Hati Hati – Watch Out You Could Fall in Love

Hati HatiAll over Bali are signs warning you to look out for THIS and THAT. Hati Hati: Watch your heart, be careful of holes in the roads, dangerous animals, intersections, or road works. Hati, Hati! There are no signs though to warn you not to fall in love with this amazing country. And … not falling in love with Bali is, according to my experience, an impossible feat.

I’ve thought long about what it is that makes Bali so loveable to me, the Francophile, who could live exclusively on baguette, camembert, and a light bordeaux. If you are looking for those things, forget Bali. The bread?…Na!, The Cheeses?…forget about it! The wine?…Not really! Other countries have beaches, warm weather, and lush vegetation too. Other countries have rubbish piles everywhere. Maybe not as many as Bali, but I blame the tourist industry for that sorry state of affair. There should be a sign warning of tourists (me included, a blessing and a curse all in one): Hati Hati>turis!

It’s the people. People shaped by the land and shaping the land in return. People whose life centres around their spirituality. Where else do you find a temple in almost every household? Little shrines and places of worship and offering in practically every shop, every house, every drive way? People, whose daily actions are deeply entwined with thanking their Gods for the gifts they received and with protecting them from evil spirits to take hold in their lives and the lives of loved one.

Take for example the Tooth-Filing-Ceremony mesangih or mepandes. It is a more than 2000 year old tradition that predates the arrival of hindu-ism and involves the filing down of the upper front teeth. These teeth symbolise greed, anger, jealousy, in general the more savage aspects of human nature. By filing down the carnivorous canines and incisors, the person is thought to be freed and protected from these unwanted traits of human nature. The ceremony is a rite of passage into adulthood and represents a path of social and spiritual well-being.

You may say “So what?” I think it’s an amazing tradition. It is actually one of the main celebrations a Balinese person is going to have. The whole family comes together, maybe even others from the village. It involves not just the filing, but an intricate ritual, temple service, blessings, and a feast.  What I find so amazing about it is that in the consciousness of Balinese people the base nature of human beings has been recognised very early and declared as unwanted. There is a conscious effort to rid oneself of these ‘evil’ aspects and strive for honour and integrity.

I believe that this striving can be felt and experienced when we come in contact with the people from Bali! Suksma, Eka, for teaching me about this!

The Real Bali

P1020999-0I have been here in Bali for 7 days now and have seen some very beautiful places and learnt a little bit about a culture that is so excitingly different from my own. Of course I have seen the spots that most tourists are lead to. The temples, the rice fields, and the temples. Places with huge parking lots filled with busses and taxis, brimming with lightly clad tourists swinging their cameras relentlessly at everything even remotely native. I suppose everybody who comes here wants to discover ‘The Real Bali.’

I am no exception. Besides going here to the dentist, who, I have decided is half God, half Magician, I want to see the real Bali too. The one I glimpsed in “Eat, Pray, Love”. I wouldn’t mind having deep conversations with a wise elder, being shown un-lived potentials, and biking through beautiful tropical landscapes. I wouldn’t mind being scouped up by Javier Bardem ( even though he is not Patrick Swayze), to a remote little something with no walls, flowy curtains, and a promise of adventure.

Lamentably, that hasn’t happened – yet! “Shush, longing heart, there are still 7 days to go. Who knows!”

Maybe that kind of real Bali can only be detected with the help of a 30 head film crew that has oodles of time to research and create what they are looking for. The average tourist will have to content with what big international hotel chains and tour operators have in store for us. On TripAdvisor I have read people calling some of these places and malls ‘ tourists rip-offs’. What do they expect for their $5 U.S.? Antiques instead of mass produced masks? Nobody is forcing anybody to buy anything.

In the meantime I enjoy what I can glimpse and detect from what I think real Bali is. People with a deep sense of tradition and spirituality, who carve a living out of the resources this beautiful island provides. Private temples that are not just decoration but an integral part of Balinese daily life. Last but not least the non-tiring friendliness and hospitality of the Balinese.

I can already see that my next couple of teeth need attention in about two years to give me a valid excuse to come here again!

Body Delights: Balinese Massage

imageI don’t give away a secret when I tell you that when you reach a certain age the body demonstrates its reluctance to be wielded around like in the early twenties by creaking, hurting, and refusing to work (like my knees after sitting for an hour in one place), to list just some few dilemmas.

So when you are in Bali, as I am at the moment, and you have a creaking body like mine, you most certainly want to go and get massages. Because they are really affordable here, you want to get lots of them! Being out shopping at the Bali collection, the mall connected with the Nusa Dua resort group of hotels, just short of having a heat stroke, I dashed into one of the many day spas offering all kinds of massage…and an air conditioned reprieve from the heat.

Now, I am what I call a substantial woman! More a Wagnerian Valkyrie than a delicate Meg Ryan. Picture that on a massage table and this little Balinese girl, that barely reaches my bra-line with her eyes. How on earth are they going to get the accumulated knots out?  Let me assure you, I unravelled THAT mystery in no time!

