Hello everyone ! I am writing this new article today to talk about what surprised me here in Bali now that I have almost finish my volunteering here.
I have to admit that a lot of things amazed me and I think for some of them I wasn't ready to deal with them.
First, the Balinese traffic. This was the very first thing that surprised me when I got out of the airport. It’s huge and especially around big cities like Denpasar, Kuta or Ubud. They drive on left side of the road so it can be very disturbing at the beginning for French people like me who are used to drive on the right side. Also, the strong presence of scooters on the road can be very stressful for the car drivers because all they want is go beyond the cars that are slowing them. There is no public transportation like buses, underground etc. In Bali there are only scooters, motorbikes, cars or sometimes you can find bikes but besides that there are no other options. In addition to that, it seems that there are no rules on the road or that no one respect them.
Then, the other thing that has got my attention was the place of the religion in the daily life. Every day the people put offers in their house, in their car or at the entry of their shops to bless the place. You will hear religious songs on the radio at 12am and 6pm because at this time of the day people usually pray. Lot of big ceremonies are celebrated during the year like Nyepi or Galungan and for the locals no one goes to work or to school because it’s a holiday. The ceremonies consist most of the time of praying the Hindu gods and ask them things like money, wellness, success… There is even a religious ceremony for cars and scooters!
Karma is very present in the daily life and the Balinese really believe in it. It’s a term about the system of cause and effect. In other words, what happens to a person happens because they caused it with their actions. So, if someone does bad things to someone else, bad things will happen to this person. That is why sometimes people feel that Bali can be safer than other countries.
One of the best thing that I discovered here was the Balinese food. The firsts weeks I really enjoy tasting everything new and I was glad I did. It is usually very spicy but if you are not used to it you can always ask for less spicy or not spicy in all restaurants. Thanks to my last semester spend in México, I am now used to spicy food so it has never been a problem for me here. The food is very cheap if you compare it to the European prices and what surprised me was the portions. Their meal portions are smaller than ours but they eat more snacks than us in a day. Also, they aren’t that used to eat desserts as we do but their soft drinks are way too sweet. I almost drank no soda or any other kind of soft drink in four months excepted tea or fresh fruit juices because of that.
Most of the time the dishes are made with noodles or rice and rice is literally everything in the Balinese traditional food. If there isn’t rice (or noodles) in a dish, it won’t be considerate as a main dish but as a snack. In Bali there are fast food chains like KFC or MacDonald’s and the locals will eat rice instead of French fries for example. They also eat fried noodles or fried rice for breakfast.
Their relationship with death is different than ours and astonished me. When someone dies there are three important parts of a Balinese funeral: the funeral, the cremation of the body and the purification of the soul. The first part is a time of remembrance of the deceased rather than sadness. There is music, talking, laughter and people eat in the memory of the dead person. Everyone is dressed in traditional Balinese colorful clothing. The second part is the cremation. Everyone can assist to it. The body is placed in a chariot that is carried by men and walked in the whole village to the temple. Then, cremation rituals are performed before they burned it. After that, the purification part consists of releasing the ashes into the sea so that the water will purify the soul for reincarnation. They believe in another life that’s why cremation ceremonies aren’t sad.
Weddings also are totally different here and I will say that cremation ceremonies are even more exciting than weddings because I had the chance to assist to two weddings during my time in Bali. In the morning some rituals are performed by the high priest to bless the grooms. This part usually last two or three hours. After that the buffet is open and after eating lunch together people have to leave the wedding to free the sits for other people because everyone is welcomed in the wedding so there isn’t enough place. The second part is the dinner so people will come back during the night just to eat, talk a little bit with the grooms and leave again. There aren’t an after party as we may expect like in the western culture. No one will dance and most of the time there are no music for that. Basically, everyone is just sitting there waiting for the grooms to invite them to get food at the buffet. The best thing of a Balinese wedding is maybe the traditional clothes that are very colorful.
A lot of things also shocked me in Bali like the pollution for example. It’s not just because of the cars or scooters, it’s present everywhere on the island (in the streets, on the beaches, field, water). They don’t know how to deal with trash so waste is omnipresent here. There aren’t enough trash beans in Bali so the locals just throw everything on the ground. The only thing they do is burned the trash that will cause more pollution and unfortunately the government seems to do nothing the change it.
The second thing was they behavior with western people and especially in the countryside like Keramas Village where Slukat is located. As they aren’t used to see western people at all, your presence will always be noticeable by the locals. They have this idea that we are very rich so they will always want to sell you something, ask you if you need a ride in their taxi. As a woman it’s even worse. Because of the very hot weather you may wear light clothes that shoes your shoulders or legs so men will look at you very weirdly or try to talk to you wherever you will go. Basically, they aren’t used to see women wear this type of clothes so that’s why they act like that. A couple of times I saw people taking pictures of me without asking like at the gym near Slukat or in the street and that really annoyed me.
Finally, the thing that really surprised me was the fact that beauty standards are very different from ours. The main difference I noticed is that everyone (especially the girls) want to have a light skin. For that, they will do everything including bleaching their skin, avoid the sun as much as possible. Most of the time they were very covering clothes to avoid tanning like winter hat. I also saw women wearing socks with sandals and gloves under 32°C. That is the reason why in any store you have to be careful when you buy creams, deodorant, body lotion or shower gels because most of the time you will find on the packaging a “whitening” inscription in it.
But above all, the thing I will always remember here was the smile on the people’s face. It was a little bit weird at first to see so much happiness among poverty. It feels like time has stop here. Children would play with anything and everyone will say “hello” to you when they see with a big smile on their face. Most of the time Balinese people are friendly and I enjoyed this peaceful atmosphere.