Tag Archives: Bali

A taste of how the other 99.9% live.

An expensive cafe belonging to a big hotel complex, and enjoying her decaffeinated cuppucino, or owing to regrettable caffeine overdose decades ago the most agonising muscle cramps ensue, is yours truly.



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Reflections on a month in Bali.

As I sit here with a head cold which has become something nasty in chest and ears, and reflect on a month in Bali which already seems to have gained such distance as to be a phantom or dream in the mind of semi delirium, certain aspects of Balinese life come into clearer focus, as though the dream is trying to impart some other understanding.

The cynicism which has regrettably but inevitably become a part of the Balinese psyche in respect of dealings and interaction with tourists is not something evident or overt in any way. At first the warm regard and punctilious attentiveness on the part of waiters and service staff is taken to be emblematic of the actions of a people who acknowledge the divine in others; a part of what it is to be Hindu, but nothing in relation to the service of tourists is performed without the hope and expectation of reward. For people whose wages are a tiny fraction of that of the foreigners they serve, tips are not only expected but depended upon. Good espresso coffee costs pretty much the same in Bali as it does in any cafe in any city in the world, amounting in Bali to the cost of a meal for two in most places, which inclines the tourist who might frequent a cafe more than once a day to reserve his largesse for the cheaper warungs and eateries where he thinks it might be better apportioned. This is a mistake. He must realise sooner rather than later that the staff in the expensive cafes make no more real income than those in the warungs, and ensure that he calculates his expenditures accordingly.

The women who implore you to buy the same clothes from their shops as are sold in all the other shops, upon finally wearing you down to the point at which you agree to buy just one article, will quote a price they know is over twice its worth and expect you to haggle it down until a mutual satisfaction is reached, treating with open derision anyone who won’t haggle vigorously and pays anything close to the asking price.

Having understood that nothing is undertaken, no social transaction with tourists is made without remuneration or the promise of some commercial contract at the end of it, one is then almost fully acclimatised and fit to be immersed in the life of Bali. One can’t escape the feeling though, as the people smile and greet the tourists with light banter, that their contempt for the apparent wealth and ease with which the tourists appear to be thoroughly availing themselves of all the extravagances and comforts Bali’s low exchange rate and cost of living affords is only just thinly suppressed.

The tourists we constantly passed in the streets seemed to have solved the problem of continual harassment to buy things by simply ignoring the street sellers and drivers as though they don’t exist, a ploy which one day towards the end of our stay even we were driven to employ following a particularly unpleasant encounter with a bevy of hard sell women at the beach at Sanur, who were determined to follow us with haranguing and impertinences when we tried, with cheerful but firm assurances with thanks, to explain we were merely interested in taking a walk. But upon reflection I realise that it’s entirely possible we were the only tourists to actually engage the people as individuals and therefore posed an anomaly to these women who, in being thus engaged on a personal basis, took unaccustomed liberties with us and didn’t know where to draw the line. One day in Lovina, a black sand and rock beach locality at the north of Bali, we took a walk along the main street and passed an old man sifting through garbage on a pile of reeking refuse. He was collecting the discarded plastic water bottles and bags to sell as salvage, a necessary but lowly occupation for those seeking to earn a few rupiah by disposing of the enormous tonnage of non biodegradables which threaten to overwhelm the island. I greeted him with warm cordiality saying “Selamat pagi,” (Good morning) to which he very nearly did a double take and passed out. When he’d recovered his faculties he returned the greeting with smiles, and some time further along the road he passed us on his dilapidated scooter, a huge sac of plastic on his back, and very excitedly and happily waved at us, nearly wobbling his vehicle into calamity with other traffic. For all I know he may be relating the story of the day tourists stooped to greet him to his grandchildren, and they to their grandchildren for several generations to come.

We met tourists from northern Italy, Germany, Holland, Canada, Korea, Austria, Poland, America, Belgium and France, and enjoyed them very much, and passed others from Japan and China who, divided too much by language and culture evidently, ignored other tourists and wouldn’t so much as give equal way on the footpaths, but expected others to take to the tarmac with the vehicular traffic. But apart from the people with whom we struck up conversations and shared pleasant times, tourists in general in Bali, particularly the Australians, sad to say, were gross feeders and ample cause to develop in Balinese a revulsion which they admirably seem to hide. The mere thought that those beautiful girls in Ubud, having sweet innocent faces and delicate frames and hands, would every day massage some of these specimens was enough to make me shudder with horror, and I won’t permit any mental pictures to develop in my mind even now.

