Category Archives: Musings

Return If Possible

I haven’t seen my friend Robbi Sappingi for a number of years, and our friend status on Facebook, is still “pending” after my account was hacked several years ago (we were FB friends previously). Unfortunately, our status will be forever “pending” as Robbi was tragically killed in the 6.0 earthquake that hit Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia yesterday 5 June 2105. Robbi was 30 years old, and a mountain guide on “The Mountain”, Mt Kinabalu – The physical and spiritual home for the Dusun people of Kiau, a small close-knit community in Sabah, Borneo. The newspaper reports I have read say he died from head injuries sustained in the earthquake. He had been helping a climber when he was injured and encouraged them to leave him alone and climb to safety. A hero to the end, always putting others before himself.

I first met Robbi when he was a cheeky schoolboy, when I began working in Borneo, regularly taking groups to climb the mountain. His Father, Sapinggi, was our head mountain guide. Part of our itinerary, we would spend a night in the village of Kiau, getting to know the locals and our guides before we climbed the mountain. We stayed in the guesthouse of the local church, and ate dinner in a local home, which inevitable turned into “the party”. Home brewed rice wine is a part of the culture of welcoming guests in this remote mountain village. It was a wonderful bonding experience for our groups, as we had all usually just met each other the day before in Kota Kinabalu. We travelled a couple of hours by minivans from the city, to be dispatched on the side of the road ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and met by an open truck to transport us over the bumpy, windy mountain road to the cool and beautiful elevated village of Kiau.

Kiau village near Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Most of the group would be a little nervous, as it can be a bit confronting being thrown headfirst into an unfamiliar culture, and the imposing view of the majestic mountain reminded us that we were going to be climbing that sucker in a couple of days. “Don’t think about the mountain” Sappingi would always remind us. “The mountain is the mountain, tomorrow is tomorrow”. The people of Kiau always made us feel welcome. After a delicious home cooked dinner of local mountain fare, including the most aromatic mountain rice I have ever eaten, we would begin the introductions. This was a ceremonial raising of glasses of rice wine, followed be a formal introduction from each person present. The wine loosened tongues and made us all more relaxed. If they were not already there, Robbi and his friends would turn up to join the party, then it really got lively. Out came the guitars, the plastic bottle “drums” and spoon drumsticks. The music would be turned up loud, and the dancing would begin. A talented bunch, I often commented that they should be entrants on “Malaysian Idol”, talent show. The stilted wooden homes would often shake and we’d all be told to get off the dance floor. Unfortunately, getting off the dance floor didn’t stop the shaking yesterday when the earthquake struck.

Robbie Sappingi
Robbi Sappingi (on left in black) entertaining my group.

A couple of days later, sobered up, we would begin our climb from Mt Kinabalu National Park at about 8am. I have climbed thirty tree times over the years I worked there, not many compared to the guides who live there. The mountain is 4,095 m high, and takes two days to climb, staying overnight in mountain huts. On my first trip Robbi was on school holidays and was one of our porters, his father, Sappingi, was our guide. After he left school, Robbi began guiding full time, and more often than not, I climbed with Robbi as one of our guides. The first day is a steep 7km climb to Laban Rata, the mountain hut. It’s not too difficult for someone with good fitness, and is a beautiful mountain walk though all kinds of unique vegetation and cloud forest. The worlds tallest moss and the worlds smallest rhododendron grow here, as well as all kinds of exotic orchids and giant pitcher plants. The walk would usually take a leisurely 6-8 hours, along which Robbi would charm and entertain our groups. He always had a naughty smile, a glint in his eye and a story to tell. Funny and charming.

The second day of the climb is more difficult and this is where our guides, including Robbi would really shine. We would rise at 2am to climb the short, but difficult path to the summit for sunrise, then return all the way to the bottom of the mountain. It was slow going as the altitude would often affect my groups as we would pull ourselves up by ropes on the sheer granite paths. It was cold, often below 0ºC, and usually damp or drizzling. Robbi would always help the slower climbers, holding their hands, pulling them up, encouraging them, and sharing a joke. If someone was too cold he would take off his gloves or coat to share, selflessly always putting others first. Some of my guest would have never have made the climb without Robbi’s help.

