By Vyt Karazija
The great thing about living in Bali on a retirement visa is not having to “work.” On meeting people who are visiting here, the question that inevitably arises is: “But what do you do here all day?” My usual flippant answer is that I work assiduously at a degenerate life of sloth and gluttony, growing old disgracefully and avoiding all responsibility.
That relatively mendacious answer satisfies those who aspire to a similarly unrealistic scenario and to those who already live it. But there are some who believe life has more opportunities to offer than clichéd hedonism, and they are the ones who call my bluff.
So to those, I say that living here is nothing like visiting as a tourist. When you are only here for a week or three, it is an opportunity to put on a different face, to explore an alter ego that might be repressed at home. Some visitors tour relentlessly, absorbing exotic new experiences to satisfy a thirst they didn’t even know they had. For others, the Bali fix means being catatonic on a beach, or indulging in an alcohol-fuelled haze of permanent parties.
But living here means that, despite being in the same environment as those who visit, the imperative to squeeze as much as you can into each day here is far less prominent. For me, a non-stop party life of drinking and playing would kill fairly quickly – although I suppose that’s not a bad way to go. So expat days pass with less urgency. If something needs to be done, like paying a bill, or arranging for tradesmen to fix something, or visiting other parts of the island, the Besok Principle rules: Do it tomorrow. This is Bali. There is always tomorrow; or in a real emergency, the day after tomorrow.
So what is it I do here? Basically, I write for pleasure. In no way is my Bali expat experience typical, but my day might give you an idea of what works for me. In the morning, I check in with my social-media contacts and then go out for a long, leisurely breakfast. There I read, or watch the endless parade of people. Sometimes I engage in conversation, but because I don’t really do mornings, any talk tends to be desultory. When I am caffeinated enough for my personal start-up sequence to have finally finished, I begin to function. This can take a while, because like an old computer, nowadays I have insufficient Random Access Memory available. And my brain is way overdue for defragmentation. Worse, I think I’ve picked up some malware as well.
During the day, I “work” but it rarely looks like work. I might physically write, which is visible work, or think about writing – work which is invisible to the casual observer. If someone drops in during the day, they often see a vacant-looking husk, staring into space, “doing nothing.” Well, let me tell you, writing involves a lot of head time before hitting a single key. I can spend hours organising ideas, uncovering the structure behind those ideas and divining the flow of what I want to say.
When I’m in the “doing nothing” phase of writing, I’m actually painstakingly collecting the bricks I need to build a forthcoming article and formulating the architecture that will give it form and coherence. My slack face, unfocused eyes and non-responsiveness mean that a concerned observer would think I’m having a stroke.
That’s usually the time that someone drops in, or the phone rings. If that happens before I am actually “doing something,” all those evanescent component thoughts scatter like tiny fish fleeing from a pebble dropped in their pond. It can take hours to assemble them again, but never in exactly the same configuration. And people wonder why I am a tad unsociable when writing.
Of course it’s not all work. I also read voraciously, get a massage on most days (I love my massages!) and go out for coffees to forestall those nasty caffeine-withdrawal headaches. There are things to fix at the villa, places to explore on the bike, shopping to do and, occasionally, even social contacts to maintain. In the evenings, I might catch up with someone for dinner, or if I’m feeling more autistic than usual, have dinner by myself and watch the fascinating procession of tourists wandering by. It’s actually very entertaining, much like a live YouTube, and often gives me writing ideas. I might find a bar and have a drink or two, and sometimes even talk to people so I can fool myself into thinking that I’m a social animal, which I’m not. In the late evenings, more writing or researching. Occasionally people might come over for a drink or swim. Most of the time, I just enjoy my own space.
There you have it: my typical day here when I’m not doing day trips on the bike, or travelling. You’re probably not trembling with suppressed excitement at my energetic Bali lifestyle, but it suits me fine – I’m actually very comfortable with my own company. And I think that’s the secret of a relaxed, happy life here.
If you are thinking of coming here to live, don’t think of it as an extended holiday – it’s not. And it’s not like Australia, which has become so over-regulated that every petty official is busy telling you what to do and how to do it. You can breathe here without some self-appointed social engineer insisting on interfering with your life.
For me, despite all its flaws, Bali represents freedom. But to many, it can be a freedom that is only liberating if they are independent enough to let themselves follow their dreams.
In Bali, one needs to walk one’s own path. I do. If you live here, and you are happy, then I’m sure you are following yours too.