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Cultural Differences 2

  • Written by Akasha
  • September 10th, 2005
  • 7 min read


Cultural Differences Part 2


As arranged, we met our boys at 9pm, and they accompanied us back to our hotel rooms. We decided to have the party in my room as it was very humid and I had left the air-con on low. We had bought supplies of Bintang and Southern Comfort and had a ball laughing and misunderstanding each other by way of the Thai-English dictionaries. Even though these 2 men were not educated, (BB had never gone to school because there was simply no money to pay for it) they had an amazing amount of innate wisdom and sense. After swapping stories about our cultures, families and lives, Roxy and her man said “Good night,” and left for her room next door.

Ricki and I were left pondering our “future”. I felt decidedly uncomfortable about what I saw as betraying my husband, and fortunately he felt the same about his wife. We had a great time chatting, laughing and ordering room service, and he finally left at about 10am the next morning. You wouldn’t think 2 people in their early thirties would have so much in common given the sex, language and cultural differences.

Roxy had a rather different experience, but then she and her man are both single….the lucky buggers!

The following day was spent recovering. Roxy and I were also given an invitation that was totally unexpected. Ricki and his brother invited us to their home on the outskirts of Denpasar. His wife was still away at that point. We jumped at the chance to get off the tourist track and have some real connection with people not only from a very different culture, but also a third world culture.

Two days later we were picked up at the hotel at 8am on the bikes. It took almost an hour just to get to Denpasar, then another 30 minutes to get to their home. Suddenly we turned off the road onto a dirt track, each side of which was lined with shacks made of corrugated iron sheeting. Some of the shacks had floors that were concrete slabs and some were just dirt. The track got narrower and narrower, as people came to their front doors and waved to us. Finally we stopped and Ricki said, “Welcome to our home”.

Roxy and I eyed each other, not because of the obvious poverty, but because we knew we were in for a very humbling experience. We were greeted by the guys’ father, who had his sons’ amazing megawatt smile. Roxy handed him a bottle of Southern Comfort and I handed their Mother a case of Bintang and some Coke. This was greeted by a huge ear to ear grin! We knew “Mum” loved Coca-Cola because BB had told us. She was rarely able to afford it of course. The Balinese are not big drinkers, partly because they cannot afford it, and also because they are a dignified people, and see it as a weakness to be falling down drunk (according to Ricki). I’m sure there are exceptions, but this seemed to be true from our experiences in Indonesia. (It’s a Muslim nation, remember, even though Bali is mostly Hindu)
We sat on a rug and the first thing I noticed was how clean everything seemed. Ricki’s mother started to prepare lobster and rice in her kitchen (which consisted of a plank of wood suspended from the wall). She had to periodically go out to get water, and would hear nothing of our helping her with the food, which by the way was absolutely delicious, and prepared with the utmost hygiene and cleanliness. She used a different block of wood on which to prepare the vegetables, and yet another for the lobster. Each time food was transferred to the pot from the chopping board, the chopping board was scrubbed with boiling water and a lufa type cleaning tool.

The children were shy at first, but were soon giggling along with the rest of us. “Granddad” was obviously enjoying having a drink. His English was quite fluent (years of dealing with Australians), and he turned out to be a charming and witty guy. I’d estimate his age at around 55 (Ricki being his eldest son).

We found out that a lot of the older generation of Balinese spend much of their time making shoes, clothes, jewellery, artwork (paintings as well as sculptures) and that wonderful bamboo furniture that lasts for years. “Granddad” spent his days making this marvelous stuff, and showed us how it’s all put together without nails. They use bits of dowel and twine. The younger generation of course runs the businesses in the tourist shopping areas. That’s why you often hear tourists in Bali say, “Where are all the old people?” It annoys me when I hear Australians haggling over these hand made items. If they could only see how hard the people work to create these wonderful things, they may feel differently, especially as they are literally dirt poor and the items are works of art in so many cases.

We had the most wonderful time and slept the night there on two very clean “futon” type mattresses. “Grandma” also turned out to be a lovely lady, although she could not speak much English due to the fact that for most of her life, she made beaded leather shoes, and had very little contact with Aussies. She showed us a photo of herself as a young teenage girl aged 18, and she was breathtakingly beautiful. She was still beautiful, but a lifetime in the sun takes its toll on these people and they wrinkle very deeply (and unfortunately very early).

Sadly it was time to go the next morning. We all exchanged hugs and tears and left to go back to Kuta on the bikes. As the boys had to run the shop, they dropped us off at our hotel. The moment Roxy and I got into my room, we burst into tears. We had just spent an evening with a most wonderful kind family who did nothing but GIVE…of themselves and their food. At no time did they complain of being poor. The opposite is true. They thanked God for their health and happiness. I think we in the west could learn a hell of a lot from people like this.

That particular experience was probably the most moving experience I have ever had, mainly because these people had virtually NOTHING and yet were so rich in the areas that really count. Roxy agreed, and was probably even more moved than me because she’s Asian, and has some relatives who are just as poor as this.

We did not give any money to the boys apart from buying them drinks and meals, but it was quite obvious their family was struggling. At the end of our 2 weeks, Rox and I had about a million rupiah left in local currency. This is HUGE amount of money for an average Balinese, and will buy SO much. We split this and gave half each to the boys, and they could not believe their eyes. (That’s only about $130 Australian by the way).

They never once asked for anything, and on our last night they wanted to pay for dinner. The bill for the four of us (not including drinks) came to about 110,000 rupiah (about $18 Australian). When they opened their wallets it was obvious that this would have left them with literally nothing. We agreed to let them pay, knowing that they would be getting one million rupiah from us the next day.

Yes I love travelling around Europe and seeing the great civilizations, cathedrals, architecture, art etc (Michelangelo’s “David” was worth the trip to Italy ALONE!), but to receive lessons in humility and to learn that we have very little to complain about in the west (apart from our stupid leaders who seem hell bent on wasting life and limb in ludicrous wars), is one thing that the East can do far far better.

Our boys saw us off at the airport and we all hugged and cried, amid promises of going back for a holiday soon. Strangely enough, Rox emailed me 2 days ago saying she has “the Asia bug” and what did I think of going back in a few months. Of course I said yes.

Stickman's thoughts:

Interesting.