Thoughts on a Silent Day

Here in Bali there is one day per year where we don’t have a choice about whether to quiet oneself or not. It is forced upon us, due to the unique way that the Balinese celebrate their New Year. They first purify the island through prayer and then rid the island of evil spirits by building massive sculptural representations of them. Finally they trick the evil spirits by staying silent for 24 hours. Perhaps the evil spirits will leave Bali as there is nothing going on for an entire day!

And by nothing I mean the obliteration of airplanes landing at the airport, no motorized vehicles, even no walking! No internet, and no lights (tourists are cut some slack regarding lights in their rooms).

With quiet comes contemplation. The first revelation was that I was able to hear the surf from our location, 800 meters away. Even though our road is not a high-traffic road leading to the beach, the normal daily activity is enough to drown out the sounds of the surf.

And perhaps due to the silence on the property, I am also reflecting on the two work crews that have temporarily left for their villages. The Balinese crew of 14 left a few weeks ago to construct a nearby three-story building (for future tourists). And the Javanese crew (also 14 folks) left yesterday, for five days. They can’t afford the airfare to Java and so they rented a van as a group and took a ferry to the massive island, spending a very long day on the road.

Brick by brick by brick

The differences between the two crews cannot be more startling. The Balinese were content in their makeshift encampment. They had one woman who cooked for everyone, and sharing was the rule. The Javanese cooked for themselves, and so you would see six rice cookers versus one for the Balinese.

When it came time for the Balinese to leave the encampment site, the Java workers didn’t want to move in. Instead they wanted to sleep in the unfinished part of the concrete structure versus the ramshackle bamboo and tarp structure that the Balinese built. We were surprised that they had a preference, but we accommodated them.

The Balinese would never thrust their preferences on us. They were happy to be doing their jobs until 5pm and then enjoy the rest of the day and evening, primarily as a group.

The Java workers also worked until 5pm but then they tended to splinter off into little groups.

One time the foreman of the Java crew used Google translate to ask me if I will be giving him a bonus when the job is done. Of course I don’t pay the workers directly. My builder does. It was fairly aggressive for him to ask me, and I could sense that he wasn’t about to share the proposed bonus with any of his co-workers.

Plaster cement covers the bricks

In contrast the Balinese would never ask for money. In fact they once offered my wife fish and rice when we were hanging around during lunch time and the cook refused to accept payment for the meal. Sometimes I would get a scooter ride back to my rental unit from a Balinese worker and when I offered to put gas into his gas tank the worker repeatedly refused.

We recently hired a live-in maid to help us and she moved onto the property two days before us. According to her, the Java folks supposedly slept on the floor of the recently air conditioned rooms, but we have no way of verifying it. It’s not a terrible thing if they did sleep using our air conditioners, but it is crossing the line.

When new furniture arrived they were covered in plastic and the Java foreman made it a habit of coming into our living room (which is opened for workers to come and go during the day) and sit on one of the chairs. I also caught him taking a catnap on a recent plastic covered king bed in a future guest room.

And finally, the wife of the Java foreman criticized our new maid when she told them her salary, which is standard payment for our area.

All of these behaviors would be unimaginable for the Balinese. They don’t care what you do, as long as they get paid for their daily hard work. They are friendly and considerate and have an integrity that is frankly more and more difficult to find.

Like any culture the Balinese also want “things” (a phone, a scooter, etc), but they don’t expect “bonuses” from foreigners or anyone else. And while seeing fancy things such as air conditioners and custom furniture might not go unnoticed, it would never cross the mind of a Balinese person to use such things without asking.

I have nothing but the deepest respect and appreciation for the tremendous work that has gone into the construction of this lovely building, made with the callused hands and daily sweat from both crews. And while I side with the Balinese and their philosophy of life, I hope to work until the end of this project with the Javanese folks in good spirits.

Peace to all from Bali, where it is now the year 1941.


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