Sunrise at Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Sunrise at Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

The Kiau Dusun are predominantly Roman Catholic, but still have spiritual connections to the mountain where former animist beliefs still linger. Every year they still perform a ritual sacrifice of white chickens on the mountain to appease the spirits, just in case. Borneo is not part of “the ring of fire”, that shakes up many surrounding nations on the Pacific rim, and very few have experienced even a mild earthquake before, so it was shocking and devastating for the small community.

The mountain guides here are true everyday heroes. As I write this many are still trapped on the mountain, as it is still too dangerous to climb down, and visibility is too poor for helicopters. But I’m sure all the guides are helping and supporting the climbers before they think of themselves. I hope the village can be repaired and rebuilt soon. My deepest condolences go to Robbi’s family, friends and community. And to my funny and charming young friend, I say RIP – Return if possible.


Turnips. What’s the Point?

I love my veggies. Really, I do. But there are one or two that I fail to see the reason for their existence. Turnips. Can anyone say they LOVE Turnips? I don’t hate them, they don’t disgust me, but I really can’t see the point. They are characterless and unexceptional. Can someone enlighten me as to their purpose, their raison d’être?

Nutritionally, they are high in vitamin C. Good. But honestly, so are many, much more delicious vegetables. And fruit. AND turnips contain Cyanid! Cyanid. Yep, poison. Perhaps I’m not wrong in avoiding them after all. All right, it’s cyanoglucosides that releases trace amounts of cyanid. Heck, even dihydrogen monoxide can kill you.

Pliny The Elder.  Image from Wikipedia
Pliny The Elder – author, philosopher and turnip connoisseur.
Image – Public domain.

The history and origins of the turnip can be traced back to fifteenth century BC. For them to have lasted so long, someone obviously has thought they are a good idea. The Ancient Indians, Romans and Greeks all cultivated turnips. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) apparently “considered the turnip one of the most important vegetables of his day.”* Really? I feel sorry for him and his peers, and am thankful for the abundance and variety of vegetables today. However, “In Brazil, turnips (nabos) are traditionally regarded as distasteful or at least somewhat disagreeable and unpleasant”*. I’m leaning with the Brazilians. Sorry Pliny.

There is an old Celtic tradition on Samhain (Halloween, as it’s now celebrated), that lanterns are made from carved turnips. Much like pumpkins nowadays. They were used to ward off evil spirits. Now, there’s use – much better than eating them.

©Sally Arnold
Turnip family memorial.
Lake Toba, Sumatra.

The Lake Toba area in Sumatra is home to the Toba Batak people. In Batak culture, the family clan name is all important. The first question you are asked by a Batak, if you’re Batak, is “What family are you?” One of the clan name’s is Turnip. The Batak are big on ancestor worship, and as part of the death rituals erect huge family monuments. One that often caught my eye when I visited, was the impressive Turnip family memorial. It’s a towering shiny tile and metal structure about ten meters high, with what looks like a large turnip on top. Ok, it probably isn’t a turnip. The Batak don’t call turnips “turnip”. In fact I can’t even recall seeing or eating a turnip in the whole of Sumatra. Wise people.

Not to be so turnip discriminatory, I thought I’d give them another chance. Perhaps I’ve been a little overzealous in my discounting of them. So, I bought some baby turnips. Baby veggies always taste better,  maybe these would change my opinion. They were small, reddish, radish sized, (now there’s delicious vegetable), and rather cute looking. I baked them with a chicken and some other vegetables, served with gravy. A rather traditional roast. Well, the chicken and other vegetables were delicious. The turnips? Meh. They had a slightly earthy flavour. Slightly. Not ‘Good and Earthy’ like beetroot – now there’s a noble vegetable. Roast turnips – a bit of a waste of space, time, and effort really (not that there was much effort in this dish). I wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t prepared to give up quite so quickly – after all Pliny the Elder held them in high esteem…

For my second attempt, I tried steaming them, and serving them with butter (always better). Cooked this way they were even more unremarkable. I really don’t think I’ll waste any more time with this mundane vegetable. I gave them a chance, you can’t say I wasn’t fair. Life’s too short for dull uninspiring food. So, turnip lovers out there (is there such a thing?), you, and Pliny are welcome to them.

