I’ve been in Bali for two weeks now. The flight was long, and I’ve learned much already. While traversing the globe in a cylindrical tube for twenty four hours as my corporeal body sat foot-swellingly still, I soon understood that time and space are constructs far too intricate to speak about with any semblance of substantial reason. But now, standing on the precipice of two weeks here affords me the opportunity to compare, so here we go.
During my first week here I was a tourist in the most obnoxious, and awkward sense of the term. This isn’t to say I’m not awkward now or wasn’t before. But in my first seven days off the continent, I was awkward in a different way.
I stayed at a place with air conditioning and a pool. I drank copious amounts of local beer beside the pool, and bought a blue tank top with the label of said beer strategically imprinted upon the belly.
I cannonball-ed into the pool twice because I didn’t think anybody noticed the first time, and ordered another beer by gleefully pointing to my belly for reference as I handed over 30,000 Rupees for another 750 mls.
I spent more money than I should have that week: all of it, to be exact. I am a true incarnation of the prodigal son.
My spending was an attempt to impress a girl, of course. I bought her wine, and cheese, and olives, and smoked salmon, and French bread. All of these products are imported from far away lands, so they are expensive here, which is to say they are the same price or more than they are in Canada.
Wine, for instance, is incredibly expensive in Bali. A bottle of Yellow Tale Red Merlot which retails for $7.99 in Victoria cost me over 300,000 Rupees, and my dignity here. I am not even sure that I impressed my friend: she bore witness to both cannonballs, after all.
She is gone now. I am no longer staying in an air conditioned palace, and I’ve started counting Rupees by the hundred instead of the thousand.
A week ago, I pointed at things I wanted to buy. Ridiculous things like bottle openers with garish paintings on carved wood shaped like penises: I thought my friends in Canada would get a kick out of them. We’ll see.
I now point to luxuries such as small bags of rice and ask, “How much?”
Sometimes, I get lucky.
I’ve resorted to making cottage cheese from dog’s milk, which is much sweeter than cow’s milk, but less bitter than the creamy offerings of fallen venison.
I feel at home now that I am poor. As you know, this economic classification has been my financial default for the past ten years or so while inhabiting Canada’s most Western island.
My move to Bali was set in motion a year ago. I decided to leave my comfy, homely, and cheap palace in the Tyee Cooperative. Co-ops are one of the only providers of affordable housing in Victoria. Many people thought I was insane for leaving as ‘my home’ was the sole asset Victoria bestowed upon me aside from my fledgling magazine.
I decided however, rather suddenly, that I needed to leave the city. I abandoned the Co-Op, along with monthly monetary obligations to BC Hydro: my power was cut off shortly thereafter.
I dug my boot-heels into the face of one of BC’s many brute monopolies by refusing to pay their exorbitant rates in spite of the inconvenience of no power or hot water. My roommate was a drifter from Alberta who also preferred cheap rent to electricity so we sat in the dark for three weeks.
He and I smoked and talked. We had headlamps and propane stoves, and pretended that we were camping. We ate entire flats of Bushe’s Beans with the money we’d saved on power.
I felt more at home during this “dark time” in Victoria than I did for the other ten years I’d been there combined. I heard the song of the street instead of my stereo. I wasn’t able to charge my phone at home, so I spent much less time on Facebook.
I also got to know many of the brave men and women of the Victoria Police Department when my neighbors summoned them to my unit upon seeing a headlamp dancing upon the walls of an otherwise darkened house every evening. In hindsight, it was training for my new home in Ubud.
As of the late 1970’s there is electricity here in Ubud so in many ways I’m ahead of where I was a year ago. It is a tropical place, so heat is of no concern: a cold shower is now a gift from Ganesha, as opposed to the harsh reality of my morning routine in the winter of 2016.
My rent here is less than a phone bill in “my home and native land”, and I can buy a week’s worth of food, including fresh Tuna steaks, locally foraged Oyster Mushrooms, avocados, miles worth of noodles, and rice for ten bucks.
In Victoria, it was trendy to shop locally, and you’d better believe that many a local business milks that for all its worth. Don’t get me wrong. Many of my friends own local businesses; their businesses are works of art.
Places like Copper Owl, Northern Quarter, Cold Comfort, Legends Comics, Cenote, and Cavity have all created masterpieces, and add much flavor to the city’s otherwise comparatively bland palette. But there is a darker side to this extinct penny.
