Western Conveniences Are Not all That Convenient in Bali

By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ My life here is simple: no hot water, no air conditioning, no cable TV, no oven and until very recently no washing machine. I enjoy the simplicity and don’t usually crave the things I don’t have, but during the recently departed rainy season, I decided a washing machine was no longer a luxury item but a necessity.

I’d been getting by washing small things by hand and taking the rest to the local laundry, but with one-year-old Lola, things were starting to pile up. I came to the realization one day whilst collecting in laundry that had been hanging out for two days and therefore needed washing again, that my life was desperately in need of a technology injection.

My husband Ongky dutifully went to buy the machine and when it arrived I was like a kid at Christmas. Throwing in loads of washing I actually felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I can honestly say I became just a little bit happier.

I realized then that in a way I was being a martyr to the compound life, feeling like I shouldn’t have things that so many people around me do without. I always want to try to keep up and show everyone that I’m capable of living without my Western conveniences and working as hard as they do because otherwise I wouldn’t feel like I fit in as well as I do now. However, when my hands and back became sore from laundry martyrdom, I knew it wasn’t something I could go on doing forever.

I know I live much more simply than most foreigners in Bali and people do question my sanity when I tell them I live in the family compound, but (now I have my washing machine) I really don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. What difference does it really make to my life if I can’t watch American Idol or eat baked foods?

Because I don’t have certain things available to me all the time, they become luxuries reserved for special occasions. Try a baked potato after not having one for a year and you’ll feel it was thrown directly from heaven for your eating pleasure.

There are of course things that I do miss, which are seen as a waste of money – for example, celebrating birthdays. I tell myself it’s great that no one really sees a need to make a big deal, but every year when July 19 rolls around, I am consistently disappointed by the lack of presents, cake, spoiling, etc. Balinese birthdays, which are celebrated every 210 days, are much more important but unfortunately I don’t have one of those so I don’t even get the nasi goreng usually bought as a treat to mark the occasion.

I’m grateful for the escape from the Hallmark Valentine’s Day celebrations and the mad spending of Christmas, but I’d never turn my nose up at a big fat present and a trip to the spa on the anniversary of my birth.

Sometimes I lay awake wondering why I have chosen to give up so many modern conveniences when so many people are working their fingers to the bone just to have the things I would take for granted living back in the UK.

It’s a strange feeling to think my brother and sister-in-law have loans they will be paying off for years just so they can have a fridge, which is probably the one thing I have never lived without.

I know I still take many things for granted, but living in Bali has definitely made me think twice about spending money on things that aren’t really essential. I could probably build a couple of houses here with a year’s worth of what I used to spend on clothes and shoes in New York.

I often weigh the pros and cons of life with and without all the things most Western families have. Do I need a food processor, a vacuum cleaner, hot water and the choice of 108 TV channels? The answer is always no. I don’t need them and I don’t think my life suffers because I don’t have them. But if anyone ever tried to take my washing machine from me, I’d probably turn into the crazy white lady living in the back of a Singapadu compound.


Filed under: My Compound Life

One Response to “Western Conveniences Are Not all That Convenient in Bali”

  1. Chris Says:

    Hannah, nice read! I also was like that first, really craving for all the nice amenities of the modern life.

    But over time I learned I don’t need to possess all those things. Nowadays, the less I own, the better and less worrisome I feel.

    My physical/material possessions I can put in 2 travel bags and even that’s still too much.

    So feeling you quite a lot, there are more people like us around. Of course, most British or other Europeans will have a hard time understanding, even questioning our sanity.

    One day they will realize – hopefully not only on their death bed – that they were chasing the dream you and I were living!

    All the best for your ventures, 😉

    currently in Goa/India