about following my heart and setting intentions. Who knows the value of this stuff. I don’t want to be a die-hard skeptic, but I don’t want to be a gullible sucker either. Let’s see if my supposed twin appears in my life. I’ll keep you posted.

Off to the healer we go

tjok-rai-bwI was happy to tag along with my friend here in Bali when she suggested that we hire a driver and go on a day trip, checking off all those clichéd Bali things that I didn’t get a chance to do last time (healer, Holy Water temple, rice fields, traditional dance performance).

And so we headed off on a rainy, humid day, our first stop to visit a traditional Balinese healer. You’ve heard all about Elizabeth Gilbert and Ketut Liyer which I suppose has caused something of a resurgence of interest amongst tourists for such figures. Our Balinese driver, Putu, planned out our whole day and took us to see a healer that he had personally seen when he was a child and who had apparently cured him of a black magic spell. “I was sick when I was a child. I had bad stomach pains. Went to the doctor four times. He couldn’t help. Then my father took me to see the healer and I was better,” he told us.

While I believe there are probably some gifted healers in the world, those of the shamanic variety who have healing powers us average joes don’t have access too, I had low expectations of visiting this man.

We pulled up to his compound, a beautiful, well-kept maze of rooms, statues and shrines in typical Balinese style. The man himself, whom I later would find out is named Cokorda Rai, was working humbly with a patient (client? customer? seeker?) in the porch area where the people come and wait their turn. My friend and I gleaned that the woman and her friend who was waiting were Russian. We waited our turn patiently as Mr. Rai told the girl in broken English how to help herself, although we could only hear the occasional snippet. After waiting about twenty minutes my brave, recently broken-hearted friend took her place on the ground at his feet as he sat behind her in a chair. He wore traditional Balinese dress, complete with white cotton shirt, patterned sarong and traditional hat.

I watched as he felt my friend’s head and face as if he were blind (he’s not) and then pushed his fingers into her ears and felt around her throat and neck. She then lay down on a bamboo mat and he proceeded to poke her toes and feet with a small stick. I guess what he told her resonated as she walked towards us wiping a tear or two from her eye.

Then it was my turn. I get the full head-feeling treatment – and indeed I can attest to the fact that it feels weird when a stranger pokes their long gnarly fingers into one’s ears. He felt around my head and told me that I was strong minded, ‘like a lawyer.’ Unsure if that was a compliment or insult, I kept calm and let him continue feeling around. He asked what my profession was and didn’t seem surprised when I told him. He shouted out across to my friend and Putu that they should ask me for advice because I think I always know what’s best for others.

Then came the painful part.

I lay down on the mat and he proceeded to prod my toes with his evil little stick. It was painful. Like really painful. Like being stabbed. After some minutes of this torturous exercise, the healer comes to the conclusion that I have low blood pressure, that I shouldn’t do anything strenuous at night (it’s true I’m a ‘morning person’), that I need to eat more meat and take Omega-3 supplements. I wouldn’t disagree with analysis. However, I didn’t put much faith in the whole thing to begin with and before I knew it, I’d made my ‘offering’ of $30 and we were on our way to our next attraction. We said a polite goodbye to Mr. Rai and the German expat who was waiting patiently after us. I didn’t give the experience a second thought.

Cut to a few days later and I am forced to fly to Singapore to renew my visa due to some monumental fuckup on an immigration official’s part. I’m in the airport bookstore in the departures lounge (like a moth to a flame!) and a book about Balinese healing catches my eye.

I look at the photo on the back, and to my surprise, it has a picture of the healer whose fingers were in my ears just a few days before. It turns out this Cokorda Rai is quite the famous, revered figure with a lot of mana, both among expats, seekers and local Balinese alike.

More interesting perhaps is what I read about his life between the covers of that book. Encased within the first chapter was a hurried account of a swashbuckling life – a teen runaway, life as a thug on the mean streets of Jakarta, a series of failed business, marriages and some nine children born along the way. But this  regal man (he comes from Balinese royalty) returns home and answers the call and fulfills his destiny…so today, here he is, this elegant man in his 80’s, sitting joyfully on his porch, waiting for those in need for what ails them.

The weird life

11924915_10152909893926853_6672686374771263182_nSpending time in Bali means the following:

Getting woken up by a combination of rat, snake, rooster noises at 4am and/or by a prayer call coming from the only mosque in town.

When your yoga teacher used to be a gay drug addicted escort/ prostitute and porn star (but now is only addicted to yoga).

When your other yoga teacher tells you she can see spirits and communicate with the dead after showing you her piece of $6,000 medical technology that can cure parasites. Awkward.

When you have to hire a local male dancer for the evening to be able to actually go dancing.

When your capoeira teacher has class in the ‘living room’ of his house which is on a ravine above a gushing river next to a temple and meditation cave.

When you pay for the privilege of going to a farm and working your ass off all morning harvesting and planting things.

When you have to go to the immigration office to renew your visa and the person sitting next to you is a tall, blond American in a million jingly rings, who tries to get you to join her cult in India

When her young, rich American ivy-league educated student tells you all about his plans to create a startup which involves bugs becoming a staple of people’s diets.

When you find Diva Cups, Yoni Eggs and self-administered enema kits for sale in restaurants.

When the American women sitting next to you at a vegan restaurant earns her living by working two hours a day via Skype doing past life regressions.

When the British-Brazilian family sitting on the other side of you at a vegan restaurant live in a boat and sail from country to country as they please with no ‘home’ to return to.

When the old Beatnik couple sitting on the other side are engrossed in coloring books for grown-ups.

When all the local families you meet have two things in common: a father that passed away too young and at least a ten year gap between the closest siblings.

When you don’t ‘do’ yoga, but ‘practice’ yoga; when dying is ‘transitioning’.

When there are chickens literally crossing the (main) road.

When the elderly Hindu locals prefer to bathe half-naked in the chilly river rather than make use of their western-style showers, even in front of curious tourists.

When you discover that there are some 400,000 thousand dogs living on Bali and only about half of them have been vaccinated for Rabies. Meaning if you get bitten by a dog, you have a fifty percent change of dying.

When you meet a lot of whippersnapper expat male New Zealanders whom you wish well in their yoga, surfing and engineering pursuits even though you secretly want to punch them for the idyllic lives they lead.