I’ve been on a news sabbatical ( presidential inauguration excepted) for three months. No newspapers, no television, no internet news.

It’s amazing how little I don’t miss when I go without a media fix. The world goes on and the sad fact that people get murdered and bombs go off, is not affected in the least by whether or not I know about it. So the purpose in filling my head with group hysteria and negativity is… what?

Obama takes the oath of office

Obama takes the oath of office

In fact, for the past two years I haven’t had a television and very rarely read newspapers and online news. “Important” news gets filtered to me via email from my American friends. Sometimes even the “good” news comes late. Last year, for instance, I’d heard about this young black dude in the running for the Democratic party nomination, but as far as I could tell, he was inexperienced and an upstart and I figured Hilary was a shoe-in. Imagine my surprise when excited emails began arriving from friends who said they were going to vote for this guy who not only had a Middle Eastern name but who had lived part of his life in the Muslim country of Indonesia . My how the quickly the world is flattening. I am an American based in the Middle East and I currently live in Indonesia. Bring it on. I love this. OneWorld at last!

To get current with the presidential nomination and upcoming election, I delved into the “news” around the election and sure enough, I learned that this man named Obama was indeed a contender. And I began to follow the momentum as he won over the hearts of Americans and created hope throughout the rest of the world.

All right then, so I learn about the most “important” world events later than most. The 99% which isn’t important but creates fear, paranoia and fingernail biting? Gone. Poof. No longer part of my consciousness. Not knowing frees up not only my emotional space but tons of time.

The latest hand wringing news which has begun to filter through is about the crashing economy in America. My sister and at least two friends have lost their jobs. That is not good, but they have savings and they will make it through this. Companies are tightening their belts, individuals are hunkering down and stopping the flow of their money. Like a set of falling dominoes, mass consumerism has come to a grinding halt as massive contraction sets in. The amount of real wealth in the world has not changed one iota. Just the perception of it and its distribution. It’s a natural correction. I am also hearing that the government is trying to save us from ourselves by infusing errant companies with borrowed money. Mistake. But does my knowing about it change it? No.

In Bali, the economic crisis if brought up at all, is discussed as an abstract event that is occurring far away.

Foreigners in Bali
The foreigners living here are happy they got themselves and their money out of Dodge. Each day more people arrive to wait out the storm. (Usually women hoping to find love like Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, but that’s another subject.). A Wallstreet “head hunter” arrived two weeks ago after losing her job and lots of her savings. Shaken and wondering if she could make it here, I assured her that her income from her Central Park apartment alone, not to mention her Hampshires home would more than support her here. She can hardly believe it. But it is true. As long as the rupiah stays low relative to the dollar, foreigners are living like millionaires on less than $15,000 a year in Bali.

Earth nourished, Bali is as of now unaffected by the economic crisis

Earth nourished, Bali is as of now unaffected by the economic crisis


And the Balinese?
I doubt Bali will fall prey to this latest crisis. The Balinese certainly don’t seem worried about it so I’ll take my cue from them. Sure tourism will drop off, but they’re used to that, what with a 70% drop in tourism after the bomb in 2002 followed by another bomb in 2004 and the subsequent drop off in tourism after that. Neither of which the island has fully recovered from. Can’t get too much worse here on the tourist front.

But the main reason Bali won’t feel the recession is that the Balinese are a communal society and with the exception of tourism, they are self sufficient. They grow their own food, a lot of which doesn’t even require growing, because it sprouts of its own volition all over the island. Trees droop under the weight of bananas, coconuts, mangos, and papayas. Rice proliferates in the volcanic rich soil. Each Balinese plays a role in planting, maintaining, harvesting – all to assure a smooth cycle of life. There is more than enough water routed through the centuries old irrigation system, from family to family, rice paddy to rice paddy before completing its trip back to the sea. The Balinese make and repair the things they need like housing, clothing and tools. They take care of their own. There are no complicated financial instruments like mortgages and credit. People pay cash. If they don’t have enough cash, family and friends pitch in. And so in Bali, the basic survival needs are provided by Mother Earth and the need for friends, family and loved ones? It’s an integral part of their society. What more do they need?

Oh yeah, fuel. I’m not sure why, but gasoline is dirt cheap here. It costs 50 cents to fill up my Yamaha scooter. Cheap or not, luckily for them, the Balinese don’t need much of it. 95% of Balinese are not dependent on cars for transport. Homes and buildings are open to nature, designed to take advantage of sea breezes and temperatures that vary little year round, so there is no need for heat or air conditioning. Bali should weather the current economic storm just fine.

