At Tirta Empul water temple in Tampaksiring, one of my favourite places on Earth
One thing most foreigners will notice straight away is how devoted the Balinese are to their spiritual practices. Their ceremonies are sacred and they will take time off work to go to temple. Every single house they own needs to be blessed each morning, so they will come round and place offerings at the break of dawn.
They never get tired or miss doing an offering, but its not just that. Their spirituality can be seen deep inside them from the way they act and talk. They live in harmony with everything around them and see spiritual meanings behind every small act.
Share what you have and don’t be greedy, money isn’t everything
Those who have been to Asian countries will no doubt tell you that no matter what the locals have, even if it’s just a handful of rice to their name, they will share it with you.
On my very first day when I arrived to Bali, I was greeted by the owner of the house where I was to be staying, who gave me a bunch of mangosteen and bananas. Then he brought me a bunch of other stuff, like toothbrushes and sponges, even though he absolutely didn’t need to, and wouldn’t take money for it.
Live simply, yet beautifully
The Balinese are very simple people, most of them are rather poor…but they make everything they do pretty, and they do it all with love. If you get a massage, they will put frangipani flowers under your massage table so you have something nice to look at, if they bring you tea, it will have a pretty bird made out of banana leaves sitting in it, if they make your bed, they will decorate it with flowers and bring you fresh papaya in the morning.
It is a pleasure just being around them! People say to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself, well I want to put banana leaf birdies into everyone’s teas because it makes you feel so special. Take the time to love yourself!
Making someone smile is the most important thing you can do in your day
It was in my first few months in Ubud, I was still settling in and didn’t know many locals. I was asked to speak to some Javanese children at a school in Denpasar and found myself being driven there by 3 Balinese guys who were organising it. That was my first experience of the local people and the most unforgettable one.
They were normal guys, maybe late twenties, but the amount of deep spiritual knowledge they had compared to no one I have met before. One guy was chatty in particular and was telling me how Balinese people are brought up, he said “if you make someone smile, then that’s all you needed to have done that day, you did the most important thing”.
He proceeded to then tell me about Balinese magic and how he knows people who can fly, to him it was the most normal thing in world, like yeah everyone knows the people who can fly, but they don’t show themselves to the tourists.
I learnt a lot about their culture that day, but what struck out for me was that I need to make people smile, at least one person a day.
Respect your traditions and ancestors
This goes back to their spirituality, the Balinese are still to this day very traditional. They wear ceremonial outfits every time there is a ceremony, which is practically every week 🙂 and the offerings they put outside your house every day are to their ancestors.
When I went to China a few years ago, I noticed a rather fascinating ritual. A family was at a temple, burning paper money, mopeds and clothes, all the size of a playing card. I asked our guide what they were doing and he told me: “they’re sending mopeds and money to their ancestors so they can use it in the afterlife”.
Another example is the picture above – that was taken on Lembongan island, just off the coast of Bali. They put umbrellas over gravestones because the sun is so strong. That’s really caring for your ancestors!
Eco housing is the way of the future (and past)
Meet Green School, in my opinion the best example of how you can build a huge school using all natural materials and being totally environment-friendly, down to water-less toilets!
I was lucky enough to spend 2 week there doing a Yoga for Kids Teacher Training with Beta Lisboa (great teacher by the way, would highly recommend her) and I walked around open-mouthed, wondering why there aren’t more buildings like this on Earth! And the best part – it totally works. Bamboo sticks aren’t falling on your heads, the toilets don’t smell and they grow their own vegetables and teach people about permaculture. If this isn’t the future, I don’t want to know what is. Here’s a guide on how to get there if you’d like to go for a visit.
Trust and don’t steal
Doors are always open in Bali. Guests are always welcome and no one walks around clutching their bags. You can sense a feeling of security and trust all around.
I was amazed by this the first time I went to Bali, back in 2004. We wanted to buy something but had no money with us at the time. The woman told us to keep the thing we wanted and come back and give her the money later. I was young then but really remembered how nice that felt.
I’m glad that hasn’t changed much in 10 years (perhaps a little in the South though, where the tourists are), when I last went to a water temple in 2014, I asked a random stranger to hold my brand new iPhone whilst I went to do the ceremony in the pool. I’m not saying that there is no theft at all, but they are very much against it and the punishment is severe. Would you trust someone in your country to hold your phone?
Take your shoes off before entering other people’s homes
Having grown up in Russia, taking your shoes off before entering someone else’s house is the most normal thing in the world, and the host will always have a pair of slippers for you to put on.
