"Israel. So what was that... like?"
It's one of the first questions people ask me when I tell them that I spent the past 6 years living in Israel. It's a question where the emphasis comes, every time, on the 'like,' and the word is loaded with about a half dozen other questions.
- Was it scary?
- Should I believe what I read in the news?
- Did you ever meet a terrorist?
- Did you ride a camel?
- Did you ever kill someone?
These unasked questions tend to go unanswered (but the correct answers are, by the way: No, Sometimes, No, Of Course, and Only with kindness) because they go unasked. Most people deem them rude or awkward. But the truth is if you get me started, I'll talk your ear off about the country's political and social problems while big-upping Tel Aviv to no end (it is, truly, the best city in the world). What's more, people seem to fully separate Tel Aviv and Israel in their minds. If I tell someone I came from Israel, I get the arched eyesbrows and the above unasked questions. But if I namedrop TLV, I've suddenly been elevated to at least 3 degrees cooler than I was just moments before, as people seem to fill their thoughts with nightclubs, beaches, and incredibly sexy Israeli women sipping cappuccinos. Fascinating.
So, then, now that I'm in Bali, I've encountered a whole new—albeit more cheery—variety of questions. It's no secret that Bali is one of the most dreamed-about, lusted-after destinations on the planet, so the questions don't often go unasked. They come spilling out. That said, it's time to knock out a few of those questions. Here goes dudes.
1. Where exactly are you living?
When expats move to Bali, there are tons of options for places around the island to live, and each comes with its own perks. If you don't want to be around other expats, you can go north, west, or far east—and it'll basically be you and the occasional wandering Australian. But for us, a good mix of Balinese people and Westerners was the ideal. We chose to live, for now, in Ubud.
Yep, that's the town where Julia Roberts fell in love with that sexy dude with all the chest hair in "Eat Pray Love," and in reality, the town is *full* of people coming for some sort of spiritual mending. Ubud is basically a central core of just a few streets that are absolutely mobbed with tourists—every storefront sells organic snacks, vegetarian food, yoga clothes, or jewelry with feathers somehow involved. There are cafes everywhere filled with people sitting on cushions on the floor. There's a class for any type of body movement, meditation, or breathing exercise you've ever heard of, and more classes for types you haven't. But just outside of town in any direction, you can find a heaven that looks like this:
That one is from my chosen morning bike ride path. Could be worse.
Expats—people living here for longer than a month or so—don't live in the center. Imagine living in Times Square, if all the tourists in Times Square were vegans in yoga pants. It'd just be too much. Expats in Ubud live in several villages surrounding the center, and Tali and I have chosen Nyuh Kuning.
The village of Nyuh Kuning is separated from central Ubud by the Monkey Forest. That's not only a name—it's a patch of forest that is autonomously governed by very mean monkeys. The other day I was walking back to Nyuh Kuning from Ubud with a bag of bread. A monkey approached me, bared its teeth, and grabbed my bag. I shrieked, like an actual baby girl afraid of the dark, then yanked the bag away. It ripped in half, which angered the monkey greatly, so I yelled (like an actual human adult) and stomped my foot to get that fucker to back off. A group of tourists stood there terrified, then asked if I was alright. I brushed my hand through my hair, though my heart was racing, and replied, "Monkey Forest, right?"
That's the last time I walked in Monkey Forest holding anything I cared about.
Nyuh Kuning is arguably the best place to raise a family I've ever seen in my life (no, mom, that's not indication of anything). It's anchored by a soccer field, with a few streets running north and south. There are flowers everywhere, and speedbumps keep the motorbikes driving slowly. Animals wander unafraid. Kids are constantly flying kites. A few surprisingly excellent restaurants surround the field. It's quiet, but there's a soothing energy. You can leave your door open, your bike unlocked, your kids unattended. This is totally not America. I mean, here's a guy walking his massive-balled pig. How great is that?
The village, like most of Bali, is laid out by family compounds. You don't just have houses next to each other—walking down the road, you see ornate, stone carvings that mark each compound. Inside, you might have a dozen small houses where huge families live. Mom, dad, kids, grandparents, chickens, rabbits, dogs, and expats. Yep, most families save one of the houses for foreigners, and many chop off a section of their land to actually build a more Western-style house to appeal to longterm renters. I love checking out each family's chosen statues—did they go for the angry pig, or the old woman with her breasts on her feet, and what does that say about the nature of the family?
Personally, I love this guy. He's got a secret.
Tal and I first moved into a sublet in Nyuh Kuning, then into a guesthouse, and just today I signed on what I hope to be our longterm house—a large bedroom with a beautiful yard filled with tropical plants and an outdoor living room and kitchen.
2. How is the food?
This is, of course, one of the most important questions to ask about any place anywhere in the world. Food makes or breaks a place, and that's why I never, ever need to go back to Prague, ever again.
Balinese food is fairly basic—fried rice and noodles, usually mixed with chicken, fish, tempe or tofu. You can get it anywhere, in local places that usually take the name Warung (like Dhaba in India). Some will also offer full grilled fish or beef sate. Warung food costs about $3 for a full dinner at the most—if you're paying more, it's not really a warung. In Tel Aviv, fish and seafood was extremely, prohibitively expensive. In Bali, I can eat a whole, fresh-caught fish grilled covered in delicious, spicy chili sauce and pay $2.50. There's just no comparison.
With so many organic-loving travelers here, though, a whole fresh food scene has developed here. In Ubud and the expat beach Canggu, especially, you can find vegan and vegetarian options on every menu, and it will undoubtedly be delicious. Smoothie bowls run the scene here, and the local-grown coffee is plentiful. For a dinner for two at one of these more traveler-friendly spots, you might pay $12 total. It's not dirt cheap, but it's not the West. And when your breakfast looks like this, it's hard to complain:
Oh, and everyone is obsessed with avocado toast. No surprise, but still:
Shorter-term travelers just go out all the time without breaking the bank. But to live here, it's simply not sustainable. Tal and I have been making soups that last a few days, all from fresh vegetables bought at one of the few local morning markets around town. These markets start at 5am, and by 7 all the best produce is snatched up. So that makes me an early, early riser. For a few dollars, I can bring in a haul like this:
3. Is it so hot there? Are you sweating to death?
This question is asked mostly by people who know me well, or have ever spent a summer with me in Tel Aviv. The answer yes, it is super hot, and yes, I am sweating to death, but also no, I am not miserable. You sorta go with it. That said, we're in the middle of winter right now, so check back with me in a few months, when I may have turned into a puddle.
4. Do you eat tropical fruits and coconut all day?
That's an easy one. Yes, yes I do.
5. Is it so beautiful there?
Also an easy one. Yes, it is. If the beaches don't get you, the mountains and peaceful, immaculately green rice fields will.
6. Are you just on the beach all day?
In short, no. But I am on the beach a lot.
I will absolutely elaborate on this in a future post, but while Tali is working fulltime as an English teacher, I am splitting my time between freelance writing projects (Wanna hire me? Go to the Who Am I? page), running our household (shopping, errands, etc) and, yes, pure fun. So while my life isn't as completely carefree as most people imagine when they ask the initial Bali questions, it's certainly not as stressful as it was.
I'll chronicle some of my more recent adventures soon—but I'll leave you with a few parting shots, taken from my last few 'days off' from work.
Echo Beach, Canggu
Nungnung Waterfall, North Central Bali
Lotus Lagoon, Candidasa, East Bali