Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Age Germans

In my desperation to find an isolated resort with fine food and views, I stumbled upon the website of a resort called Gaia Oasis. Upon emailing a handful of different medium priced resorts in Bali, Gaia was the only one to have accommodation available for the period of time I specified so I took it. They have two locations, one down on the beach of Tejakula and one up in the mountains behind the town which is where we stayed. However, guests are given free access to both locations and can choose to eat their meals at either despite the food being the same.

We settled into our little cottage with its partial outdoor bathroom (very Balinese and very pleasant) and soon discovered that nearly all the guests were German! And New Age Germans at that! Having visited Germany in 1993/4 and having had at least four German friends in the past (one German Australian friend from my school days and from my adult years: one German temporarily living in Australia and two German friends in Germany), one current German Australian friend (her parents are German émigrés), and the only other “malae” I work with is German, I know a little about the culture from these friendships as well as seeing German films subtitled in English, reading German books translated into English, and having studied German history and politics at university. But nothing prepared me for this particular group of New Age Germans! It was like an exclusive club which made me feel very much an outsider. Most of the guests were in their 30s, 40s and 50s and all appeared to be suffering from a crisis of meaning in their lives which they sought refuge from in New Age beliefs.

Now I must from the outset confess an interest in some New Age beliefs which were introduced to me by the mother of the man I had my first serious relationship with when I was a mere 18 years of age. She introduced me to the likes of Louise Hay (You can heal your life) M. Scott Peck (The road less travelled) and Dr Wayne Dyer et al. I had also begun a life long interest in astrology when I was a teenager which over the years has deepened as I have studied and read more. In fact my interest in astrology even led me to further study at the School for Psychological Astrology in London as I contemplated becoming a full time psychological astrology therapist (I gave up on the idea as I didn’t want to be burdened with other people’s woes; I had too many of my own to deal with). To this day, I utilise astrology as a tool for personal understanding and insight into other’s behaviours and motives. It has helped me immeasurably in understanding myself, my family and close personal relationships.

I also believe in the healing and restorative aspects of spending time in and with nature; whether in beautiful landscapes or with animals. Communing with nature is for me a deeply spiritual experience, and when I am not able to do so, I am left feeling very dispirited and ill at ease. Furthermore, in Australia I consult a naturopath/homeopath/traditional healer/psychic who I absolutely adore and whilst in Timor, miss her ministrations greatly. I also eat a wholefoods vegetarian diet (although in Timor it’s hard to avoid all that white rice) and believe in the healing power of good food.

But here’s the rub, I am not a perpetual navel gazer who never looks up into the wider world to see what is going on. On the contrary, compared to most people I know, I look more intensely and more widely at what is going on in the world, more than is probably good for my mental health. Although at different times of my life I have retreated into a form of navel gazing, I do not believe that ultimately this serves ourselves or the people and animals we share the planet with any good. People must educate and inform themselves of what is going on in their own and other’s backyards; it is the only way that democracy, justice, peace, human development, a respect for human, animal rights and the natural world can be fought for and maintained. People must never become so complacent as to believe that hard won gains in the West will always prevail, or that there are no more battles to be won (there are plenty more); let alone the fact that most of the world is yet to share in even the basic of these ideals. But I also acknowledge that people must be self-aware and have very good insight into their own personality, motivations and behaviour as well as that of others. I have seen the downside of people not being self aware (particularly among those involved in politics) and it is deeply troubling. For me it’s all about a balance between self awareness/spending time getting to know yourself and others and focusing on bigger issues that usually revolve around current affairs and politics. I therefore support some New Age beliefs, but as part of a balance that I believe most of my fellow guests had lost - to the detriment of their connection with earthly concerns.

Not one of the German people we spoke to knew where East Timor was or what had gone on there in the preceding years. One woman whom we particularly took a dislike too (although she was Austrian) professed not to watch much television (she hid it in the cupboard and only got it out to watch specific programs) as the images were just “too disturbing”. When we booked to go on a dolphin watching expedition, this same woman the night before asked us, “what does your intuition tell you about coming on the trip with the group or on your own?” I didn’t know that there was such a choice to be made and assumed that at the time of booking, we would go as a group. I also didn’t realise that she had become the leader of the group (she was a guest worker at the resort). I was so shocked by the manner in which she asked the question, I told her I didn’t know and said the group would be fine. I was so furious that in private I said to Daniel, “my intuition is telling me that you’re a New Age twat and I don’t like you (the Austrian woman, not Daniel).”

The New Age Germans kept to themselves and rarely did one of them make an effort to talk outside their little cliques. When they did, mostly they wanted to talk about New Age beliefs which we found tiring. Daniel did manage to get them talking about the reunification of East with West Germany and that spiked their interest, albeit temporarily. One memorable conversation was with a German man in his 40s who lived in Switzerland and who had come into an inheritance which allowed him to leave his job as a computer software programmer and spend the inheritance on New Age courses (those gurus must be grinning from ear to ear). He was so self absorbed that he didn’t ask us one question but happily answered all our (mostly my) questions. I also acknowledge that his gender had a part to play in this because in general, men are very good at talking but not very good at asking questions or listening. In private I said to Daniel that part of his inheritance could be put to good use with funding an NGO or charity and he’d still have money left over for his navel gazing pursuits too boot. But I had a sneaking suspicion that he was doing no such thing.

I found coming from incredibly poor Timor where I work for a women’s human rights NGO, to be confronted with New Age Germans who quite frankly, had more money than sense (sixth senses aside), just too much. I had spent the preceding six months reading about the most horrendous human rights abuses, trying to grapple with a new language and completely alien culture and in the process had a mental breakdown and was advised by a psychologist to return home. Now here I was, in the lap of luxury by any standards, surrounded by clueless white Westerners in search of meaning, and willing to spend any amount of money to find it. “Come to Timor” I felt like saying, “I’ll show you meaning!”.

The resort was started by a group of New Age Germans and Australians about eight years ago. It continues to be run by members who buy into the resort by building a cottage either down at the water or up in the mountains. When they’re not using their cottage, it is hired out to tourists. Members come and go and there are very few original members left. Two of the original German members were there at the same time as us. One of them, a man in his 50s had married one of his former Balinese housemaids who was easily half his age. But interestingly, most mixed marriages in Bali are between white Western women and Balinese men, and there are a lot of them! It is one of the most perplexing things about Bali and one I would like to read more about. The Balinese are in general incredibly friendly, helpful and gentle people, but it is still a patriarchal society where women do most of the work. Their Hindu religion even forbids menstruating women from entering temples.

I wonder if Western women see the surface of Balinese culture and believe the men are more liberated than men of their own culture and thus fall in love with their apparent gentleness. Or is it perhaps a matter of being in a more powerful position as a Westerner? I’d love to know the divorce statistics for such marriages. The German woman who managed the resort was married to a Balinese and they had two children together. Young Balinese men and men from other parts of Indonesia “prostitute/escort” themselves to older white Western women, particularly at the popular resort of Kuta (their nickname is Kuta Cowboys), who may or may not engage in sexual relations but certainly pay for their escort services. These men deliberately target older (not younger) Western women. (Female prostitutes also exist but the male prostitute phenomenon is just so unusual. I do not know of any other country where this is so.) However, there do also seem to be more female Westerner-male Timorese relationships here than the other way around, so perhaps it is a wider Asian phenomenon.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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approx. how many white women are with a bali guy, lets say on any given night on Kuta?

a friend have told me about 100 to 200. would you agree?

thanks, Franka

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 am  

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