Every so often, living in Ubud, but more specifically WALKING in Ubud, tests the limits of my patience – and my definition of home.
I get tired or frustrated by all the hawkers and taxi drivers that wave me down, then start up one-sided conversations with me – all in a bid to get my attention and fare. Occasionally, I plug into my MP3, but on the days that I do not, and when I’m not in the mood to play along with their antics, I can get worn down fairly easily. Sometimes it also magnifies my sense of solitude. Which is why it’s so important for me to pay attention to the flip side and the minutiae…
By the flip side, I mean the Balinese locals who are my acquaintances and friends, the ones I’ve met outside the realm of money-exchange; or at least whom I’m no longer bound – and our relationships no longer defined – by the almighty rupiah.
Last week, a day after my friend L left (after visiting me for 2 weeks, I felt her absence sharply), I walked about and bumped into a number of locals I’d not seen in a long time: Dewa (who was once a massage therapist of mine), then Ike (with whom I lived for awhile last summer), and then Komang – who I knew had moved to North Bali, but was now also separated from her husband, and came to Ubud for a few hours to run an errand.
Such sweet meetings left me feeling stunned and appreciative that these friends, whom I’d not seen in many months, stopped and greeted me as if I’d just seen them the week before.
A few days later, a man holding a TAXI sign, walked by me, waved and seemed surprised that I didn’t recognize him. I’m the driver that always says hi to you, he exclaimed. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, telling him that he is one of maybe 137 taxi drivers in this town that say ‘hi’ to me – followed by the inevitable, yes, taxi please? I nodded, apologized for my oversight and smiled as we parted. Even then, though not, strictly speaking, a friend, here was another local who recognized me and stopped to say hi.
Then yesterday morning, not more than five minutes after I’d left my front door on my way to yoga class, Dewa (another Dewa) called out to me from behind as he approached by motorbike, then slowed down to fill me in on his English teaching stints and upcoming retreats. And, then moments after he scooted off, I turned the corner, heard more honking and again heard my name called out; it was Tami – driving a spanking new white car instead of a motorbike – on her way to work. Despite the line of bikes behind her, she slowed down long enough to wave, smile and ask: apa kabar? (how are you?)
And finally, just this morning, on my way back from a movement and art session, the incessant honking behind me was followed by a white pickup truck slowing down beside me, hands flailing inside and out the windows, and a familiar voice calling my name. It was Gede, visa agent and driver extraordinaire, dressed up in traditional garb, smiling from ear to ear as he passed; an unimaginably long bunch of palm leaves (I think?) piled into the back, a mass trailing out and onto the road. Nothing unusual about the sight – as long as you’re in Bali.
As I continued to walk, Gede kept honking and waving out the window. I ambled down a quieter stretch of road on the way to yoga, pondering these spontaneous outbursts of kinship and unexpected encounters. Although I would generally say that, by sheer numbers, I know more expats in Ubud than locals, these mini-reunions left me wondering… not only that I’ve lived here long enough to have developed a semblance of home, but that as in all things in Bali, culture, and religion, we learn to acknowledge that our lives are comprised of balance, reflected most tangibly in poleng (customary and, at times sacred, B&W checked material): black and white, good and evil, positive and negative, easy and hard, joy and struggle.
The taxi drivers and hawkers, they are reminders, as much as my Balinese acquaintances and friends are, of this fine and delicate balance. And of the vagaries associated with the place I now call home..
So, what’s your (current) definition of HOME?