Roots

We’ve been really busy the past few weeks, searching for our next shell. We’ve looked at over 40 homes, the result of which will come in a future post. But the theme swirling around us and others during this hunt has been Home: what does it mean?

I just passed through my first phase of homesickness. It was to be expected sooner or later since we waved goodbye to Kristi and boarded that plane nearly 4 months ago. Maybe it was our search this time for a “long term” residence that invoked a latent sense of lament. It did not spring from a dislike of our Bali experiences however, or regret for taking this leap. In fact, not a day passes without at least a moment’s awareness and deep appreciation for where I am and what we’re doing. It wasn’t so much a longing for anything specific that I left behind -though I really do miss everyone and everything. I think it was mostly just the acknowledgment of a worn-out cliche that I was very familiar with. But knowing that life goes by fast doesn’t help slow it down any. In fact it might even hasten the experience. Doh!

I’ve always been keenly aware of my life unfolding. Since I can remember I understood strongly that -with luck- I would grow old(er) and encounter many different things over a span of a few generations. I’ve tried to embrace every passage, all the while wanting each to pass slowly. I remember telling mom years ago about how full and rich that particular phase of my life felt. She said that I always said that about each phase. In the nearly 30 years since I first moved to San Francisco -which became an immediate demarcation for my life- those expected twists and turns occurred, and were grouped together into my “San Francisco” chapter. With the addition of Jennifer, I had everything I’d ever wanted and needed -including ironically, the means and motivation to travel away from it all. Yet even while I was loving my time in San Francisco, I also hoped to someday do the sort of thing that we’re doing now. And here I am, in a new, interesting and challenging chapter, and again tapping at the brake peddle.

There’s a battle going on here in Bali, that I’ve touched on before. It’s about building more and more homes and tourist services where there once were rice fields (sawah). Just in the short time we’ve been here we’ve seen the epidemic in action. The sights and sounds of development are everywhere, with one fortunate aside: most work is done the old fashioned way -without power tools. The hammering starts early. Foundations are excavated in the middle of the fields. Cinder blocks are rising up from them. Bamboo supports are temporarily holding up the upper stories. Tile roofs are blocking out the tree tops and poking up into the distant vistas. I’ve seen photos of familiar areas from just a few years ago that are unrecognizable now. We hear of streets that had nightly swarms of  thousands of fireflies not long ago, now nowhere to be seen.

The warnings originally sounded long ago -at least in the early 1970’s, but the situation here in Ubud exploded after the movie Eat, Pray, Love came out (I emphasize that unlike many others here, I do not blame Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved her book, admire her story, and don’t hold her responsible for the actions of others who tried to follow her path). There’s a growing, concerned community here of both Balinese and expats to bring awareness to this problem. Much of the expat concern is genuine, though some of it strikes me as coming from those who now want to close the gate behind them. The discussions can get quite impassioned. Many foreigners come here to build their dream villa because they see no alternative economically. The rice farmers talk about wanting to put their first child into college, and buy the second one a motorbike, and apparently many are willing to make the deal, but many others are not happy about what they see happening. Foreigners cannot truly own these new homes. They lease them for 10 / 17 / 25 year terms, at which point the properties revert back to the land owners. That sounds good, but the sawah is still gone forever. Many foreigners simply want to build and then rent out the dwellings purely as a business investment, which especially appalls me, and is technically illegal. There are many expats here who genuinely love Bali, and are concerned and motivated to address this issue. They appeal to foreigners to first look into buying one of the many abandoned (often run-down) existing homes instead of carving up another rice field. Or at least, to build along the river’s edge, where rice isn’t grown.

Among the many homes we just looked at were new ones built smack in the middle of rice fields, solely to rent to tourists, and at escalated prices. Some saddened us to see: over-sized box-like structures that stood out like ugly sore thumbs. The views from their upstairs terraces were often magnificent -but not so nice looking at them from the fields. And, we knew that within a year or so, they would no longer be ideally isolated, as the surrounding sawah would continue to be replaced by other box-like structures. Try as we might, we are not immune from contributing to this problem. We might feel better avoiding the newer homes, but the Balinese live almost exclusively in old, established compounds, and most every “villa” stands now where terraced rice fields once lay. And we are still among those foreigners who’s mere presence on this island helps contribute to the growth pains. That said, these problems aren’t unique to Bali. Growth and over-development have long been recognized and fought against most everywhere.

While the debate  continues, there’s a significant home-grown opposition mounting of late. Editorials are increasingly pleading to the powers in Java to enforce existing building laws that go unchecked, and to care more about the eroding Balinese culture, particularly in Ubud. Recently, a rice farmer just north of town put up a string of huge letters across his field that says “not for sale”. It’s created a stir, and has drawn a lot of attention, including a recent music concert in front of his sign. And a line of clothing has been launched with “Bali: not for sale” in bold letters to help draw attention to the issue.

The issue is about home: what does it mean?

-matt

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt & Rita
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 15:27:52

    This blog post is a twofer, containing two thought-provoking discussions in one post. The first part, about wanting to cling to each phase of your life and savor it — I feel much the same way. (Well, there have been some phases of my life that I just wanted to get through and be done with.) That’s a great observation from your mom, that you think every phase of your life is the best one so far. It’s great that you are experiencing distinct phases in your life, and not just clinging to one phase that you greatly enjoyed. The different phases help demarcate life, the way our lives were demarcated by each year of school when we were young, so I think they help to slow the hand of time a little. Also, of course, each new phase gives you new appreciation of (and, sometimes, longing or mourning for) the previous phases of your life.

    On the second discussion, although at times I have fantasized about building my own home, it always seemed to me to be the height of egomaniacism to want to leave a permanent mark (or blight) like that in this ever more crowded world. I agree with you that it would be much better, especially for a new arrival to Bali, to restore an abandoned home than to despoil a rice paddy with a new house.

    Reply

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