Introspective Isolation

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

It struck me looking from my poolside perch at a merchant vessel chugging by on the far horizon that a shutdown Bali for Nyepi was telling the world: You can’t come here; we’re communing with our makers for the day; we’re on a different plane.

Here was a sign on a line bordering the hotel and beach:

(Who crossed to put the towel on the sunchair – and why?)

Switching off to the outside world also meant, for me, logging off on the cyberworld. No email, no instant messaging, not a website in sight. It was strange and guiltily fun, while it lasted – how disconnected! There was the odd pang, however, but fastidiously ignored.

Indonesian youths were slurping maladroitly out of Bintang cans; an elderly lady cut her leg in the kiddie pool – what was she doing in there? – and drenched the adjacent tiles in a carpet of blood, and a doctor was called, and later a wheelchair, and that evening an ambulance that braved the barren streets.

Lovers were canoodling; babies were bawling (brats bellowing – so much for the Day of Silence); and men and women of a certain age were flailing about at water-aerobics with speed-fueled Chipmunks tunes (what a spectacle).

Husbands with “dutiful” auras were helping mums with unhelpful kids and with licentious gazes wishing they were at the bar with a mate.

It was a fleeting microcosm of errant humanity trapped for a day in a couple of hectares of hotel grounds.

Reluctant and dowdy and time-trapped staff played host to a few time-erasing, fee-based activities, among them a learning on canang, the ubiquitous Balinese offerings, as in how to make them. That’s going to come in handy back home in Stuttgart.

A surly waiter at a round seaside bar with swinging chairs attached to its roof couldn’t get his head around my amended order: beef sandwich to salad (real men don’t eat beef, because they’re mindful of their health so that they’re fit and long-lasting enough to care for their children). He held a conversation with himself for a number of minutes, before picking up the phone to the kitchen, whereupon I repeated step by step my modifications.

At breakfast, a portly middle-aged European woman had covetously been filming on a camcorder the elongated buffet fare, strangely and blithely dodging real diners as she continued on her odd movie odyssey. I wondered: What’s she going to do: sit at home and salivate over pictures of cornflakes and bacon and bread? Still, it’s something of a testament to the Sanur Beach Hotel that its buffet passes film mustard.

At the same sitting, a table of local lads had a cellphone bank lined up on one side, and as though answering a hotline, snapped up each text-beeping device and swiftly replied. And with such obtuse behavior, I often think: Why not dump your non-conversational friends and spend time with the texters – in real life. But it’s an unwanted, insecure show – of gadgetry and pretend affluence and popularity.

Later, ever-famished guests, many of them elderly Dutch, German and French couples – we were in sedate Sanur, after all – were ushered in under a canopy of darkness to a ballroom set up as a grand dining area for dinner, hushed tones reflecting the refugee feel.

And that night, on our room’s balcony and before an early turning-in, the stars were twinkling bright on a clear Bali night, and not a sound was heard. Not even one word.

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