Between us, Hubby and I have travelled to more than 30 countries and we both agree it’s the Asian nations where we learn the most.
It’s why we keep going back, much to the astonishment of some of our friends who prefer the efficiency and comforts of western countries.
It’s why we chose Bali as a destination for our three young sons more than 16 years ago.
We wanted them to get off the plane, feel the humidity, smell the incense and cooking, hear the different language and really understand we’re not in Kansas anymore, or even Oz.
More than that, the vastly different cultures of Asian countries open your eyes to new understandings and possibilities.
In Vietnam, we learned that people can get over the hatred and atrocities of war. Western tourists, whose relatives had fought against the Vietnamese, are welcomed with open arms – even in the northern towns like Hanoi that suffered huge losses during the Vietnam War.
In Cambodia, we learned how easy it is to break a child’s heart – and how easy it is to avoid.
Our fabulous guide Kong, who showed us the wonders of Angkor Wat, explained his number one tip for all tourists when we first arrived.
If you don’t want to buy something a child is selling, just say no firmly, but kindly.
Many tourists, tired of the hawking, become rude. Others act interested in buying then don’t follow through – a tease the Cambodian children, who have a great understanding of poverty, find extremely hurtful.
“If you act interested in buying but don’t, it’s like you’re teasing them and they become really hurt,” Kong told us.
“Best not to act interested unless you really are.”
In Thailand, we learned that judgments only close the door to new learning, experiences, and friendships. Some of the most amazing and wonderful people we met and loved had the most dubious jobs by our standards – keeping in mind Thailand’s reputation as one of the world’s most prominent sellers of sex.
FAST TRACK TO ENLIGHTENMENT
Bali, one of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands, is a constant learning curve. Each time I visit I learn more about what it truly means to be confident. To be so content and sure of your own beliefs and pathways you don’t feel the need to convince, convert or to judge.
The predominant philosophy in Bali is Agama Hindu Dharma, which is a blend of Hinduism and Buddhism.
‘The truth is one, the interpretations, multiple’, best describes the Balinese ability to respect and accept everyone’s belief system while staying true to their own.
They believe that nature is power and each element is subject to influence from various spirits. This belief means they have respect for all living creatures.
They strive for eternal peace – moksa –when the individual blends into the Cosmos and God.
In order to achieve this, they try to maintain the balance, with their actions and their rituals, between the forces of good (God) and evil (demons).
Their spirituality shines through in beautiful smiles and friendly banter.
There is no feeling of menace in Bali, at least from the Balinese themselves and in the places we visited.
Despite this, sensational headlines will announce how one Australian dies every nine days in Bali. Read the fine print and nine out of 10 times it’s while participating in a risky activity or involving some crazy action often associated with too much alcohol and drugs.
I know every country has its dirty little secrets, things you are not likely to encounter while lounging on a sunbed at your beachside resort.
I’ve heard of giant tree rats who like to play in the thatched roofs. I haven’t seen one (thankfully, I’m just slightly FREAKED OUT by them) but I have seen Australian bush rats – they get really big – and I know of no country that is safe from the creatures.
There’s the odd murder mystery made more mysterious as you never discover if the accused is Balinese (unlikely) or a visitor.
I’ve heard of ocean drownings (we have plenty of those here too) often caused by ignoring warning signs about dangerous conditions on the beach.
There are many road accidents, which is no surprise when you see drunken tourists stagger out of bars and onto scooters into traffic that works more on intuition than actual road rules.
I recently read an article that described Bali’s ‘substandard’ roads as an issue. Substandard for who? If you can’t drive to the road conditions, stay off the roads. If you don’t like the conditions, just stay away.
There is a lot of talk about corruption within the police force, making it sound that this is a problem unique to Bali.
I saw and met many women tourists travelling alone – a safe haven when so many places spell danger to females flying solo.
Some people have expressed feelings of guilt and frustration at what they see as the poverty in Bali.
I think these emotions make them blind to the happy smiles and playfulness of people who know how to make the best of what they have
Yes, there is the occasional beggar (I see more homeless people on the streets of Sydney than I did in the parts of Bali I visited).
Yes, the shopkeepers and stallholders almost plead with you to buy their wares with an intensity western hawkers could only dream about.
And, yes, the young children play endlessly outside, near the rice fields, on the sand at the beach, while their parents work nearby. No computer games and television to keep them indoors and away from the sun – how sad!
Yet, without the tourist dollars, the parents wouldn’t have work and the simple pleasures of playing in the sand are tortured with hunger pains. How guilt-inducing and frustrating is that?
Thankfully, not too many have this way of thinking. During the first five months of 2015, more than 1.5 million foreign tourists visited Bali, Indonesia’s most popular destination. Heartening given that at least 80 per cent of the country’s income is garnered through tourism.
BALI – LAND OF THE BROKEN TILE
Hubby lovingly coined this phrase as we were walking the streets of Ubud and having to watch every step for fear of falling on the narrow footpaths covered in broken tiles and random, often gaping holes.
It’s one of the inconveniences, annoyances even, that could put comfort-seeking travellers off.
It’s amazing, and eventually amusing, how often even the biggest stores run out of the most basic items and how the fanciest of restaurants won’t have half the meals they advertise because they’ve run out of stock.
These are the issues that have some tourists react with impatience and even rudeness and leave me wondering why they would travel somewhere different if they want it to be the same.
It’s more than a place; it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind. …
More than this, by constantly seeking the comforts of home or the excitement of thrill-seeking activities without all the safety rules and high costs, they could be missing the point of this beautiful treasure that is nestled in between the Indian Ocean and the Bali Sea.
There is much to do in Bali but it’s also the perfect place to just be. If you allow yourself to soak up the culture you begin to feel the contentment, acceptance, and joy so evident in the Balinese people and that puts you on the fast track to enlightenment.
Wishing you an enlightening and gleeful week, Tamuria.