I’ve been traveling for nine months. That feels significant for so many reasons not the least of which being that in that timeframe, many people experience one of their most epic life changes and are welcoming a new a baby to the family. So spoiler alert to those of you who were hoping I was getting knocked up while out not the road, but no I’m not having a baby. But these 9 months feel like so much has changed in my life physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially.
While I have spent my whole life being a caretaker to others, I never quite pictured myself getting pregnant and becoming a mother. So many people have said “you’d be such an amazing mom” etc. which I always take as a major compliment. I guess I felt that I have made many sacrifices in my life and know what it’s like to love another human being to the point that you are willing to put your own needs way behind that of your loved one’s and maybe not even understanding what my needs were until after a decade of therapy. So during this time, in many ways I nurtured that young Korean girl who felt like she didn’t have a time in her life to be completely and utterly free and experience joy without obligation and responsibility. I’m past the stage where I’m learning how to walk, but for the first time, I’m learning how to fly.
Bali is a perfect place for this phase of my trip not only in terms of how much “touristy” stuff I did or didn’t want to do, but it was a great lesson in how far I’ve come these past 9 months and how much farther I’d like to go (geographically and otherwise). I started by going to a remote town on the eastern most part of Bali called Amed. I arrived really late to Amed after a 17 hour commute from Myanmar including a three hour drive from the airport through winding, dark and mountainous roads to arrive to a hut sitting in the pitch black of night with no one there to check me in. Ahhhh the “adventure” of international travel! Luckily, my hut wasn’t locked and it took me some time to figure out how to turn the light on in there but I was so tired that I basically threw myself on the bed and passed out.
I spent two nights in Amed and it was a sleepy and very chill introduction to Bali, a place that so many people including Trip Advisor ranks as their #1 travel destination. When I arrived in Amed to an unlocked pitch black hut, I wasn’t sure I made the best call, but with the dawn of light, I saw that I arrived in a beautiful black rock covered beach with only a few people around and not much other than the sound of waves, roosters (obvs this is the national anthem of every SE Asian country) and some workers at nearby homes/hotels.
I was starting to relax into a blissful state when I grabbed lunch at the beach shack cafe next to my hut when a large man wearing a speedo 3 sizes too tight with a severely sunburned belly approached me. He introduced himself as Yvgeni and said in a thick Russian-sounding accent “where you from?” He then sat down and started a one-way conversation explaining that “America is an OK country, pretty clever” but how we really get ahead because we take advantage of less fortunate countries. And that was followed by a somewhat lengthy lecture on the merits of Vladimir Putin and his incredible strength and “he is true leader and would not let Soviet Union crumble making everything terrible”. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer with a complicated personal history with Russian government/police and the woman who has been “crying Putin” since 2004, it was like crampons on a chalkboard listening to Yvengi extol his virtues.
As vocal as I have been about the mistakes that America and our government has made that resulted in terrible outcomes for developing countries, I do that with pride and patriotism understanding that I am a citizen of a country where I can be free to voice my protests. And although I have encountered many people who have wanted to talk about US politics especially with the recent Trumpism of it all, I knew that this particular discussion would not be so open and pleasant. So I took deep breaths and tried to channel my newfound patience and zen, but after a torturous 20 minutes of Yvengi ranting about the greatness of Putin and how he makes everyone’s life so much better, I COULD NOT TAKE ONE MORE FUCKING MINUTE OF THIS.
I responded “well you’re right that America has made its mistakes and taken advantage of developing countries, but are you honestly trying to say that RUSSIA does not do that? Hmmmm… I am also going to have to disagree about how ‘great’ Putin is as a leader to his people. Yeah some people have really benefitted, most notably Putin and his billionaire friends. But many people have and continue to suffer and unlike in America where I can openly talk about how much I disagree with my current President’s actions, that’s not something that can happen in Russia unless you want to be mysteriously murdered or imprisoned”. I then finished my banana smoothie, smiled and trotted away to go and resume zen at the beach.
Apparently my remarks did not discourage comrade Yvengi from chatting with me as he came into my hut the next morning while I was in the shower (yeah about those non locking doors…) then drunkenly came up to me in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to go and get a massage with him. I looked over at his wife and two daughters and back at him and replied “NYET, cpacebo” (Russian for “NO THANKS”) and that was the end of our chats.
My next Balinese experience was in the hip and happening town of Seminyak. The highlight of this time was reconnecting with an old friend of mine from the XM days, an XM-OG, Marc. Marc’s been living in Bali the past few years so he’s a resident expert and VIP of the island. My XM friends fall into a pretty unique category of friendships in that we have known each other so long, been through so much, created and lost something something together and many are like family to me. I haven’t seen Marc in so many years so I was looking forward to catching up with him but admittedly intimated by the social media version of his life comprised of sexy scantily dressed women at various restaurants and clubs around town. People who don’t believe that I am an introvert, you should see my EPG and MRI during these type of get togethers. While I was very much looking forward to seeing Marc, when he set up a “big night out” with his Bali crew, the charts were trending up to a code red for anxiety and dread.
