Once in awhile I’m asked this question: are you traveling or living in Bali? It’s a question that puzzles me because it boils down to this: what constitutes living as opposed to traveling?
I’ve been stumped before – most memorably while filling out my profile on Couchsurfing. What do I write about Nepal – I spent four months in that country, two of which I spent in a little town in jungalicious Chitwan; did I travel around Nepal or was I living in Sauraha? I’ve spent more than 2 months in Cambodia (and will spend more time there in the future) – does that entitle me to say that I’ve lived there, or was merely a traveler, someone passing through?
I’m now coming up to my third month anniversary in Bali – not just Bali, but more specifically Ubud. Am I qualified to say that I live here? Have I reached the benchmark, did I make the grade?
It’s a dilemma, how to answer? All of which makes me wonder: What constitutes living, as opposed to traveling, in a given country?
An address where you can receive snail mail?
Multiple visa extensions? Or only full-fledged resident (KITAS) status?
A bank account? A bank manager?
Renewing your yoga studio membership numerous times?
Taking a seat at your local warung and not even having to ask for the usual?
Becoming a regular fixture at the bi-weekly writing circle?
Knowing where to go for the best, cheapest, fastest, tastiest this-or-that?
Developing a (barely) passable ability to converse in the local language?
Figuring out where to get the best (and cheapest) organic strawberries in town?
Crossing paths (yet again) with teenagers in uniform, who knowingly smile at you while playing hooky across the river from school?
Do you live in a place if you’ve developed somewhat of a routine? If, on a late Wednesday afternoon, you ponder the available options for the evening: A film & pizza at Black Beach rooftop restaurant? The Woody Allen movie at Dave and Pong’s jungular house? A dance event at Michi Resort? An evening – all in Japanese no doubt – at Yako’s house? Deciding, finally, that staying in to rest and read is an equally tempting possibility?
Maybe you qualify for ‘living’ status if you’ve come to know the ropes about life in the neighborhood; where to fill up on spring water, waiting in line for Ibu Dayu’s bubur and lak-lak, stepping over offerings as women lay them on the road, texting BAWA to check up on the mangy, scabies-filled dog you’ve just spotted. Knowing where people line up for a motorbike-wash before festivals, or the cost of washing khaki pants at Anjali’s laundry (and that they don’t mind if you still owe them 500 Rps days later).
If I walk down Jalan Raya in the morning and the normally gregarious taxi drivers ignore me, the impeccably dressed woman who every morning places offerings on cars and bemos in the market parking lot ignores me, the Bali-dogs yawn and ignore me, the Balinese dance show ticket sellers ignore me; but the beautiful grey-haired old man nods as usual, the affable padang food makers smile as usual, the girl sitting in front of the art studio smiles as usual, the money changer who is perpetually changing the rates on the outside board winks as usual… in other words, if I’ve somehow over time managed to slip without notice into the rhythm of Ubudian life, do I get to pass Go and collect 200,000 Rupiahs?
Maybe it comes down to a subjective state of mind. Maybe it’s where your heart is – or where your bags, camera, clothes, iPod and laptop happen to be at the moment. Maybe it’s where you slept last night. Maybe it’s where you dance and sing and move and laugh and play and cry and swim and eat chocolate. And maybe, just maybe, if you are generally content and grateful to be where you are now; not expecting perfection but mindful of your whole, healing and breathing self, then there (or here) is where you live.