Bali Daze: Freefall off the Tourist Trail

Preparing for my move to Bali, I thought I could do with reading a book or two about the paradise. Of course, a Lonely Planet Guide to Bali – although probably a necessity – was out of the question, as was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I was after some real stories. On one of my no-beginning and no-end Amazon browsing expeditions, I stumbled upon Bali Daze: Freefall off the Tourist Trail. A collection of stories about day-to-day life in Bali, it was written by a Canadian expat, Cat Wheeler, who has been living on the island for several decades now. Outside of Indonesia, the book can only be purchased in Kindle format.

I devoured Wheeler’s stories, trying to foresee what my life there will be like. I’m going to share my favourite parts with you in this post.

A humorous linguistic explanation of Balinese understanding of time:

In Indonesian class I learned that besok doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow, it just means ‘not today’. Lusa, the word for the day after tomorrow, can be loosely interpreted as sometime in the more or less immediate future.Two weeks is approximately equal to infinity. I learned a long time ago that most Balinese don’t think two weeks ahead, and there’s just no sense getting cross about it.

bali daze, wheeler,Wheeler explains that living in Southeast Asia can often be a lesson in patience and that expecting the Western way of life will only lead to despair:

After 20 years of living in Southeast Asia, I’ve developed a philosophy that has been very helpful—sooner or later, something will happen, one way or the other. What time does the bus leave? In the west, four o’clock means just that, give or take ten minutes. In much of Asia it can mean six o’clock, midnight, when the bus is full, or “What bus?” The bottom line is that if you get attached to what you think should happen at a certain time, you may be disappointed. Despair is futile.

Adjusting to a new place cannot be learned, argues the author, living in one of the most exotic and interesting towns of Bali – Ubud:

Like the cellular memory of a begonia cutting, I believe we are born with the potential to thrive in different climates and cultures. If we don’t have that, no amount of wishing or training will make it so.

file000959940177Wheeler then comes up with the hypothesis that there must be such a thing as Adventure, Tropical, Cultural and Wildlife Genes, which some of us have and some of us don’t:

There must be an Adventure Gene. Some kids spend their young years reading exciting travel books and planning incredible journeys, and others would rather not stray far from the house. Are these instincts hard-wired? It begs the question of whether the expatriate (expat) is born or made. …

 

The Tropical Gene is even more mysterious. So many of my western friends here share my inappropriate freckled Celtic skin, yet we love the heat. What on earth are we doing here? What drew us from frosty northern climes to this steamy environment and why do most of us eschew air conditioning?

 

Then there’s the Cultural Challenge Gene. Most people in most places are most comfortable among their own kind. They like the familiarity of language, cuisine, culture, religion. The maverick few can’t wait to hurtle themselves into another cultural context, the stranger the better. Many marry locally and dig in for life. Is it the Gene that causes this behaviour, or are they reincarnations of their Balinese neighbour’s great-great-great Aunt Ketut? The Balinese seldom carry the Cultural Challenge Gene.

The Wildlife Gene is present if you are fascinated by the strangest creatures of the jungle, while the White Picket Fence Gene is there if staying near to your place of birth takes precedence over travelling the world.

Besides sharing these exhilarating thoughts, Wheeler tells a great number of personal stories, including how she built a house from nothing in Ubud. She also talks about her familiar relationship with her staff – a driver and a cook – and how she feels when she returns annually to Canada.

Bali Daze may not be a literary masterpiece, but I am sure it gives a better insight to Bali than a Lonely Planet Guide.

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