This September marks slightly more than a year since I’ve called Bali my second home. It’s been an eventful year, and in this time the island has imparted to me lessons that I know I will carry around for life.
People in Bali work really hard but some don’t ever earn enough to leave the island. They don’t have the things that we value in metropolitan cities and it’s not uncommon for people here to not have a/c or hot water in their homes. Yet the Balinese people are the kindest and the happiest bunch of people I’ve ever met. They place so much emphasis on being grateful for what they already have.
The act of being grateful is something I have always grappled with because growing up in Singapore, I am so conditioned by city’s way of life. So much is taken for granted in a developed city when you have easy access to high speed internet, reliable transport and can do things like drink from the tap. In Bali I don’t have all the comforts that I enjoy in a developed city, but being closer to nature helps me to focus on what’s truly important. The more time you spend being thankful for what you already have, the more it changes the way you look at life.
‘Hati’ is Bahasa for ‘heart’, and ‘Hati-hati’ literally translates to ‘Watch your heart’. Seen on roadsides, signs, yoga studios, shops, site of roadworks or a downhill slope (everywhere on the island literally), the phrase is used to inform someone to exercise caution. But on a spiritual level, the phrase speaks of awareness, informing a person to be mindful of where they place they place their thoughts, invest their emotions and expend energy. It informs a person to slow down. To pay attention to your surroundings, situation and state of mind. So much unlike what I am used to in Singapore, life in Bali moves at a ‘hati-hati’ pace. In fact, people here embrace the ‘hati-hati’ way of life so much, it’s not surprising to have them turn up at a place at nine when they said they’ll be there at seven.
Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature
There’s nothing like getting tossed around like a rag doll after a surf wipeout or experiencing your first earthquake to teach you that us mere mortals are insignificant when compared to the forces of Mother Nature. She commands our respect and we should try to treat her with more loving kindness. We’ve done her too much damage over the years, many of which are now irreparable.
Our Earth is the only one we’ve got and I don’t think anyone else understands this better than the Balinese people. I’m not sure if anyone else treats the earth with as much reverence as they do. They don’t carry the typical Western mindset that the land belongs to them – instead, they belong to the land.
It’s Important to Be Close to the Earth…
Before one can treat Mother Nature kindly, we have to get to know the earth that we walk on. It could be something as simple as walking barefoot, grounding yourself to the earth and its magnetic fields. If you think about it, walking barefoot is part of human nature. Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of owning shoes, but they knew the elements and environment intimately. And as modern humans, it’s easy to forget what’s primal and natural to us.
There are many studies that have proven how walking barefoot can benefit our physical, mental and emotional health. For me personally, being in Bali and spending my days close to the sea means I get to do this often. If I’m having a bad day, I instantly feel better when my bare feet touches the sand. It’s almost as if the negative emotions flow from my body down to my feet, into the ground to be washed away by the sea.
…But More Important to Be Connected to Yourself
So many people on earth are unhappy and unsettled with where they are in life. In my first yoga class here my instructor said something that really resonated with me: we complicate our lives too much by shelving away the things that we already know, thinking that it would be an easier way out when in reality it is much harder to deny ourselves than it is to get to know ourselves.
For example, we know that the glass of green juice is better than that bottle of coke. But we argue that it’s too much hassle to do the groceries. We know that meditating would work better than drinking away our sorrows. But we think that the latter is a faster fix. We know it’s better to follow our passions than it is to stay in an unfulfilling job. But the crappy job pays better money. We know it’s better to walk out of an unhappy relationship than to stay where we are, but we fear the process of separation.
Whatever your inner truths are, it’s important to know, acknowledge and live in accordance to them. Only then can we begin to experience a truly happy life.
Respect the Ocean
Bali is famed for its fantastic surf and dive conditions. The island is truly a beach paradise but with it comes powerful rip currents. Even in somewhat shallow waters rips can pull unsuspecting tourists out into trouble. So many times I’ve watched lifeguards on duty rescue tourists that were dragged out by undertows. One time a man was in knee-deep waters one minute and the next I’m watching lifeguards paddle out into head-high waters to rescue him. He got lucky – not all beaches in Bali have lifeguards on duty.
Although surfers would stand-in as makeshift lifeguards to help out someone in danger, it’s much better to not be an ignorant tourist. I’m thankful that I’ve never gotten myself into serious trouble, but I was definitely one of those people that didn’t fully understand the power of the ocean until I started living in Bali. The sea always looks tame on the surface, but even small waves can be deceptive and have enough power to knock people right off their feet. Be careful when swimming along the stretch of beach at Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. Always swim between yellow and red flag markers and steer clear of the areas marked with red flags.
There is No Right of Way
To say that I was freaked out the first time I rode on a gojek (scooter taxi) would be an understatement. Lanes aren’t really a thing here and streets in Bali were not built to handle all the vehicles on the roads today. Especially in the Kuta area and Denpasar, sometimes it’s not possible to get anywhere quickly on a scooter even if we are able to weave through the traffic. I still cannot fathom how drivers deal with the hell that is Indonesian traffic. Yet in my time here I have never come across any road rage or accidents (and I hope I never will).
It’s organized chaos. The locals seem to be able to understand each other well and communicate through a variety of honks, hand gestures, expressions and signals. To a foreigner however, the traffic would seem more like a wild jungle. It really doesn’t matter if you’re coming from the left or right because there is simply no such thing as right of way. What there is instead is a lot of evasion and giving of way.
The Zeros Are Confusing
It took me awhile to familiarize myself with the Indonesian currency because the zeros on the notes can be confusing. It also didn’t help that I’m terrible with numbers to begin with. It’s easy to mistake one note with another if you’re like me, and I’m pretty sure that on one of my first trips here I gave a shop owner 200,000 Rp for an adapter when it should only be 20,000 Rp.
So, please don’t be like me. Maybe familiarize yourself with the local currency before your trip to Bali. It might also be useful to note that the Indonesians omit ‘rupiah’ in everyday communication and say ‘one million’ or ‘one hundred’ when referring to money. As of September 2017, 100,000 Rp. is approximately US$7.50.
No matter how many times I leave and come back to Bali, I always either forget something or bring along something that never leaves my backpack. Admittedly, I’m still trying to get the hang of this. The weather is getting really hard to predict thanks to global warming, but keeping track of the seasons in Bali will help so much in your packing process.
Besides, if there’s anything you lack you’ll definitely be able to buy them somewhere. Things here are definitely not as cheap as they were before, but they’re still much cheaper than most developed cities. When it comes to Bali, it’s much better to under-pack than overpack.