Many tourists we encountered appeared to have precious little regard for the ways of the Balinese, and complained unreasonably about almost everything. The gardeners, some of whom catch colds whenever there’s the least change in temperature or humidity, don’t spend half their wages on wads of tissues to blow their noses into but snort and spit, or blow through the nostrils straight onto the garden beds. The tourists seem to find this disgusting and make complaints. What the?… you’re in Bali now, not your clinically devised and engineered hometown…

Every restaurant or warung has its own particular way of expressing Balinese or Indonesian dishes, and no one recipe is the same as another. But there were tourists who, finding fault on receiving their plates, took it upon themselves to point out the errors in this or that dish and in whining tones dripping with sarcasm tried to teach Balinese cooks to prepare their orders their way.

Others, clearly having taken up the chant and adopted the creed of the popular media, regard smokers as terrorists who are trying insidiously to kill them, and made complaints over having to share the open air with them, whilst making nothing, of course, of the endless stream of traffic billowing and blasting them with noxious fumes and chemical particulants. So annoyed was I by them that I had even rehearsed a cutting retort, loaded with irony which they probably wouldn’t understand, but direct enough to impart a sense of their manifold hypocrisies should their brains be not too withered by bigotry to grasp a few home truths. But alas such is the frustration of life that no provocateur within discreet reach of my voice presented a suitable occasion upon which I might brilliantly deliver my few scathing words.

The kind of tourists who spend around a thousand dollars a night in the big resorts are, quite naturally and as one would expect, never seen on the streets or at music venues or restaurants or cafes or (perish the very thought) at warungs. They remain within the plush and breathtaking grounds of their hotels, and eat in the various restaurants thriving under the shelter of the hotel complex. They are not bothered by the street sellers and beach hawkers because such are not allowed to encroach upon the parts of pathways and beach directly in front of the hotels or resorts. When they want to experience something of Bali they rely upon the hotels’ drivers to take them on expensive tours for which their every wish and whim is well catered.

People who don’t depend on tourism for their living but eke out an existence on the farm or in small shops catering to their own communities tend to ignore the visitors, used to the indifference and arrogance of tourists who treat their island as their own, and have learned to mentally block them out and live their lives as they’ve always done. The gardeners employed by the hotel at which we stayed in Ubud gave us the best insight into the Balinese personality, being independent of any direct benefit gained by social intercourse with tourists. They are gentle people, sweet in their simplicity, interested in the lives and ways of people from other lands, and happy for opportunities to expand their English vocabulary, which they regard as providing opportunities for better jobs at higher wages. Their families and family traditions are the focus of their lives, local religious festivals and celebrations the events which strengthen their ties with their neighbours. There is in them both an acceptance of their lot in life and aspiration to overcome it, seemingly working simultaneously and without conflict.

Having spoken of the quid pro quo which shapes and informs relationships between Balinese and tourists, there is one example in particular which reveals the nature of these people and which constitutes exception to the rule. One night in Lovina, having stayed until after dark at a big hotel’s cafe where there were two musicians employed to entertain on the beach, we made our way back towards our lodgings. Being a stretch without lighting and having no warungs still open, we had to carefully move around fishing boats and their anchorage ropes made only just visible by a clouded semi moon, and not recalling how far along the beach we’d come nor how to recognise the intercepting jalan (street) on which our bungalow awaited us, we overshot it. Oblivious, we came at length to a rushing inlet spanned by a concrete bridge in such bad repair that in trying to obtain it we had to clamber over disarranged boulders which had clearly at one time been the concrete approaches to the bridge but had badly broken up. Not recognising anything in the dark we nonetheless pressed on, crossed the bridge, clambered over the same boulder strewn shoulder as on the other side, and found ourselves at the opening to a jalan completely obscured by darkness. At that point we might have reasoned that even owing to the visual changes wrought between day and night we’d encountered nothing during the afternoon when we arrived and decided to explore on foot that in any way resembled where we now found ourselves, and retraced our footsteps, had it not been for the sudden appearance of a pack of snarling and growling dogs. Espying a dim light afar off up the jalan, we determined to make for it with all efficiency, and donning an air of prepossessing valour we strode through the pack and appealed to some shaded figures we could finally see standing near the light. An old woman, as we approached saying we were lost, looked over to her husband who moved into the light as we turned in his direction, but neither of them understood English and the eldest son was fetched, while the woman kindly swept a tiled step for us to sit on and we admired the beautiful children who emerged to gaze at the hapless tourists. No sooner had we explained the situation to him than both he and his father pulled out their scooters, saw us installed on the back of each, and by a mysterious path delivered us to the jalan we described, and into the care of our hosts who stood by as though anxiously awaiting our return. We scarcely had time to thank the men before they sped off. The thing is, you see, that they had both opportunity and cause to come to some deal over restoring us to our lodgings, and we would have been delighted to pay them any sum they might propose. Touched deeply by their generosity and kindness we wanted to give them something which would not embarrass them, and finally settled on a gift of drawing paper and coloured pens and crayons for the children, which we took there in daylight with many thanks.

