Expats Teetering on the Edge, and Those Who Make It

By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times

Seize the day, pluck it and suck on the nectar of life – and be happy, one day at a time.

Sitting at Devilicous on Jl. Gootama pondering the fate of the cigar industry if I gave up smoking, my thoughts were interrupted by a foot-tapping Creole song playing over the radio. The screaming of the violin accompanied by a wailing of sorts shook me out of my reverie and suddenly showed me that life in reality was not all that it was made out to be – that we can make it into anything we want provided we relinquish our past that we awaken to every morning.

Many among us brood and grieve for things past: the death of loved ones, failed relationships, days of beauty and tenderness like the warmth of a mother’s breast, lost in the haze of yesterdays. We vainly reach out to grasp the fading memories because we are afraid of losing the strength to dream. To dream of things we want to resurrect so that we can live our lives to the fullest. But in attempting to do so we are confronted with the truth.

Truth being that nothing remains the same, for we have lost our innocence, which like virginity once lost is never regained. Sadly, even our feelings shift from person to person or thing to thing.

Let’s ask ourselves this question: What if we returned to the day when we enjoyed the most enchanting experience, however naïve it may have been, and relive it till we retire to the grave? Methinks we would get bored in no time – like eating the same food every day ad nausea. We will need sambal, spice and a dash of living on the edge to get the juices flowing, to agitate our spirit.

In Bali one comes across expats who have encapsulated their culture and language to a point that they have barricaded themselves from “local influence.” They are obsessed with speaking in their own language, sharing stories of their childhood and reminiscing about their homeland. Some wear faces that speak of futility and anger – a self-abandoned people. Their children are imbibing the sadness and sense of resignation of un-belonging through the daily process of osmosis. It is these people, some known to me, that I dedicate this column, because I have been where they are now, a dark world navigating a turbulent sea of memories without the compass of belonging to show the way, the return to the throbbing world being only through the portholes of each morning.

“Where am I to go from here? I escaped my home but I cannot escape from the memories of home. My mind is raped by horrid memories every day, every hour, every minute. I am a walking ghost. I laugh. I cry. I make love. I live. But this is not life. It is purgatory. How do I get out and be again?” said Mary as she held my hand and stuffed her face into vodka on the rocks.

What could one tell her except to live each day with complete abandon with an open heart, an open mind and a daring spirit.

Life in Bali is a challenge. One has faced the beast of depression on moonless nights and it has taken days, often weeks, to rid oneself of the cloud of darkness that cast a shadow over all things wonderful in one’s life. Hasn’t anyone noticed how friends suddenly behave erratically and illogically? They lose it and recuperate in a short period, returning to the real world happily but still carrying a residue of the moroseness. So why is this symptomatic among us expats?

Could it be that many are injured souls tortured by a life that took us in its clutches and knocked the wind out of our sails? We loll around lifeless on this isle waiting for the day of reckoning when we can rise at dawn to a perfect life, which will never come because Utopia is an endless, castrated day with beauty but no joy. This is because joy cannot exist without the cruelty of life.

Last year I met a young designer from Perth, Nikki Kovesi, who shared with me her thoughts on life in Bali and how it tore at the spirit and challenged her to become someone else.

“Some days when I walk out of my hotel, I see, feel and sense the delicate intricacies of life around me. It glows. Every leaf, flower and even people’s faces. There’s a joy in my heart and a willingness to make my life perfect in every way. Then, on other days, everything appears intensely dark and foreboding. I imagine ghosts hiding in the banana leaves and even simple words uttered by people as threatening. I want to return to the hotel and go back to sleep, hoping to rid myself of the negative energy. My spirit is fragile and I am afraid I will lose it in Bali.”

Recently I met her at an art exhibition. She has become strong by fighting each day and seizing every positive nuance that came her way. In a sense, she has won. The smile says it all.

And then there is another friend, who wears rings with stones of red, green, white and blue. Each stone, she tells me, helps in balancing her financially, emotionally and spiritually. The rings give her peace, though I am told she “loses it” once in a while. But aren’t we all human?

It has taken me about two years to balance the forces within me and around me, to pluck each day from the forbidden tree like succulent fruit, to satiate one’s desires that rise with the sun and retire at twilight. It’s not perfect. But then, as some cynics say, God too is not perfect.

Many expats whose dictum is carpe diem have made a significant impact on other people’s lives on this isle and elsewhere. For example, the legendary midwife Robin Lim and John Hardy, a successful businessman who sold his company and set up a “green” school, shades of Shantinektan, founded by the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Bali offers all expats life on a platter. We can eat the food, grow fat and lazy, lose ourselves in our minds, and our past. Or we can seize each day and live it to the fullest, never letting anyone or anything interfere with the positive vibes we generate.

Every morning we must remind ourselves that only cowards blindfold themselves to the intrinsic splendor of this paradise, for they dwell solely on and feed off the negativity of others.

Seize this day, my friends. Suck its luscious, fleshy fruits and live life as it should be lived – with love, happiness and peaceful coexistence, for we have nothing to lose except our souls to the universe.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

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