How to be polite in Bali

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As everyone who knows me or has ever read anything I’ve written knows well, I love Bali – a lot. I’m privileged to have a little villa here and I consider it my second home and feel very protective of it, like it’s somehow mine.

I spent the day today wandering the streets of Ubud as I enjoy doing and some of the things I saw and have seen this trip and on previous visits made me feel like I want to talk a little bit about manners. If I am completely honest, and I usually am, I sometimes feel embarrassed to be an Australian visitor to this glorious place.

So, here are a few things I would like to suggest to do and not to do when visiting the magical island of the gods, to make your holiday enjoyable and leave the locals smiling after you leave.

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  1. Please do not walk around in shorts that show parts of your anatomy that should be kept private, and that goes for boys and girls. Believe me when I say I am no prude, but seriously we don’t need to see butt cheeks and other bits and pieces hanging out. I saw a girl wearing a pair of shorts the other day that looked and fitted like underpants that were a few sizes too small, and half of her backside was hanging out, it was so not a good look. Oh and girls, please wear more than a bra or bather top when walking around the streets of Ubud. I find it very disrespectful to see some of the scraps of material barely covering anything on the streets. Yes it’s hot, but a tank top and shorts or skirt are just fine too and probably just as cool.
  2. Please barter, but don’t go over the top. I hate seeing people haggling for the sake of 50 cents or $1. Really? Let it go. I enjoy haggling, it’s good to treat it like a bit of sport and fun and always stay good natured about it. Be fair.
  3. Please use your manners. Please and thank you are not hard to say and they go a long way. If you really want to go the extra mile, say thank you in the local language. Everyone here speaks Bahasa Indonesian so you can say terima kasih for thank you. If you know for sure that the person you are talking with is Balinese, then try saying suksma (sook some mah) and you will really make their day. They will respond with a happy smile and suksma mewali. If you really want to build rapport you can say sing ken ken when you want to say no worries or no problem.
  4. Please tip where you can. I know we Aussies don’t come from a tipping culture but it’s a lovely thing to do to leave a little extra if you have the means. I have been horribly embarrassed when I have been with people waiting for the waitress to return with their $1 or $1.50 balance from the meal. Seriously, what’s a dollar or two a day on the average two week holiday? Not much to us, but a lot for them. So round it up by a dollar or two if and when you can.
  5. Yes I know the constant cries for ‘transport’ ‘taxi’ ‘massage’ and the rest can be overwhelming after a long day of it, but remember this is someone’s livelihood. I have seen so many people be disrespectful and rude, and it’s unnecessary. I try to smile politely and say thank you where I can. Trust me it’s appreciated. Can you imagine trying to get a job all day and being completely ignored or attacked? Be kind.
  6. Remember you are in a developing country where things will never be the same as home, no matter how many Starbucks or McDonalds pop up. Also when communicating, remember English is not the native tongue, so please bring your patience, understanding and respect. I heard some women outraged they weren’t able to get a coffee somewhere the other day and another time a woman was horrified there was no wifi in a tiny ice cream shop. I’ve seen a woman screaming at a confused attendant in a supermarket as she herself didn’t understand the currency and I had to intervene. Enjoy what is available, when and where it is available, and hey why not try something new – you never know, you just might like it.
  7. While wifi is common here, we certainly don’t have it at home, so don’t act like it’s the end of the world if it’s not available. If it’s important to be connected, buy a sim card, they are only a few dollars.
  8. When the toilet has a sign asking you not to flush, please respect it. The plumbing systems are not built to cope with our copious use of toilet paper as the locals use water. In fact, why not give the bum hose a go, I am a complete convert and have bought my own. Read about my experiences with it here. There is nothing quite like having cool nether regions when you are stinking hot everywhere else.

I’d like to finish with the most important thing of all. Enjoy, relax, take a load off. Look around and appreciate the beauty of this magical island of the gods and it’s incredible people.

It’s paradise.