Balinese traditions still integral to life on the island

Balinese traditions still integral to life on the island

Last night my curiosity got the best of me and I broke my sorta news fast to read the local Bali Advertiser. So what is making the headlines in Bali?

Indonesia Bans Yoga for Muslims, Triggers Row
Indonesian yoga teachers disputed on Monday that the practice of yoga was damaging for Muslims after the country’s top Islamic body issued a fatwa banning followers from yoga that includes chanting, mantras or mediation (I’m sure they meant “meditation”)…because of a view it uses Hindu prayers that could erode Muslims faith. The meeting of Indonesia’s Ulema Council stopped short of a full ban and said Muslims could practice it as long as it was only for physical exercise…

Egads. I finally find my religion and someone’s threatening to outlaw it.

Bali Government Issues Guidelines for “Nyepi” – the Official Day of Silence
Nyepi, the absolute day of silence that will mark the dawn of a new year on the Bali Hindu calendar bgins at 6am on March 26….
No lights may be lit.
No work may be performed.
No amusements enjoyed.
Silence must be maintained.
People must not venture outside the sealed and silent quarters.
Hotel service staff must stay at work during the 24 hour period as travel between home and job will not be permitted.
All roads will be closed and emptied except for emergency vehicles.
Hotel guests must stay on their hotel grounds thourhgout the 24 hours…
Guest rooms will have their curtains drawn and outside lighting at hotels will be dimmed or extinguished.
Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport will be closed with no flight operations allowed. Technical and emergency landings only permitted. Any crew landing at the airport between 6am aon March 26 until 6am the following morning will not be allowed to leave the airport terminal.
All Bali sea ports will be closed.
The once monthly tsunami alarm testing that occurs on the 26th of each month, will not take place in March.

I’ll write more later about this holiday. But here’s the deal. It’s the day that the Balinese hide out from evil spirits who come looking for trouble on that day. The Balinese figure if they hide and the island is quiet and dark, the bad guys will think no one is home and they’ll skip over the island in search of someone else to pick on.

Human Head in a Box Mystifies Authorities
A human skull found in a parcel by authorities when they xrayed the packet at the Ngurah Rai Post Office on January 28th continues to mystify authorities. A spokesman from the Sanglah forensic department said that it appeared that the skull was not a fossil, or intended for medical science or study, but appeared to be part of some sort of ritual as the skull had some kind of markings etched into the bones…

Danpasar Police Crack Down on Shirtless Motorcyclists
…Denpasar’s traffic police will soon be taking action against drivers, presumably male, cruising Bali’s roads bare-chested. Declared “Operation Sympathetic”…a police official confirmed that special attention would be given to foreign male tourists…the police spokesman also said a failure to wear a shirt can result in greater injuries when cyclists fall and make contact with asphalt road surfaces.

The Balinese Haunting Hour
Midday in Balinese is called tengai tepet and is one time of the day to be aware of. Even today many Balinese will not sleep at midday or embark on a a journey for fear of misfortune or being possessed by a demon that may be ‘lurking in the mist’…The ‘haunting hour’… occurs at dusk..Demons are thought to be present in great numbers at this time and it is the best time to put out offerings to them…made up of flowers, and incense stick, rice parcels and liberal splashes of rice wine called arak brem (demons have a penchant for hard liquor, of course.) It is recommended that you not sleep during this time for fear of possession…some Balinese maintain that whistling can attract demons, particularly witches which have transformed themselves into leyak (menacing fireballs or other manifestations of evil.

That’s it! All the news that’s fit to print in Ubud, Bali. Now back to my bubble.

Robin Sparks reporting from Bali

Robin Sparks reporting from Bali


Robin Sparks
just after bathing in the holy springs of the Hindu temple, Tirta Empul in Bali.

One Response to “What Economic Crisis? All the news that’s fit to print today in Bali.”

    Hey Robin
    I love reading the Balinese news, thanks!
    So, how are all these foreigners staying there long-term? I thought it was super hard to stay in Bali for more than the 30-day visa, and I would like to know how I could stay there longer.

    Also, I am dying to hear more about the onslaught of Gilbert wanna-bes!

Something to say?