basking in balinese bliss pt. 2 (ft. umbrellas)

I lie here under the Indonesian sky. It’s a plain blue, cloudless—not even the slightest wisp; as if the day’s painter had run out of white and couldn’t be bothered to restock. I ponder for a second if it is right to call this the Indonesian sky; after all, does the sky belong to any of us? Is the sky portioned like the ground is? Can we claim something that is out of reach? It is merely a space that holds us, a space that we believe to be the limit.

I tilt my chin upwards, the frames of my sunglasses resting snuggly on my face as if it’s the only object of permanence in my vicinity, the only thing I will take with me when this trip is over. There is a kite in the sky; navy, white, and red. It buoys effortlessly in the vast space, wondrously adhering to an invisibly fenced circle it can’t seem to fly out of. On second look, more salmon than red. I attempt to locate the kite flyer but to no avail: my vision is obscured by many a colorful umbrella: tangerine, crimson, lemon, emerald, azure, flamingo—you name it, there is an umbrella painted brightly in the color. It wouldn’t faze me if every shade of color that exists on the face of the earth has congregated on this beach.

I close my eyes against the slithering rays of light that lie outside the canopy’s coverage and feel the rumble that comes with the heightening of my remaining senses. Grains of sand cling onto the crevices between my toes; for a moment, I recall my affinity for the beach and contradictory disdain for the sand. It’s all temporary. The sand doesn’t magically adhere to become a part of you. Shake it off. Shake it off. And so I do, quite literally, but these granules are as stubborn as I am when I pile on extra-curricular activities on my plate like a buffet. I think about how stubborn nature can be; how its stubbornness proceeds its beauty. Plants sprout anywhere they so please no matter how many flowers we pick or trees to which we hold a saw; rain insists on showering upon us even though our many umbrellas and roofs scorn them; nature and its revolutions continue to flourish despite the number of concrete jungles we construct. Now this, this stubbornness, is anything but temporary.

But never mind that. I consciously halt the firing of thoughts in my mind and set my body to the rhythm of the DJ’s groovy tunes. Though I would rather be soaking ears-deep in some mainstream pop, I accept the DJ’s bizarre choice of music. I’ve spent too much of the last months fighting for things to go my way that it is now refreshing to have someone else make the insignificant decisions. The advice to be actively in charge of one’s life, though meaning well, can be turbulent if overused. Sunflowers don’t dictate the way they grow; they follow the path the sun sets for them and still emerge dignified, astounding.

Somewhere in the distance, a child shrieks. I arouse from my lazed demeanor and shoot up straight. Just like the flyer of the kite, the origin of the shriek was nowhere to be found, the sound disappearing as quickly as it spread. My annoyance at the unwelcomed interruption is dissipated by the view of the setting sun. If I were my usual self, I would have marveled at nature’s seduction; but my being on vacation implies I am not my usual self. And so, the first thought that comes to mind is how many future sunsets I will forget to stop and appreciate no thanks to the hectic routine of my usual life. Sunsets are nature’s most priceless pieces of artwork; it is always most beautiful when observed through our bodily lenses instead of mechanical ones, and never can one of them be replicated. And I suppose we are very much like sunsets; what we looked like yesterday is impossible to recreate. Try all we may, some detail will persistently go awry or amiss.

The subsequent thought is as follows: I believe this is what an afterlife looks like. I believe every single soul, no matter if they deserved to spend eternity in heaven, hell, limbo, or purgatory, should be bestowed a chance to be here. I don’t say this lightly just about anywhere, but this particular beach situated on the southern end of Bali is a striking balance between nature and man-made, a bliss that everyone should experience once in their lifetime. At first glance and every following glance, this place is incapable of containing any kind of stress, pain, or suffering. It’s bliss, bliss, bliss; peace, peace, peace. Before I knew it, the sun had dipped beneath the horizon, its last glimpses of gold fanning out a final goodbye.

A singular bulb beneath every umbrella lights up upon the sky’s dimming, and though I wish the bulb’s color had coordinated with the canopy’s color, that thought was quickly washed out of mind. I focus instead on the people and wonder what stories they brought with them; I couldn’t say. The only thing I know for sure is that they are on the same wavelength of bliss as I am, clinking half-filled bottles, taking long drags from their cigarettes, laughing with their heads thrown back.

Just when I was about to be bored of the scenery in front of me, the colors and people stagnant, Bali, as Bali is, brings by something new. Momentarily, a local salesman stops and squats beside me. His target customer was not me but the two young men lounging to my left. The salesman carries with him several paintings and is showcasing every single one to the men. He flips the pages of canvas, displaying the finest artworks. There are other locals bartering different goods around here. I take a particular liking to the one selling handmade bead necklaces but decide against it. I have already made up my mind early on that I will leave Indonesia without any souvenirs; a wavering promise for myself to come back once more in the future.

The sky continues its dimming until the faint brightness of stars and galaxies beyond become visible. Yet another token that proves this is heaven, for it has been so long since I have been able to see past the light pollution of cities. Soon, with the low grumble of our stomachs, hungry from the day’s activities, my family and I bid our farewells to the beach and make for dinner.

I pay attention to the way the sand shifts beneath my feet as I go, gathering my thoughts. It is my last day in Bali. Hereupon, I return to Malaysian soil, welcomed by a summer filled with work and internship, a list of never-ending to-dos. I had dreaded it, hoping for three months of relaxation and peace. But if Bali had taught me anything, is that bliss is only relaxing, and relaxation is only blissful if it comes once in a while. Oh, and another thing: I ought to stop and look up from work sometimes. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll realize that a brightly colored umbrella shades over me, or a flyer-less kite is lazing in the sky.

Aforementioned kite.