BULES BEING BULES
A bule friend of mine recounted me an interesting story that happened to him not long ago (not long ago being measured in Bali-time.) A story where all people involved are bules living in Bali. A story that would have not happened were the bules involved not the bules that they are. A story that this bule friend of mine would have not recounted to me were he not the bule that he is. A story that I would not be telling now were I not the bule that I am. It is a telling story though. Not necessarily because of its particulars, but because of its compelling insightful nature on the nature of the bule-surfer. A story that makes you go, “that’s right, all bules.” And since it’s hard for all to escape our buleness, and with my friend’s tacit permission, here it is:
One of the sides of the Bukit is a dream-like surf setting. There are about ten surf peaks spread over two kilometers of varying shapes and depths of reefs. The reefs surround beautiful white-sand beaches. The beaches are framed by the majestic Bukit cliffs. The cliffs are spotted here and there and more and more with bungalows, houses, warungs, hotels, restaurants and ding repair shacks. Cement stairs run down to the beach through the cliffs. Surfers, having already checked the swell from the top of the cliff or from their accommodation of choice, and having also already decided what spot to surf, run down the stairs when the surf is pumping and slowly make it up when the session is over. The spots get crowded sometimes. Sometimes it’s just you and a few others. The stairs are great. They are easy to walk down, you get a view of the spots as you go down, and you make it to the beach through different warungs where you can leave your stuff and have a pre or post-session beer. My bule friend would agree with me, the stairs are great. But nevertheless, he would always go down and up the cliff through a different way.
On that same cliff, yet somehow hidden and away from warungs and places to stay, there is a beautiful look-out point where with a slight turning of the head left and right, you could scan all the peaks. You could see the rights and the lefts, you could see the barrels and the long walls, you could see the lines coming from far beyond the horizon, and you could see them turning into little barrel machines, or into deceiving big mushy nothings, or into long, big, fast walls. And you would scan them by yourself sometimes; sometimes with indifferent cows grazing around you.
From that look-out, my friend would walk south along the rim of the open cliff, go into a tunnel of a forest with a Balinese shrine in it and come out onto open cliff again from where he would go down a jagged steep and slippery path cutting through the side of the cliff. On the plot adjacent to the open cliff from where you started down the path to the beach, two or three seldom-used sleepy bungalows humbly rested in the shade of trees a few meters inland from the bordering path. My friend always wondered why such a beautiful location with those few bungalows was not nicely kept to the point of appearing abandoned. There seemed to be, sometimes, a caretaker that lounged the day away in a hammock; but he’d never spotted any surfers staying there.
So that was the way he would always take to go surf that incredible side of the Bukit. Often he would cross ways with Pak Ketut, a local fisherman who also used the same way to go up and down the cliff to the beach.
One day, next to my friend’s favorite look-out, and on the plot that included that first section of open cliff path, a restaurant had started to be built. A wall was set up all the way to the edge of the cliff and that was something to overcome. So he would climb over it to the funny looks of the construction workers and continue on his way along the path into the forest tunnel. And then the restaurant was finished and ready to open its doors. My friend couldn’t climb over the wall anymore. And that was something else to overcome. So he befriended the restaurant owners from where, now, he would then set to walk south again and into the forest-tunnel with the Balinese shrine in it and out onto the second section of open cliff on the southern side of the forest-tunnel.
Things to overcome didn’t seem that difficult to overcome.
One of those days, my friend took along some of his European bule friends down the path through the forest tunnel, past the Balinese shrine and onto the open cliff. The swell was among the best he had seen in a long time. No matter what the tide was doing, all the peaks were working. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the off-shore breeze was just perfect and my friend was in the best of moods. He felt alive, in harmony, loving Bali, loving the Bukit, loving the waves, loving his life and everyone in it. Loving even the loud music that was being played at the restaurant which somehow disturbed the scenery. But my friend didn’t see it that way. It was, now, part of it all, and he loved the all. He paced through the forest-tunnel leaving his friends behind, muttered a prayer to the shrine Gods and walked out onto the open cliff where the sun shone, where the lines pounding the reefs reappeared down below, and where a fifty-or-over-year old man stood tall and by himself, checking the waves and the whole spectacle before his very eyes, as if he were the only guest, or maybe, as if he had bought all entrance tickets.