The Bali musicians are divided into two groups in my thinking: those who play for the joy and finesse of it and in understanding make the songs their own; and the others who haven’t understood the lyrics but having learnt the sounds which approximate can render a pleasant version and keep the customer satisfied. Whatever the case, Balinese musicians adapt to a broad range of playing styles and genres, and in the south west at Jimbaran on the beach was even a group of musicians, one of whom had a banjo and who had mastered frailing and double thumbing perfectly, who all were completely adept with Bluegrass music, delightfully singing parallel harmonies, and, apart from their accents, might be taken as an ensemble from Kentucky. They and those from other beach or bayside towns and localities such as Sanur, and those in Ubud, many of whom are Reggae musos, were very cool dudes indeed. It seems in retrospect that they are the happiest people in Bali. But……..

There is this convention in Bali which governs the conduct of couples to the effect that the women don’t go out with or play music with their men, so one never sees a female musician or singer, unless of course she’s a tourist or visiting foreigner, and the music venues and bars are devoid of Balinese women and girls unless they’re wait staff. Far be it from me to criticise the ways of other people, but it would rather seem that Balinese women have the life of drudgery whilst their men are free to do as they please. However, whatever strictures prevent the Balinese women from the happy pursuits of their husbands and boyfriends does not seem to affect the relationship between the Balinese musos and any visiting female musicians. In fact in all instances there seems to be no special deference or treatment of female tourists, both males and females receiving handshakes and the same polite address.

I have discussed my observations of the Balinese attitude of and relationship to the dogs and cats, and of the geckos and frogs, and the monkeys, but there is another animal of which I might make mention, a scurrying bushy tailed creature which must be a squirrel. It travels along the branches of trees and up and down tree trunks with awesome speed and agility, freezing whenever it becomes aware of being watched. As soon as the offerings are put out and the prayers silently uttered with graceful hand gestures, the squirrels dart out of hiding and quickly steal the edible parts;  a small biscuit, some rice, perhaps a little fruit and the odd flower or two. This doesn’t bother the women who have ceremoniously placed the offerings – whatever happens to them after the placement and prayer is inconsequential, the execution and purpose already achieved. There seems to be a true symbiosis in Bali, an independent interdependence between animal and man, and whatever creatures run or swim in the rice paddies foraging for food are considered sacred.

And now to speak of the wonderful Sumatran elephants, the smallest of all the species of elephant, which we met at the Elephant Safari Park. Rescued by an Australian from lives of hard labour in the jungles of Sumatra where they hauled heavy logs, they are now installed and living lives of luxury and contentment in magnificent parklands. Each elephant has his or her own keeper, and tourists take rides in little wooden seats on their backs, the keepers sitting on their heads, through a jungle leased from the property of a farmer. Ola was the name of our elephant, a sweet natured girl who paused along the track from time to time to help herself to grasses and coconut fronds which had fallen in her path. After the little trek we humans gathered with the elephants to pat and feed them, and I went to some lengths to tell Ola what a sweet, wonderful girl she is, and I’m sure I’m not mistaken in having observed her face break into a smile and an expression of love reflect in her eye.

Everywhere in Bali the examples of fine craftsmanship in carpentry and wood carving, in stonemasonry and sculpture, in batik and weaving, and in fine drawing and etching abound and can be seen as part of the fabric of Balinese life and culture, forming a significant part of the ubiquity of the everyday and the commonplace. It’s as though the very life of the Balinese breathes through these things, the expression of Balinese creativity and genius which no pressure of poverty can subvert or depress.

Oh Bali. Land of contradictions and enigmas, of paradox and mystery, I feel the call of your allure and know I won’t be truly happy again until I’m thrust once more into the midst of your ridiculous busy streets and marketplaces and am at the mercy of your insistent drivers and hawkers. I won’t feel comfortable or healthy again until I’m panting with exhaustion and dripping with sweat moving from one shaded venue to another. I won’t feel completely free until I haven’t been able to get a hot shower again for at least two weeks and it really doesn’t matter. And I won’t feel okay about having to live in this frightening world with all its bad news and evil works until I can hide myself once more in the splendour and squalor of Bali.