*Quotes from Wikipedia

Turnip image started off life as a photograph from The Bitten Word blog. I added a bit of “colouring-in” with Photoshop. Check out the site – they like turnips, but I won’t hold that against them.

An Ode to Gin & Tonic

During my angst ridden teenage years I had secret fantasies of becoming a poet when I grew up. I wrote a lot of teenage angst ridden poems, mostly scribbled on my bedroom wall. Fortunately I have no embarrassingly incriminating copies of those somewhat dubious masterpieces. Sometimes of late, on a long car rides, I have been known to compose a smutty limerick. Funny at the time, but quickly forgotten.

Last night as I was fixing myself a Dirty Gin and Tonic*, It crossed my mind that the more classic drink deserved an ode. Herewith, my first poetic attempt since high school. I won’t, as yet, give up my day job.

*G & T with a splash of olive juice (An excellent addition to the regular lime).

An Ode to Gin & Tonic

A spirited affair I have with thee,
Oh sapphire one,
My blue ruin.
Your botanicals sublime,
You taste of Empire,
And, of its decline.
No other has such happy chemistry,
So simple, yet such complexity.
A melancholy trail of broken hearts,
You exceed the sum of all your parts.
Tonic bursting at the seams,
Your effervesce furiously interrupts my dreams.
Ephemeral scents of fresh cut limes,
Tease me of summer’s grass and Christmas pines.
Add clinking ice cubes, fresh and pure,
As one, subversive and demure.
You sooth and you tantalise,
A supernatural entity in disguise?

On long dog days in tropic realms,
You pick me up and cool me down.
You’re in command, you’re at the helm.
By appointment, to the Crown.
My anti-malarial of choice,
Your potency a falsely claim.
When monsoons threaten,
I rejoice,
To have you by my side again.
Oh G & T, I’ll be your bride,
And you in turn, shall be my guide.
Your charms inverse the charmless,
And the badly dressed,
Gin and tonic googles…
Yet, I digress.

Your story, steeped in history,
Of exploration. Danger. Mystery.
‘Dutch courage’, as they used to say,
Gave empire builders supremacy.
Juniper and Fever Tree,
Defile my lips with profanity.
Are you profane, or are you sacred?
Your bitterness,
Infinitely sophisticated.
You sooth my world and my senses.
You compensate, give me recompenses.

Your ratios require great care,
Imbalance foretells an end to this affair.
Cautious to celebrate, yet not diminish,
Your parallel worlds that I doth cherish.
This non negotiable relation,
Of the mix in your creation,
Both of balance, and of proportion
The wise indeed will heed the caution.
Blasphemy? Depravity?
It’s such a bitter Alchemy.

You allure and you inspire.
Delight, beguile my heart’s desire.
You are magic, you empower,
You bewitch the cocktail hour.
And so I raise a glass of thee,
For in thy depths, a reflection of me.

The Silence

How wonderful it is to be woken on Nyepi morning and listen. The morning birds are chirping extra loudly today, perhaps it’s just that there’s no other sounds to drown them out. No distant hum of traffic. No motorbikes on the nearby village path. No chopping of the day’s ingredients in the restaurant below. No idle chatter of the local construction women who spend their day walking up and down carting baskets of sand and bricks on their heads. No other sound. Hang on, is that a plane I can hear? It must just be just passing through Balinese airspace, as none can land here today. Today is Nyepi. Balinese new year. Silent day.

Once a year on a dark moon around March or April (the date changes according to the complicated Balinese calendar), is this special day. The belief is that if everyone is silent for the day, lights no lights, and burns no cooking fires; that the evil spirits will be led to believe that everyone has left Bali, that it’s not worth bothering with or disturbing for another year.  It is a day for reflection and meditation. No one is allowed on the streets, and must remain in their family compound. Tourists are not exempt and must remain in their hotels. The only people outside are the Pecalang, the local religious neighbourhood watch; patrolling the villages to make sure everyone is following the rules. Of course emergency services are able to operate. But at the local birth centre I support, Bumi Sehat, they tell me that it’s also a quiet day for them. The local women usually cross their legs and hold off giving birth. Tomorrow, however, will be busy.

