Travelling to Bali When The Entire Island Was In Lockdown, And It Wasn’t Because Of COVID-19
On Monday, 23rd March 2020 following the Prime Minister to close doors to cafe and restaurants and public library, in a matter of minutes, twenty-two of us lost the job as an event, venue, and cafe staff at The Bryan Brown Theatre and Knowledge Centre in Bankstown, South-West Sydney suburb. With 21 other casual staff, the following day, I would wake up unemployed. Now the only option I’ve got is to seek help from the government to claim what so-called ‘the job keeper’ allowance. It is degrading at a mature, independent age like myself to go through on the ‘dole payment’ again.
I was the last person who worked on my evening shift on Tuesday, 24th March 2020. It was quite eerie to see the building was looming in the dark. Usually, the LED lights were so bright in the library. From a distance, I could see glossy interiors of modern bookshelves and desk behind the immense glass wall. But tonight all the lights were off.
Here Downunder, winter is approaching. Though this year, autumn gives us mild sunshine and some days of rain, the harsh summer was still in our vivid memories. I was walking down a few blocks away from the station to my workplace bracing for the heat and dusted smokey air. We haven’t seen clear blue skies for weeks. Bush fires had left black, skeletal trees in our neighbourhood bushland.
It was only 08:30 at night, but the streets were empty with a few people walking from the nearby Bankstown station. I was walking down the empty street. Usually on the chilled autumn night like this one now, I stopped by for a while watching the boys playing soccer. But now Paul Keating park was dark. The park benches were empty. I turned around, looking at the knowledge centre and library building, where I worked for the past two years. Usually, I could see from a distance, locals were sitting at the library desk, or some teens walking through bookshelves, but that night the entire building was completely dark.
Who would think that after the beaten path of bush-fire disaster, now we are walking in the dark, empty streets? Self-isolations and quarantines are the words we hear and possibly we are still justifying our lives to this whole new world. The unforeseen unfortunate event of life is playing us down.
The Silent Day Of Nyepi Means A 24-hour Lockdown
But three years ago in March 2017, I travelled solo to Bali only to find myself with no other options, but self-isolating in a tiny villa in the middle of tropical jungle in Ubud. Still, I had to follow the traditional island law: self-isolation for twenty-four hours in respect of Balinese Nyepi. With social distancing and self-isolation happening all over the world, Nyepi has never been relevant before. But what can we learn from the Balinese Hindu Nyepi?
My Balinese friends mark their lunar Saka New Year by self-isolating themselves for twenty-four hours. They celebrate it every year as a staycation ritual of the silent day called Nyepi. This year, Nyepi started at 06:00 in the morning on Wednesday, 25th March 2020, and ended at 06:00 in the morning, 26th March 2020.
This annual Hindu celebration, mainly known in Bali is a public holiday for the nation of the thousand islands, Indonesia. It has been a celebration to mark the island’s Saka New Year believed since 79 AD. For 24 hours Balinese have to obey self-isolation rules with certain restrictions in place; only low lights allowed, no business or working activities, any forms of entertainments, and travelling.
Does it sound familiar to you? But three years ago, the silent day was a ridiculous thing to do when you travelled to Bali. “You know what day it is in Bali, don’t you?’ My Balinese friend, Wayan, warned me on Whatsapp when he found out my travel dates. ‘The local securities patrol regularly, and you will be in trouble when they see you breach any of the restrictions,’ He added.
Nyepi is the island’s staycation day enforced for everyone. Travellers are not exempt from the law. Twenty-four hours of self-isolation in Bali is a meditative day of self-reflection. Though the actual Nyepi rituals are elaborate, involving many temples on the island, the four restrictions are implied for individuals as a way of meditation. What we see in many International cities around the world is what happens on the Nyepi day in Bali.
Beaches are deserted while streets are left empty. Airports, shops and offices are closed. On a silent day, I only heard the dogs barking in the empty street as the sound of coconut trees were dancing with the wind. Mother nature was so closed that I almost felt like it was wrapping its hands around me. In the deep dark tropical jungle of Ubud, trees were like crawling onto the horizon as the dark sky revealed the trembling stars. It was the night of a symphonic orchestra of river streams in between rocks. Crickets were chirping as an owl was hooting before scooping a frog down the dark water of rice paddy fields.
The silent day gives a way to observe nature through our different senses. ‘Our ears listen, and eyes see differently’, Said Kung, my Balinese Hindu mentor to guide me prior the Nyepi day. ‘We see and hear the world differently, and most importantly, we see ourselves differently. It is the meditative moments of self-reflection,’ He continued.
During this self-isolation, it is time to reflect what I have done and what I haven’t. I start doing something I never entirely completed it before. My usual gym routines have now become my yoga and meditation routines. I started reading the book I purchased and never got a chance to read it. I made a list of what to do, and I can’t believe that there are so many things I can do at home. I want to encourage myself to write and read more. I have many watch list on Netflix and Foxtel for my entertainment. Cleaning the house has never been a priority, but now it is one of the things I do every day. Decluttering is my new norm.
The Uncharted Territory of Self-Isolation
The stricter social distancing is now in place. We are advised to go out only for the essential activities, such as go to work, groceries shopping, going for health-related services, a haircut (with four square metre distance restriction in the barbershop/hair salon and no more than 30 minutes appointment applied). The law is now on a social gathering, including visiting neighbours, relatives or families that are not on the same household. More businesses are forced to shut down, and it is now extended to spa and beauty salon, tattoo parlour, brothel, funeral only limited to ten people (with social distancing applied), libraries, gyms, public swimming pools, restaurants and cafes are allowed for takeaway services only, in any retail spaces and house auction and house inspection activities, are also in the restriction list. Indoor and outdoor markets restriction is under the state government.
And here we are, behind the walls of our house. We want to believe humanity is the belief system that empowers us all. Remember that the sky is not always blue. The sun doesn’t always shine. In the most challenging times, the pandemic isn’t a test for us, but it is a fact we all have to face and defeat it with every possible way by following both of our state and local authorities. Let’s put aside any differences and doubts because after all, we are all going into the same direction; we all want our lives back on track again. We want back the job we lost. We want to be healthy and live in a healthy society again. And most of all we want our freedom back.
Indeed, we are not built for self-isolation, but in the most challenging times of our lives, aren’t we all grateful that at some points of our lives, we had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world? Look at your mobile. Browse your travel photos and let your travel memories linger in your mind.
Aren’t we all grateful and find the silver lining why we love travelling because — a part of it is that through travelling — you learn something out of your charted territory. You meet someone from different parts of the world, compromise yourself to the whole new world and adapt yourself to another environment. Don’t we all realise it now that when we travel, every day is a brand-new day? Life is a lesson we learn through each second of our travelling times.