Thailand, "Astrology in Bali" Launches
So now I'm back in my idyllic little house in Penestanan. I paid to have a bath-tub put in while I was gone so now it is truly perfect, and everything I could ever want. My workshop project is going really well and keeps me very busy, I am getting great responses and many sign-ups, plus I am catching up on client work. They cut the rice while I was gone, so now the ducks are here. They are so cute... and quacky!Melanie arrives from England on Thursday, which I'm really excited about, but until then I am not moving from the rice fields or my hammock... fortunately I am doing yoga every day so I'm not quite turning into a hammock - (dim-sum) potato.
I haven't moved that far since my last update (I did go to Thailand), but things have certainly been happening in the rice fields. On a mundane, but spectacular, note is the speed of the rice growing season, there are 4 crops a year so I have observed the fields ploughed, flooded, planted, harvested, ducks brought in to fertilise and presumably wipe out the insects, then it all starts again.
Mel came from England, so we saw the sites and climbed one of the volcanoes, Batur. It was amazing, very hot and challenging (loose shale all the way up) but incredible views. It towers above a vast beautiful lake which looks to me as though it would be perfect for kayaking, there was not a boat on it as far as I could see. We also managed to see all the art galleries in Ubud, which are wonderful. I've become such a local it takes a visitor to get me to sightsee.
Melanie loved Bali and was as always the most fun travel buddy, she arrived (on my stellar advise) with empty suitcases and left bearing way over the weight limit. However she charmed/disarmed them into not charging her (actually she started repacking and throwing things out of her suitcase with 50 people behind her), when all else fails play the 'blonde card', they rushed her through without making her pay to avoid more turmoil. Which is just as well or it would have the most platinum of blonde stories, she'd been food shopping and in a fit of culinary enthusiasm had bought kilos of rice and palm sugar. It could have turned out to be the most expensive rice in history... slightly reminiscent of she and I dragging kilos of salt from the mines of Poland all the way back to the UK last year.
So the owl; I've met a guy with a tame owl that he rescued when it was a baby. It is full grown now, but still very small (a 'scops' owl apparently, perhaps only native to Bali?). Anyway I fell in love with this thing, it is so cute, an unbelievable amount of attitude and personality in a tiny ball of feathers. However the feelings are not mutual, it attacked me twice… once going for my eye and drawing blood. Now I know how a mouse feels. I still want to see it, but I shall be wearing a hat and glasses next time!
On another wild-life note, while doing yoga one morning there was a swarm of 100's of dragonflies outside my window that danced to my music for at least half an hour, it was completely mesmerising. And these dragonflies come in the most brilliant reds, blues and greens, it's quite extraordinary. I don't think there is a single day in Bali when I don't have a 'real' magical experience.
I have also had one more jaunt to Thailand since last writing. Spent a couple of days in Bangkok, and I have discovered what many ex-pats know (am I now one of those, in which case am I an ex-pat/ex-pat, an immigrant ex-pat, or simply some kind of itinerant/transient gypsy?). Next time I come to Bali I'm bringing a thesaurus/dictionary.
This great 'secret' I have discovered is that Bangkok is a Mecca for excellent, progressive, incredibly inexpensive medical care. It has many well-reputed hospitals, the one I went to was like a hotel, beautifully kept and decorated, very modern and clean. I had an eye exam, dental check-up, cleaning (from the dentist himself), filling, bone scan, skin exam (being of melanoma history), some laser work by a dermatologist, and 2 moles incised and biopsied by a plastic surgeon. All of this, including all lab work... and I got change from $500. Plus perhaps best of all, I had the sweetest Thai hospitality girl escorting me to each appointment, and there were barely minutes to wait between any of them. I got there at 10am and was back in my hotel by 4pm. Apparently there are now many people who fly to Thailand, do all their medical stuff, have a great vacation, and still end up financially ahead compared to what it would cost in the US.
From Bangkok I went to Maesai in northern Thailand, which is bang on the border of Burma, in fact our hotel room was a little cabin on stilts that sat on the river that marks the border. Every day people just waded back and forth across it, apparently bypassing going through the border control, and with all their belongings on their heads. I decided against it, I think I might have stood out a little, and even a fleeting visit to a Thai or Burmese jail doesn't appeal. I was with my friend John, and he was without a passport (which he had left it in Bangkok for visa reasons), so we saw Burma, but didn't actually go there. The hills in the distance were covered with golden stupas, and I know that it is definitely my next destination... so with that to look forward to my itchy feet didn't get the better of me.