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Mama Africa, I’m coming home.

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Next week I’m returning to Ghana for the first time in four years. As my regular readers would know, I lived there for a year in 2010 and returned once briefly in 2012. Until last week it was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to go, there was a myriad of reasons, and finances played a major role. Even though this trip was more than a year in the planning, due to circumstances out of our control, our long held dream to build a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence and the reason for this particular trip was under threat.

With the support of an incredible team of volunteers, in early August we sent a 40 foot container to Ghana ahead of our upcoming trip, full to the brim with building material, goods, donations, gifts and more things than I could count, such a bounty of generosity, love and enthusiasm was wrapped up in that container. Imagine our heartbreak when two weeks into the voyage our shipping company Hanjin went bankrupt. This left our plans up in the air and to this day we still don’t have arrangements in place for getting our container from Singapore to Ghana as all of the boats were offloaded on bankruptcy and everyone is still left with more questions than answers. The trip is still going ahead however, thanks to the kindness, generosity and commitment of our amazing volunteers, who want to do what they can where they can and much to my amazement they even bought my ticket, as I was going to remain behind to save the much needed money that we’ll have spend on the additional shipping fees. However I digress, which I am known to do, but background stories and context are important too. I am a storyteller after all.

So apart from finances there were some other things that came up for me and still do when I contemplate returning to Ghana, on the West Coast of Mama Africa, my husband’s country of birth and the country that taught me more in one year than I had ever learnt in the previous 44. I have always said I have a love/hate relationship with Ghana, and I still do. What do I love? The people, family, culture, music, dance, rhythm, drums, colour, community, connection, activity – so many things. Africa is the heartbeat and rhythm of the world, she’s also where we all came from, she truly is our original Mama. What do I hate? Corruption, poverty, hunger, politics, lack of infrastructure, inequality, religious domination, open drains, lack of access to toilets, frequent power black outs, but mostly corruption, the biggest killer of all developing countries.

Those things are all important and they certainly have an impact and provide unlimited challenges to overcome, but mostly it’s about how Ghana made me feel. She pushed all of my buttons, shoved me right out of my comfort zone, challenged everything I thought I knew about myself and the world and turned it on its head. She shoved me hard. I was forced to look at myself, my darkest nooks and crannies, my hidden places, my life and everything I thought was important and re-evaluate, again and again and again. And again. Until the version of myself that arrived in Ghana was not the same woman who left a year later.

Going back again will surely test me. It will remind me of those challenges, and bring them back to the surface to consider and learn again. As I started writing my book about the year I lived there (How I learnt to love my bum and other lessons from Africa) all of the emotions came flooding back to me, in full colour and real time. I was actually surprised at how much I remembered, the level of detail and importantly the emotions I experienced that year. One day when I was writing about corruption I got myself so worked up I had to take a break for a few days. Unless experienced first hand, it’s impossible to comprehend the impact this has on every single aspect of life.

Mama Africa taught me so many lessons, just like my own mama did. However she taught them to me in a way that lacked compassion and empathy, she threw me in the water to let me drown and allowed me to teach myself to swim. She pushed me hard against myself and others and she left me floundering, wondering who the hell I was and what this life was all about.

I will write more this trip than I did before. I just wasn’t in the headspace to do it, but with time and reflection I am now looking forward to revisiting the place of my life’s biggest lessons and learning whatever it is she wants to show me.

I love you Mama Africa but I ask of you just one thing.

Please be gentle with me this time.

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This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post

My Bali.

It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I’ve had a long standing love affair with Bali since I first came here in 2002. I’ve travelled overseas more than 30 times, according to my quick calculation this morning, and half of those trips have been to Bali. I’m here right now for a month working on writing a book about my year living in Ghana, and it was the only place I could imagine doing this. I was blessed to be able to host an intimate time out writers retreat for women that concluded yesterday. I honestly couldn’t be happier than when I’m here.

