People always want to know what my time is like in Bali. Especially if they have not been, there is the packaged idealized version of Bali that sells magazines and brightens up many Instagram accounts. While that reality has its foundation, the experience of actually living and working here is much more complex and authentic.
When I am in Bali, my focus for 3-4 months out of the year is my next collection of designs. To that end, I work 6 days a week at a little desk in a simple Balinese house near Ubud. I am with a small team of four artisans- Hamid, Made, Jaminarti, and Komang who make each design once I have worked out the original sample. Hamid and Jaminarti are from Java, and Made and Komang are lovely Balinese ladies. My manager and production master-mind Hamid and I have worked exclusively together for over 13 years- he is such a an amazing partner to have over here in Bali. Steady, cool, calm, honest and hardworking, Hamid is the most capable of surpassing even my high level detail focus in the designs.
The workshop in Bali I have rented for 6 years is actually a small compound Balinese house with two sides. One side Hamid and his family live, the other side is my office, storage room, and our jewelry workshop. It has a small garden. On this return trip to Bali I was interested to discover that Hamid had expanded our family at the compound. The latest additions are two white bunnies that hop around the garden and eat my helaconias and bamboo, and some goldfish that seem to stay out of trouble.
I work in a small office next to the production room with all my jewelry materials close at hand. Often every flat surface is covered in design trays heaped with colorful gems and pearls as I create combinations that please the eye and are calling me to be united in some new adornment. It is controlled chaos, I am not a neat and tidy creatrix. But that is just how it is…creativity can be messy! Once I have worked out the first sample of a design I hand it over to Hamid and the ladies along with a design instruction sheet and all the gems & pearls that I have painstakingly hand selected and counted in order to complete, say, 10 necklaces or 25 earrings. Did I mention this instruction sheet is in Indonesian written by yours truly? I am pretty bad at Indonesian but over the years my jewelry vocabulary has gotten pretty darn good.
People don’t really ask this question, but I am going to answer it anyway since you all wonder. Is it a sweatshop? No, of course not! At the same time, yes, yes it is. Most days Bali is…hot… The staff has an air conditioner in their workroom, which they never use (they think it’s too cold and prefer the fan and open doors)-- a reality I can’t understand. I live with a fan parked at the edge of my desk- no aircon in my office. If anyone is doing any sweating, it is most definitely me- the overheated western woman. The trick is to stay directly in the line of the fan at all times. When I have to get up to pull pearls out of the drawers behind me I start getting dewy pretty fast. Glamorous, huh?
It’s true-- I wake to birdsong as I gather fresh flowers for my morning meditation. The air is warm and sweet, the garden is green and lush. I drive to yoga class after my morning ritual time, and pass women making offerings at the side of the road, incense wafting up into the air with their prayers. There are many fine yoga studios to choose from…and I try to take at least 3 yoga classes a week as well as 2-3 ecstatic dance sessions, and go to tango at least once a week.
And then there is the food. THE FOOD. The choices of raw-vegan-juicebar-italian-mexican-thai-indonesian-fresh fresh fresh! Cold drip, cappuccino, bali coffee, sumatran, the list goes on and on…this is a coffee connoisseur paradise. And Cafe culture in Bali is at an all-time high. Street fashion is fun, lots of feathers & leather and tribal-hippie-boho-yoga-burningman influence here. There are so many digital nomads from all over the globe doing interesting start-ups and sound healing and various pursuits. It is interesting and eclectic. Global and yet here I am…in Bali.
For me Bali isn’t just a tropical paradise, or a tranquil retreat. It is my work, and I am living a real life here. That said, Bali has certain aspects that I am so very grateful for. One is the pace of life. I don’t know what it is, but even though traffic is fierce, there is a lot of pollution and population density, and it is freaking HOT, for some reason things still feel more chilled out than back in the States. In Bali, if you ask “how are you?” rarely or never will someone say “I am SOOOO Busy!" I tell you, every time I get off the plane back in the States, it is like a buzz in the air--the buzz of “busy-ness.”
Bali just…flows. Even when it is not flowing in the technical sense, there is a mellowness. What looks like crazy traffic are really groups of motor scooters moving like schools of fish, ebbing and flowing in a kind of dance that is quite meditative. The traffic moves so much slower, yes largely due to the narrow roads and abundance of pot holes, but the pace is right. Murphy's Law is largely practiced, and every driver must assume that a dog will run across, teenagers will text and drive, the pot hole will appear, and you will get passed on the left as you pass a truck on the right. In the US, we are speed racers with somewhere to be, and road rage is common practice.
The truth is Bali is really about the Balinese. The gorgeous and deep Hindu religion and unique culture here that is the bedrock and lifeblood of everything else transient and new and changeable. We are all just visitors to this strange and wonderfully creative place. The Balinese are facing tremendous change and pressure from the continuous influx of western and other Asian nations influence and money…and yet they maintain their ancient traditions and strong cultural bonds. No matter how much time one spends here, there is always so much more than meets the eye. I am so grateful for my time here, for what Bali has taught me, and what her people have shared with me. I know our story continues…and I look forward to sharing it with you as it unfolds.
Thank you, or as you say in Bali -Mature Sukseme!