“Hard to choose where to surf today, uh?” my friend exclaimed guessing the joy of the other surfer in front of such line ups.
“Hmm, hmm”, was the reply he got from the surfer who didn’t turn his head and kept on looking out to the ocean. The glare of the sun on the water was strong. Really strong. He was wearing sunglasses.
The surfer then turned around and with his arms still crossed over his chest; he then talked to my friend. “Where are you coming from?” he said.
My friend was a bit baffled by the question. He had obviously come from where he had come, from where the man knew he had come, from the forest tunnel. Could it have been that the man, so abstracted by the spectacle of the incredible surf below hadn’t noticed where he had come from (north) and thought that maybe he had come from the other side of the path (south)?” It couldn’t be”, he said to himself. He timidly –not wanting to point out the obvious- pointed back to the obvious. “From there”, he said.
“Yes, I know. But from where?” My friend wasn’t sure but he felt like he noticed a strange tone in the other surfer’s voice. As if he was irritated by something.
“I don’t understand”, my friend answered and the harmony within him and the Universe was starting to stir. “From there, walking through the path.”
“I can see that. But, were you at the restaurant before walking on the path?” he asked now, lifting his sun glasses off his eyes and looking straight into my friend’s eyes.
“Oh, yes. I was.”
“Well, you can’t go down this way to the beach.”
My friend’s harmony stirred more. He felt a pang of current going through his body.
“What do you mean?” he politely asked. “I’ve been using this path for years. Why could I not go down it today?”
A series of bule idiosyncrasies followed. Private property was called for, loud music and neighbor enmity was brought to the table, rights of the individual before well-being of others were pronounced. Harmony and consideration to a fellow man and surfer was, obviously, not in order.
My friend, still feeling in harmony – if not a completely pleasant harmony- noticed, however, that the surfer was not comfortable with the situation, he was not comfortable with how he was handling it. He was not comfortable with himself. He seemed to be forced to act in a way contrary to his principles.
“C’mon man. Does it really bother you that I go down the cliff to surf? Look at those waves…”
The surfer wavered, and not very convinced himself, went against his own principles citing what sounded like somebody else’s –handy nevertheless- principles: “It’s a matter of principle. This is my property and you are coming from a restaurant that is disturbing my peace and that is a problem.”
“But how is that anything to do with me?” my friend asked still puzzled by it all.
And that’s when harmony within himself and with the Universe finally cracked. The surfer’s kid or maybe nephew, a smooth-cheeked, still awkwardly lanky, fresh-out-of-puberty teenager, who had appeared from somewhere on that plot of land from one of the two or three not very well-kept bungalows and who had been pacing around at a short distant, sprang to my friend’s face and shouted at him, “If you go to that restaurant, you are part of the problem.”
My friend, a thirty-five-year old man, a lifelong surfer, a searcher for truth, harmony and respect throughout his years as a young and finally mature adult, was all of the sudden not a piece of life adding to the overall harmony of the Universe but a problem to a man and his kid. He was, all of the sudden, a problem to mankind.
That was hard to swallow.
Evermore baffled at this bad news, and shocked really at the way he was being addressed by the young punk, he turned his look from the kid to the man, he waited for something and when it didn’t come, he looked down in bewilderment.
Just then, his European friends, two men and a woman, made their appearance from out of the forest-tunnel. The situation went from surreal to awkwardly real. My friend’s friends were friends enough with the bule-surfer to the point of meriting warm handshakes and smiles on the part of the guys (who were totally ignorant of what was going on) and, to the height of awkwardness, kisses on the cheeks between the man and the girl followed.
The man quickly but hesitantly (ashamedly maybe?) informed and asserted of his position to the others (who could not believe what they were hearing), but yet gave his permission for all of them to go down the cliff just that one time, and then he walked away as uncomfortable with the situation as any of them.
As they were going down the cliff my friend wondered about Pak Ketut.
The waves were as good as it gets. It was big but not huge, the swell was lining up perfectly, the long sets came at exact intervals, and all the peaks were firing. As they were checking the waves for the last time before going out, my friend asked his friend, “Man, am I really a problem?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. You are definitely a ball-breaker sometimes, if that’s what you mean… Look at that wave, man! Are we going for the little barrel machine or for the long walls?”