There are so many things I love, that they could truly fill a book, and maybe I will one day, but for now I will write about a beautiful experience I had here a few days ago.

I was blessed to enjoy a sunrise walk through the rice fields in Penestenan with my gorgeous host and friend Made and Noma, another friend. As the sun rose over Mt Agung and she poked her head through the top of the clouds, I saw so much beauty and wonder that I’ve been wondering how to put it into mere words, but I’ll do my best.

The rice fields stretched as far as the eye could see, and as the morning stirred, people went about their morning rituals of work and prayer. We saw women, dressed in their temple fineries walking elegantly along the rustic path with offering baskets balanced on their heads, as they prepared to make their prayers and offerings to the gods to thank them for their many blessings, and to ask for a good crop as they prepare for harvest. Small shrines were placed in many places amongst the fields and the smell of incense wafted everywhere. Heaven!

We saw men cutting crops to carry home and to market, another man sat on his haunches sharpening his machete, and an elderly woman sat in a stream washing her clothes. We walked past a man gently taking flowers off a bush to put into offerings, as his young son sat complaining of his boredom and asking to go home, while his wife offered her prayers to the gods. Parents drove past on motorbikes, taking their children dressed in crisply ironed uniforms to school, as roosters crowed in the delight of the morning sun.

As we walked, Made stopped to generously share her plant wisdom with us, picking leaves for tasting and telling us with passion and wonder of their medicinal properties. A complete pharmacy grew along the edges, corners and amongst the rice fields, and I suspect it all grew wild. Made spoke with heart and love for her home as she shared stories and appreciation for the magnificent beauty that surrounds her. She told us about walking to school with a pouch of salt and chilli in her pocket, in case she saw her favourite plant, which she would pick and dip into the spices for an on the way to school snack. We learnt of plants for aches and pains, bladder infections, body odour, digestion, leaves that can be made into a poultice to relieve stomach aches for babies, those to ease labour (making the baby slippery) and so much more.

I felt torn between wanting to immerse myself in each moment and wanting to photograph every single thing, so I could preserve it forever. I chose the latter, but next time I will carry nothing and walk in wonder and amazement.

Although it felt like just minutes, it was an hour and a half later that we returned to Lily Lane, filled with gratitude and wonderment for this place that continues to inspire me moment by moment.

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I feel disappointed when I hear that so many people think of Bali as Kuta, Legian Street, Bintang t-shirts, $5 massages, cheap sarongs, bartering locals down and arguing over 50cents, loud night clubs, wooden penises and other equally trashy souvenirs.

Kuta is not Bali, sure it’s a fun and interesting place to visit for a few days, but Bali is so much more.

This is my Bali.

To be continued.

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I write.

 

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Roosters crow, birds of all kinds sing, and geckos make their chit chit sounds. Water flows rapidly over layers of rock filled pools, cool and calming to the ear. Children laugh and play, men and women work, motorbikes zoom up and down the hill. The pungent scent of incense occasionally touches my nose, mingled with frangipani, jasmine and wood smoke. A gentle breeze blows across my damp sweat kissed skin as the sun sets for another day.

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Where else would I be right now but here? Beautiful Bali, Island of the Gods, full of grace, elegance, wisdom and beauty, a feast for all the senses. As I lay here in the afternoon breeze, I’m playing with words, rearranging and sculpting them to create stories, poetry – word art to spread across the canvas that is my page.

I create word art that tells my stories, the stories of others and paints pictures in my heart and soul. I create art that tells of places, people and loved ones here and those long gone from this earthly plane.

I write because I love. I write because I live. I write because I am.

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What? No wifi?

Dude-Perfect7A friend and I were enjoying a luxurious stroll through the streets of Ubud this afternoon, taking in all of the sights, scents and sounds of this beautiful place that I love so much. We had lunch at a lovely little local Warung on JL Gautama and chose roadside seats so we could happily people watch while we chatted and enjoyed the delicious food.