Some businesses exploit their local status; they’ll charge $80 for a haircut that looks like every other haircut, and a day’s wages (in Indonesia, at least) for a sub-par cup of coffee. They pay their loyal, often desperate staff in beans, and become more malevolent than the owners of larger businesses they villain-ize since there are no unions to keep them in check.
Oops… I’m sure you know who I’m talking about now, don’t you?
I know this all first hand of course. Remember the Butcher Shop in Oak Bay where I worked at for about a month? I’ve never felt more depressed! I can’t believe Mike fired me for being uncomfortable with his lewd, predatory comments about one of his underage employees.
When I quit, he got one of the dishwashers there to seek me out and physically attack me while I was enjoying a piece of pizza! Both he and Mike are hopped up on steroids, so I won’t be going back to Victoria anytime soon. It’s a dangerous place for those who call men out on their misogyny.
^This is the person who attacked me from behind. Do not attempt to approach him. He is dangerous.
I am glad that I no longer work there, and that his business partner has moved on to bigger and better things. I am pretty sure that the Village Butcher’s Days are numbered.
It is different here in Bali. Local products are cheaper than an import, which makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe I’m naïve about inflation, taxes, business licenses, zoning, etc…. my own business ultimately capsized, as you know. Perhaps we were too generous?
Here, government doesn’t try to impede people from starting something up. If you have a talent, you’ll probably be successful here, and people use local products because they are cheaper. It’s a truly free market.
As such, I am able to support local business because it makes sense. A cup of illy coffee is $2: a cup of Balinese Coffee is 50 cents, and far superior.
My room is much the same.
Sure, I could breathe air-conditioned-air in a luxury-style resort for a pretty decent price by Canadian standards. Even hostels in Canada are up to about $60/night. In Bali, that is unheard of. The aforementioned p(a)lace with the pool and AC was $20/night, if my Bin Tang Boggled brain remembers correctly. I am now living in a wonderful place for only $85/month.
Most of my neighbors are locals. All of them say hello in the morning and the evening too. They smile broadly, and sometimes give me breadsticks for breakfast. My room is modest—about 15 feet cubed. But I have full access to an adjoining kitchen with a gas stove, and plenty of room to chop cheap local greens.
I am also free to write in the adjoining restaurant, which is currently not being used. The restaurant is like a combination of my two favourite Victorian locales: Cenote and Copper Owl. It’s on the second floor like Copper Owl, and it’s pretty dark like Cenote. There is also free wifi, so I can meet my Canadian friends for a virtual coffee whenever I want to.
My bathroom is an ecosystem unto itself. If I were staying at an overpriced hostel, I’d have to share a bathroom with many a back-packer. But here, I only have to share with the animals, who are very unobtrusive. I regularly host many insects, and the occasional cat: ants feel especially at home in my little commode. The keep me company, and a few of us have become friends.
I like to read on the toilet, as you know–especially if I’m in the midst of one of Franzen’s vainglorious suburban tomes. In Canada I often fall on my face while attempting to dismount the can: the circulation to my thighs, rendered nil by an immaculately clean toiled seat.
Such is not the case here.
Books are expensive in Bali, so I’ve had to resort to a free app on my phone from which I can download all of the classics for free. I am about half way through Anna Karenina on wattpad right now, so I have spent an inordinate time on my rented porcelain throne.
Tolstoy transported me to Russia the today. I’ve always rebuked Leo in favour of Dusty, so I am surprised by how much I am enjoying his book. He, like Wolfe and Shakespeare, is a “putter-inner” rather than a “taker-outer”, which I like.
Russia is about as far removed from Bali as one can get, so I think he’s passed my litmus test: I’d recommend that everyone read Anna Karenina on the toilet, or otherwise.
This evening, upon looking up from digi-page 287, I did not see the familiar, dirty sink. At first, I was scared. I blinked intentionally, since I often have trouble focusing on far away things after reading for prolonged periods of time. But after blinking, my sink was still not there.
I saw Hanuman instead: monkeys crawled all over him. He wore an expensive suit made of cheap local bananas.
Suddenly, I felt embarrassed. I looked down at my hairy genitals and tried to get off the toilet, but alas, there was no seat!
Instead, a whole herd of ants defied the gravitational pull of my milk-fiend-mass like so many pre-teens in a moshpit: collectively, they had carried me to the temple, where I have since been embraced by Hanuman and all of his devotees.
I tried to write all of this on a postcard I bought the other day, but I ran out of space. Hope this works, ma! All is well in Bali! I can’t wait to introduce you to my new friends!