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Bali – a perspective

I went to Bali thirty three years ago, a young woman with her three year old son. It was a magic island, a special time, an enchanted place. All these years later I’m reflecting on my recent visit with my husband, a stay of twenty eight days, and can scarcely begin to come to terms with its changes.

It would be hard to describe the effects of decades of burgeoning tourism on Bali without appearing to condemn the place rather than the tourist influx; no mild words could hope to do it justice. But Bali, despite all its gross irritations and inadequacies is still a magic island, and has adapted itself to competition for the tourist dollar whilst maintaining its own way of life, the daily ebb and flow of work and family tradition.

The woman at the airport in her glassed cubicle who changed our dollars into rupiah claiming that we’d be ripped off elsewhere certainly wasn’t ambassador material. Having failed to trick us into accepting half the exchange by miscounting notes she, without shame, tried to pull the next trick which goes like this…. she hands you the money so you can count it, but then she wants it back…… so she can put it into a little packet for you. When she does that she pulls several notes without your being able to see it, just like any magician. It was the first of countless tricks and devices awaiting the intrepid visitor, and one that taxes the budget of the unwary at every turn. From the money changers to the six seater drivers and taksi drivers, to the street sellers, and the stall holders, all are pulling scams and testing the tourist ignorance.

They have a little questionnaire which runs something like this: Where are you from? The answer to this question reveals how much money they think you have, and possibly also how stupid you might be. The next question is: Where are you staying? The answer to this question reveals how much money you’re willing to part with, and provides a clue into the possible inadequacy of your understanding of how things work in Bali. After that comes this question: How long you stay? The answer will determine the degree to which they need to put themselves out working on your resolve not to purchase anything today. But how could one blame them? A rhetorical question obviously.

All of their economy is depending on tourism and every second guy drives a beautiful new tourist transporter which he cleans and shines every night so that next day he can stand by it or near it with a clutch of other drivers and thrust Taksi signs at you and implore you to allow him to drive you all over the island and take you on tours, at which he will drop you, most conveniently and more expensively, at a restaurant at lunchtime managed by someone with whom he has a little business arrangement. On the way there and later returning to your digs he will, gratuitously and thoughtfully, take you to any number of workshops with whom he also has an arrangement so that you can buy all manner of knick knacks and do dads which you had no idea you wanted. Should you decline he may even say “But when?” and most assuredly he will not fail to ask you repeatedly, regardless of how many times you may pass him on the street, or rather jalan.

One can’t walk half a metre without being importuned in some way, but again I say who can blame them? Merely because you’ve declined a massage fifteen times within the space of three minutes is no indication that this time you might not relent. And all Balinese live in hope. If they can’t drive you somewhere or massage you or sell you something and can’t get any custom by the time the rupiahs run out they return to the family farm and continue to work it, selling the produce at market.

The streets are crammed with vehicles, and line markings are largely ignored. Whole families get around on a scooter, the women riding side saddle, holding babies and carrying heavy baskets on their heads, small children squashed aft of the handlebars in front of fathers or uncles, and yet in the midst of chaos of trucks and tourist buses and cars and vans and motorbikes and scooters and bicyclists and pedestrians with their loads on their heads, there is a kind of – seems absurd to say it – tranquility. No one screams when the truck and the bus are passing each other on a narrow strip of road with scooters and bikes squeezing their way between, no one seems alarmed or concerned. People honk their horns at each other to signal they’re there or passing but at no point is there frustration or irritation or anger or road rage. In fact the Balinese are sanguine to the point of melting.

We spent two nights in a Bungalow in Sanur towards the end of our month’s visit, at a bit of a down at heel kind of place letting bungalows only ten steps from the beach. The owner, for whom the expenditure to refit some of the bungalows would have amounted to a fortune, was receiving a few bits of furniture from a delivery utility which was entering the compound. There was a dressing table with a large mirror in a nicely carved frame sitting on the tray on the back and as the driver drove in the mirror, too high to clear the stone portal of the compound, smashed loudly, shattering into several shards which scattered all over the paved courtyard. No one shouted, no one seemed in the least perturbed by its destruction, and very calmly the men came to a mutually satisfactory arrangement to replace the mirror the very same day. This cordiality and refusal to be stressed pretty much typified the conduct of relationships and commerce In Bali.