Last night was the Ngrupuk parade. It was not so silent. In my village pots and pans were banged about and nearby Ogoh-Ogohs were carried through the streets with much revelry. Ogoh-Ogohs are huge paper machine and bamboo monsters made by the local men and boys in every banjar.  It takes them weeks. It is quite a spectacular parade to watch. They are a recent, but popular tradition here. The the idea of this noise is to wake up those pesky evil spirits, so that they are all aware of the silence the next day. The day when no one is in Bail, wink wink. A group of partying Russian tourists in the hotel next door took the noisy part a little to much last night. I heard the locals ask them to be quiet several times. ”This is not Kuta, if you want to be noisy go there. This is Ubud, it’s quiet here.” I heard the threat. Unusual, Balinese don’t often complain publicly. Today they are quiet.

I look forward to this day, and hope that my schedule has me in Bail for it. I love the undisturbed noisy silence. By evening it can be a little difficult to try and remember not to turn on the lights, or at least dim them and pull the curtains shut. A couple of years ago I had a knock on my door by one of the Pecalang. I had the light off, but my computer on. The glow of the screen could be seen from outside. You’re not supposed to work or partake in entertainment either. It depends how you define work and entertainment. For me writing is neither (well perhaps a little on the entertainment side). For me writing is reflection, which is what you are supposed to do today.

Imagine if Nyepi were to catch on worldwide. It would be like ‘Earth Hour’ for 24 hours. Imaging the huge savings to our resources. No coal burning electricity. No petrol guzzling traffic. No traffic accidents. No crime. Nothing consumed. The economy would go into a spin. People would have to talk to each other (quietly). There would probably be a spike in the birthrate nine months later (there is in Bail too). In Bali it is a day to restore the balance of nature and of the spirit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be restored everywhere. Imagine what it would be like where you live. Imagine the wonderful silence.

So I’ll spend my day in reflection. And gratitude that the demons will be tricked for another year. I’ll spend my day in glorious silence. It’s joyously deafening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few very scary Ogoh-Ogoh, the stuff of nightmares. Ubud, Bail.

Toast & Honey

Honey makes you funny. Well that’s what I always said as a kid. Never cared for the stuff. I know I’m grateful for the bees for pollenating our plants and all, but they can keep that sweet goo. I was always a Vegemite kid. I didn’t really like peanut butter either, too sweet; but a nice bitter marmalade, now you’re talking.

When I first moved to Bali I tried to buy a toaster, a common and inexpensive household item in my homeland of Australia. Not so here. The only kind I could find were expensive industrial sized, aimed at the five star hotel market. My next trip to Jakarta I scoured the department stores and found an overpriced, but adequate one. It lasted two months before the inconsistent power surges blew it out. Again I tried – this time in Singapore, and found a cheap model similar to the ones I had used in Australia. If this one blew up, it wasn’t such a huge expense. I would try again. I still have that same toaster, and its still toasting as well as the day I bought it almost ten years ago. These days toasters can be bought in any supermarket here, it’s a different world now.

Vegemite however, is still a luxury imported item, rarely available. And expensive. I usually wait until friends from Australia are coming to visit and request a care package. Interesting fun fact from Wikipedia – In 1984, a jar of Vegemite was the first product to be electronically scanned at a checkout in Australia. There’s some great small industries producing delicious marmalades here too now. Inevitable with the abundance of delicious fresh limes – they have me covered there.

©Sally Arnold
Vegemite on Toast, You’re doing it wrong!

Butter isn’t something I ever used so much. I never thought it was necessary until a couple of years ago, my young niece made me scrambled eggs for breakfast. They. Were. Delicious. “The secret is butter, Aunty Sally” she told me. Mmmmm Butterrrr. The butter here is imported from New Zealand or France. I like the French brand, and these days sometimes even have it on my toast. With Vegemite.

