BALI Four Years Later…

I came to Bali in March of 2012. Today I checked the archives of my blog to remember what I was doing this time four years ago and was stunned. Swirling around me in a crazy juxtaposition of images and feelings was a journey, upon a journey, within a journey!

As I revisited those first months I saw myself the way I see everyone who arrives here from the relentless time pressures of the West. In the space of thirty days I managed to tour a village famous for woodcarvings, visit an organic farm, the Green School, the John Hardy jewelry factory, Goa Gajah elephant cave, a traditional market, a black sand beach, GitGit waterfall, the Bali animal sanctuary, and a school for children with learning disabilities. I took a cooking class, attended a Kecak Fire Dance, a Grand Opening for the new Yoga Barn, and a Balinese wedding. As if that wasn’t enough, I walked to a yoga studio every morning for an hour of Vinyasa! I thought, I truly thought I was slowing down. The thing is, compared to what I’d left behind, I was.

Observing myself in energizer bunny mode dazed me.

Then I pulled up accounts of Dewa, the owner and host at Jati Homestay where I spent my first months. I remember how compromised my feelings about men were at that time. The only good man was a…well, maybe not a dead man, but any male with heterosexual tendencies was unwelcome in my world. Dewa cracked the stony wall around my heart with his kindness and laughter.

Besides an inability to slow down, and a desire to avoid interactions with men, my head was wrapped around the novel I was writing, a psychological suspense thriller that distanced me from my own reality and kept me entwined in the imaginary lives of my characters.

And now…

I’ve slowed to a point where I’d make a slug appear speedy. I’ve embraced and embodied, dare I say mastered, the art of sacred idleness. There is nothing I would do today that can be put off until tomorrow, or later, or forever. I meditate and daydream and spend chunks, huge slices of time gazing at clouds. Have you ever been lost in the magnificence of clouds?


And let me tell you about men. When I moved into a more permanent residence after two months at Dewa’s, and discovered that I would have a man looking after me literally twenty-four hours a day, the discomfort that arose was irrational and immense. I was Ketut’s job. His only job. Many things crossed my freaked-out mind. But I loved my new quarters and as the days passed I grew curious about Ketut. He spoke almost no English but greeted me every morning with, “You want breakfast now?” His quiet, humble ways and attention to detail captivated me and the frozen places within commenced a tectonic shift. Since then I’ve existed almost exclusively in the company of men. First there were the adorable guys who built my house, and now the neighborhood staff, five of them, like to hang out, play my guitar, and beat me at Uno.

Ketut still manages me and I can’t imagine life without his friendship.


Two years ago I completed the fiction novel and cast about for what to do next. Many times I’d been told I should write my story. I’d tried, but the tough things were still lodged in a pain place and I couldn’t make myself go back there. All attempts ended in failure. But that was before. Now felt different, so I began. One chapter led to another, then another. I dug through detritus within myself that hadn’t been touched for decades and found it had fermented and become delightfully intoxicating.

Today, as I read the blog and traced those first exploratory steps in a foreign place where I knew no one, not even myself, and superimposed the image of who I’ve become, the magnitude of change hit me. What a testimony to the energetic magic of letting go. If I hadn’t sold everything four years ago and leaped into the unknown…

John Hardy Jewelry is Big Business in Bali

I know what I expected. What I got was a jolt of reality.

I made the appointment the day before and my visit to the John Hardy Jewelry Compound was confirmed for 11:00 a.m.  I arrived, signed in, and a lovely Balinese woman introduced herself as my guide. We crossed a little thatched roof bridge and entered another world.

To clarify a few points, John Hardy sold the company in 2007. The two men who purchased the brand were his CEO, Damien Dernoncourt and his Senior Designer/Creative Director, Guy Bedarida. John Hardy himself went on to imagine, fund and build The Green School in Bali. (See my earlier post.) The jewelry compound at first glance appears green and serene.

I am standing on a bamboo path that leads to the huge boat-shaped showroom where the collections of John Hardy jewelry are displayed.

The interior is stunning. The jewelry cases are on bamboo pedestals. The two in the middle are single columns and the displays along the sides sit atop criss-crossed bamboo structures. The flooring is a woven bamboo material that has significant give to it. Since footware is removed upon entering, during the entire shopping experience my feet had a subtle massage. (It would never pass U.S. Building Codes!) This showroom houses the collections that are being discontinued, 30% off. There is another room slightly below this one, completely enclosed and air conditioned, where the new collections are displayed.  There are no discounts in that room but I was served a complimentary glass of amazing iced lemongrass tea with turmeric, ginger, and cane sugar syrup.

Leaving the surreal environment of the showrooms we entered the factory itself. I snapped one picture and was advised that photos would not be allowed in these areas. Gone were the bamboo fronds and breezes. I was in hot rooms with row upon row of men and women sitting at long tables, bent over their work. Some were cleaning the tiny pieces of wax that will be used for creating the molds for each miniscule part that makes up an exquisite John Hardy work of art. Some were applying those pieces to a cuff bracelet, an earring or a ring. Some were creating the beautiful woven silver chains, link by excruciating link, that become the bracelets and necklaces that are sold for hundreds, even thousands of dollars each. I was told that the workers can create up to 10 centimeters of chain per hour. Each piece of the link is about the size of the curved end of a paper clip. They do this for seven hours a day.

Approximately 700 people are employed here. The factory is immense. My guide led me through room after room and explained the process from beginning to end. A few of the orange shirted workers looked up as I passed, but most were focused diligently on their work. In the rooms where the molds are heated to melt the wax it was hot. In other areas the processes produced fumes. The people work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour off for free lunch that is served cafeteria style under the huge banyan trees.

Management eats at this table after the workers have had their meal.

There are organic gardens where  vegetables are grown. The produce is used for meals at the compound. Here one small patch of ground is being prepared for planting.

What had I expected? I had a romantic notion that all of this took place outside in the fresh air under bamboo roofed pavilions. I imagined laughter and an atmosphere of creative energy. I pictured maybe 60 people…max! Silly me. This is BIG BUSINESS. This is capitalism. This is all about money with an attempt at maintaining the goodwill of the Balinese by planting bamboo trees with a percentage of the profits. So, hypothetically, a silver bracelet that may have cost $25 to make, sells for $900, and 16 baby bamboo trees get planted when someone purchases it. (It says so right inside the bracelet.)

As I rode back through the rice fields we passed an older Balinese woman walking along the side of the road, bare breasted with her sarong skirt and a huge basket of produce on her head. I didn’t photograph the woman, but I did take this shot of the field.

It’s a bit tough to integrate everything. Some of the most expensive, beautifully refined jewelry in the world is being created right here within steps of where the old woman walked.  Many of the workers are people who, themselves, are incredible artists. But they can make more money sitting elbow to elbow in a hot, smelly factory doing a single job day after day, than they can creating their own pieces. Is it any different than farming out jobs in the garment industry to countries where people work for little or nothing, or any industry for that matter? Seeing it first-hand gives me a completely different perspective. I feel thrown off-balance. But that’s what reality does when it catches me unprepared for truth.

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