I get a mixed bag of responses when I tell folks that I’ve been living in Bali for seven years. Its usually a “wow”, followed by a wry smile with a “So what have you been up to?” I’m tempted to say that I was a surfer sex-fiend that partied everyday, ate mushrooms and tore my hair out while howling at the moon. It’s the better story since I don’t think people quite believe me when I tell them I was building hotels, renting villas and raising a family.
The funny thing about living in paradise is that it’s not about lying on beaches and sipping daiquiris. One must earn a living on a tropical island and work is not pleasant. I always liked to remark that everything wrong about life in the California happened outside of work. The opposite is true in Bali. Everything wrong with life in Bali happened at work.
Work in Indonesia is broken. When I worked selling villas, most of our time was spent waiting for customers. Sometimes, days would roll by and not a single person would email, call or walk in the door. When you’re living on 100% commission, there’s no benefit to having slow days. I remember being stalled by the countless legal ambiguities and unreliable ‘legal professionals’ we’d rely on to button up paperwork. When I worked in construction, most days were spent chasing dishonest contractors or rejecting shoddy materials. Most of the inefficiencies of working in Indonesia are absorbed in the form of low wages and brutal hours.
On the flip side, on good days at work, you’re absolutely on top of the world. You’re really having your cake and eating it too. You’re chilling at the finish line of the rat race with a fat bottle of champagne.
Honestly, most folks do admire this time I spent living in Bali. However, we do quickly move onto other topics since Bali isn’t commonly visited by North Americans and inevitably my new friend agrees to visit me sometime in the future.
I found myself on a long car-ride up to Tomales Bay with another expat from Indonesia. This guy had gotten the bug from working in Indonesia and ran into that same log-jam that I had. We lamented the cultural divide, the corruption and the pollution. We visited those themes that grumpy expats seem to love dwelling on. Bitching is something expats do well but I had never heard it so well articulated.
I found myself jumping out of my seat in laughter and recognizing all the social taboos that I hadn’t realized before. For example, a boss in Indonesia should not roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. He must stay cool, clean and remain above work assigned to subordinates. I remembered the idea of division of labor according to caste and how this fit well into that construct.
What can I say, paradise works in strange ways.