In Australia I always had a jar of honey in the fridge. Sometimes a recipe would call for it. A jar could last me five years. I tried the ‘gourmet’ honeys too – the ones where the bees feasted on stringybark trees or rare wildflowers, but none excited my taste buds. The honey in Indonesia is thin and runny. I don’t think it’s just because of the heat, as the imported brands remain the same sticky consistency. I have tried pure honey from the environmental centre we visit on our trips in East Java, but it still does nothing for me. That is until I recently discovered NEW ZEALAND HONEY. What is it with the bees over there? I know it’s a big industry and that Manuka honey is said to have all sorts of healing powers, and an expensive price tag to match the claims. I recently bought a jar of New Zealand beech forest honey. OH MY, it’s thick, treacley, caramely, malty and I can now understand the fuss. The jar lasted one month. I am halfway through a second. IT. IS. GOOD. I know there is a world campaign to save the bees, as many species are endangered. If there were no bees to pollinate our food we would soon grow hungry. A world without bees also means there’d be none of that delicious New Zealand Honey. A sad day that would be. Even the ants think it’s better.

©Sally Arnold
Ants love New Zealand honey so much, they make a heart!

Things that I Didn’t Photograph

You know that photograph that you didn’t take, probably a time before smart phones? A time when every second of our lives wasn’t recored or shared. That time when you ran out of film. That time that you didn’t have your camera with you. That “Kodak moment”, as we used to say. Do you remember? I am lucky to have seen many wonderful things in my life so far, a whole reel of Kodak moments. For every memory I have recorded with photography, there have been countless times when I’d wish I had my camera with me. And times I was too busy enjoying the actual experience to think about photographing it.

Floods destroyed most of our family photographs, so I don’t have many snapshots from my childhood.  Consequently my childhood memories are mostly based on what I actually remember, not what was photographed. Although I do recall seeing some photos, so, perhaps it’s the memory of the photograph, not the memory of the event?

In more recent years the reasons for the lack of captured images are usually due to the camera being out of reach. Or out of battery. Or me just not being quick enough. So I have began a list of “snapshots” that will not forever just remain memories. Instead, I can have my Kodak moments, at least as I remember them. Writing things down, like photography, makes my memories real.

I had originally intended to compile this album of snapshots all in one go. As I began to remember, the list became too long, it would be a heavy volume. So, I’ll start with just three…

Snapshot #1 – That time, on the ferry to Lombok

The ferry trip between Lombok and Bali is a long four hours, with nothing to see except sea. I was dozing in the stickiness. The sea breeze wasn’t reaching inside the smokey airless cabin. The vinyl seat was sticking. Some of the other passengers were asleep on hired mattresses surrounded by half eaten nasi bungkus (take away rice packets).

A rumbling of voices woke me from my drowsiness. The ferry seemed to be tipping to one side. I looked up and it appeared that all the passengers had now woken and were leaning over the side of the boat. I jumped to join them.

As far as the eye could see, on every wave, large and small; pods of dolphins were surfing and playing. There must have been hundreds, five or more to each wave. They jumped through the wake of the ferry, twisting and turning, floating and sliding. Performing like synchronised swimmers. They were having so much fun. I had never seen this many dolphins before (nor since). Film like. Magical. But it was real. I didn’t have my camera.

©Sally Arnold
View from my balcony, sans squirrel . Ubud, Bali

Snapshot #2 – Early morning in Ubud

I was preparing breakfast in my small kitchen in the ‘burbs of Ubud. The dew clung to the leaves of the surrounding banana trees. The golden morning light flooded the room. Something caught my eye. A tupai – squirrel, or more correctly an Asian treeshrew, was jumping from leaf to leaf. I stopped to watch him. He then proceeded to perform his morning ablutions. Scooping up the dewdrops and washing his face and paws. His eye caught mine, but he continued with his bath. I ran to get my camera. In the moment I had gone he disappeared into the thickness of the foliage. I could have made a fortune on YouTube. Dam squirrel.

