From England to Bali: How to Escape
I’m Rachel, I’m from the northeast of England and I moved to Bali nearly 5 years ago. I left the UK to travel and have some adventures, which I did all over Asia, before coming to Bali. I was meant to be here only 10 days but I met my husband within a few days of arriving and after a whirlwind romance we married and now have two children.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I felt like it was time for a major change in my life. I’ve always loved travelling and I had nothing tying me down so I took the plunge to quit my job, sell all my stuff and leave on a round the world trip. I didn’t quite get round the world as it became clear just a few months that Asia was where my heart lay. A short stopover in Bali turned into a month and then 6 months and now 5 years. I’ve left only for a couple of visa runs and a short visit back home after my daughter was born.
2. How do you make a living?
Back in the UK I worked as a web developer and I picked up some freelance jobs building websites while I was travelling. I continued to do this for a few years but recently I’ve been concentrating on writing and I now work full time as a freelance blogger and copywriter.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I talk with my parents at least once a week on Skype – they love to watch the grandkids on the webcam! We also stay in touch over Facebook and they read my blog of course – that’s the main reason I started it.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Bali?
I was quite independent in the UK but I think I’d feel very lonely going back to that life now. Everyone takes care of you in Bali – families all live together and your neighbours are considered to be extended family. The village helps everyone with everything from preparing for weddings to putting out fires. I found it quite claustrophobic and missed my privacy at first (I still love having time to myself, which is rare with two small kids!) but now I appreciate how everyone takes care of each other.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Bali?
Cockroaches. And still being called “tamu” (tourist) despite marrying a Balinese man, living with his family and having 2 children here. It’s not a derogatory term (the literal translation is actually "guest" ) but it still annoys me.
6. What do you miss most?
My friends mainly and silly things like shopping in Sainsburys and Primark and H&M. Luckily most western food is widely available here so I don’t miss too much in that regard. Oh and I miss having an oven.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I’m actually not the most outgoing person and I don’t find making friends comes easily. However I have friends that I met through the bar that my husband used to work in and I’ve also found some great friends here through Facebook.
I would like to have more Balinese friends but I find it difficult as the women here don’t really socialize the way we do in the west – I couldn’t really make friends with someone in the village and go out for lunch or coffee. Women mainly socialize within the village while they’re doing things like washing clothes, sweeping and making offerings, which isn’t really my idea of fun! These days most women have a job outside the home too and that is also for social reasons, but it’s very hard for foreigners to get work here and the pay is very low. So I just stay in my home office working away alone like a hermit!
Now my kids are getting to the age where I want to get out more and meet up for play dates and my daughter will be starting preschool, I’m hoping I’ll meet other mothers that way. There are plenty around; I just need to make a bit more effort!
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Bundling babies up in millions of blankets and clothes and making sure they wear a wooly hat at all times in the sweltering heat; eating alone (families generally only eat together at big ceremonies); spitting!
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Everyone seems to think that the Balinese are really peaceful people but they’re not! Get on the wrong side of a Balinese and they’ll fight tooth and nail until they get what they want. They have a calm exterior but very strong ideals and personalities.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
In general the cost of living is much lower here and we get by on much less than we would in the UK. However certain things are more expensive unless you want to live 100% like a local. It’s also nearly impossible for foreigners to work here so if you don’t’ have your own business or some other form of income, you’re stuck and local wages are very low anyway. Having said that, most of the expats in Bali seem pretty wealthy.
We live very simply and don’t buy a lot at all. Most stuff I buy is for the kids but its still way less than what I would have bought for them in the west. I like that they can play outside here every day with whatever they find lying around and don’t necessarily need hundreds of toys.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Make Balinese and Indonesian friends, get involved with the culture. You’re missing out on a huge part of life here if you distance yourself from the religious ceremonies and don’t make any effort to learn about the culture.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started it just after our wedding so that my friends and family back home could keep up to date with our life here. When people started contacting me and asking questions about living in Bali, I realized it could be a helpful resource for others. Now I mainly use it to upload copious amounts of pictures of my kids!
Rachel's blog, How to Escape
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