Before I knew it this tiny half-sized person jumped on the table with me and half straddled me. I fleetingly assured myself that I wasn’t in one of THOSE establishment before I received the pounding of my life, administered with everything she had available. Elbows, fists, and some very hard bits of her hand, which name evades me at the moment. I was once in a violent relationship and my then partner was an amateur compared to the pounding she dished out. Keep breathing and avoid tensing up, it hurts less! HOLY SMOKE! And all for NZ$18!

My body feels as if I fell into a fountain of youth afterwards!

It has been my second massage here, and I am gladly singing the praise of these amazing people.  I have been told there are lots of places where you get them cheaper, but then, I refuse to barter for a cheaper price with people who have to save up for ten years to afford the airfare to New Zealand.

But independently from this obviously totally noble gesture of mine, I think I have discovered the secret behind the ability of Balinese dancers to twist their bodies into all those amazing positions! They all must have these little devils jumping around on their backs making sure they stay supple! I am here another 9 days, I think I am going to squeeze in a handful of massages before I dash home to winters New Zealand! And then I show my peeps what this re-juvenated body can do!

Retirement: A Strange Kind of Bliss

I grew up on an island where most people were connected to everything to do with sea, fishing…and did I say sea? I remember the writer and poet Gorch Fock mentioned the proverb on many fishing vessels saying: “Ora et Labora”. Pray and work! I suppose that’s what I’ve learned and that’s what most people lived by. The ‘old folks’ had a hard life, working around the clock, either on land behind dykes that could easily give way to the powers of the sea, or those at sea, battling the elements. They prayed and worked and worked.

In a strange way, that’s what I did too. Not so much praying, I have to say, but working long hours, several ‘jobs’ combining motherhood with working in our own business and initiating a social life for the family. And when I didn’t work, I thought about how to improve my work in courses, reading, up-skilling. I rarely complained because that’s what I knew one did. I actually liked it. I felt useful and effective.

“…and then the prince bowed down and kissed Sleeping Beauty awake!” – – Oh, darn, the wrong story. What really happened was, the Retirement-Fairy knocked at the front gate…not totally uninvited!

8211987329_67a28165c5_oThis is – or better was – my retirement dream. Not necessarily living on an island in the Pacific – after all, one has to meet one’s shopping needs, – but what it stands for. Sun, warmth, barmy waters, quiet, peace, no dead-lines, no have-to’s.

And without much complaining, that is what I’ve got. I love it. I can follow my indulgences like reading, watching daytime TV, writing, going out for coffee, shopping, and my all-time favorite thing: Staying in bed till at least ….AM if not longer, sipping my tea or hot chocolate,  reading the news, checking up on people on facebook, listening to an inspiring TED talk, or acquaint myself with the trials and tribulations of 19th Century noble women through my cherished writers like Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.

BUT then something unpleasant happened: the old training kicking in. Instead of enjoying fully this time in my life, reaping the fruits of years of hard work, I catch myself, ever now and then, feeling guilty. Not enough ‘Labora’! I should be doing something productive. Lazy is not allowed. The old rules and childhood ‘examples’ set by the adults around at the time, are powerful reminders that creep into my mind unnoticed. Even the fortnightly pension payment triggers odd thoughts. I never was paid for doing nothing.

A friend told me that this feeling of ‘I need to do something, be productive, contribute’ will go on for a while, and being officially retired since the beginning of this year, I am told I have a while to go. I look forward to it. What surprises me that I feel this way. I did not expect it. For years I envied retired people for their ability to just pack up and do what they feel like. But, even though in my logical mind I have paid my dues and done my duty, I hesitate. How puzzling!

However, knowing how the human mind works I know that I feel what I think. As long as the childhood training is invading my thoughts with uncomfortable reminders of not enough ‘Labora’, I will being caught with feelings of guilt. It doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to lay back and enjoy this time. It pays not to takes one’s own thoughts so seriously. Just because I think it doesn’t mean its true.

I assume it takes a while to shift gear and, like the seasons, have a season for resting and harvesting. I’ll have to keep this in mind and ward against ideas that might have made sense around 1900 in Northern Germany but are out of date and out of place today… for me at least!

There is a thought: I need to go shopping and get a bed-table for my breakfast in bed to make a more enjoyable; and I am going to download some more romance novels for my ipad!



Moving and Downsizing: 4 Important Lessons

image1 (1)Whenever someone asked me about moving, I responded – honoring my gypsy great-grandfather – that moving is in my blood and one of the easiest things. I do it with my eyes closed…and I do it very well, having had my fair share of moving (60+ times in my adult life). No big deal. “Eins, zwei, drei, ruck zuck,” as we say in Germany. Packing up the household in two days, unpacking in two, maximum 3 days, and having a ball all the way through. “Sweet as” as we say in New Zealand!!

I love moving. I love having a new place with all the new possibilities it brings regarding decoration, neighbours, cafes, environments, shops, and even sometimes new languages. What’s not to love?

