06.02.2009 28 °C
Bule: pronounced boo-lay means white-skinned (westerner).
For good reason, the intensely superstitious Balinese are as fearful of the gods in the mountains as they are of the devils in the sea. From time immemorial, unpredictable and seemingly vengeful volcanoes have rained fiery death on this island from their cloud-shrouded heights, whilst cyclonic tropical winds have periodically whipped the sea into a destructive frenzy along the coast. It is possible, therefore, that common sense and not superstition has driven the Balinese to believe that a point halfway between these two hellish elements is the best place to live.
Our good friend Tony inhabits such an idyllic space: a lush plateau of rice paddies and coconut palms midway between the mountain and the ocean; a place of tranquility and beauty from where he can oversee the devilish forces of nature whilst remaining resistant to their destructive powers.
Tony is a creative, gentle, intellectual who has no place amongst the boorish ex-pat drunkards who lurch around the sleazy beachside bars with nubile Balinese girls for support. Neither does he fit with the get-rich-quick merchants who inhabit the higher slopes and seek every opportunity to turn a buck by inveigling purpose-made friends into property deals of doubtful value.
However, Bali is not only home to renegade westerners taking advantage of cheap women, cheap land and cheap labour. It is home to more than a million entrepreneurial Balinese who find dastardly inventive ways to pick the pockets of the neo-colonialists.
Bules can neither own property, vehicles nor bank accounts, so need either a local wife or ‘trusted friend’ to act as trustee. But trust is a matter of interpretation which often leaves the “friend” holding the bag.
The families of young people all hit the jackpot if a rich old westerner is lured to the bridal bed. What self-respecting westerner would not build a house – probably large enough for the extended family – or pay for granny’s operation, or brother’s motorbike etc. etc. etc? And why not hire the entire family as cook, cleaner, gardener, etc. etc. etc. ….? The list is endless. It is a symbiotic relationship with each player in some way or another taking advantage - from the rejuvenated bule whose friends back home are trekking through the snow to the pharmacy for incontinence pads, to the twenty-year-old bride who is the envy of the village. Not all such marriages of convenience end in heaven, although the bride and family may end up with all the money.
So, why does Tony stay in Bali and why does he love this life which is so full of contradictions? Because, like us, he sees the ugliness but focuses on the beauty. Because he lives on an idyllic plateau midway between the devil and the deep blue sea.