Kuta and Legian, having actual beaches, are bursting with tourists, mainly Australians, and have become unbearable. We stayed at a hotel, prebooked with our travel agent, in Kuta on the first night of our arrival, and rather than eat there we went off in search of a good, cheap warung.  A little boy insisted on our buying from him little leather thong bracelets he’d made and was outraged that we’d rather simply give him the money than have to find a use for them. Extricating ourselves finally from his pitiful entreaties we resumed our search and at some point, having found no warung which might provide sustenance and on the point of giving up and returning to the hotel, we chanced upon one which was filled with glum tourists and took the only available table, ordering from the menu food which turned out to be completely inedible and probably dangerous. On the following day we found a cafe which served espresso coffee and enjoyed a reasonably good lunch there, and watched some men across the road doing some repairs and renovations to the building opposite. Scaling rickety bamboo scaffolding and dangling precariously over the wall to scrape and paint, it was immediately clear occupational health and safety is a concept completely unknown in Bali.

Desperate by this point to get out of Kuta, the cafe staff put us in the hands of a driver who took us to Ubud, ripping us off magnificently. The man was charming and completely full of shit but he took us directly to a hotel with which he must have had an arrangement in Monkey Forest Road, which has bungalows built on cascading terraces and a swimming pool. Situated a short walk up the hill from the Monkey Forest the hotel is evidently prone from time to time to unheralded invasion by monkeys, as we learned, to our great delight and amusement and to the staff’s manifest annoyance, on the first two mornings of our stay. They came in a large mob and liberated a number of coconut palms from their burden, close up and completely impersonal, as the guests on their balconies made whatever attempts might not be considered hostile to protect whatever things they may have left out there the night before.

Having now taken coconuts, the monkeys then take them onto the roofs of bungalows or, as in our case, to the balconies of upstairs rooms where they then, between teeth and fingers (all twenty), tear away the outer bark and stringy flesh. Now a suitable place to smash open the coconut is found, roofs of bungalows proving the most useful, a) because ridge caps and roof tiles provide two kinds of hard surface and b) because being beyond the reach of slingshot no other situation quite qualifies. Hard round surfaces however, when impacted with great strength upon flat hard baked surfaces, seldom succumb, whereas, by contrast, the flat hard baked surface can hardly do anything else. The performance is terribly entertaining.

Ubud, being the cultural centre of the island, is correspondingly the most interesting place to be. There are a great many musicians playing in bars and restaurants, many of them quite brilliant, who learned their repertoire from the Bali songbook and from whatever soundtrack they could find. Art galleries are everywhere, western style paintings beginning to overwhelm the traditional, and top end European clothing outlets open their doors onto the same street as the less salubrious shops, warungs, cafes, restaurants and homestays. And under the footpaths which give way from time to time creating a large gaping chasm, runs the rankest, most foul smelling, canal of a drainage system floating a vile accumulation of garbage and debris that one can have the oft repeated misfortune to have to inhale. Shopkeepers do whatever they can to either put something across the gap or place a large pot plant next to it so that pedestrians receive some warning of the hazard, but regardless the footpaths are broken into hills and valleys too dangerous to tackle without paying strict attention, difficult in the circumstances; surrounded by interesting, colourful shops and activity which pulls focus despite best efforts, which probably accounts for the large numbers of tourists we saw who hobbled around on crutches, their legs tightly bandaged, their faces set in bravely determined expressions. We saw others in wheelchairs and simply marvelled at their courage.

At this juncture one should probably mention the heat. The heat and the humidity. Well, Bali is close to the equator, and tropical, so it’s pretty intense. I expected to wilt, being unwell for many years, recalling the previous visit when well and young and able bodied, and how the heat had hit me in the pit of the belly and doubled me over when, as in those days one disembarked straight onto the tarmac, I stepped from the plane and stood at the top of the wheeled stairs. But this time in that heat and humidity I felt well, and was even able to walk every day. After spending one’s entire adult life raising children (five in all, but who’s counting) there aren’t enough words in the English vocabulary to sufficiently cover the effects of a stress free vacation. The freedom of not having to do anything. The freedom to sweat and drink water and fresh blended juices, to float on the pool and listen to the sound of one’s breathing and the muffled scrape of a broom made of sticks as a gardener sweeps up the fallen leaves and flowers.