After another long walk, we felt a little peckish and felt that dessert was in order. We stopped at one of the many gelato stores that have opened up in recent years to order a cone. While we were waiting I noticed two women sitting in the window seat. “What’s your wifi password?” one of them bellowed across the room. “We don’t have wifi” the girl gently responded. As if she had spoken Latin, she had to ask for the girl to repeat what she had said. She stared at her, looking indignant and shocked at the lack of wifi in this little ice cream shop. She looked back at her friend in amazement and what I’d call a look of disgust and confusion.

She continued to use her phone, as did her friend. I’m not sure if she had any other kind of service or if she was just looking at photos or making notes. She seemed quite baffled as to what to do with herself.

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Now I’m as big a fan of technology as the next person, and I’m often quick to jump onto the wifi and check what’s happening in the world, but today I managed to enjoy my day without it. Nobody got hurt, everything I need to know will still be there and the world continues to spin round and round. It’s baby steps for me, but I’m doing my best.

Have we really lost the art of conversation and human interaction to the point that we can’t enjoy an ice cream cone without being connected? Have we become so attached to what’s happening “out there” that we can’t connect with what’s inside us or find out what’s happening for those we care about who are sitting right there with us? I hope not, but I do fear for the future of our conversations and real human connections.

I’m working on disconnecting from the online world more, so I can remain connected in the real world. It’s a hard habit to break, especially when my phone has so many shiny bells and whistles to distract me. One thing that has helped is to turn all push notifications off.  I now need to intentionally open my phone and check to see if there are any. I often take Facebook and messenger off my phone, but as I’m away I have put it back on in order to stay in touch with loved ones far and wide.

Mind you, I still find myself picking it up and checking what’s happening with the wicked temptress Facebook, often before I realise what I’m doing, I look down and find myself scrolling mindlessly, so that’s the next step for me. Leave it down, don’t pick it up every second my hands or mind are free.

Take the opportunity to daydream,  imagine, create, manifest. It’s only in those spaces of stillness and quiet that we can drop into our heart, hear our inner thoughts and that’s where the magic of creativity is born.

I might even leave it behind tomorrow.

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Riding in cars with strangers

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Transport?

Transport? Yes? Transport? Tomorrow? Anyone who has been to Bali will be familiar with the always optimistically asked question of whether you need transport, even if you are literally stepping out of a taxi, they will still ask.

Drivers are everywhere here, trying to make a living and will do their best, understandably to get a gig. You can’t walk a few steps without a tooting horn from a taxi if you are in Kuta/Legian area, a roadside driver calling transport, or a friendly face offering you a ride if in Ubud, as taxis aren’t allowed to operate here.

Today I was taking a walk and had already said no about fifty times when I started talking to a friendly guy named Wayan. Oh by the way, people tell you to ignore when approached by drivers, shop keepers etc, after all these years, I still can’t do that. I smile politely and say no thank you in English or Bahasa, depending on my mood. Everyone is just doing their best to make a buck and deserves respect, even if you have been asked a million times if you want a massage, pedicure, leather jacket, valium, viagra, transport etc. So back to Wayan. I told him I didn’t need a ride as I was jalan jalan (walking). We had a chat and I took his number as you never know when you need a ride, especially given I was here for a month this trip.

After lunch I was about to head out to find a driver back to my villa when I remembered him, so I sent him a text and asked him to pick me up. No big deal right? It was only when I started thinking of it from an outsiders perspective that it might seem strange. Where else in the world would you hop in a car or onto the back of a motorbike in this case, with no idea of who you are going with, and no way to monitor who is taking you. No ID, no licensing regulations, just a bloke with a motorbike. Only in Bali, well for me anyway.

