Expats: Blow Hard Enough and You’ll Topple Over

By Novar Caine

It’s an odd term, expatriate: Formerly of somewhere else. No longer a resident of one’s land (though this does not necessarily mean no longer a patriot). An émigré. Modern-day Australia was founded on them, mostly forcibly from the British Isles. Then there’s America, as with Australia taken over by Europeans and created as a thriving nation.

Australia experienced a second-wave Irish influx during the tiny country’s economic doldrums of the 1980s; and, earlier, with immigration policies revered, Australian gates opened up to its backyard, a transformative move that has fostered an indelible Asian mix to its makeup.

As long as there are economic attractions, people will always be on the move. We’ve been at it ever since we walked the plains of Africa and started migrating to parts of what is now Europe. And it’s never too late in life to up stakes and relocate, it seems. At a function in Europe in August a middle-aged professional man and his wife told me they were moving with their family to Australia, because he’d been offered a stellar job in Sydney. They were excited at the prospect. Who wouldn’t be? A chance for new knowledge, friends; the thrill of a new life.

Small islands drenched in sun (ahem), sand and magnificent colour are longstanding attractions to not only the casual holidaymaker but the would-be immigrant. A person can lose themselves. The intoxication can become so addictive that they cannot pull themselves away.

For some, oftentimes the further away from home, the more remote, the better. Different language: A bonus. Totally tropical and exotic, where no one would find you: That’s just the ticket. In a developing country with a rubbery legal system and ways of getting whatever it is you want: Now that’s paradise.

Bali can be a peculiar place. A friend describes it as like living in a bubble. The laws of reality can often be suspended here. Foreigners, at least a certain set of them, seem to flit about like fireflies, not quite sure where they want to set down. It can be hard to know who to trust; and there’s so much extravagant chatter it’s difficult to make out what’s real.

Our own expatriate population is indeed a curiosity. For the older landed folk there’s a distinct, haughty air that Bali is “theirs.” They were here first — well, before the rest of the herd at least – so: Hands off! It’s as though the island were a precious ceramic artefact that only they are permitted to care for — never mind the original inhabitants, the Balinese. But they play dress-up, you see, as the Balinese, and tell anyone within earshot that they’re “experts” in the language and culture and … well, that’s when the noise becomes so packed with static that it starts to drown itself out. No one likes a bore.

There are thousands of émigrés in Bali who can easily be classified as honest, decent folk — interesting, kind-hearted and worthy of an evening’s chat. But they’re all too often usurped, in the public perception, by the windbags. Some of these are persons of murky background who find themselves here and set up some kind of shop-front. They are of significant ego, but alas largely talentless. (Often their bumbling antics in their own countries are laughed at.) This doesn’t stop their attention-seeking endeavours, however. They have become, in this latest metamorphosis, authorities on everything Bali; and demand that you know this. They are noxious blowhards and the only remedy is total avoidance. Starved of notice, they wither.

You often wonder what the humble Balinese, whose island continues to be invaded and reshaped by resident foreigners, make of these screamers, though. There’s an American woman in Seminyak who dishes out all kinds of attitude about the island — what should be done; what’s wrong; I’m not happy with this, so do it my way. It’s laughable. It’s no wonder foreigners are known in some lands as the “devil.” Some of them truly give us a bad name.

But Bali is a place where immigrants can really go to town, especially among the party set that attends openings of envelopes. They can’t resist the pull of the limelight, however dim — and the chance to get up to even more bad behaviour.

Thus we had the recent spectacle of a self-reinvented, self-renamed New Zealand-Australian man allegedly doing drugs at parties all over the place. He’s behind bars now, and on trial, after police caught up with him one afternoon in a supermarket in Tuban, plastered and apparently with a significant amount of cocaine in his wallet. Before news broke of his arrest, partying pals had been pasting photographs of themselves and this lummox on social-networking sites. What a great laugh they were all having. But not one of them does Bali a favour; they regard the island as an Asian version of the revulsion that has become Ibiza.

How revolting. It’s enough to want to make you emigrate all over again.

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