We were right on the edge of the 'Golden Triangle', where Thailand, Burma and Laos intersect, scene of the infamous opium trading legends. It was the next chapter in my 'motorcycle diaries', because we rented a motorcycle and thoroughly explored the area. John makes me look like the most conservative person on the planet, he is Indiana Jones at the best of times, put him on a motorcycle and suddenly Steve McQueen is thrown into the mix... so you can guess.... but I am all in one piece, and with one more wonderful experience under my belt (plus I do believe my spine got completely realigned en route). John travels to about 9 countries a year buying artefacts and the likes, and they are all places like China, Tibet and India. He invited me to Afghanistan and Pakistan later this year... I mentioned this to my daughter and was immediately grounded.
As many of you know Tara and I have a bit of a role reversal going on; she being the far more 'sensible' one. And truthfully it is not a part of the world I am anxious to visit at this precise moment in time, plus there are so many other places I still have to see that are not so full of strife. Anyway he and I also went into some amazing caves that go back for miles, but having just bought our flashlights at the local market I was not trusting of the batteries so I balked at going too far... an instinct compounded by the tale of 2 Canadians who spent 2 days trapped in the very same cave after falling in an underground river (and also probably because their flashlights came from the same market!). I simply dug my Tevas in and refused to go any further, even I can be 'a stick in the mud' around someone more radical than myself.
Addendum: these are the same Luang Tham caves where the young Thai football team was trapped in 2018. My reticence was tragically affirmed.
So my time is winding down, and as usual I am in that place of not wanting to leave, and at the same time incredibly excited about seeing everyone I love and miss so much in the US. More and more I love the life-style here in Bali, I have always been a minimalist to some degree, (except when it comes to books, chocolate and airline tickets.... and these same addictions/necessities are alive and kicking wherever I am), but I am just getting happier all the time with the simplicity of life here. And yes I have a full-time helpers, massages whenever I want and am surrounded by incredible beauty... so I am certainly not living the life of an aesthetic, in fact I am far more pampered than I can ever afford to be in the West. So I would say that spending time in both places I have the best of both worlds, but I have to confess my preference leans towards this one. I am also a developing a great circle of friends here, the workshop I am putting on has made me more high profile (I have plastered the entire island with my flyers).
There are lots of creative and fascinating people here, and as a bonus I am developing an astrology clientele which is helping me build a security base (woman cannot live on nasi goering alone). My yoga practise gets stronger all the time, I have been doing it daily and at times with John (who is an incredible yogi and is encouraging me to be far more courageous with head-stands, etc). There are some great intensive, 2 month long Australian yoga teacher training programs that take place right here in the rice fields, it is something I have been considering since I first arrived but it is rapidly moving to the top of my list... along with learning to type (perhaps my most ridiculous and embarrassing deficiency), learning Indonesian, putting on twice yearly astrology workshops and basically exploring all of Asia. I don't see myself getting too bored in the near future.
October, 2005 (the following letter was written the day of the 2nd tragic bombing in Bali's recent history)
Dear Friends... I awoke to the news that there have been bombings in the tourist area of Bali, and my immediate reaction was wanting to get back there as quickly as possible to what I have experienced as the most beautiful and spiritual place on earth. I don't feel afraid to do so, with the recent attacks on all corners of the earth, my own feeling is that these acts of hatred are designed to instil fear and paralysis, and to allow them victory is to do just that. The random acts of so few can cast ripples that affect countless lives on so many levels, which is of course the intention. I was not yet living in Bali when they last went through this with the Kuta bombing in 2002, but I hear from my friends who were that the Island was immediately awash with offerings and incredibly beautiful healing ceremonies aimed at counteracting the forces of darkness embodied in these acts of terrorism. Their responses to such things are very different from ours in the way that their realities are so heavily grounded in their spiritual beliefs, and there was apparently a powerful show of solidarity between the Hindus and Muslims on the Island.
As most people know Bali is predominantly Hindu, and very unique in the Indonesian archipelago. The perpetrators of these attacks are not Balinese and it is important to know that although they obviously take aim at the most heavily populated tourist areas, the people who suffer en masse are the people of the island who rely so much on tourism and the goodwill of the rest of the world. And ironically it's as though attacks are being made on paradise itself (perhaps a metaphor for all that seems to be escalating on our precious planet). I am not being trite when I say 'if the world had a heart it would be Bali'... and my desire is to get back there and let my Balinese friends know they won't be abandoned in these times.
