Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bali Part 1


Bali Is Crawling With Aussies

“How many minutes left in the match?” 


There are places in the world that are so dominated by one group of foreigners that you don’t even need to go to the mother country. You can skip the States and just go to Cabo San Lucas. You can skip India and just go to Fiji. You can skip Australia and just go to Bali. Bali is crawling with Aussies, and they look more Southern Californian than the Southern Californians. Their appearance is nearly identical to the Americans but with logo’d sportswear from teams you’ve never heard of: sports fans from a parallel universe. 

The Brits invented white trash, but the American’s won the belt and wore it proudly around their expanding bellies for decades until the Aussies snatched it from us with an “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! – Oi! Oi! Oi!”. I could make a living cracking Aussie jokes about their “cashed up bogans” but the truth is I really do love ‘em. And then there’s AC/DC (pronounced “Acadaca”). AC/DC are so dirty and good and rock so hard that Australia could nuke Papua New Guinea and when the world court brought charges against them their only defense would be, "yeah, but...AC/DC" and with a collective murmur the world would sigh, "yeah… fair enough, but don’t do it again." 

We spent many hours drinking and staring at the sea in Sanur

I’m of course referring to “The Before Times”. It used to be crawling with Aussies, and when we first got here, it still was, but most left in summer 2020 and what I used to refer to as “convict island” is now referred to as “prisoner island” – They haven’t been allowed to leave their continent. When they leave Bali, they aren’t replaced with another Aussie.

They Were Replaced With Soviets!

Ah....The sleet blasted lizard faces of the Soviet bloc. Now when you travel Bali you hear Russian everywhere. When I started traveling back in 1990, you never heard Russian. You never met a Russian. There weren't any Russians outside of Russia. And if you met a Russian, you didn’t know it, because he was a spy. But now – they are everywhere. And if you meet a rich one it’s perfectly appropriate to ask how many people he’s killed with his bare hands. Because he has. And if you should ever find yourself depressed, just ask to see a Soviets childhood photo album. The sepia toned tenement blocks devoid of joy should put your problems into perspective instantly. 

I lived here in Bali ten years ago and we used to say, “Aussies will not wear shirts.” Now we say, “Soviets will not wear masks.” The mask thing really steams me up. You don't wear the mask for you; you wear the mask for everyone else. Like an eye patch.... It's not for the wearer. It's so everyone else doesn't have to see your dead socket. Even pirates were more polite than modern Soviets. I use the term “Soviets” because it’s more inclusive than “Russians” and everyone knows I’m an inclusive egalitarian and lover of culture. I have politely deferred to the blanket handle of “Soviets” for everyone who sounds like a record playing backwards. Those deadeye Soviets found Bali and vowed never to return to the tundra. They taught themselves how to market their social presence to their ilk trapped back home and are making up for 100 years of lost time as fast as they can. 

Yes Bob, But When Are You Actually Going To Write About Bali?

Right now! 

A pile of offerings to please the gods

Here's an example of marketing. The following statements are both true, but only one sells it, "I'm stuck in Indonesia". Vs: "I'm quarantining in Bali"

I landed in Bali on March 14 2020 and Aleja was one day behind me. The next day they closed the borders for 19 months. Whew! – We just made it and yet we had no idea how lucky we would be. Bali normally gets 7,000,000 visitors per year. As of July 16, 2020 there were only 7,000 foreigners on the island and they were leaving daily. It became a once in a lifetime opportunity that will probably never happen again. We found ourselves in paradise with 40% off, no traffic, no lines, and no crowds. Not one Bluebird taxi honked at me. The Dutch, the Japanese…and ultimately the Tourists just become another occupying army. But in this strange parallel universe it felt like we had paradise all to ourselves. If Elon Musk could write a check and reduce the number of foreigners by a factor of 1,000 how much would you expect that to cost? Billions right? Our experience was priceless. 

We had many great restaurants all to ourselves

It reverted to the crowds of the 1950's, the pricing of the 1990's while retaining the infrastructure of the 2020's. The health of the reefs rebounded, the air quality improved. We felt we won in every way … and all the while, the locals slowly starved. One of the employees where we lived was laid off. Shortly after, he had to unplug his fridge because he could no longer pay the electric bill, and shortly after that he sold it. Everyone knows a taxi driver who had to sell his car. It isn’t fair, and you can’t help everyone. We shared and donated but it would never be enough. We adopted a restaurant and the workers there. We bought bags of rice and cans of tuna and boxes of face masks but it’s never going to cover it. Many families dipped deeply back into poverty after their savings were extinguished. It was the same story around the world. 

I got sick

There were no Covid tests in March of 2020 in Bali so I can never say definitively that I had it, but I had never lost my sense of smell before and my lungs haven’t been the same since. 3 X-rays, 3 radiologists and 3 doctors later - the diagnosis is COPD, which is a blanket term for permanent scarring in the air sacs of the lungs. It won’t get better and my life quality has certainly been impacted. Do you remember as a child in the predawn frozen winter when you had to run to catch the school bus and that cold air seared your lungs? That’s what they feel like: scorched and bruised and I cough constantly. That never helps to make friends during a pulmonary pandemic. 

We quarantined for months. Aleja never had any symptoms. Go figure. This was March to June of 2020. We got small, lowered our expectations and like everyone else, wondered how long it would last. 

We took up an old hobby of mine
and made lots candles

By July we had declared that Sanur wasn’t where we wanted to be and moved up to Ubud. I’m fond of saying, “If you get lost in Sanur you end up in Denpasar (the filthy capital of the island). If you get lost in Ubud you end up in a beautiful rice paddy.” When we were driving in South America I was hyper conscious to never make a wrong turn because it was so difficult to get big LC turned around or backed up, but when I'm on the scooter with Aleja, we try to get lost. We knowingly take wrong turns. 2 wheels in Bali is real freedom. I lived here 10 years ago and I drove a little Jeep like vehicle. It was good. It felt safe. But traffic was an issue and parking a constant problem. This time around I opted for a scooter, which means you have to time your breathing. You hold your breath when you see the belch from the truck. Then you exhale and inhale the next lung full before you meet the smoke from the hundreds of mini fires that burn everyday as the locals rid themselves of rice chafe and plastics. Ahhh – the developing world!

Hindu Magic Force Field

Driving in Bali is an adventure. Start the car and test the horn. You're gonna need it. Merging into traffic on this island is tantamount to holding your breath and jumping headlong into a swift river. The cars and motorcycles ultimately do part like a school of fish interrupted by your rude introduction, and I've yet to hear the crunch of plastic or the grind of metal. Just before driving straight into the mass, which looks like a guaranteed collision, I say out loud 3 times, "Drive on the Left! Hindu magic force field!" It works. I wouldn't recommend it back in the States. The locals drive a scooter like there's no tomorrow and they drive a car like they've never been in one before. Which, based on the socio economic ladder is probably true. They are incredibly reckless with 2 wheels and more cautious than your grandma with 4 wheels. If you are wondering why Asians have a terrible reputation as drivers – go to Asia.

Driving can be a lesson in more than just road rules. Here are 2 things I’ve learned driving a scooter in Bali:

1. There is space for everyone / they can fit, you can fit, people can adapt, share and share alike. 

2. Chaotic systems sometimes work

That’s about as spiritual as I got during my 2.5 years in SE Asia. Should I open a wellness center?

Stay tuned for more on Bali in part 2 coming soon.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby


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