Having felt like the moving queen of all times for most of my life, our recent move from Auckland to Wellington (645 km according to google maps) has been a harsh learning curve. I am not as invincible as I thought I am when it comes to uprooting and starting new. Go figure! Maybe that’s why people say “you shouldn’t uproot old people.” But then, I didn’t think I belong in that category yet, even though I have a super gold card that entitles people 65 years and over to free public transport and some other questionable benefits.

Lesson # 1: Sixty five is not forty: It should be pretty obvious, but going into this experience I didn’t know that there is some truth in that. My hunch is that is the same for other people too. Our mind is young, adventurous, and still has the “I-can-do” attitude. Under normal circumstances that may ring true, but moving is a big deal, emotionally and physically. Never underestimate the emotional ‘work’ that comes with moving away from your familiar environment. Having plenty of time to say good bye to friends, enjoying their company consciously, has become a blessing even though it was hard to do at times. Of course we’ll stay in touch, but it will never be the same as living close to each other.

Lesson # 2: Downsizing means letting go of old friends: When kids have left the house and it becomes obvious that a retired couple doesn’t need a four bedroom house with double garage and large garden, squeezing into something half that size requires radical mucking out of cupboards, garage, storage…did I say cupboards??? Reading books about downsizing it sounds all very simple: a stack of stuff for sale, a stack for giving away, a stack for the hospice shop, and a stack for the dump. Well, auntie Betty, downsizing adviser, there were not stacks, we had mountains! Some of the things I was glad to see gone, others broke my heart (metaphorically only). Some had memories attached to wonderful moments when the kids were little and life was a constant struggle to find enough me-time. Yet now, with me-time galore, that looks at times like a very desirable state.

Lesson # 3: I should not have skipped going to the gym: My excuse was “too much to do”. And to be fair, there was lots to do. The mucking out was a gigantic job. Nothing was safe from the big ‘sorting out’. The level of physical exhaustion and the need to lay down and take a nap or sit down and take a break was not only huge, but hit me unexpectedly. I was so unfit, it is hard to believe. I should have listened to my gym person and keep doing these dead-lifts, squats, and long distant bike rides. Now I know, but hopefully this was the last move ever – with me being conscious of course!

Lesson # 4: Give yourself time: Having done previous moves with my eyes closed and in no time at all, it was a surprise that I got tired much sooner, and packing and unpacking wasn’t done in no time at all. It all took much longer, although I tried hard to push through the fatigue. I had to concede defeat. In hindsight, it would have been much smarter had I anticipated and correctly sensed my ‘advanced’ age and calculated more days for the tasks at hand.

The overall conclusion of this move? It is a fact that most people feel much younger than their actual age, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is no rule how we have to feel or behave at a certain age. Well, that is my opinion! But give yourself a good chance to have an enjoyable move when you have to or want to move into a smaller, retirement like space. Get some extra hands to help you and/or give yourself more time for the packing and unpacking. Sixty five is not forty!

Too Late

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few days ago I read a novel and the passage “Too late, the saddest words in any language…” made me take notice and ponder on their meaning. “Too late”…especially when we get older, can cover a large number of regrets about things we did and those we didn’t do.

However, it seems to be pretty futile to agonize about all those missed opportunities now, at the sunset years of one’s life.

By going over past deeds or non-deeds that still cause an emotional sting, we have the opportunity to check: is it really too late? Or are we hiding behind outdated conventions? Is there nothing to look forward to when you are retired?

Especially being a mother, it might appear that there is not much to look forward to when we realize that we are but an observer on the sidelines of our children’s lives. When children have been the centre of our lives, and even the smallest, minute decision was weighed on whether it suited the kids, it might be hard to realize that we are no longer the centre of their lives. Their lives centre on their budding family or their blooming career, not their aging parent.

We have to re-invent our lives and find new meaning that makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning. Stretch the boundaries, dare to be daring, venture out into the unknown. Is it really too late?or are we hiding behind our fears, fears that have become trusted friends in the decades of living within self-imposed restrictions?

I don’t know about you, but I am determined to keep stepping out of Plato’s cave and into the world ‘out there’ rather than living within the restraints of that cave, perceiving the shadows as the only life there is!

Photo credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yuk1k0/6862505388/

Taumaruni on the Main Trunk Line

(Taumarunui, Hakiaha Street, June 2014)
I don’t know whether to believe in rebirth and several life-times. Maybe I should because there is no other explanation for my relationship with Taumarunui.

I heard about the place 20 years ago and we bought a little cottage there  as a ski hut – Mt. Ruapehu ski fields are 30 minutes away – and sold it again 13 years ago. Ever since I am ‘home sick’ for it.

Last weekend we went to the ‘Mountain’ for a break. The moment we left Te Kuiti and got onto the hills on that 70 kilometre stretch to Taumarunui, my heart did all sorts of jumps, from delight to joy to love to sadness and a deep-seated pull with a strong sense of ‘coming home’.
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