Let’s Split, We Said: And We Did, Along With the Decade

As the first 10 years of the 2000s draw to a close, I realise we spent exactly half of them being slaves to our corporate masters and increasingly meddlesome and intrusive governments and the other half meeting the challenges and amusements of establishing lives in a developing Asian nation.

Until the last half of 2005, we toed our respective corporate lines, passed each other at airports, slept with our mobile phones, ready to respond 24/7 to any perceived emergency, and snatched at opportunities to get temporarily off that not-so-merry-go-round and wind down in Bali.

Then, in the face of protest and angst from friends and family, we shook ourselves free of our corporate shackles, sold our inner-city apartment and imported car, ditched our high street wardrobes, offloaded an extensive library and most other items collected over 30 years of cohabitation and embarked on a farewell road trip across Australia.

The trip was The Playmate’s idea. He’s a rather more sentimental character than your columnist, who revelled in being free of goods and chattels while he mourned his books and other less useful former possessions; and who willed the trip to be over so a new life could be embraced while he, prematurely nostalgic, indulged in the sights and smells of the land we were leaving.

We arrived in Indonesia in September 2005, via three weeks in northern Vietnam, where we’d picked up a few eating utensils to add to the selected music and meagre wardrobes with which we would start our new lives. We arrived just in time for the second Bali bombings, which gouged brutality into the island’s recovery from the economic impact of the first bombings in 2002.

The first 12 months, when we rented a white-ant-ridden house from a poisonous landlord in Nusa Dua, were a touch shaky. Your columnist roamed the streets and beaches, celebrating freedom from regularity and regulation, new friendships, foods and lifestyle. The Playmate clung to routine and contact with his old world, incessantly communing with his laptop and cursing Bali’s unreliable technology.

Then, neither of us could resist a proposal for employment in Lombok – The Playmate for the professional challenge and me for the prospect of another new living environment, as well as the work. Regrettably, a year’s improvements to a respected product were wiped out, as soon was the entire business and its local jobs, by a proprietor who foolishly bit the hands that promised to feed him handsomely.

Fortunately, it suited us to return to Bali, to re-establish precious friendships and to find, staff and renovate a home in readiness for the forthcoming flow of visitors. 

There you have it. A decade in a 436-word nutshell that makes it sound like the breeze it most certainly was not. You could easily write a weighty tome about the frustrations, follies and fears; incompetence, corruption and inequity; mistakes, disappointments and achievements; and the madness, mayhem and humour of either of the five-year blocks. But the purpose of this brief personal review of a decade, which splits so cleanly into disparate halves, is to assess which location is best and why. 

Best of Bali: Good people who are generous, helpful and tolerant; rich culture; multi-cultural and multi-religious; generally great climate; great scenery; lower cost of living; freedom of living (unless you are part of the banjar structure or an Indonesian woman); open-air living with affordable staff; good local food products; improving medical services; affordable luxuries such as massage; access to Asia.

Worst of Bali: Bad people who are resentful and greedy; excessive wet seasons; unrestrained and inappropriate development; tacky tourists; poor infrastructure and services; traffic congestion; official corruption; bureaucracy; uncontrolled rabies and dengue outbreaks; high cost of good medical services; prohibitive costs of “luxury” goods such as wine and cheese; tiered pricing structure that disadvantages foreigners; and the virtual impossibility of acquiring unchallengeable title to your own house.

Best of Australia: Infrastructure including adequate transport systems and reliable rubbish collection; clean communities; liberal social services; only minor official corruption; generally sincere and enforced commitment to equality; reliable if expensive legal system; variety of climates, landscapes and leisure activities.

Worst of Australia: Permanent home of the tacky tourist; poor public hospital standards; high taxes; winter; bureaucracy; declining personal freedom due to over-regulation; declining personal initiative due to reliance on government; rising living costs; vast pockets of cultural vacuum; isolated.

While Bali’s abridged list of negatives paints the place as often frustrating, demanding and tiring, it is rarely dull. It is an island of contrast on which traditional farmers tend cattle and crops in the midst of urban sprawls; on which the rich and pervasive Hindu culture welcomes alien peoples and most of their practices.

It is a society whose people are largely prepared to let foreigners live their lives as they see fit and who will invariably offer a bright, wide smile to guests at leisure as they go about their daily grind.

It is an island facing massive demands and dilemmas. Intrigued, we’ve opted against predictability in favour of an inside seat on the roller-coaster ride of Bali addressing, hopefully with its signature smile, the many challenges of the next decade.

Life is for living, and ours won’t be dull.

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