Paradox in Paradise

A Learning Curve

By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times

Before I embark on this journey of rediscovering Bali, it would be fitting to thank Bapak William Furney, the managing editor of this newspaper, for giving me this opportunity to pen my observations of this island paradise. The buck stops here in this column. Today the truth begins, anthology of a life worn by the myriad faces of the past scurrying for an identity. Patience with me, dear reader – humor me. I need your attention and views. Write in when you have read what I have written and share the life within you.

Bali is a living, breathing kaleidoscope. The ever-changing shapes and colors makes it a fascinating place to be living in. However, behind the glitz, glamour and the razzmatazz lurks another side. For me Bali is an enigma, a paradox that sometimes defies logic. On one side there are peaceful and beautiful people called the Balinese, whose royalty, on the threat of foreign occupation, publicly committed mass suicide (in the last century). And on the other side, a people invaded by hordes of semi-clad tourists who have slowly turning parts of this island into tourist ghettos. Fortunately there still remains the rich, vibrant Balinese religious and cultural traditions that have made even the die-hard expats respect and quite often succumb to its charm and grace.

Just the other day, while driving from Ubud to Lovina Beach, I stopped at Kintamani at my favorite warung for a cuppa and a chat with the street dogs. Mangy, starving and a bit worse for wear, they greeted me with much wagging of tails, barking and snarling. I fed them biscuits and was accosted by a local who felt I should be giving her the biscuits instead, which I did. I couldn’t help getting into conversation with her and was enlightened to know that she viewed the street dogs as wild animals that needed to fend for themselves like their relatives in the jungle.

In Bali, dogs are permitted to roam or stay wherever they choose and even eat whatever is on the roadsides. Of course many people feed them. Some even adopt them as pets. I narrated to her the Indian legend of the Hindu King Yudhistra, who walked up the Himalayas to Heaven accompanied all the way by a dog. The dog turned out to be Brahma, the God of Gods. She looked at me incredulously and muttered, “Bapak, Hinduism in Bali different – ya, sum annaimism (some animism).” She then turned and walked away without another word.

Later that night in Lovina, sharing a beer with my friend Agung, who is the lead singer of a local band that plays every night at a roadside café, I mentioned my encounter earlier in the day. He just laughed and told me to forget about the dogs and instead to help the lepers in Karangasem.

“Lepers in paradise?” I asked him.

“Yus brader, f…. the dogs. You Indian; you should know,” said Agung.

“Yes, am Indian and I should know,” I replied.

But I don’t. I attempt to convince Agung to accompany me to meet the lepers, which he politely declines. No one wants to talk about them so I resort to making a call to Sarita Kaul of the Rotary Club Seminyak who promptly confirms Agung’s claim and directs me to speak to Yenhsi Liu, Rotary Club Seminyak District: 3400, who is handling the rehabilitation project that raises funds, coordinates with the local communities and the Local Health Department. Yenshi tells me that the club is trying to raise US$11,000 for one of the projects for the lepers. In fact, she invites me to visit the Lepers Home in Denpasar. So if anyone wants to make a difference, please get in touch with Yenshi (08123602897).

I have read and seen a lot about spas and beauty treatments offered on the island. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have spas that treated leprosy patients? We could even run adverts in the glossy magazines that thrive on beautiful people and their shenanigans.

Okay, let’s change the topic from untouchables to suntanned heavenly bodies to die for on Kuta Beach.

Walking the shore every so often, I encounter the many faces of tourists in various forms of undress mingling with the locals: They are a menagerie of assorted mammals that throng this paradise hoping to find the elixir for youthful living.

Often a few of these visitors become residents, renting or leasing properties to set up home or workplace or both. Talking to one of these “entrepreneurs,” I stumble upon a classic modus operandi of land leasing for profit.

It goes like this: An expat leases property from a farmer, who is paid upfront. Then the land is divided into smaller plots and subleased to other expats for sums far exceeding the purchase value. Money is transferred into bank accounts abroad and no one is the wiser. The Balinese landowner doesn’t have a say nor does he profit from this blatant misuse of a lacunae in the law. When I asked my Balinese homestay landlord, Wayan, about this, he uttered the words “ekenomic cooolonisation.” And when I spoke to David, an expat, he shrugged his shoulders and said that it was a deal like anywhere else in the world.

I suppose he is right, in a way: neocolonialism is good. It makes the Balinese lose on land deals and doesn’t help the economy either as the government loses revenue. But what the heck, this is paradise – eat it or beat it. Ya?

On a lighter note, I have just learned a smattering of Balinese, which I would like to share with you.

Tamu means guest.

Bojog putih means white monkey (white expat).

Overheard in Ubud: One taxi driver to another, “Where are you going?”

Answer: “Looking for white monkeys.”

And finally, the word used for describing expats, bule, which I have heard so frequently but did not know what it meant. So I asked Made my neighbor, who smiled warmly and replied, “white/albino buffalo.”

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om


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