A lot of people have asked me if I’ve experienced culture shock since moving to Bali: the simple answer is that I haven’t. I was half lucky, and half strategic to have landed in Denpasar. My best friend was here visiting her father when I arrived, so my first ten days were spent catching up with her, and acquainting myself with him and his family. He and I have hit it off so well, I dare say he threatens to take his daughter’s spot as my best friend (just joking, F.Z.)!
I have since found a place to stay, and I am slowly acclimatizing to Ubud. I mean that quite literally, as it is incredibly hot here. Again, my friend helped me with my transition in that regard as the first place we stayed was equipped with a pool and an air conditioner. Sometimes the room was too cold, which is impossible to imagine now.
My new room, by contrast, only has a fan to ward off the heat. I often meditate upon it, as it looks left, and then right, and then left again, while dangling precariously above my mid-section. The fan is affixed to a wall with two nails which have either missed or completely ignored their intended studs.
I am not complaining. I am very happy to have found a room, and the monthly rent cannot be beat, but I still fear that one of these nights I am going to wake up in the midst of my own belated bris. Only one fan will be in attendance, and he will also be the one wielding a make-shift, dull blade… or four.
Many of the locals in Bali speak English well as the island has long been a tourist destination for surfers, scuba-divers, back-packers, and gurus. I want to learn the language, but it is difficult when it’s so easy to get by with English. So far, the only word I know for sure is “buka”, which means “open”.
If I was forced to find something that I have found to be off-putting, I would reluctantly answer that I find some of the smells to be a bit much. Those who know me are aware that I have always delighted in smells conventionally labeled as “repulsive”. I worked in a Butcher Shop for over a decade, and carried a smell which could only be described as “death” about me most of the time. I reveled in it.
But here there are many smells, which combine into a hot, floral, fishy lump. The combination of sweet and something else altogether baffles one’s olfactories into submission. At any given time, we smell the sweet fragrance of sacrificial incense, abandoned rotting fish cheeks, tropical flowers, exhaust, bananas, rat shit, and palm oil. One could get used to, and even learn to love the smell of any one of these things if it remained isolated, but the combination of the thousands can be a bit much: think of Axe body spray on a stinky teenage jock, and multiply it by a million.
So, that’s it I guess. No culture shock. Does that make me insensitive, callous, or unaffected by my surroundings? I don’t know. I struggled to adapt to Victorian culture. In fact, I am not sure that I ever really did. People there looked at me with much more curiosity/concern than I’ve experienced since moving here.
People here aren’t as easily offended as Victorians, and much more humble. Whereas Vancouver Island is often described by its inhabitants as “the most beautiful place on earth” (it is even on some license plates, for goodness’ sake), a claim which is regurgitated with every selfie*, I wonder how much of the earth such people have seen; I also wonder how often they leave the island, because it is pretty beautiful here in the tropics.
I’ll stop now, lest I offend anyone. Love you all! I am getting my tax return tomorrow, so let me know if you are interested in a pound of coffee: I am mailing care packages on Monday morning (Sunday afternoon to most of you).
*Especially in the winter when people smugly share their posts with less fortunate, colder Canadian counterparts.