Bali, Indonesia

Our trip to Bali was planned almost begrudgingly— a sort of millennial resentment of caving into the lure of incredible stories and vlogs of a tropical paradise, of once again stepping into the fold of the mainstream. At times I find myself pulling a Britta Perry, deriving a sad sort of joy from saying things were just okay and not as great as everyone believes. It’s childish, a wretched grabbing at relevance and attention and being interesting, special— though this is for a later post. Histrionics aside, three straight weeks of waking up and immediately going to study for the entire day had destroyed a part of me that I never believed could be repaired. Certainly, neither Elizabeth Gilbert nor Julia Roberts could convince me otherwise (I’ve referenced this particular work twice now and still have never seen it).

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Pura Puseh Batuan Temple

Our first day was an overwhelming sensory experience, full of incredibly beautiful sights and quite a bit of smacking myself every time I thought I felt more blood leaving my body. Having taken up bullet journaling in the previous month, I decided I’d write a bit at the end of every day and described our first in Bali as “wild,” full of memories like a sassy man-cow stomping repeatedly through a roaring fire, a drone above a gaggle of posing women in outrageous outfits, and a temple continuously split down the middle and torn apart. Indonesia is a country of many peoples, languages, stories. Passing through the split stone gates one after another in Batuan seemed to reveal the complex nature of the Indonesian identity. In every courtyard, we were surrounded by structures which seemed to have been sliced through the center and forced away from each other, much like its people, continuously divided and displaced. Nevertheless, the structures still stand.

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Tegalalang Rice Terraces, photo courtesy of Jacob Levy

After the harrowing Japanese occupation effectively ended the Dutch hold over the islands, the spirit of Indonesian nationalism could no longer be staunched. The resulting bloody and furious push for independence, pressing its way past several failed diplomatic agreements and third party insurgencies, established the country’s newfound sense of self. However, the violence and instability was far from over. Indonesia’s internal splits are still present, visible, but these divides lead to open spaces, and the stone remains. This indomitable spirit is clear, particularly when seeing ancient architecture sitting surrounded by even older trees.

I’ve never considered myself an outside person— since childhood, I always preferred carpeted floors to spiky grass and looking from the inside half of a window. Trees have never made me feel anything, nor have mountains or rivers or caves. Of course, this is not to say that I don’t recognize the physical beauty of nature, but rather that I view it all passively, that I cannot connect with it. It’s a bit too unbridled, uncontrolled for my tastes— there’s no off switch for an incoming storm. Bali made me question my stance on the great outdoors, and though I won’t be writing nature poems any time soon, I’ve begun to understand the appeal of such spontaneity.

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Photo courtesy of Jacob Levy

Perhaps it’s that – after being granted access to an abandoned construction site on a cliff overlooking the sea by a smiling old couple selling Coca-Cola – I’m starting to realize the contradictions of nature. Yes, it’s spontaneous, but it’s also routine. The tide continues to come in. We cannot ask it to, but it will. The sun will rise, and mosquitos will keep draining me dry. The sun will rest, and the crickets will chirp, their songs suspended in the heavy night air. These things cannot be programmed, and yet we rely on them. We delight in them, which makes it all quite terrifying and beautiful at once.

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View from Mount Batur

We woke at 1am to drive to the base of Mt Batur (my idea, because apparently I enjoy waking up at godless hours) to begin our hike up the mountain. In order to prepare myself – in typical Sharmaine way – I read as many firsthand accounts of this hike as I could, suppressing any anxiety that I wouldn’t make it to the top. I must say, the hike is absolutely worth it and not very difficult in the grand scheme of things. There are a few rough spots, but at no point did I feel like turning back. Simultaneously sweaty and cold, we huddled around as the sun went about its habitual ascent into the sky. Not to echo a mediocre story of finding oneself (36% Rotten Tomatoes), but there really was something spiritual about that sight. It certainly didn’t change my life or outlook, but the effortless grandeur of such an everyday occurrence was simply astounding. My entire time in Bali was just this— being ceaselessly astonished at the beauty of things, at how easy things can be.

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Photo courtesy of Jacob Levy

Not everything is easy. Certainly, one can argue even seeing the sunrise is a struggle, a combination of many very specific factors partnering together so that we can look at this star and need it without burning to a crisp. Indonesia’s own history is very much an example of nothing being easy, but the unruly nature of the wild now comforts me rather than being unsettling. Perhaps it’s better that we cannot dictate everything present in our lives. Perhaps things are more beautiful for it.

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This is part of a collection of writing about my time in Singapore (and surrounding countries). For visual documentation of my adventures there, follow me on Instagram @mayisrad.

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