[read earlier parts of “In Bali With Baggage” here]
As I wander Bali for the next few days, I can’t stop thinking about the pink lotus incident, how bending down to pick up that flower inaugurated a flood of emotional introspection. On my last day here, I stop into a restaurant and have an iced coffee and, as I’ve been doing a lot of lately, pull out my notebook within which I’ve been trying to figure it out. This is some of what I’ve jotted down so far:
Even one’s own fear, when looked at with compassion, can be something to embrace, like a crying child.
Borghes describes a dream of Dante’s where he awakens feeling as though he’s both discovered and lost something infinite. I feel a bit like that, too.
What is my true fear? To be exposed as a fraud? To lose all self control? The respect of others? To reveal something shameful to others that I don’t know I’m exposing.
It was like the galaxy had aligned itself, through an act of cosmic timing, to have the cat and the flower come together. And I had to travel a far ways to reach it. It was a matter of shedding layers of the regular life that over time desensitizes you to the world around you.And now what? Now that I have had this moment of clarity, what to do with it? When Moses was handed the word of God, he took it to the people while Jonah ran from it. And look what happened to Jonah. You can hear the world of God – have the truth downloaded into your brain – but then what? Certainly this is a beginning, but what now?
It was while pouring over the moment at the temple, poking and prodding it and of course also worrying that I was fetishizing it, that Rince walks in. He looks like a skinnier, laid-back Shia LeBoeuf. He has the at-ease-ness of someone who feels OK in the world, in his own skin. He is 25 years old and though well-traveled, he is without that neediness, that slightly smarmy charm of the traveler who’s been traveling too long, by himself and compelled to constantly be interrupting conversations, on the make for new companions to stave off loneliness.
My assumption is that he’s been here forever, but when we get to talking, through my initiative and not his, I learn that he’s been here only three days and it’s his first time in this part of the world. He’s come here to learn to surf. Maybe this deep cool is a surfer thing, or a people-driven-to-learn-to-surf thing.
Rince explains how he’s just flown from Hochi Minh City after a month-long motor bike journey from Hanoi.
“When you travel for a month, then you don’t have to worry,” he says. “If tomorrow you don’t do anything, if you want to lie in bed all day, that’s OK.”
When I ask him if he was ever afraid while making his trip, he says that the Vietnamese are the kindest people he’d ever met. And in some rural parts he travelled through, they’d never even seen a white person.
“The world is a playground,” he says.
Is this the wisdom of being 25, or will Rince always see life in this way?
When I was 19, fuelled on books like “On the Road” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” all that desire for play, experience – everything at once – exploded in me in the form of a Greyhound bus trip across North America, from Montreal to LA with my friend Avi. It took us a month to get there and a month to get back. It was my world-is-a-playground moment and I was not afraid. Not really. Whether I was sleeping in a field in New Mexico or hitchhiking on the back of a pickup truck in the rain, there was a romance there, a story I was looking forward to telling that diluted the fear. I was in tune with the uniqueness of every place I went to, the uniqueness of each moment. The smell of a hotel lobby in Cheyenne reminded me of a soap I’d smelled in childhood. Everything felt special. Every new thought was immediately catalogued in a notebook. What happened to me? As an adult I stopped seeing the world as a playground. I came to see life as days you try your best to get through with as little pain to yourself and others as possible.
I remember how in “On the Road,” Sal Paradise and his friends spoke of those squares who worry the whole trip about where they’re going to eat, where they’re going to sleep while they, the original hipsters, just knew they’d be OK, that those things always just take care of themselves. That that was inevitable. When I read the book at 18 I felt I knew this and never thought I could forget it, that I could never be one of those squares. Now of course, I see Sal and his buddies as a bunch of mooches, the kinds of guys who didn’t have to worry because they probably had a friend like me somewhere, built for responsibility and worry, with a couch to crash on and a fridge full of groceries.
I am reminded of DH Lawrence’s description of Starbuck from “Moby Dick”: “dependable, reliable – in other words, afraid.” What a brilliantly nonjudgmental way of putting it. Being dependable isn’t all bad, but it can be a drag.
Meeting Rince makes me feel like maybe I shouldn’t be so worried and afraid all the time. And even as I think this, I can’t let go of my undying, hardwired and ingrained belief in the ironic workings of the universe within which I live, a place where even considering such a thing will have irritated the evil eye, ensuring I will now be mugged and left for dead in an alley.
When Rince and I part, I walk to the beach, and along the way, something that looks like a large cockroach scurries across my path. Again I feel the familiar sensation of my stomach tightening and I embrace it – a Buddhist bell calling me back to my true self. I struggle to see the truth, the beauty, the me-ness in mistaking a date pit, blowing in the wind, for a bug.
[Illustration: Dmitry Samarov]