For the most part, I’ve lived in European countries where this isn’t done so much and I personally much prefer the Eastern ways, for me it’s a sign of respect for the person’s house you’re entering. The Balinese will leave their shoes outside before even stepping onto your porch and it’s also common practice in many restaurants.
Use natural remedies, beauty products and materials
Most things in Bali are made from natural products. Sure, chemical junk is more expensive for them, but you can see they try to preserve their original ways by promoting a natural lifestyle.
For example, I loved Cantika’s beauty products in Ubud. They have shampoos, soaps and other things, and they show you exactly what it’s made of and even give you workshops on how to make it. “Natural” shampoos in the Western world are ok, but you can still see that they’re not 100% real. Cantika’s shampoo went off in about a month or so, and that to me proved that it was all good stuff.
The picture above was taken at Tejakula, in North Bali, where they showed us how they make batik using traditional methods. All materials were natural (cotton) and dye was obtained through different leaves, coconut bark, and flowers. It was fascinating!
It’s ok to eat fruit straight from the market
We are so obsessed with being clean. We wash everything and are completely paranoid about eating fruit that you picked off a tree or eating an apple that has a brown dent in it. I personally grew up eating vegetables straight from the garden and I never got sick.
What you think, is what you attract. Thats my opinion anyway, so if you stop worrying about what you can catch if you eat a yummy mangosteen from the woman on the side of the road and just eat it, you won’t catch anything.
Like I said, I lived in Bali for a year and ate anything and everything (well apart from meat) and never got ill. I picked up tamarinds off the floor, ate jackfruit that was given to me with dirty hands, I just thanked the Universe for giving me such amazing fruit and knew it was all going to be ok. By the way, if you want to know how to cut jackfruit, see the video here.
Don’t worry so much, surrender, trust the Universe and have no plans
The Balinese are so hati hati that I think they never have a plan, they always just seem to go with the flow! When I went there, I also had no plan, and by being in harmony with everything around me, it totally worked! Everything was absolutely perfect from day 1, and even if there were some challenges, I learnt something valuable from it all.
Don’t spend all your free time on the internet
Very rarely do you see a local person in Indonesia just sitting all day on Facebook, and I’m talking about the ones who can afford and have a laptop. They would rather be doing something more useful, like planting a durian tree or making coconut oil.
The photo above – I took that photo at Gili Air (Lombok). Does anyone else find this incredible? You’re sitting in a pool at a beautiful dive resort, the water is warm, the sun is shining…and you’re staring at an electronic object, which you can do in your cold flat back home, instead of looking at that beautiful garden and swimming…
Eat seasonally and locally
Mother Earth gives us exactly what you need at a particular time of the year for the particular climate that you are in, so by eating locally and seasonally, you are helping your body fight off diseases and improve your immune system. Did you know that season fruit and vegetables have so many more antioxidants than imported food?
The Balinese eat what the land gives them, why import avocados that cost $10 a piece if you can just wait a few months for them to grow on the tree in your garden? They’re more likely to be organic that way too.
Give back and meet the locals when you travel
It doesn’t matter what you do, just try to do something nice for someone. There are so many projects going on in Bali – cleaning up beaches, banning plastic bags, teaching people about recycling. It’s amazing! When I went to talk to that class of Javanese kids, that was one of the most wonderful things I’d done. They were all sooo lovely and it made me want to do more things like that.
Also, whenever you go on holiday or especially if you move to another country – meet the local people! They are so much more fascinating than the tourists you will see at your hotel. Who else will teach you how to properly make coconut oil, or make a plate out of banana leaves?
Clean up after yourself
If you eat something and leave a bit of food in the kitchen – you will find bugs in it. If you leave clothes unfolded on the sofa, you can guarantee that a gecko will have pooped on it. So in Bali you have no choice but to clean up after yourself, which is a good habit for us all to get used to.
Wake up early and watch the sunrise
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Balinese person sleep in late. No matter that time you are up, even if you’re on a super early flight and are leaving the house at 4am looking like a zombie…they will be in the garden, picking weeds or looking after the chickens!
The early bird gets the worm? The Balinese sure live by that principle. If you want to get good food at the market (for local prices), you should get there from 5:00-6:30am.
If they have this much energy to sleep just a couple hours a day, be happy and kind to everyone, then they must be doing something right!!
A final blessing for Ayu Mahetri
Ayu and Made were our Balinese “family” during our time in Ubud. Sadly, Ayu lost both her husband and one of her sons to cancer soon after we left, and so I dedicate this post to her. She taught me many things and her wonderful smile made my day every morning. If you are ever in Ubud, she has lovely guest houses called Coco Alami, and she will be the most amazing host you can imagine. Say hi from Anya if you go 🙂