In regards to my own personal project in Bali, I know I can only be philosophical and surrender to the fact that it will be what it will be. The village where we are holding the workshop is a very small and peaceful rice-growing and artisan community, and the closest actual town is Ubud, a relatively quiet place far from the highly populated, commercialised tourist areas of Bali where these tragedies have taken place. Aside from this, security on the Island will be at it's absolute strictest and tightest for a very long time to come. I feel acutely sensitive, concerned and fully responsive to the desires of everyone who is now a part of this with me. I only ask one thing, that we all give it some time, immediate reactions to these events are naturally fully charged and raw, I have been watching my own emotional responses change radically in the few short hours since I first heard.
Anybody who knows me also knows that I pretty much live my life by the words so perfectly expressed by Virginia Wolf: ‘as a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world'. In the same vein of what Guiliani so succinctly expressed about showing solidarity after 9/11 through not being scared away, and which the Indonesian president just publicly reiterated, I am returning 'home' to Bali on October 13th. I know I carry the good wishes of all my friends for the people of Bali with me.
Astrology in Bali Launches - November, December, 2005
Well, should I bore you with the fact that I am back in Paradise, once more waking up every morning to 360 degree views of rice fields, tropical vegetation and everything beautiful that is Bali? It isn't because I am lying in my hammock soaking it all up that I haven't written before but because my workshop starts on December 6th (and people actually start arriving in 2 days from now!) and I have been incredibly busy. So in the most laid back place on the planet I have managed to create an intensely hectic life. Wherever you go, there you are.
Everything is going great. I have rented an entire hotel complex and 9 houses around it. It has been a fantastic way to get to know all the locals really quickly! I have people attending from all over the world, and I feel like each and every one is a friend after all the ad infinitum correspondences we have shared. Bali is fortunately doing well considering the recent bombing, with the great irony being that most of my friends here in Bali heard about it from me, they simply aren't as media saturated or obsessed as we are in the west. And yes, tourism is way down, but the people's spirits aren't as dampened as they were with the last one. Sadly/realistically these events are now commonplace in our world and no place is immune. I did lose several attendees, but surprisingly few considering, and many people who were on the edge about coming decided to over-ride their fears.
I truly have been in a whirlwind of preparation so have nothing really exciting to share. However my reward to myself (my excuse anyway) is that I will be going to Myanmar (Burma) and (possibly) southern India for about 6 weeks after it is all over. I may go alone, or for part of the time I may go with my friend John who I went to China with, he is a fantastic travelling companion and loves to hike and tear around the world going to the most exotic out of the way places, etc, etc.
A friend of Mel's from Shrewsbury came to visit for a month, but she has caught the 'bali bug' (symptoms being you get emotionally velcro-ed to the place )and is staying for 3 and has rented the house behind me. Lynn Bell (my close friend from Paris and speaker at the workshop) arrives on Dec 2nd and will stay on until the end of December so we will have a Balinese Xmas and possibly go off and have an adventure (or 2) somewhere.
Really not much else to say, except how exhausting it has been trying Eevery single massage therapist in the area (research), running off to the North Coast and going on a wonderful boat trip, going to local markets and buying amazing flags covered in gold dragons so that the hall where we will meet will be just like a Balinese temple. And in the midst of it all plotting and planning my next 2 workshops (for 2006) and rewriting the web site. I have more great people coming to speak and really exciting programs brewing, but I'm keeping it all quiet until I am done with this one. I promise to send some more interesting news after the workshop (if I'm not stuck in the fetal position recovering) to tell you how it all turned out (and if I have nothing interesting to report I'll make something up). By then it should be determined whether this is going to be my 'Bali-ticket'.
It all looks/feels really positive, but I always have plan B of putting in my application for a job picking/planting rice, or tending the ducks! Because one thing is for sure. I love Bali more every day and the thought of not living here is unthinkable.
(Written right after the end of the most successful 1st "Astrology in Bali' workshop... yeah!)
The workshop ended last Thursday... and I am still wiped out! I've never worked so hard in my life... but it was fantastic, fun, intense, moving and a huge success. I couldn't be happier about it.
