Once in a Bali Lifetime

The Simple Life

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

It’s the stuff of indolent dreams: languidly your feather-light eyelids rise after a mid-afternoon slumber by the azure sea, the embalming sun’s rays sliced by the comb-fronds of soaring, swaying palm trees, the sensuous smell of Chanel No. 5 rambling through the air with no purpose other than to draw you in.
It’s heaven scent, and I’m already there.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to live the simple life?” I say to the wearer.
“No,” she retorts with a chuckling smile, “you’d get bored.”
I look to the aged man doing the local version of reflexology on my feet and ponder on his undemanding life spent wandering this short stretch of sand at Blue Lagoon in Padang Bai, days massaging the worn feet of visitors to this paradise cove and thinking of little other than what the conversation among friends will turn to that night.
“Like him, I mean,” I nod.
She looks at up me and smiles an emotion and returns to her magazine.
“Well,” I tell myself, “it would be fine for a while – say half an hour.” We laugh, and this is the reason we are here today in this strikingly beautiful place on the east coast of Bali.
The reflexologist’s serenity is the veneer on a life that is infinitely more marked with the daily struggle to survive, to earn enough to feed a family, of heartache and despair of lives lost and troubled relations and loans that can’t be paid back because there’s simply no money.
Do you yearn for the simple life? Has your life become so hopelessly convoluted that the only way to de-stress is to go back to basics? Therein lies the magic of Bali, an oasis of respite from the headaches of modern life and the prime reason people from all over the world are drawn here. Its nature is a natural remedy.
Some time later I was at a warung near my house buying nasi campur for my dogs – being true-blue Bali mutts, it’s the only thing they salivate over (noses upturned at Pedigree-brand biscuits) – and as the young ibu was scooping rice and chicken and fish and egg and tofu, with sambal, into paper packets, her small son appeared from behind a curtain at the side of the room – his bedroom. Divided by a partition, the other side, I presume but didn’t ask, was the parents’ makeshift boudoir. High up on a wall, a fading color photograph of the offspring. A small TV flickered a sinetron, its sound turned off. Beside it on a dusty shelf, a solitary ornamental goldfish with too many flowing fins circled lethargically in what was once a plastic candy jar, the top screwed on. I realized: this is not just a warung; it’s a home, too. The child, dressed in ill-fitting clothes, hopped on a motorbike with his dad and they sped off.
Ibu Sunadi is her name and though she’s from East Java, she’s lived in Bali for the greater part of her life.  There at that tiny warung she lives with her family and works until late at night. It’s about as causal as you can get – but there’s also the hardened serious side of earning a living. To rent the warung space, they pay Rp7.5 million (US$803) for a year and a half. “It’s a lot,” Sunadi said, but the foodstall is alongside a busy street in Canggu and the monthly profit is around Rp2 million, more than enough to live on.
I wanted to ask her age – I guessed early 30s – but Sunadi was shy at my questionings, and so I thanked her and left.
“A longing for a simpler world, for a glimpse of the past, is one of the motives in travel,” one of my favorite authors, Paul Theroux, wrote in the International Herald Tribune last year in a piece about the expanding American population that had just passed 300 million and how the world is now so crowded it’s hard to find any personal space – simplicity –  at all.
And I liked this evocative paragraph for its sense of summer-heat days of seclusion:
“I grew up in a country of sudden and consoling lulls, which gave life a kind of pattern and punctuation, unknown now. It was typified by the somnolence of Sundays, when no stores were open. There were empty parts of the day, of the week, of the year; times when there were no people on the sidewalks, no traffic in the streets, no audible human voices, now and then no sound at all. In this hushed world, a bumblebee was a physical presence, the sound of a cicada could dominate an August afternoon.”
Here in the mid-morning silence and heat of a dwindling Canggu September, I can hear it.
“Travel, except in almost inaccessible places, is no longer the answer to finding solitude. And this contraction of space on a shrinking planet suggests a time, not far off, when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance, no peculiarity of dress — frightening thoughts for a traveler.”
Indeed so.
Back at Blue Lagoon, our fainéant conversation had turned to what we were doing that evening. We decided on martinis at a new club fronting Kuta Beach. Vodka or dry? she asked. Dry, I replied. You know I don’t like vodka.
“Once in a lifetime,” she purred.


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