Its 9am on October 30, 2014—the day before my scheduled departure from a 30 day jaunt in Bali, Indonesia. I lie face down on the beach massage table while the masseuse makes questionable dips into my bathing suit bottoms with his leathery hands. Each time his hand wanders from the top of my back down to the shady end of my spine, I tell myself to jump off the table and do my impression of a Bruce Lee chop to his face.
But I don’t. Mostly because this experience is pretty typical of my time in Bali: slightly uncomfortable, oddly invasive and yet full of loveliness.
The Balinese healer who jiggles my body parts and massages the heck out of every inch of my skin is not a pervert. He does his work without regard for my prudish North American sensibilities. A reflexology treatment and spa massage both taught me that Balinese people don’t seem to be concerned about accidentally brushing an inappropriate region of the anatomy. They seem quite practical about it. If you want a massage or treatment they will provide it. Just don’t expect them to tip toe around your touchy bits.
As my masseuse continues to rub me down in front of a crowd of passersby, I take stock of my month. I realize that Bali has changed me and I am equal parts grateful and uncomfortable.
Face fears: sunburnt hands
As I hop off the motorbike, my arms are burnt tomato red all the way to my fingertips. It is not a comfortable feeling. Yet, I can’t stop grinning. I did it. I faced a fear and came out the other side. So this is what all the self-help books mean when they say: face your fear and do it anyway. What a comfort it is to know that all those writers aren’t speaking out of turn.
Here is another nugget of wisdom to add to the basket: words become meaningful only after we’ve lived through a choose-your-own-adventure example of them…
Here is mine:
My best friend of 35 years and I decide to check out a lesser known area—Nusa Lembongan—a small island off the southern coast of Bali. We spend lazy days hammocking, laying about and walking to the eco-friendly café for a cappuccino. Inevitably human nature takes over and after a while we want more.
The day we walk for 45 minutes to get to an interesting landmark, sweat rolling out of every orifice, we re-evaluate our situation. We need a better form of transportation than our feet. We also need to stay alive, so riding on the back of a local’s motorbike is out. Trying to balance both of us on one motorbike is also treacherous to say the least. The only other option: ride our own motorbikes.
This may seem like a simple solution for those who know the confidence of riding a hog (the motorized kind). I don’t have that confidence. The thought of barreling down a foreign and remote strip of potholed road on a metal beast brings on an episode of the sweats and shakes for me. That being said, after a long discussion and the magic of persuasion only my friend can pull off, we make our decision.
I admit that things start off a little shaky as I fishtail out of the Balinese woman’s back yard as she calls after me: hati hati (careful, careful!). Um…how do you slow this thing down?
One really wide turn into oncoming traffic later, we are on our way. Five more minutes and we get the hang of it, wearing bugs in our teeth like real pros.
I finally understand the term perma-grin. I’m smiling like an overly gassed dental patient. What a rush!
We zoom along the rocky coastline, past seaweed farms and fancy infinity pools. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun!
If I had done what I instinctively wanted to do-which was to avoid motorbikes for this and every lifetime for eternity—I would’ve missed out on an amazingly exhilarating experience. But I didn’t.
Instead, I took a deep breath, shakily straddled the seat of my rental motorbike and turned the throttle full tilt (which is why I careened dangerously toward the concrete fence on my way out of the rental yard). Never mind, I still did it. The experience was well worth it—even with painfully sunburnt hands.
Care and attention: unavoidable nosiness
Have you ever met someone who somehow manages to ask questions that even a long term love never thought to ask? That describes the Balinese people in a nutshell. They are brimming with questions: Where you from? How long you stay? Where you stay? Those are just the warm-ups; wait until you actually make a connection with them. No personal stone will be left unturned.
Although I met some Balinese people who were only asking questions in order to sell me a wooden penis with painted flowers on it (I’m not making that up), I did experience profound moments of genuine connection.
One day we chatted with an effervescent young girl who worked in a Warung (local restaurant). She gave us her full attention and presence as she asked us about our adventures on Bali. She laughed delightedly at our motorbike mishaps and clumsiness; she listened as we described our plans. She peppered us with questions and we eagerly answered them. Who doesn’t want someone hanging on your every word with authentic interest? I left that seaside spot with a warm heart. There are many other examples of this sweet and endearing attitude of the Balinese people. We chatted happily with hotel concierges, taxi drivers and local business people.
However after a month of being pelted with questions every minute of the day, I felt raw and tender. In Canada we don’t even look at each other let alone converse with such vigour and frequency. My jaw was overworked and my privacy had gone out the window. When I arrived home I hid in my apartment for a week and reveled in the silence.
As I re-adjust to my Canadian surroundings, I realize that I miss the care and attention the Balinese people showered me with (even the penis salespeople). The more I interact, I mean avoid, other Canadians on the street, the more it hits home. Where is our care and attention for each other? What’s wrong with a little bit of healthy curiosity of our neighbour, store clerk or barista? Would it kill us to have a dialogue? Judging from the terror in your eyes, I would guess that's a yes. Take it from me—a Canadian with a personal space requirement of 10 feet or so-that once we experience someone getting up in our grille, we actually get used to it. Then we like it.
So get out there and get nosy! You won’t regret it. You may have to perfect the art, but who knows who you’ll meet and how your life will change.
Thank you to the people of Bali. Thank you for being super nosy. Thank you for offering me opportunities to open myself up to new experiences. And most importantly, thank you for throwing me outside my comfort zone to a place where I hardly recognize myself: more courageous and open than ever before!