So You Want To Retire in Paradise
Published in Escape Artist.com March 10, 2005
Once upon a time, there was a man with a band of children, a lovely wife and a house in Bali. Life was good, but this man thought that life could be better if only he didn’t have to work. This is the story of that man and his dream.
Bali. For some people the name says it all – warm seas, soft sands, cold beers, vibrant colors, exotic sounds, friendly people, large smiles, laughing children, a multitude of inexpensive small hotels and homestays. Bali. A land of wonder and magic set in the warm waters of the Bali Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hand planted rice, homemade religious offerings, vibrant cloths used in ceremonial clothes. Gamelan orchestras practicing in the warm nights under a brilliant moon, the mystery of a midnight village performance of the wayang kulit. Bali. A quiet walk through luxurious ravines teeming with birds and butterflies, the hypnotic chant of the village priest, the cry of the jamu seller in the tropical sunrise, the aroma of sate sizzling over charcoal-filled grills.
Take all of this and you have the seemingly perfect tropical paradise and, for at least one dreamy soul, the ideal place to retire and raise a crop of children. Of course, things are not always what they seem. You might think that I would have learned such an elementary lesson after fifty years of life in big cities and exotic ports of call, but then some of us are slow learners.
During almost a decade of living in the jungles of New Guinea while teaching a range of subjects from second grade through high school algebra, I gradually created a life in Bali during school vacations. My Indonesian wife and I had just finished building a new house on the edge of the Bali Sea as my ninth year in New Guinea came to a grateful close. I decided that it was time to “retire” to “home”. The Plan was to work on eking out a living as an editor and freelance web designer.
What could be better: I had a lovely new house with a beautiful view of the Bali Sea to the north and the mountains to the south; an ISP had just opened shop a few kilometers down the road from my house; my wife and I purchased a new car; I had a local connection with a travel agent who wanted me to design a website for him; my children were installed in a reputable private Balinese school. This was the dream of a lifetime my friends told me over and over as I fretted about giving up a sizeable salary and the benefits of living in a well-designed model community in the lowlands of New Guinea. No more getting up at dawn to plan for the day’s lessons, no more aggravation of dealing with irritated parents, bored students, or cranky teachers. I was moving to Paradise. Good things come to those that wait.
Life did seem to be even better than my fantasies for the first few months. There were the occasional hassles with the Department of Immigration – the bane of wannabe expatriate residents. But, being a patient man – a former schoolteacher and principal – I was more than prepared to deal with a few minor bureaucratic inconveniences. Even after my children and I were threatened with deportation, I smiled, shuffled a bit, made some apologies and showed my material appreciation to the local authorities. Only after leaving the building did I snap the side-view mirror off the car. Life was good and retirement seemed to be a golden opportunity to develop new people skills and work on a new lifestyle.
As I sat editing articles and writing html code in my third-floor study, I would gaze out at the Bali Sea and watch my neighbors fishing in their outriggers at the edge of the coral reef. If I wanted a beer with my lunch, I could amble downstairs to the kitchen and pull one out of our gleaming new refrigerator. If writing html code started to blur my vision, I could have a lie in the sun on the balcony outside my office. I could work two hours, drive down the beach to a friend’s bar’n’grill, have a few cold beers and discuss the current cultural events on the island. A fifteen minute drive back home, and I could begin work again completely refreshed. Life was good and retirement definitely seemed golden.
One day a Balinese friend mentioned that my preparations for the monsoon season seemed to be a bit sparse. I had installed some drop-down rattan curtains to keep the rain off the balcony, but Nyoman seemed to feel that they were going to provide less protection than I needed. Of course, being a Balinese he only made this point in the most oblique and polite way. An American might have said, “You fool, do you think those puny curtains will protect you from gale force winds right here on the ocean.” My wife, being Indonesian, just smiled and said that everything looked very nice on the third floor and that I had done a lovely job. I had my little tropical house on the Island of the Gods – life was indeed good and retirement was offering more than I could ever have hoped for.
The rainy season (musim hujan) blasted upon us in December just as I left for Singapore to renew my Indonesian visa. I felt that the house was ready for anything. I eagerly anticipated a few days of shopping and eating in Singapore while I waited for my visa renewal to be processed. Even though it rained the entire time I was in Singapore, I enjoyed myself confident in the knowledge that my retirement home was safe and secure should the rains in Bali be anything like they were in Singapore.
Upon my arrival home, I noticed that main road from the airport to my house one hundred kilometers away showed signs of flooding, but I had a car full of toys and clothes for the children and was looking forward to seeing them. Life was wet but indeed good, and retirement meant never having to say, ” I have to go to work.”
