We were in Bali when the news struck of the tsunami and earthquake disaster in Japan. It was interesting to note the Balinese people's reaction to the event
. I was out on a dive trip the day following the tragedy and discussed the event with our dive master, who was originally from Sulawesi, an island north of Bali. This area is more exposed than Bali and hence he was worried for his family's safety. When he phoned them the evening before to inform that he had arranged for them to leave the island and be collected by his wife's family on a neighbouring island, they refused. When asked why they calmly replied, "If it's our time to go then we accept God's will." They took shelter in a church, prayed, and hoped for the best. This fatalist belief was fascinating for me; he was unsure if their attitude was a result of their Hindu beliefs or something else. Another friend tells a story of when she was in Bali during the last tsunami of 2004. When she worriedly inquired at the hotel reception about whether they should leave or take precautions, the staff member again answered with a tranquil smile, "Do not worry. We are protected by God here."
The Balinese are a superstitious and religious people, as evidenced by the devout practice of giving offering in public places at multiple times throughout the day. Visitors to Bali have all experienced the floral shrines spread across the pavement, requiring careful steps when walking through the city. We went to Bali just one week after the annual Nyepi festival, where the whole island shuts down for an entire day because they believe that the evil spirits are roaming over the seas at that time, so everyone must fast, be quiet, and stay indoors to fool the spirits into thinking the island is deserted
! Even the airport is shut on this day.
Other intriguing practices involve their selling practices. It's often possible to get a great "morning deal" at the shops because a sale right when they open implies good luck for the whole day. Shopkeepers also tend to take the cash for purchases and slap their goods with it after you hand over payment, seemingly in the hope that the money's contact with unsold goods will affect their sales for the remainder of the day.
Finally, like many other Asian nations, they revere their rice. Every meal comes with it and we heard many people comment on how 'they just don't feel right' if they haven't eaten rice with a meal. Hail the rice!
Whilst living in Asia, Bali remains as one of the destinations you can visit time after time and never tire of. I share this sentiment for Thailand. Bali and Thailand are top choices because of 1) high quality and inexpensive spa services, 2) warm, smiling people, 3) plenty of activities to amuse an outdoor enthusiast, and 4) cheap and delicious food. Bali is of course an island, while Thailand is a vast (and long) country. However, Bali offers both mountainous and jungle terrain that's a much shorter distance to the beach than travelling from, say, Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, to Phuket in the South. Unfortunately traffic and long drives are unavoidable if you really want to see the best of Bali, but this also means that you could pick a different city to stay in each time you visit.