Balionaires ‘R Us

Before Gede arrived this morning to drive me to the first of three of my day’s appointments, I carefully counted out the cash I calculated I’d probably need to cover the anticipated fees. I gulped hard when I did the math and had the bills laid out on the table: One Million. Rupiahs, not Dollars. But still. Like most others living (permanently or not) on this island, I’ve quite imperceptibly morphed into a millionaire… Bali-style. Hence: Balionaire.

People talk about paying for products and services around here in large figures only; generally tens or hundreds of thousands, very often millions too. They think nothing of spending one- to three-hundred thousand on a one-hour workshop; a similar amount on a hotel room; only slightly less when splurging on a meal.

A couple of weeks ago, when Gede confided that he is paying 5 million for his home, my jaw dropped. He noticed my surprise and clarified: 5 mil per year. Then again, I know people (i.e. foreigners) who are paying between 5-10 million – per month. (I shell out somewhat less for my comfy upper-floor abode).

Those millions are being joyfully (in most cases) doled out for Ubud’s ubiquitous villas, typically built and designed with Westerners’ tastes and demands in mind; wifi, multiple bedrooms, outdoor bathrooms. Some of these spacious homes boast infinity pools, others make do with waterfalls; but at the very least the most appealing ones have jungle views or are “overlooking rice fields.”

A real estate property office down my street posts property listings in their front window. I stop and scan once in awhile. Imagine my surprise when I saw the price for Villa 103 – 3.5 Billion (rupiahs). Yes, billion. Ouch. Astronomical-sounding. Until you catch your breath, figure out the exchange and realize that you could do worse.

And yet. There are, thankfully, the Ibu Dayus around us (in my banjar/neighborhood at least) who do a brisk business, setting up their food-stall long before the last of the roosters has crowed its morning song, dishing out the local specialty, charging a meager 3,000 for the treat. They remind you that you don’t have to be a balionaire in this neck of the woods.

In fact, it’s from interactions such as those I’ve had with Dayu that I’ve discovered the strangest of incongruencies: Here in Bali you can stumble across the simplest vendor, dressed in threadbare clothes, hawking a worn and weary-looking handicraft, the price in the tens or hundreds of thousands. What do those extra, abstract zeros actually represent to a person of those means?

Still, every time I pull out my wallet to pay for a meal, massage or yoga class membership, I’m mindful of, and grateful for, my good fortune. That I can even consider myself a Balionaire (albeit on the budget-minded end of the scale) is a daily gift. Aside from which, it’s a source of amusement too.

The truth of the matter is that being a Balionaire is essentially a state of mind rather than a state of money. More than anything, it’s the agglomeration of daily experiences and interactions, the synchronicities and energies that vests in us the recognition that we are residing in a special place.

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