Oh man, this trip to Bali has left me in the midst of an existential crisis of sorts. This post is going to contradict the last one in virtually every way. I'll need to preface this with a description of the Balinese lifestyle. Present day Bali exists almost solely for tourism. The bulk of the Balinese work in the service industry; transportation, hotels, restaurants, etc. Bali is a pretty inexpensive destination, once you get yourself there. You can eat lovely meals for a third of the price that you would pay in America. A large luxury villa, with a private pool, can be rented for the cost of a Motel 6. We lived like kings for the almost two weeks we were there. These low prices are possible because the Balinese are paid almost nothing for their tireless work. According to one of the drivers we spent time with, the average monthly salary for a Balinese citizen is $150 per month. The government is corrupt, and although gobs of money are pouring in from tourism, little is invested back into the infrastructure of the country. There are almost no sidewalks, and what pathways do exist, are in extreme disrepair. I never saw a traffic light, the roads were incredibly narrow and inadequate. Ngurah, our driver, explained to us that the Balinese education system requires parents to buy books and other necessities that American schools would provide. The tap water isn't potable, and toilet paper can't be flushed because the sewer system can't handle it. Australians have come in and invested substantial monies into resorts and restaurants because, proximity wise, Bali is akin to their Hawaii. Due to Australian efforts, the food and shopping are incredible and the upscale villa rental is off the hook, but this has little to do with government efforts.
We tried to talk to our taxi drivers and servers often, they were all Bali natives and almost none of them had ever left the country. Vacation isn't part of their vocabularies. They work tirelessly, day in and day out, serving tourists who are taking breaks from lives that probably would feel like vacations to the Balinese. Yet, there is no animosity. They have constant smiles on their faces. Any time they say something that might seem negative, they quickly self correct and point out the blessing. Shit, I can't even go to Target without the check out girl bitching about being there, and she's probably 19 years old, working 12 hours per week, and still eating on her parent's dime. At first, I wondered if they were fronting, because they know that tourism is their bread and butter, but it was just too consistent. They have a love and a reverence for life. They adore children. There wasn't a single restaurant we went to where the staff didn't go out of their way to play with my children. Indigo got picked up and snuggled by a Balinese waiter or waitress at literally every eatery we went to. Men and women alike, smiling and relishing in these privileged white children. How? Why?
Enter my existential crisis. I mentioned in my previous post about all the books I've read that are written by these dynamic individuals who are drinking up life, living without boundaries or limitations, the masters of their own destinies, yada yada yada. I'm trying to replicate that lifestyle. We said fuck it and took our three kids on a ridiculously lengthy trip to Bali. We didn't go to Tahoe, we went to fucking Indonesia. Last year, we left everything we knew and moved, from the city we'd been raised in, to another state. We took a lot of risks and worked our asses off to make this possible for ourselves, because we wanted a different lifestyle for our family. Life without limitations, masters of our own destinies, right? But here we are, not content. What's the next trip? How do we make more money? How do we figure out a way to bypass the 9-5 so we can travel unencumbered or hire a part time nanny so we can pursue fulfilling endeavors? More, more, more. It's never enough. When you live in America, the sky is the limit. There is never a point where you have to stop and say, "Okay we've reached the pinnacle, this is the most we can have/do." That doesn't exist here. I'd go so far as to say that it's frowned upon to accept your position in life.
Then you go to Indonesia and you meet these smiling Balinese people whose entire lives have a maximum limitation. They don't want for more, because they just can't. It's not possible. You don't leave your village, you'll never make enough money to do that. There's no college. There's no travel. But this life with limitations has created content, and that content presents as joy. And then, in opposition, we have life without limitations, which creates contempt. Contempt for what we do have, for our current lives, because we want more. It's hard to appreciate where you're at and what you have when your eye is always on the prize, the bigger house, the better neighborhood, the fitter body, the better job.
Of course, the answer can't be not wanting for more. We weren't born in Bali. We do have options. If you dangle possibility in front of someone and then tell them they can't do anything with it, the result is depression, hopelessness, not content. It's easier to be content when you look beyond your circumstances and nothing else is around the corner. But that's not what it means to be American, a blessing and a curse, depending on perspective. There's a balance that must be achieved, balance of the most difficult variety. How to have gratitude for where you're at while still living progressively? It's a question I don't have the answer to, but I'm going to take a page from the Balinese, who are Hindu. Each morning the women spend hours making offerings for the Gods, which serve as blessings and as a means to express gratitude. I'm going to start there, by gently and consistently reminding myself of the gifts in my life, my children, my husband, my health, and of course, the freedom to want more.