(Or On How To Find That Special One Smile In Bali)
As a newly-fresh-arrived foreigner (bule) surfer in Bali, you will notice something, right away, quite striking: smiles. Smiles abound in Bali. All types of smiles; welcoming smiles, traditional smiles, happy smiles, routine smiles, making-fun-of-you smiles, and why-wouldn’t-I smiles.
Balinese people are used to and like to smile. One might venture to say that they are the most smiling people on Earth. They smile to apologize and they smile when they hate you. They have – I believe – mastered the art of smiling. That is not the case with the average bule. Indeed, not at all. One might find here and there a bule that smiles a lot. One may even encounter the ever-smiling bule. Make no mistake, he or she is a rarity in the bule world and backs up the generality.
Bules are in general polite in that bule tradition where politeness requires smiling. However, and by incidence of this fact, polite smiles are relegated to the level of a mere superficial accessory void of any deeper meaning on human interaction. The true bule smile, the one that comes from within, is an individual phenomena consequence of an outside input (somebody or something makes you smile), or that springs from inside oneself (a memory that triggers happy thoughts or a general happy state of mind or being). Bules, as the Balinese, also like to smile, but only when they feel like it and, hence, tend to dislike forcing a smile. The bule might unsuccessfully try smile to hypocritically hide his anger and annoyance. The person receiving the smile will notice both the anger and the hypocrisy behind it. Inevitably, the bule will know that his efforts to hide his feelings were to no avail and his masquerade was left in the open. This is not the case with the Balinese. They feel anger and annoyance as it is the case with bules. After all, we are all humans and, as such, different but the same. Their smile however, even if they are (the Balinese, I say), at that precise moment, annoyed by you, their smiles will not be tinted with hypocrisy, for a hypocritical smile would signify a fake smile.
A smile of the sort that would not be heartedly felt will have the bule’s face’s muscles trembling from the effort, no matter how short it may be. A smile like that subjugates the spirit of the bule, for the bule likes to speak his mind. He feels it is his privilege and obligation to show to the world that that he is. The world has entitled him to share his thoughts. The world -so he thinks- needs to know what he thinks. Not showing his true persona is a betrayal to himself; a betrayal to the human race as he knows it. Thus the reason the bule finds extreme dislike in hypocritical smiles and loathes himself when resorting to one, the end result of which, will be resenting even more so the person to which it is intended.
The Balinese smile (at all times) is far from fake. It is sincere with no trace of hypocrisy, for the Balinese smile is devoid of sentiment albeit of great meaning. The Balinese communicate through smiling. The Balinese smile is a rule of engagement of interaction that goes beyond the façade of the polite bule-smile. It opens the door to a philosophy on life and on human interaction: no confrontation. If a bule that is worth his humanness is expected to speak his mind no matter the outcome, a Balinese worth his humanness is expected to avoid confrontation no matter what the cause. The bule resents smiling hypocritically because it strips him off his right and duty to speak his mind and to do it without reserve. It goes against his nature. It makes him suffer. The Balinese resents confrontation because it strips him off his right and duty of leading a peaceful and tolerant life with his fellow man. It goes against his nature. The bule will show his anger and yell and kick and even curse and assault the other guy if that means to reveal who he truly is. The Balinese will lie and make things up and pretend if that means to reveal who he truly is.
So one will not be in short supply of smiles in Bali and, as you are quickly finding out, if you are looking for smiles, here in Bali, you are in for a feast.
However, a problem shall arise from all these beautiful smiles that you will encounter everywhere. Which one would you keep in your memory? Indeed, they will all of them blend together into a blurry image that will pop in your mind when in years to come you are back in your bule country – while enjoying a moment to yourself, after a cold-water, not-so-bad surf session, by way of a coffee in a quiet late afternoon looking at the grass fields around you-, as you start reminiscing about Bali and its people.
I tell you, in Bali everybody will smile at you; kids and moms on the back of motorbikes, boys in the Bali bale hanging out and loafing, truck drivers smoking clove-scented cigarettes looking down at you on your motorbike while both wait for the green light, parking lot valets after accidentally dropping your bike while trying to make room for the SUV, SUV driver, street vendors, shop assistants after an hour of your bargaining and finally not buying.
Smiles in Bali abound everywhere and you are quickly realizing that. Nevertheless, you may not have a particular Balinese smile to take home to that after-surf-session coffee moment. You will need to find one to enthrone and treasure, making it the special one; the one not to be sent to the depths and haziness of our memories, but rather kept always at hand to resort to when you think times get tough.
