Unpinning the #FirstWorldProblem ‘Badge of Honor’

“If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.”

~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

One month into my settling into a new life in Bali, I’ve been starting to get the obligatory questions of

“So how’s it been? What’s it like, living in Bali?”

With the attached glimmering hope of excitement from hearing potential stories of exotic travels and unique cultural encounters.

With all politeness I reply with a short and ambiguous,

“Life here is, well, like life in any other place.”

It’s a pretty disappointing answer. Not to mention my lack of traveling photo uploads on Facebook. (Although the latter has more to do with the fact that I’m really just not the kind of person with a tendency to enjoy taking pictures of the moments that I’m in the middle of experiencing.)

But I’m guessing that the rest has to do with the letting down of the expectation that living in Bali should be some kind of an upgrade from a rather cold and monotonous metropolis routine to a warmer and richly adventurous one.

While it’s true that for someone who has always felt rather detached from the city life, the Bali experience certainly does present itself with more soul-energizing opportunities to be closer to nature and media to explore one’s spirituality (if you take on a more Eastern philosophical direction).

But for someone who is also starting a whole new life and career as a single female twenty-something with an attachment to convenience and comfort who’s come to a city where public transportation is scarce and living costs are high, while living on a probational teacher’s salary, the Bali life does not exactly roll out to be the way I once expected it to be with a glimmering hope of excitement either.

So no, I don’t wake up in a chalet by the beach to the shine of a morning sunrise, or travel to work passing by a line of young women in white kebaya and colorful wrap-arounds while carrying a basket of fruits on their heads, or come back from work everyday to walk on the beach and watch the sunset, or travel to rural corners of the province to observe religious ceremonies and feast on fresh organic foods.

I live in a humble little rented-room that faces a mango tree and a row of other rented rooms in the building across from where I mostly hear the sounds of passing trucks and barking street dogs.

I travel to work on the backseat of a motorcycle while holding my breath to avoid sucking in too much polluted air from said passing trucks.

I come back from work to perform manual laundry duty and settle for lunch leftovers for dinner while forcing myself to uncover the tiniest feeling of being entertained by local TV channel programs.

And at least one day of every weekend is spent in my room alone cleaning and watching replays of TV series while wishing I was eating something that’s not ‘makanan seadanya’ from a nearby warung nasi.

Not necessarily because a convenient and comfortable life that I’m more accustomed to is not possible to accomplish. But given the circumstantial limits and my priority of independently surviving as I tip-toe on the crucial stage of building a career, it’s simply all I can afford to have.

So if anything, my life seems to experience more of a downgrade in some way rather than an upgrade.

But you see I almost wanted to slap my own hands for typing all of that. Because for a minute there I just became the girl who cries #firstworldproblem.


(While in a parallel universe,)

Yes, I know, my memes are bad and I should feel bad.

But I don’t like that. Much less the perpetuation of what seems to be the appropriation of a cultural habit that suggests a lack of gratitude and appreciation of what we are already greatly blessed with in life.

I remember one morning as I sat on the back of Pak Dewa’s motorcycle that takes me to work everyday and found myself silently grunting about this less-than perfect life, I finally cut my self-chattering and said to myself,

“No, this is not okay. I don’t want to have to constantly put an effort to accept my life. I want to just live it, regardless.”

Not so long after I found the reply on the page of one ‘Zen Fables for Today‘ book:


“Because, damn it, that was all I had.”

And nothing has ever hit me harder than that.

Than the few simple words of the second-last line in the story.

Ever since which, when I find myself now thinking, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle…“,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle!”

And I start to notice the wonderful feeling of the morning sea breeze enveloping my body, I start to notice the giant gong that stands behind a small farm by the side of the road I never did before, and delve in the wonder of the characteristically elongated ears feature of Buddha statues that line the streets of Bali.

When I find myself thinking, “I come home from work and still have chores to do…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I come home from work and have things to do!”

And I start to appreciate knowing what it is like for people who cannot afford to wash their clothes with the help of a machine or a paid helper, I start to appreciate the thought stimulation I get from coming up with systems and ways to make chores easier to go through, and take comfort in the fact that for each bucket of clothes I wash is a few rupiahs saved to help afford healthier food purchases.

When I find myself thinking, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed!”

And I start to re-embrace and devour in the freedom of long uninterrupted reading hours, the unquestioned spiritual exploration moments, the uncompromised habit-changing processes.

Because, damn it, that’s all I have.

This life, right here, wherever that may be and however imperfect it may be, is all I have right now.

And once you see how beautiful that is, that’s a kind of peace you can’t put a price tag on, or any paradise’s post-stamp on.



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