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Just another day shopping in Seminyak – 2009

I was then reminded of the many times I have gotten rides on bikes and in cars with different people and I remembered the day I met Ketut. It was November 2009 and my friend and I were walking up Monkey Forest Road when a cheeky guy said something that got my attention. I sat on the roadside and talked to him for ages, he was hilarious and we had a great laugh. I then asked if he could take me for a ride, so he and his friend got their bikes and off we went. No idea where and for how long, but I didn’t care. My friend only went a short time as her guy had to be back at work but Ketut and I went for a couple of hours. We went to the back blocks of Ubud to places I’ve never seen, beautiful peaceful places, and he even took me to his family compound to see his home. I had a lovely time and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

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Ketut and I touring around Ubud – 2009

I’m usually such a scaredy cat. I would never do this in Australia and I don’t walk around the streets in the dark at home either, despite living in a very safe area. Here though, I feel so safe that I don’t give these kinds of things a second thought. I don’t place myself in danger or take unnecessary risks, but I certainly don’t feel scared either.  I’m currently here alone for a month to write my book and am happy pottering around and could do so forever.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be safe, or take care of ourselves, but I am saying that life is here to be enjoyed. Live it to its fullest, no matter who you are or where you are. Embrace it, take a chance. Talk to a stranger. Strangers are after all just friends we haven’t met yet.

You never know who you might meet or where you might end up. Enjoy the wonderful adventure that life is!

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What really happens in Bali?

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Have you ever watched those shows that claim to expose ‘what really happens in Bali’ or ‘the dark side of Bali’? I’ve seen them all, I have no idea why I sat through them, but I did, and I saw another one yesterday as YouTube automatically selected a video based on my previous choice of Balinese music on my TV.

These shows drive me crazy. I get so angry and annoyed when I see the sensationalistic journalism that claims to show the REAL Bali. Drugs, gangs, theft, rape, drink spiking, murder and accidents. Oh and have you heard the statistic that one foreigner dies every nine days here? These deaths are largely due to pre-existing medical conditions and misadventure, but still one every nine days. It must be a dreadful place! These kind of things ONLY happen in Bali right?

Bali must be the only country in the whole world with any kind of theft, gangs, illegal drugs, bouncers that beat people up in clubs and robbery. It must be the only country where people can hurt themselves, break limbs and get very sick or killed in motor vehicle accidents.

Please.

The worse offender was the Channel 7 series “What really happens in Bali?”. It was so badly titled, and should rather have been called “What happens when Westerners behave like total twats, drink too much, disrespect culture, jump off high cliffs, ride motorcycles without helmets and break the law”. But no, it must be Bali.

I’ve been coming to Bali regularly for over 14 years, I’m here for the third time this year already. I have written previously many times about the things I love about being in Bali. I’m well travelled and I’ve been to many countries in my life, but this place has my heart and a piece of my soul, so I will continue to visit regularly and most likely retire here one day.

I understand if somebody doesn’t feel an urge to come here, it’s not for everyone. That’s what makes the world go around, diversity and different tastes. I’ve never had a desire to go to some countries that others love, and that’s fine too. What I do want to say is that people should never be put off by journalism that misrepresents the truth. What about Thailand? I’ve been there three times. Trust me, the same stuff happens there, but do the media give it the same kind of beat up? No, and it if happens, it’s rare.

Sure there are problems here. Corruption is rife, there is a massive issue with disposal of rubbish, there is poverty and inequity, but I’m sad to say this isn’t the first country I’ve visited where I’ve experienced these things. It’s everywhere. It is particularly prevalent in developing countries. The best we can do as visitors is try to understand how things work here, show our respect, tread lightly on the earth where possible, and enjoy the fact that we are able to visit this piece of heaven on earth.

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So what really happens in Bali? For me what really happens is I see beauty everywhere I look. I see an amazing culture and a reverence for nature and spirituality that has been maintained, despite the rapid growth of tourism and influx of Westerners. I see ancient traditions, beautiful architecture, incredible landscapes, beaches and temples. I see people, community, love, family and respect. I see amazing food, incredible scenery, and a feeling that simply cannot be expressed in mere words. I see life in all its craziness blended together in a great big melting pot.

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I see paradise.

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