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.

Down the Ubud rabbit hole

10922787_10152835605896853_7435212503923004836_o (1)Having never been to Bali before, and having made a last minute decision to come here, I did not know what to expect. My lack of research landed me with some visa issues and therefore some restricted mobility, and that is how I came to spend almost all of my time so far in Ubud, the artistic and cultural center of this famed Indonesian island.

Surrounded by lush green rice fields and jungle, dotted with temples and quaint old-fashioned Balinese family compounds, there is immense beauty here. Deep ravines frame gushing rivers. Monkeys hide high up in the trees and huge coconut palms provide shade from the sun’s heat. Some four hundred cafes and restaurants cater to the transient population which is made up of local Balinese, Indonesians from other parts of the country, expats from all over the world (but particularly Europe, the US and Oceania) and the travelers and seekers just passin’ through.

Ubud is generally a quiet and peaceful place. There’s some traffic congestion on the main street and the markets get a bit crowded, but the pace of life is enjoyably slow and the people watching is phenomenal. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that the non-Indonesians who visit here fall into one of two categories: twenty year old supermodel couples or beautiful white, rich, married European couples with equally beautiful 2.5 children.

But then you spend some time at The Yoga Barn, a kind of yoga utopia, perhaps attending a yoga class or even the venerated Ecstatic Dance. Visit any of the dozens of raw, vegan, organic restaurants and cafes that dot the busy streets, rice fields and hillsides and you come into contact with a different beast altogether. I got talking to another New Zealander who has been living here for two years. He told me he calls this tribe the Trustafarians. And that’s exactly what they are: young, rich twenty-somethings living bohemian work-free lifestyles off their inherited money. They come to ‘find themselves’ but, my friend tells me, they end up staying and not really finding anything. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite – I’m all for a good old fashioned Eat, Pray, Love style mission – and indeed, I went on a short one in my twenties. I may even be on one now (replace ‘Pray, Love’ with ‘Read, Sleep’). But how much fucking yoga and eating kale are you going to do? It’s like the kids here have taken the fanatical new age, health obsessed culture of California to a whole new level.

So there we are, trapped far down in the interior, subjective rabbit hole. I hope these man-bunned, tramp-stamped, tie-dyed, colonically-irrigated, glittered beautiful people aren’t doomed to a life of navel gazing and spending their days doing Louise Hay-inspired affirmations (after their coffee enema and morning Vinyasa practice) at the expense of achieving something worthwhile with their lives, of having an impact. But hey, this kind of tourism is helping keep an island economically afloat (even if most of the places frequented by said Trustafarians are owned by expats and the local staff get paid shit and don’t reap any profits).

Perhaps I’m a little bitter. It’s hard not to feel a bit hard done by when you’re surrounded by such self-indulgent, self-absorbed people who don’t know what it’s like to flip burgers at McDonald’s. At the same time, I swing to the other extreme and feel an immense sense of gratitude. Most of the locals have never left the island. Many of them never had the opportunity to get an education. Many are illiterate. I’ve heard the same hard luck story from my various taxi drivers many times – born into a poor family, unable to attend school, limited prospects for employment and earning an income. And yet they managed to teach themselves another language and make a life for themselves. Just to be able to write that sentence (“my various taxi drivers”), just to be here and witnessing this kind of apartheid, the beauty, the poverty, the comedy and the tragedy is an incredible privilege and stroke of luck.