The group was wonderful, 90% women (as usual in the astrological world), a diverse and interesting group from as far afield as Columbia, Paris, Australia and Canada. No Brits (except for my transplanted friend Salena who lives in Bali)... so we'll have to work on that! Steve and Lynn were their usual engaging selves and held everyone rapt for the entire 9 days, no great surprise but even knowing them both as well as I do, I am still in awe of their brilliance.
And none of it would have happened without Jean, my web designer extraordinaire. I'm never in this lifetime going to be able to thank her enough. I don't even know where to start, it was a whirlwind of non-stop energy. Only one major disaster, a Swedish woman got sent back to Tokyo because Sweden and Indonesia are having a spat and so they are taking it out on them by insisting that all Swedes get their visas prior to arrival, and she omitted to inform me she wasn't American (she lives in the US, and even works in the travel biz). The list of things I learned to do and not to do would stretch from here to Australia. And of course there was a downside. I have definitely learned who not to hire etc,etc, but the positive far outweighed that parts that made me grind my teeth, so I won't bore you with any of it.
Okay, I'll bore you with a bit of it. They decided to build a house right next to the hall we were meeting in (Saturn transiting opposite my Sun for you astrologers), hammering and the likes. The hall is an open sided pagoda, so no sounds are blocked. I went into a complete panic just prior to everyone arriving, and started sending food every day (and begging and grovelling to the owner). They really did try to keep the noise down, but I spent a lot of time glaring at them when they slipped, and the participants told me it bothered me more than it did them. Fortunately the Balinese are non-judgemental and forgiving but I think the workmen now consider me a little 'bizarre'.
We are into the rainy season (which is obviously completely out of my hands), and when it rains, it rains - although it really wasn't a problem and there were many gloriously sunny days, and when it did rain it cooled things down which was good. Truthfully it would have been hard to go wrong, my speakers were amazing, the location breathtaking - and everyone fell completely in love with Bali. The hotel treated us wonderfully ( great food and service), besides it being their nature to be warm and kind, they are so grateful we were there because tourism took such a bad hit after the last bombing.
It was a delight to watch people who had been worried about coming sink into the joys of Bali. People got softer and lighter by the day, despite the fact that we were doing very intensive, emotional work. Perhaps it had something to do with all the massages and retail therapy they were enjoying in between sessions?
We decorated the hall like a Balinese temple, with brightly coloured dragon flags, flowers and ceremonial decorations, and hung paintings by my friend Symon (of which many sold) and my pembantu (housemaid) Iluh started the workshop off with a traditional blessing and offering. About half the attendees stayed at the hotel, and the other half in houses I'd rented for them. We even had a single Mom come with her 6 month old baby, I got her a full time nanny for $50 for the whole time (a high wage in Bali) who I know she wanted to take home with her.
And of course we had some people who couldn't tear themselves away, one girl is staying until the end of the year and many have already signed up for next year. I put together a party for the last night at a fabulous restaurant and hired a Balinese Salsa band (no joke). They were fantastic and every single person was dancing for much of the time. I believe the Balinese were in awe (astrologers are not a tame bunch!).
So what now? I am flying to Bangkok January 3rd and heading straight for Yangon, Myanmar (once I have a visa). I really want to do some trekking so I may head north, but I've decided to make it a real adventure and not make any concrete plans. And please no-one worry,(meaning you in particular Claire... don't watch any more of those films!). There is political unrest, but it is contained and they don't even allow tourists to go to those areas. I have no intention of being that adventurous, it would be the equivalent of wandering blindly into some US inner city, nobody can deny that warfare (be it urban) is happening everywhere.
I will be alone for about 3 weeks but then John will join me for about 2. I really want to spend that long there, it's a big country with huge diversity, both geographically and ethnically.
And on the workshop front; I actually have plans for years to come,(the woman who doesn't believe in plans is changing). I have 2 in the works for next year, one with Jeff Jawer and Rick Levine in October, and the other with Rick Tarnas and Darby Costello in November! Steve and Lynn will definitely come back at some point. Lynn is staying until the end of the year, and although Steve only had a couple of days extra, he loved Bali very much, it suits his personality beautifully. It was lovely to hear his flute playing drifting across the rice fields every morning.
So I am thrilled to have been able to share my dream and my Paradise with everyone, and my reward is I have a legitimate reason to be here (as if I needed one). But truthfully it is a dream come true to be able to live here, bring astrology to Bali, and make a living at the same time. I really didn't know how much work it would be (I practically collapsed when it ended), so I'll be better prepared next time (says the eternal optimist!).