For many reasons I've been relatively quiet about my time here in Bali. It's uncomfortable to post this and I won't be posting more publicly, but I wanted to share something about where I'm at.
I've been on this beautiful island for three weeks now, and it's been a process of resting, healing my mind and body from three years of work which almost broke me. It's been appreciating this land and these people, grappling between many sets of contradictions about our world today, and straddling attention between the world here and the happenings in the United States.
If you are able to be here or work from here, and want to travel here in a way that protects the health and well-being of others, the borders are actually open, the island would welcome you, and I would love to show you around.
Bali is beautiful. From the physical beauty, to the kindness and generosity of spirit, to the slow pace of life, to its powerful spirituality, this island is alive with beauty and power. I've been sober, exercising, resting, exploring nature, and dropping in deep with a few friends old and new.
Bali is quiet. Right now I'm on Lake Batur, and I'm the only tourist in a five-person compound and as far as I've been able to tell the only tourist at the entire lake. While a few areas are bustling, outside of those this island is incredibly slow.
Bali is hurting. With the precipitous drop in tourist revenue, a new kind of poverty has emerged here. Restaurants are getting zero customers in a day. Most villas are empty. Covid has brought about an extreme kind of poverty to the island, and when locals mention the pandemic, 75% of the time they are concerned about the economic devastation even over the threat to health.
Bali is profoundly unequal. Coming here with Western money, especially now, I cannot escape being a colonist as Balinese people readily offer their services for their survival and my pleasure. I am trying to learn how to best operate within that framework: which tourist amenities are unsustainable or damaging and how to spend my money that gets it to the greatest variety of people. It has been an opportunity to grapple with the inequality of our world; where in San Francisco we live off slavery and sweatshops in countless hidden ways, here the inequality is visible and asks to be seen.
Yesterday as the sun was setting I was walking down the street and an older lady asked if I wanted to buy a 1k bag of rambutans for $20,000 ($1.50 US). I bought one and asked her if she'd been selling a lot of them. She said only to me. It's staggering and heartbreaking here.
Bali is spiritual. I came here to experience spirit and healing, and there is so much. I think there's something special about places with active volcanoes, and they add a generative energy to a place. The Balinese culture practices its own version of Hinduism, and family and religion are very important here. (An average family spends 30% of their money on ceremonies.) I've been learning about the local culture, and was able to witness a Balinese cremation ceremony. (It's so different when
Strangely and not surprisingly, the expat spiritual culture is a complex mix of depth from other cultures, really beautiful and deep folks, spiritual bypassing, frantic seeking, and outright charlatanry. I've seen the Bali trope of people who arrive lost, three months later go by some name like Ramah or Zeus, and begin coaching businesses because they've "figured it out." I've also seen some incredible devotion to self-healing, tantra, yoga, meditation, dance, and more.
The Covid situation...ah, it depends on who you ask. Expats in Ubud say many got it back in March (there were direct flights from Wuhan to Jakarta.) I've talked to locals who have relatives who have died from it, and I've talked to locals who don't know a single person who's gotten it. Bali has a lot going for it: almost every building is open-air and it's easy to avoid all indoor spaces (or all people and just be in nature.) The virus seems to treat people more gently here, whether it's the outdoor spaces, high vitamin D / general health of the population, America's diabetes epidemic, or what. There's also expats who believe the whole thing is a hoax and hate the vaccine, and I've spent a lot of time engaging with that on WhatsApp groups. In general, I feel less likely to get it, transmit it, or end up in a hospital here than I did in the United States. (Flying also felt surprisingly far safer than I thought, especially if you're comfortable wearing a P100 for 30 hours straight.)
It's been a shift in how connected I feel to everyone and our country. In one sense, my physical presence on the other side of the world makes events and people feel further away. In another sense, I feel just as present as I was before. The US and Bay Area still feel like my forever home, and I was mostly connecting with you all over the internet as well. The time zone is probably a greater obstacle than the actual physical distance. Having a bit of distance has also given some perspective on how truly off the rails the US has gone, and how much healing our country needs.
The borders are supposedly closed, but they are open. If you're interested, and want to travel here in a way that protects the health and well-being of others, I'd love to talk to you about it. I plan to work from here and stay here for at least several months, quite likely much longer. Once we can gather again, I will probably be back.
Edit: to add to this...I think it is a questionable move to come here in ordinary times when the tourism is bursting and taking up all the resources of the island. Right now, respectful travel is much, much lower impact and they need tourist money badly.
I miss you all, would love to continue our connection online, and look forward to the day we can reunite and embrace.
Much love <3