A mild drizzle was falling from the evening sky as I pulled into my driveway. As I opened the front door of the house, a stream of water rushed past me seeking lower ground. Soaked towels were scattered around the floor and water stains streaked the walls. But no human activity was evident on the first floor. I abandoned my suitcases and dashed up the stairs to the second floor, slipping on the wet tiles and bruising my knees as I frantically clutched the railing to keep from tumbling backwards. Limping out onto the second floor, half of my wife’s extended family was rushing about with buckets, mops and towels trying to stem the torrent of water cascading down from the third flood. Noticing me, everyone smiled wanly and wished me welcome. I ran to the third floor stairs just in time for the electricity to flash out, flash back on and flash out once again. By the time I was able to find a flashlight and maneuver my way upstairs, I noticed that my beautiful, authentic rattan curtains were missing. Life was wet but surely good, and retirement meant having plenty of time to clean up the house the next day.
Apparently the north coast of Bali is visited by cyclones. I discovered this while questioning my wife and her brother about the location of my curtains and the tropical plants that I had lovingly cultivated in my balcony garden. The presence of cyclones was somewhat of a revelation to me after almost ten years of staying on the island during my vacations from teaching. I always managed to be off-island during the monsoon season and, of course, no one wanted to upset me by mentioning such an unpleasant fact of life in my tropical paradise.
Peering inside my study, I noticed my bed upended and the mattresses stained a deep red indicating massive water absorption. My computers, television, scanner and printer were piled on top of the desks covered with obviously wet towels. The power surged back on and the extent of the flooding was evident. Life was drier in Chicago, and retirement meant that I had no excuse not to repair the remnants of my former study.
A total accounting of the following three days of monsoon madness were: three computers power supplies shorted out, one scanner capable of creating a rhythmic knocking as it vainly tried to advance the scanning mechanism, a printer that printed a series of numbers and symbols generally used to signify obscenities, a television that hissed when plugged in, a microwave that flashed “888888” and avoided responding to programming, three rattan curtains shredded on the beach forty feet away, four beds that required three days to dry out, and seventeen roofing tiles scattered around the monkey’s play area on the first floor. Life in Paradise was coming to resemble the Garden of Eden after the snake dropped in to visit, and retirement meant having no place left to flee.
But, for the patient and the good, there are always solutions to problems. Humbled but hopeful, I headed off in my trusty Kijang to Denpasar to purchase new power supplies for my computers; I explained to my children that life would go on without microwaved popcorn, having only one television meant that we could watch it as a family and that using sleeping bags for a few days would be an adventure – they seemed rather doubtful. After purchasing my goods in Denpasar, I began making my way home in another downpour – life could be as good as ever, I reasoned, once I had my computers repaired and was back doing some editing and designing. The two-hour trip home stretched into five as the windshield wipers dropped off the car, one of the headlights suddenly faded to black, a tire blew out, and the ball joint began screeching. I arrived home drenched, tired and bleary-eyed from holding my head out of the car window in an attempt to visualize the road. Life in Paradise was a long, wet ride, and retirement meant living far from a freeway.
Eventually, my internet-connected computer was repaired, and I logged in to retrieve e-mail and ftp some updates to a webzine. Having no e-mail waiting was a surprise as I usually received several hundred a day from a multitude of listservs. Unperturbed, I logged in to the webzine server only to find that I was uploading an article at a whopping 15 bytes per second which rapidly dropped to zero. The connection timed out after twenty minutes of doing nothing. The ISP informed me that nothing was wrong with their server – must be me. After three days of playing with the computer and growing increasingly frustrated, I dropped by the ISP office to have a discussion about my problems only to find that a crowd of subscribers were there biding their time as they had no connections either. After a long discussion about our problems, the clerk admitted that the chief technician had left for a month’s vacation and no one else really knew what was wrong but someone from Denpasar would come up within a few days to track down the problem. Seven days later, I received a backlog of 4,587 e-mails. The connection was still impossibly slow and trying to ftp anything anywhere was useless. Life in Paradise meant having no alternative ISPs, little technical help and a surplus of rain; retirement meant having a lot of time to brood about life.
Cyclones came and went, we storm-readied the house, new surge protectors and stabilizers were bought for our electrical equipment. The monsoons departed for another eight months. Power returned to its usual semi-reliable state; the ISP technician returned and repaired the server problem; the car was serviced and rehabilitated. Life in Paradise once again returned to the peaceful, tropical rhythms that I love, and when a call came offering me a job in Pakistan, I accepted in a flash.