The night was an intimate gathering of just 15-20 of Marc’s close to non-close friends and acquaintances and most of the guests were young, hot Russian ladies and their husbands. The crew was friendly and everyone seemed very excited to hang out with each other and although I was happy to hang with Marc who was glowing in with his tanned and healthy Bali lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think to myself “I wonder when I can make my Irish exit?” One of the most random parts of the night involved a guy who offered to give me a handwriting analysis and here are the highlights:
– Not many people know much about me or my personal life. I’m a very private person who only shares what I want people to know.
I don’t like these type of social situations
I really care about what people think about me
I mean, I think the first 4 things are probably fairly obvious based on my body language alone. That last one may have been his attempt to get some (spoiler alert: he didn’t).
The last part of my time in Bali was spent in Ubud, including spending a week at a yoga and mediation retreat. As recapped from my blog about India and my experience in Meditation Prison, I was hoping that this time around with beautiful surroundings and creature comforts, I’d have a better go of it. However, my main priority for retreat was to get some good downward dog in and stretch my travel-fatigued, stiff body.
The shala was straight out of a yoga magazine, open air facing the jungle, khaki colored mats arranged in a perfect semi circle and there were about 20 women of all ages from all over the world in our yoga gear (my yoga gear also my hiking, walking and pajama ensemble). The beautiful young yoga instructors wore white and beamed at each of us. They were angelic and like friendly aliens welcoming us and declared in whispery voices “We love you guys so much” and asked us to introduce ourselves.
Ummmmm… did she just say ‘we love you guys so much’? I wanted to get up right then and there and politely but firmly let them know that I have to go. This is not my jam. I mean, I’m Korean. My mom and I didn’t exchange regular I love you’s until I was like 30. Our culture isn’t exactly famous for emotional expression unless you count inflicting guilt. But I convinced myself to stay because I really did need the stretch. We all shared our expectations and motivations as to what brought us here and despite our varied ages, races, countries and backgrounds, there were so many commonalities. Many were here to find peace, to heal, to mediate, to do something for themselves for the first time, and other personal growth motivations.
It was a supportive and fun group of women. In between meditations and sun salutations, we shared stories about her lives and loved ones. I realized how long it had been since I was able to just hang out with a group of funny, smart and kind women and it made me a bit homesick for my crew and family. And maybe because I was spending so much time alone, I found it really energizing to be around this safe supportive group and was on. Apparently that made me fairly likable and before they week’s end, some of my new friends encouraged me to become a stand up comedian, host a TV talk show, write a book or become a public speaker (only for gigs that let you curse of course). It was all beyond flattering and truthfully made me feel pretty damn great about myself.
I also had a real-life Eat, Pray, Love experience here with a couple of my new friends visiting a Balinese healer. Sadly, Ketut, the famous healer from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book who also appeared in the weak film adaption with Julia Roberts passed away in 2016. When my one of my new friends said she was going I thought it would be a fun new cultural experience and it certainly did not disappoint in that sense.
Nyoman, the healer who took over his family’s business was smiley, positive, liked to giggle and incredibly complimentary. He took time to chat with each of us and gave us a palm reading. He told me that I should “be happy. Don’t be sad. Sad is bad.” He also told me that I should be a singer and when I couldn’t help but laugh in response, he said there was something about my voice and how others liked to listen when I spoke or sang. I’m feeling great about myself, but I don’t think I’m ready to drop an album anytime soon, but I naturally enjoyed what he said about my words having a positive effect on people and felt like a theme throughout my week with my new yoga friends.
I was feeling so zen during this yoga and meditation week that even when an earthquake welcomed us during our morning tea whilst some of the resort employees and guests were starting to panic, I sat there quietly sipping my tea. All of this positivity had a dramatic effect on me and by the end of the week, it was me declaring my love for the group in the final yoga circle.
My last few days in Bali was during their national holiday called Nyepi, which is a Day of Silence when all businesses close and families get together to observe fast, silence, no using electricity or leaving their homes. What a remarkable kind of holiday when everything literally stops and the point is to reflect and observe silence to welcome the new year. There is a massive celebration the day before with parades, shouting, dancing and floats with monsters with the intention that all of this noise will scare away the demons so that on the day of silence all of the evil has left the island. I also met a couple of fun and friendly American ladies one of whom turned out to be good friends with one of my best friends! I observed silence and reflection that day and thought about how impossible but amazing it would be if we did this in the U.S. Can you imagine a whole day when everything just stops and we just spend the day in silence surrounded by our loved ones?