I will start by saying that the experience I had yesterday at the hospital was not expected. Earlier in the day my wife Shelly mentioned that on Facebook, she read that my builder’s daughter was in the hospital. Wayan (my builder) never mentioned the fact of his daughter’s ill health at the job site. Instead we were discussing the dimensions of a future gazebo that I want to build next to the pool and cafe.

At some point I said, is your daughter in the hospital? Wayan affirmed that in fact she was, and so I said, “Why aren’t you there?” He said, “I’m helping you.” I then quickly put an end to the meeting on the site and said I was going home to shower and then visit the hospital. Later he arranged for his other daughter’s boyfriend to drive us to the hospital so that we wouldn’t have to take our scooter and drive 45 minutes to Denpasar.

We arrived about an hour before Wayan did, and so we had time to learn a bit more about Wayan and his lovely family. The daughter in the hospital, Bintang, majored in English in college and so its a pleasure speaking with her. She told me that Wayan doesn’t have any real friends and that I am his first. On top of that, the entire family is very surprised that the friend (me) happens to be a bule’ (foreigner). When I brought up Wayan’s Banjar friends (a Balinese neighborhood association that’s important for every village on the island), Bintang was quick to position the Banjar members as associates and not close friends.

Having heard this, I was a bit taken aback. How is it possible that I would become close friends with someone from such a radically different background? I am halfway around the world from the USA and yet feel closer to Wayan and his family than I do with all of my American friends (except one).

Since we were all waiting for Wayan to appear I thought I’d tell of a prank I played on Wayan at the worksite. For the bathrooms, we chose doors with a “cloudy” sticker over the glass. This way light can pass into the bathrooms and it makes the entry to the bathrooms more approachable (in my opinion). But my wife was concerned that people’s privacy would be compromised. Her solution was to order another sticker to be placed on the other side of the glass, so that each window has two cloudy stickers. I said to Wayan, “Let’s test how one sticker looks.” Wayan agreed and then I went into the bathroom and promptly faked that I was pulling down my shorts. Wayan laughed at the time, and both the daughter and mother in the hospital thought it was hilarious.

Finally Wayan appeared with his youngest child, a boy about 14. He sat on the bed across from Bintang and had his arm around his son while his wife placed her two hands on his shoulders. At that moment I felt a sense of transcendence. I was in the middle of a very intimate family moment and yet welcomed and embraced by them.

What began as a building project has grown into something vastly more: a chance to have a fine and deep connection to a remarkable human being and his family. Thank you Wayan.

Mugging for the camera

Each time I arrive on the building site I get a hello and a wave from at least one of the many workers. Usually from quite a few. And when I raise my camera phone I tend to get a thumbs-up reaction, as a friendly imitation of my daily thumbs-up to the workers.

Today one of the workers signaled that he wanted me to photograph him. He had a few friends watching him and so he made an effort to overcome his shyness when appearing in front of a foreigner. I really appreciated his efforts and the photos tell the story:

Have you found Paradise?

Have you ever had a particular moment in an extraordinary location where space and time were forgotten? Or are you seeking such a thing for the first time? In any case, the concept of a paradise is an elusive one, and here in Bali the word gets thrown around quite a bit. So let’s investigate.

When you first learn of Bali you may have read or heard of it as an Island of the Gods. Indeed, there are Balinese temples not just in every village, but in every home too. There are even micro-temples in Balinese shops and warungs (cafes). In addition there are daily offerings to the gods that inhabit each and every corner of this sometimes other-worldly island. Why? Because these gods are very powerful! They need paying attention to, requiring ongoing devotion.

But can an Island of the Gods be a paradise? Is it relevant if the gods aren’t your gods? Or if you don’t believe in any gods?

I think the relevance is this: when you visit Bali you can interact with people who have embraced other values than material goods. The ceremonies and offerings are constant reminders of the limits of the material world.

Like the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”

And so if Bali doesn’t quite live up to your vision of paradise, at least you can be in a place where most if not all of the people aren’t taking advantage of your tourist status in order to rip you off.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
“Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd

Thanks to NOW! Bali for the photos. Follow their Instagram here

Continue reading “Have you found Paradise?”

A Drop of Kindness, a Well of Gratitude

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” — Scott Adams

I’m becoming more convinced each day that the real benefit of travel, or expat living, or even tourism (although it’s a challenge to slow down enough as a tourist) — is the small everyday kindnesses shared among people who essentially are strangers.

In the following example, we have recently become friends (but only days ago — strangers) with our housekeeper. Kadeh is a young Balinese woman who cleans the four rooms where we rent. She is diligent and friendly and a genuinely lovely person. She also gets paid below the standard wage, from a Balinese owner, and her husband has to work in a town that’s too far away from their home. Fortunately her two kids are taken care of by her extended family and village and so Kadeh can see her children at the end of each day. She also, like many workers in Bali, works six days a week.

Photo: the author, his wife Shelly, and Kadeh, our new friend

One day Kadeh was talking with Shelly and somehow during the conversation Kadeh mentioned that she hasn’t gone shopping in ages. She neither has the extra time nor the money. And so I asked Shelly if she would take Kadeh shopping. After she chose one item (a blouse) for about 55,000 rupiah ($3.78 USD) Kadeh said she was done. Shelly said to pick another item. Then Shelly, with some convincing, helped Kadeh pick a third item (a total for the three items of $10 or $11 USD). At that point Kadeh became emotional and said it was too much. We were being too generous.

Those who make compassion an essential part of their lives find the joy of life. Kindness deepens the spirit and produces rewards that cannot be completely explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. To become acquainted with kindness one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit. — Robert J. Furey

The next morning Kadeh thanked me and cried. We hugged and I mentioned that I was happy to help out.

Shelly and I have done some other, modest giving to the workers on our building project and the reaction is the same: a tremendous amount of gratitude for what, to most foreigners, is a very small amount of money.

The reality is that when you spend time in a developing country you realize that the majority of the world lives very modestly, and for the most part, happily. To participate in it, to get some joy from it, to change yourself a bit, reach out with a warm smile. See the other as an equal, in the sense that we are on the same planet, orbiting a blazingly hot sun in a terrifyingly cold universe. The stranger handing you your lovely beverage at the boutique cafe most likely cannot buy one for herself.

You don’t have to do much. Just be a small drop and let the ripple flow.

A very special Balinese experience

Our builder, Wayan, is a leader in his local village and twice a year hosts a Balinese ceremony.

(Photo: Wayan to my left, his partners, and the site foreman – in a striped shirt)

Wayan invited Shelly and I to a post-ceremony celebration of music, dance and Balinese cuisine at his home. It was a privilege to be a part of his extended family. Everyone was generously and genuinely willing to open their hearts to us.