©Sally Arnold
Morning on the Kinabatangan River. Sabah, Borneo

Snapshot #3 – A Duel on the Kinabatangan

Our tour in Borneo involved a couple of days camping in the jungle and staying with locals as part of a community tourism project run by MESCOT. Our base near the Kinabatangan River, the longest in Sabah, is one of the most prolific areas to see wildlife.

The day began with a pre breakfast boat ride. Mist rose in whisps from the water, as early light filtered through the monochrome trees. The first birds were starting into song. Cicadas buzzed. A melodic whistling gibbon’s call could be heard in the distance. It was still cool, the closeness if the day was not yet upon us. The wide brown river flowed calmly, but we all know still waters run deep. A log from the upriver industry floated past. The encroaching palm oil plantations creeped up on one side of the bank, the other side still thick native rainforest, protected for now.

There was a movement in the mud flats. As we drew closer, two large mud-coloured monitor lizards embraced in a duel. They had both risen on their hind legs as their arms entangled. The weight of their meter long tails counterbalanced the huge bodies as they thrashed about in the mud, climbing upon each other. Muscles rippled, it was a well matched match. They became one large symmetrical monster as they clung upright, together. In this prehistoric wrestling match, all bets were off. As we floated past, I was too mesmerized by the scene to think of my camera.


Falling from Grace with the Devil

The Devil fell from my wall today. He fell with an almighty, should I say godforsaken, crash. The bang reverberated; uninvited; echoing as he hurtled and plummeted. Not a mere topple. Not a mere bump. The gatecrasher invading the silence. My silence. I didn’t realise I was in cahoots. He’s no ally. Neither friend nor collaborator. But it begs the question: Have I fallen from Grace with the Devil?

©Sally Arnold

A New Way of Seeing

I am learning to write. Not ABC learning to write. I recall learning that, particularly learning to write a capital B. I remember my teacher describing it as a loaf of bread. B. B for bread. Yet, I don’t recall any other letters. Just B. No, I am learning to write as a way to describe my world. I’ve always been a visual person. I have a degree in both Visual Arts and Graphic Design. At school, I struggled with writing essays. I struggled  to make them longer than one paragraph. I answered the question, and felt no need for flowery superlatives. In my job I am required to write reports of my trips. These are sometimes very longwinded, and I warn my colleges to grab a coffee beforehand, but in a world where I may only see them once a year, it’s a way to pass on information to each other, so I try to make them as detailed as possible. No, I am learning to write as a way to describe my world, for fun. For me it’s a new way of looking at things. I am noticing more. I think about how I would describe that sound, or that smell or that touch. It’s more than seeing, for me its a new way of seeing.

Today I ran out of ‘pulsa’ (internet credit). My walk to the shop was accompanied by a narrative in my head. Each moment required several more just to describe it. The sun warmed my skin. I scratched my hand. A bird chirped. A cockerel crowed. A leaf softly brushed my arm. The sound of the running water. I scratched my side. A bird chirped. A woman approached, and on the narrow path I shimmied and moved both ways. She laughed at my joke. We passed, me to her left. A bird chirped. I scratched my arm. I thought about writing this down latter. I thought that it would take me at least ten minutes to describe every second. I though that perhaps a photograph would be a better memory of this insignificant moment. I thought it would be a boring photograph, and how would I capture my itchiness, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the river and of the birds, that slightly sweet smell of a tropical afternoon? How would I capture that without words? So, I am learning to write, so I can take my time seeing my world in a non visual way. Seeing my world as a narrative, noticing more. A new way of seeing.

On Not Being a Minimalist

When I was a kid I really wanted to start a club, probably due to my literary diet of American comics. So, my brother, a friend, and I banded together and formed ‘The Collectors’ Club’ for want of a better name. We spent an afternoon building small wooden stools from pieces of scrap particleboard from my Dad’s workshop. I don’t recall why, but seating was an important prerequisite to joining our club. We decided our motto would be ‘Get More Stuff’ (every club has to have a motto, right?). We didn’t have a uniform, probably because we didn’t think of it at the time. I don’t know why, as I was rather obsessed with ‘The Sound of Music’, and really wished my entire family would dress in matching outfits. My Mother did attempt this once. Only once.

