Bali: behaviour guided by good and bad spirits

Indonesia. The moment we alighted in Bali, the sweet smell of incense penetrated the air and we felt ourselves in another world. In comparison to Australia, Indonesia is replete with finesse and grace: decorative temples pepper the landscape and flowery offerings to the Gods line the foot paths around the island. Hinduism dominates in Bali but it finds itself a minority in the most populous Muslim country in the world. The spiritual belief that human behaviour regulates mother nature’s prizes as well as her lemons. It’s a world that the West has long since labelled “irrational” or “backward.” It’s a world that exudes warmth and charm. Despite the Hindu majority, the island displays much religious diversity: in some areas Hindu girls walk arm in am with their veiled classmates, in the background, the muezzin melodically calls his community to prayer. In other areas, Buddhist temples break the horizon, side by side with their Hindu counterparts. The different religious practices are open for all to see – even if some are sometimes sceptical of others.
Mopeds roar through the narrow streets, cruise by the terraced rice fields and along with Bemos – ancient looking mini-buses, the island’s preferred mode of public transport – they permeate the traffic, making their presence known – as if anyone could have possibly missed them – by constant honking. It’s is not rare to see a family of four whizzing by on a single one of these motorized bicycles.
Since the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, tourists have been less attracted to its sandy beaches, succulent food and friendly people. Many who made a living catering to the tourist industry have had it hard. Those who do visit, find themselves amidst many small, desperate merchants trying to sell anything from Balinese chess boards to fake watches.
Clocks tick slower on Bali than in Europe, residents confront us with friendly smiles and a healthy amount of time for conversation. We are constantly asked: “where are you from?” and “what’s your name?,” whether out of politeness, genuine interest to start a conversation or in the self-interest, if you can call it that, of establishing good business to support the family. In the following weeks, we will be visiting other parts of Indonesia, followed by Singapore and Malaysia.