Our first day on Nusa Lembongan, a small island off the east side of Bali, was spent relaxing, reading, and swimming by our guesthouse. The following day, Lauren found a really nice hotel called Coconut Beach Resort on the south end of the beach that had an infinity pool for guests to use if they made a purchase at their restaurant. It was perfect. I love infinity pools, but up to this point, I don’t think I had ever swam in one. Of course, the scenery wasn’t too shabby either. I swam around in the pool, then propped my self up on the edge to gaze out at the view back to Bali and the volcano. And when I tired of that (after all this is a tough life) I would lay out on the ledge. It felt like paradise, as if I had the whole place to myself. And when I was getting too much sun, I’d retire to my lounge chair with a refreshing beverage and a good book in hand.
The water in the bay is so crystal clear; you can see the seaweed below the surface that is harvested by the locals. The boats in the water are a mix of local boats used for seaweed harvesting, boats that take tourists out to scuba dive, and these awesome activity boats. While we didn’t get the chance to go out on one of these activity boats, they looked like a lot of fun. They had water slides on board and took people out on rocket rafts that were pulled by speed boats.
That evening, rather than eating at one of the guesthouse restaurants along the water, we decided to go into the ‘town’ and eat more local. We stopped at a little warung, sat down and started gabbing away while our food was being prepared. A few minutes later, our neighbor from our guesthouse sat down beside us. Apparently, we had stumbled upon his favorite local hangout. I should point out now that I never got his name. I feel bad, but I can’t do anything about it now. Since he’s from San Francisco, a city that I love and lived in for a summer, I started firing a million questions his way. Where do you live? What do you do? Traveling solo? For how long? It didn’t take long to get the basics. He struggled with depression and searching for meaning in his life and spent most of his teen years in therapy until his therapist suggested he try meditation. He was immediately drawn to the practice, started going on meditation retreats, and recently quit his job to do some traveling in southeast Asia, before settling into a life in rural Myanmar as a Buddhist monk.
I was completely blindsided. I originally assumed he was one of those California kids who came to Bali for a surfing vacation. My hunch clearly did not scream ‘future Buddhist monk obsessed with finding purpose in life’. Most San Franciscans that I met on my trip conversed with me about favorite neighborhoods, restaurants, and activities in the city. While Lauren took his words in stride and sat there politely, I (of course) fired a million more questions at him. And, the more I asked, the more I wanted to know. Though I learned about Buddhism a few years back in Hawaii, I had just recently gone on a meditation retreat in Chiang Mai. I wanted to know if he ever got bored while meditating, how he kept his focus for so long, and about his meditation practices. He meditates at least twice a day for an hour each. He used to get up at 5:30 every morning in San Francisco so that he could meditate before work. I wanted to know about the place he was going in Myanmar, how he found it, what his life would be like, and whether or not he would follow the rules of other monks and not eat anything after noon. And of course, I had to know what his family thought (which was what you would expect- they were a bit shocked and not too happy that their son who was raised as a Christian and a beer drinker, would forgo his religion and alcohol to become a Buddhist monk). After I felt like I had accosted my poor neighbor enough, I eased up on the questioning- okay, well he left- but it was all very interesting. Here I am, the same age as this guy, on an extended ‘vacation’ but going home to my regular lifestyle. Sure, it was bound to be different than the way I left, but I was not going to completely leave the comforts of home behind. It’s funny how people deal differently with issues in their lives and the choices we ultimately make in order to deal with them.
Ironically enough, a week later when we were boarding a bus in a small mountain town in Malaysia, Lauren spotted this guy at the bus station while we were boarding a bus to Kuala Lumpur. I jumped off the bus after seeing him cross the street, but it was too late; he had disappeared into a shop or restaurant, and I couldn’t find him. Either way, it just goes to show that the world is small.