You may, indeed, want to have that special one-smile.
Here is how to find one:
Take your rented bike equipped with surf racks and go surfing. Don’t forget your board. After all, that is why, in the first place, you came to Bali. But go exploring first. Get lost in the south coast of the Bukit, hoping to find a break that will not only be peeling perfectly but will also be empty or, if needed, with one or two guys. Forget about the ridiculous crowds on the ridiculous good waves of the west coast. Never mind the east coast. It is also crowded. Again, go exploring. Get off the main paved road full of limestone- loaded trucks and speeding motorcycles and get on a smaller paved road. You will already feel the difference. The unbelievable traffic – that shocking reality of Bali that had you unprepared for- will be gone and left behind. You will be surprised. You will feel like you jumped from one scenario to another bearing very little in common one another. Life is crazy like that sometimes. Reduce your speed. Pace of life here immediately slows down; go with it. There will still be some scattered houses here and there. Follow the winding and hilly road that is leading you to somewhere. The scenery will keep on changing. The scarce houses will be gone; the green of the trees and grass –that, yes, cover most of the Bukit- , will totally take over. You might still cross a motorbike or two, or the occasional car. Take no heed. Find another turn. Preferably into a smaller road (it can still be paved). The more it looks like it leads away from where you were coming, the better. Now, slow down again. Look around you and try to forget-as hard as it may seem- about the waves you are looking for. The canopy of the trees on both sides of the road will all of a sudden intertwine forming a green tunnel that will surround you as swallowing you up as you drive your motorbike deeper and deeper into it, overwhelming you with a feeling of joy. The joy of exploring Bali. Enjoy for a few minutes the cool shade from the brutal midday sun. After you have ridden on this tunnel for a while look for another turn, this time into a dirt road. It doesn’t matter if it looks like it is not going towards the coast; it will be actually going upwards to the hills. You are looking for un-crowded waves, but remember; you are also exploring and looking for that one special smile to take home with you. The dirt road will continue for a bit as it takes you further up the hill. You will see bare-chested, dark-skin scrawny old ladies wearing Balinese traditional sarongs, carrying loads of twigs on top of their heads and walking barefoot. You won´t find the one smile there. Actually you won´t find any smiles at all there. They won’t even look at you. Indeed, you couldn´t possibly believe that everybody, all the time, smiled in Bali.
Keep on going. The canopy tunnels will be left behind and all of a sudden you will find yourself on a barely discernable narrow bike trail with the sun shinning on you again. Follow it up. On first gear and dodging stones, jagged rocks, little ledges off the small headlands you are passing in between; and always going up and further up, you will reach the top. Stop there. Look around. There will be a couple of cows grazing on grass fields like you hadn’t seen in Bali yet. Look up, and you will see the blue sky (don´t look straight into the Sun. It´s not good for you in Bali either). For a few minutes you will, indeed, forget about the waves. Not far from you, something will catch your attention. A lean Balinese girl dressed and protecting herself from the sun in an old worn-out long sleeve shirt, long pants and a cone-shaped hat will be holding a stick with a little cup-shaped net on the tip, swinging it back and forth around some of the shrub that delineate the grassy landscape as if trying to catch something. She won’t notice you. You will think at first that she is hunting for butterflies in the way you saw kids doing at parks on those hot and humid Tokyoite summer days. The peasant-looking girl will strike you as not at all the kind for engaging in such a playful and seemingly unpractical activity. This will awaken your curiosity and so you will get close to her to find out what she is really up to. Besides, you will try to practice a bit of the basic Indonesian you tried to learn by reading that one surf guide book over the muscle-numbing long flight to Bali.
She will then notice you, and without startling at the sight of a bule lost from his far off dwellings (as in knowing that life is crazy like that sometimes), she will turn around and look at you. You will find her to be a not-so-pretty girl in her mid twenties. Her body language will let you know she is welcoming and open to conversation. You will try to convey your interest about what she is doing. Of course, you won’t understand a word. So you will point to the jar she is holding in her left hand. She will kindly give it to you and while you hold it in your right hand, close to your chest, you will look down into it for closer examination. In the jar, there will be about ten grasshoppers, the ones on the bottom already dead and turning yellow and the ones on the top still moving a bit and still green. You will be puzzled and will look up at her in wonderment. She will look at you and answer with the biggest shinny-eye smile you have ever seen and will ever see in Bali. The smile you were looking for.
She will then add: “Enak!”*