The premise of our Collectors’ Club was to collect the little soaps, and miniature cereal packets that you get in hotels. Our club meetings involved a show and tell presentation of these sort-after items. My recollection is that we had only one meeting, and as we didn’t really stay in hotels that often, our club quickly disbanded.

Coincidentally in my adult life I first became a packaging designer and sometimes designed those miniature packets. Later working in the travel industry, I spend most of my working life in hotels, and hey, guess what I have a collection of?

Growing up, ‘Get More Stuff’ became the motto for my life. I was the kid with the messy room. I had one bed for me, and one for my stuff. But, something happened when I was about sixteen, I suddenly wanted everything organised and hidden. I had inherited two huge industrial pigeon hole shelving units, so set about labelling and sorting. All my stuff was now categorised and in its proper place. I was happy.

Over my adult years I continued to accumulated more stuff. I have always lived in small apartments, but that hasn’t curbed my ways. I was secretly flattered when a friend’s child once remarked, “I love coming to your place, it’s like a cross between a library and museum.” I have a lot of stuff. Occasionally the stuff overflows onto my bed and covers the floors. I am the adult with the messy room. Nonetheless, you can still open any cupboard to reveal my inner organised soul – neatly stacked and arranged items. My clothes are colour coded, as are my books. Music is alphabetical. The labelling machine is my friend.

In truth, I like the idea of minimalism. I admire those who can just have a few beautiful and useful things in a white expanse of a room. Zen. I too, like the idea of less in general in this overstuffed world. But I really like stuff. More is more. I’m ‘minimally challenged.’

When I first visited Bali, where I now live; my initial reaction was “This is no place for a minimalist”. The Balinese are into detail. Everything is decorated. Everything from carved doors to walls, to offerings. The ceremonies require often weeks of making elaborate decorations and ephemera. There are no wide open spaces. There are no simple minimalist local homes, well none I’ve visited anyway. Most people simply can’t afford to be minimalists, in the western design sense of the concept, but many are minimalistic in their general living, sometimes simply due to poverty. Some may only have one pot, one glass for each family member, and use banana leaves for plates and hands for eating.

Embarrassingly, one of my local friends remarked one day when I was hanging out my washing that I had a lot of bras! She said most Balinese woman only have two – one to wear, and one to wash. The same often goes for other items of clothing, with the exception of elaborate temple clothes. But as soon as anyone acquires wealth, the money is spent on decorating – first the family temple, then intricate carving on any surface of their home they can. More often than not in the homes I’ve visited, there are piles of stuff everywhere. Its defiantly not a minimalist aesthetic. Yet the Balinese still manage to focus on what’s important. Family and community and the spirit world are very much the heart of local life. Sure, many aspire to the trappings of western culture. And occasionally some Balinese, usually women, feel trapped in a culture that requires them to make endless offerings and ceremonies, endless stuff.

Balinese women preparing offerings for a ceremony.
©Sally Arnold
Balinese women on the way to the temple.

In my own home, I am happy to be surrounded by the goods and chattels I’ve accumulated in my life. Reminders of travels, of love affairs, friendships, and good times; artworks – some leaning against the furniture, as there is no more wall space left to hang them; books read, books still to be read; objects I’ve found on the street; fabric waiting to be turned into that special top or dress; plates, glasses, and kitchenware anticipating that large gathering of friends I will have over one day…

Chronologically I’m a Baby Boomer (I only just make it, and more readily identify with Generation X), but perhaps it’s the Baby Boomer mentality, that can’t throw anything away. That would be wasteful. what if I needed it again someday? What if there was a war/flood/disaster/apocalypse? And so the accoutrements of my life continue to pile up around me.

I love my stuff. But I do aspire to a least having it all neatly sorted. And labeled. When I look admiringly at my lovely well organised storage units, sometimes my eyes lift their gaze and focus on the excess paraphernalia stuffed on top yet to be sorted, and dream of the minimalist perfection of owning nothing. Frankly, I blame The Collectors’ Club and believe it was the beginning of my downfall.