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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11 days of down time…

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I have been back in Bali for 11 days and I’ve done pretty well two thirds of nothing. I’ve only written one blog post prior to this one and I’ve almost finished reading one book, I haven’t even had a swim.

So what have I been doing? Sleeping (at least 10 hours a night!), chatting and posting on social media, talking with friends and my hubby, catching up with good friends here, watching nonsense I downloaded on my laptop, pottering around, a tiny bit of shopping, relaxing, eating, having massages and treatments, and that’s about it.

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When I came I had grand plans that included finishing writing one of my books and breaking the back of another one, planning my business offerings for 2017, going to yoga and meditation, walking for kilometres each day and I have done none of those things. Not one.

But it’s ok.

It’s really ok.

The negative should part of my brain tells me that I could have done these things at home, but in reality I wouldn’t have.

The positive part of my brain tells me that I have done what I needed to do for me.

And I have.

What I needed to do was nothing. Time out, quiet time, nothing time, to relax and decompress.

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You see before I came here, I had had a crazy few months of flat out work, travel, a trip to Africa to start building a women’s shelter and a whole lot of craziness and stress leading up to it, too much busy-ness, one very unpleasant experience that impacted hugely on my ability to fall asleep, leaving me with about five hours of sleep a night (I am a minimum eight a night girl) and to top it off I had bronchitis for almost four weeks. By the time I left home I was beyond exhausted. I was so tired I didn’t even know myself.

Being back in Bali has, as usual, been wonderful. I feel so at home here and I easily slip back into the laid back tropical lifestyle that only Bali brings me. It only takes a day or so and I feel as if I am breathing out, and time doesn’t matter any more.

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I am heading home tomorrow and have planned to do almost no work until the end of January and I aim to keep it that way. I am taking this opportunity to reassess my schedule, look at different ways of working and reintroducing myself to the hardest word of all for me to say – no. 2017 is already shaping up to be very busy and I want to enjoy all it brings me, while maintaining optimal physical and mental health.

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I plan to do a closing off ceremony for this year and look forward to taking time to reflect and give thanks. 2016 has been one of the most challenging, difficult and yet exciting and wonderful years, full of growth and opportunity, filled with so many contrasts and for all of them I am very thankful.

So, as I head off to sleep for the last night in my beloved island home, I wish as you much rest, relaxation, breathing out and down time as you can take.

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What I’ve learnt so far about writing my book…

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I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always written in some form or another and I’m sure I was born reading a book. For most of my career my writing was centred around business writing, product development and training material.

I started blogging in 2010 when I moved to Ghana, this is my fourth blog. One has been retired, but the others are still going, each with a different purpose and audience. While I’ve been published in magazines, I’ve never written a book and it has been on my to do list for many years now.

I decided that this, my 50th year was the year to finally make my book happen. I’ve got a big to do list this year, and time is running by too quickly!! I took myself off to Bali to retreat for 32 blissful days in June, in order to focus on writing my memoir about the year I lived in Ghana. The working title is “How I learnt to love my bum and other lessons from Africa”.

I had this grand idea that I would knock this book off in a month, with time to spare. Yeah right. I started well, but quickly realised that it was going to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I’m so used to blogging, quick wins and finishes that the process of an unfinished product at the end of each day felt all awkward and prickly to begin with. As my wise friend and fellow writer Helen told me, writing a book uses different muscles than a blog, similar to the differences between running a sprint and a marathon.

So, after 32 days I came home with just over 30,000 words completed, not too shabby. I also had an idea for another book and that’s 5,000 words in, as well as various blog posts and other creative ideas flowing all around me. I’m very happy with the outcome of my retreat and I plan to make it an annual event.

snoopy_writing.jpgThis is what I learnt:

  1. I am an expert procrastinator. I’ve written about this before here where I generously shared some of my best tips for extreme procrastination. I really am the queen in this area and if there was some kind of nobel prize equivalent, I’d win for sure.
  2. It’s not my husband’s fault. I always said I wasn’t able to produce a book with him around, because, well he’s my biggest distraction. However I left him behind and still managed to get distracted by lots of shiny things and almost everything else, every day.
  3. I remembered more than I thought I would. We lived in Ghana from July 2010-July 2011 and despite my hubby’s best advice to keep at least a small journal with even a sentence a day (yes he’s always right, as well as being extremely hot), I didn’t. This means I’m relying solely on my memory, which I’m pleased to say, has been very reliable to date. I have also found some old blog posts, photos and Facebook to be helpful.
  4. Writing a memoir can be painful and emotional. One of the reasons for writing this is to share my experience of living in Ghana. That year was both the best and worst of my life. It pushed all of my buttons, shoved me hard right out of my comfort zone and taught me more than I had learnt in the previous 44 years on the planet. Remembering the highlights and lowlights triggered quite a few tears.
  5. It’s ok not to get it perfect right off the bat. I learnt about shitty first drafts from Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and for that I’m grateful. I’m writing down the bones and fleshing it out later. I am a recovering perfectionist and this was a biggie for me.
  6. It’s ok to change direction. I thought I knew where the book would go, but it has taken me in very different places than I had anticipated, and that’s absolutely fine!

I’ve been home for a week now and I must confess to having lost my momentum a little, actually a lot, ok I’ve not looked at it since. I’m almost finished writing my smaller book and plan to have it off to the editor on the weekend, so after that I will pick it up again and get back into marathon mode.

Someone hold me accountable! Too many distractions…ooh look that’s pretty!

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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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