Bali is a very foreign experience for me. It is my first trip to Indonesia. Although there are plenty of Americans and Australians who live and travel in Bali, my fair/white skin and blonde hair with streaks of teal make me feel out of place among the Balinese/Indonesians, you think? My ears are not accustomed to hearing the lilt of their voice, and almost everyone I talk with speaks English. First things:
• Upon greeting me, the first question is “Where are you from?” American “centered” that I am, my first responses were, “Atlanta, Georgia”. Next question, “American?” Me, “Yes.” Although I do not consider the USA to be the center of the world, It took three or four of these exchanges before I realized that the kind people asking me this question have no idea of where Atlanta, Georgia is located in the U.S. Some have heard of California, Washington, D.C., and New York City, and there is no concept of U.S. geography. Why should there be? After all, the U.S. is not the center of the world as most Americans, I think, believe. Hence the “Ugly American” tourist label, which I see demonstrated again and again in my travels. I recognized the assumptions I was making to think that people who were born and raised here would know where Atlanta, Georgia is located—after all, I have no clue about the geography of Bali. My response now, “America/USA”. So much easier.
• Most of the Balinese/Indonesians I meet have never traveled outside of Bali or Indonesia because they cannot afford to do this. As a wealthy (yes, I consider myself wealthy—I am not a millionaire, billionaire, etc., and compared to the ways most of the world lives outside of the U.S., I am wealthy) American, I am welcomed here as a tourist for the money I will spend while I am here. This is a tourism based economy. My spending money here is a necessity for the welfare of the Balinese. With discretion, I am contributing to the Balinese economy.
• Hinduism is the main practiced religion of Bali, and it is practiced daily. The Balinese people are open to conversation and will gladly explain their Hindu practices. I have learned much about the daily offerings prepared by the women and offered each morning. This has been done at the walkway to the steps outside my hotel room on my behalf each day. I’m grateful. The intricate offerings of flowers, flower petals, plants, rice, burning incense sticks, and the aroma carried by the breeze reminds me of the ways, our lives offered to the Divine One, are a sweet aroma. I am enjoying learning the small amount I am learning about Hinduism.
• Food—Balinese and Indonesian—is so fresh from locally grown produce, most of it grown organically. It has a “heat/spice” to it from red chili peppers that you may ask to be mild or none, and I prefer the heat. It’s not over powering. It is an enhancer for all the flavors of the food. Ginger, Balinese ginger is more pungent and nicer than what I can buy in the grocery store, turmeric, coconut, and red and black rice, locally grown, are all tasty. White rice is used for “cakes” and religious ceremonies, I have learned, and not for daily eating.
• Water—mostly not consumable unless it is from a bottle or a few specific self serve locations in Ubud where it has been filtered from contamination where you can fill your own water container and not have to use bottled water. This is a difficulty for me, as again, I am so accustomed to drinking clean, safe water from pretty much most water sources in the USA. One more way that I am reminded that clean drinking water is a blessing, and I am reminded of my two trips to Kenya where the water was not safe to drink unless it was out of a plastic bottle. Overall, I am grateful to be reminded of something I take for granted daily in my home country.
Currency—rupiahs—oh my! A little over 70,000 Indonesian rupiahs equal $5 in USA currency. When I use an ATM for cash, I leave with about a two inch stack of 50,000 rupiah paper bills. Most of the businesses in Ubud do take credit card, and I did not find too many businesses in Seminyak that took credit cards. That is helpful—again my American habit of using a debit/credit card and not cash can be difficult to shake. The markets, temples, performance Balinese dance venues, museums, and taxis only take cash. Of course, the markets and many stores will bargain for the price of items. Simply ask if they bargain, and make your offer. I was first “tutored” by Chokde, my day long taxi driver in Ubud, on the base price of most of the items I was interested in purchasing and the ways to barter. Grateful for this blessing.
When I talk with a Bali native from whom I am purchasing an item or service, these are the questions each one asks:
• Where are you from?
• Is this your first time in Bali?
• How long will you be here?
Of course, these are hospitable questions for a tourism economy my cynical self could choose to believe. Yet, I find myself considering the ways these hospitable questions are really a welcoming of the strangers who find themselves in a strange land with some strange customs and foods. Also, I find myself wondering the ways that practicing these questions with strangers I come across in my neighborhood could be welcoming even though I do not live in a completely tourist based economy most of the year—Fall, leaf changing time is the exception along with a part of the summer time—after all, I meet many people each day who are not from my neighborhood.
As I prepare to leave Ubud tomorrow and travel to my next stop in Bali, I am grateful for all that I have learned and experienced in Ubud. I hope I have left blessings with the people who have blessed me. On to Kuta, tomorrow where I will be participating in a yoga retreat. I have been out of the USA since July 3, and I have found it a needed refreshment and life giving. I will be retuning to my home on November 16 and 17–a total of 25 hours of flight time—and I once thought nine hours to Amsterdam and 18 hours with a stop in Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya were long flights—HA!
Namaste—the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.
This photo is from the entry to the lobby of the hotel where I stayed in Ubud. It was a hospitable stay that I completely enjoyed and recommend to others.