Bali has changed. In thirty three years a great change has taken place. The people have a cynicism now which was not the case then. The population has increased so that places which once were rural and thinly populated are now urban and very densely populated. The women once were bare breasted or in traditional dress and now wear T shirts and jeans. Tourists who became business owners and full or part time residents have driven up the price of property and established a standard of commercial hospitality more acceptable to westerners. Which leads me to another point entirely……

The effect on the psyche of Balinese girls exposed to generations of white western tourists has been, to a degree, devastating. I told a beautiful girl who served us at a restaurant where a really good band was playing that she reminded me of a young Brigitte Bardot, and after a long explanation to her she finally revealed that her dark skin was “dirty” and made her unattractive and that all she wanted was to be white like me. At length then I described to her the strivings of young western women to darken their skin, even to the point of self harm and death, and at last I think she might have been convinced of her beauty. The girls on the street who offer massages to passing tourists try to whiten their skin and wear garish blusher on their cheeks, but nonetheless their natural beauty can’t be hidden, and I never tired of telling them how beautiful I thought them, to which they smiled broadly with a few smothered giggles and glowed even more.

Old women whose children have been unable to support them work very hard, carrying up to seventy five kilos of rocks in baskets on their heads as they deliver building materials from the street where they’re dumped to the construction site where the men build the structures. Others carry heavy baskets of farm produce, and the hope that in her youth a girl might earn enough giving massages or working in a hotel is swelled and inflamed by the prospect of a life of hardship should she fail. Most parents hope that they’re able to earn enough money to put at least one child through higher education so that there might be a possibility of an easier dotage, for without a health care system or aged pensions life gets considerably harder and more precarious with ageing. So the family is a very important part of Balinese life and culture, without the cohesiveness of which the lives of Balinese would utterly fall apart.

Their poverty is such that tourists appear to them to be extremely wealthy. You can’t say to someone living such a life “Well I may seem wealthy to you but in fact where I come from I’m actually living on the poverty line as a recipient of a pension and am at any time at risk of defaulting on my loan and being thrown out into the street” because he simply can’t understand it. I said to one such incredulous Balinese “In Bali everyone has a home, and nobody lives on the street, but in my country there are people who go to work all day and have no home to live in, whole families living in their car or under a bridge.” He couldn’t comprehend it. “Why?” he said. “Because we don’t have communities like yours, families like yours. And the cost of living is very high in my country, and there’s a shortage of housing which struggling families and young people can afford. Many people can’t earn enough to pay the high rents or to continue to pay the bank for the loans to buy their houses.” I think it may have been the first time he saw his own situation as fortunate.

In Bali geckos run all over the ceilings and walls, frogs abound, insecticides and pesticides aren’t used, and snails and slaters don’t exist. The mosquitos about which we were warned to protect ourselves are far less of a problem than back home and you don’t order chicken drumsticks or thighs because the fowl haven’t been bred to fill the stomachs of fast food eaters as in the west, having a tall thin frame with long thin legs and producing eggs which have vivid orange yolks. Life is abundant and free, the landscape lush and green and filled with fruit trees and rice and pleasant herbs.

Resisting the oppressive rule of the rest of Indonesia, Bali jealously maintains its freedom as a Hindu culture, living without restraints as much as it can. The people acknowledge their streets are dilapidated and hazardous, openly blaming the endemic corruption on the part of government officials and the police, and cheerfully pay the bribes which keep their businesses from being closed down. Balinese are intrinsic risk takers, mostly eschewing the wearing of helmets whilst riding motorcycles and scooters, flouting whatever road rules there may be, and jeopardising personal safety on worksites, all without health care or government assistance of any kind. Which may be why there are so many different kinds of prayers made twice daily with offerings to the gods; on beaches, on footpaths, outside shops and warungs, restaurants and cafes, and at homestays and hotels. Everywhere and everything is covered by prayers and offerings.

Dogs and cats roam freely, ignored and allowed to peacefully co-exist. They don’t seek human attention, don’t beg, and are accustomed to wandering around and being avoided. They all seem, for the most part, to have placid personalities like their human fellow inhabitants, and appear to be satisfied with a life of fending for themselves.

Coming home to a country filled with personally restrictive rules and laws and streets devoid of vitality, to overpriced restaurants and slowly crawling traffic lanes, to food polluted and travelled and old is a serious come down. Within twenty four hours I had contracted the first head cold in twelve years, within a week and a half we smoked all of the delicious kretek cigarettes we were allowed to bring into the country, and within the space of two days we knew we wanted to be back there more than anything in the world.

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