Where there is Magic in the Air

I was often told that Sanur, the village town in Bali in which I grew up, was haunted by particularly strong black magic. In fact, for centuries what is now a bustling and modern habitation was once covered in pristine forest which no one ever ventured into; the village had a reputation as the abode of demons, witches and magicians. Of course, that was all before the great development boom the island of Bali has seen in the past few decades. A look at Sanur now and you might hardly believe that it was once the stuff of horror stories: in fact Sanur is a bit of a residential refuge. Its modern bypasses and facility dotted streets are flanked on either side by traditional villages (urbanized now, of course) or ancient shrines in the banyan trees.

For two years, I had dreamed of feeling the salty breeze of Sanur beach enveloping me again. When I finally felt it, I found a lost part of me. For those that have visited, Bali is a paradise of earth. For those that have lived there, Bali is as much a paradise as any home. From the neon lit throbbing night clubs of Kuta, the high-end French-speaking restaurants of Seminyak, to the glow bug lit lanes cutting through rice paddies and yoga centres in Ubud; Bali is a different world with every five steps. The main city of Bali is Denpasar, famous for its shopping districts. Surrounding Denpasar are a number of villages including Kuta, Renon, Sanur, Canggu and Seminyak which have urbanized to the extent that they now appear to be more suburbs than outliers.

Bali is famous for its beaches, gorgeous views, water-sports, food, tourism, and of course its ancient and unique culture. Bali is the last remnant of when the Indonesian archipelago was a centre of Hinduism. The Hindu traditions of Bali have evolved through centuries of both isolation and integration which today is reflected in its incredible richness and complexity. Speaking of the richness of Balinese culture, I was very lucky to attend my good friend Hiroto’s teeth filling ceremony.

In Bali, when a boy comes of age, his entire family gathers at their ancestral home to witness his teeth being filed. What follows is of course much feasting and gift-giving; in many ways it is very similar to a Bar-mitzvah ceremony. The filling of the teeth represents the curbing of one’s raw, unrefined and almost animalistic nature. In turn, smoothed teeth represent maturity and wisdom. Of course, the grinding down of the teeth these days is substituted with surface filing which is not as painful but carries the same symbolic power.

I was lucky to attend an international school wherein I made friends from around the world. One such friend was Hiroto, who was half Balinese and half Japanese. Since he was a cook and I was his friend, I was regularly invited over to sample many of his dishes, which included Japanese, Balinese and Scientific molecular gastronomy foods, among many others. The food at the ceremony was… unbelievable. All manner of fruits, sambal sauces, meats (including the legendary Balinese Babi-guling) and exotic flavours of ice-cream were served. We went exploring the jungle surrounding Hiroto’s ancestral home and found an ancient pura shrine which is believed to be frequented by a dukun shaman who lives in these woods. 

dukun shrine

The Shrine in the Jungle 

hiroto potong gigi

Friends and I celebrate Hiroto’s coming of age

Bali is full of surprises such as this; another such experience was when I accidentally stumbled upon an ancient bird market in the middle of Denpasar while exploring one day, or when my friends and I discovered a hidden fluorescent cove in the middle of trekking down the coast. Let’s not forget about the small and hidden warung street food cafes, wherein it is said that the smaller the establishment, the better the food.

Like B.C., Bali too is incredibly diverse in terms of population. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to come to Quest was because I desperately needed a place which could match the melting pot nature of Bali’s thriving international community. There are, I think, few places in the world as culturally diverse as BC’s Lower Mainland, and Quest is a gem in the middle of all this- the first thing that attracted me to Quest was the lack of extra fees for international students as well as the diversity and sense of community which was fostered as a consequence. It is no wonder that there are so many Bali kids at Quest!

Since food and transportation are very cheap in Bali, it is easy to find one’s self exploring the city late through the night. Of course, there was about a weeks’ worth of time where due to torrential downpours my house (and the houses of many others) became completely flooded, and waddling through the silt water on the streets proved not worth the effort.

house flooded

My house flooded from a barrage of tropical rain

But aside from Moroccan cafes, late night bowling alleys, 24/7 warungs and beaches, Bali has much to offer in the day time too. As I sat on a bamboo gazebo hanging over Sanur beach, one of my favourite places in the world, I gazed onto the flickering lamps which lit up the market some distance down from me. On the other side of the island I could see fireworks dazzling below the distant clouds. The sun was about to set soon, and I would begin my long walk home. After my long walk home, I would have a long night of packing and sleep, and then a long journey which would take me across the world and back to Squamish, a home I was beginning to miss terribly. But there is little which can replace waking up to roosters, sleeping to warm downpours of rain, rocking to the upbeat rhythms of dangdut, or reflecting on the sombre and profound chants from neighbourhood temples. There is little also that could fill the great hole in my heart left by the lack of affordable and delicious Indonesian food.

And yet, the long night was bittersweet. Being in Bali reminded me too much of when I was a student, a lifestyle that I had really begun to miss- the schedules, friends, rewarding learning experiences, all of them were harkening me back to Quest. I was leaving home once again; but it had been a great break. Not a relaxing break, but that is a good thing in its own way. Besides, I couldn’t wait to get back to the one place I could think of which was as beautiful as home, and I was so lucky to call Squamish home too. We all leave a part of ourselves in places we choose to settle. I can’t wait to find that part of me I left in Bali again someday.

sanur beach

Sanur beach

But first, I had a piece of myself waiting for me in Squamish. Stay tuned for more!

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