The Only Watch You Will Ever Need in BaliJanuary 31, 2010
Our Western notions of time do not transplant easily to Bali. My pre-Bali life was characterised by what seems now to be an obsessive desire to know which particular instant of time I was inhabiting at any given moment. For me to be comfortable back in my past life, I needed to constantly know the day, the date and the precise time, preferably to the millisecond. I actually thought it was important then, but now I can’t remember why. Bali has cured me of the reliance on such a fine temporal granularity. What is the use of knowing the exact time when that knowledge is obsolete by the time the universe delivers the next second? Or the next minute, or the next hour?
This prison of time-obsession kept me constantly stressed. Am I late to meet someone? Is my watch showing the same time as their watch? Why hasn’t the tradesman shown up yet? Is it time to wake up? And even when I had no deadlines, I rushed and worried from sheer habit, never letting my body and mind travel at its natural pace and rhythm.
My first trip to Bali, perhaps twelve years ago, was an eye-opener. There I was, in Kuta Square, head down, and walking ridiculously fast, when my path was blocked by a large police officer. He spread his arms wide to stop my instinctive dodging manoeuvre and with a look of vast concern said: “Slow down, slow down …“. When I looked at him blankly, he just said: “This is Bali“. I still didn’t get it. He asked me where I was going, and I replied that I was heading to Matahari to do some shopping. He just looked at me. “And when do you need to be there?” I couldn’t answer him – I mean, it’s not as if I had an appointment in the shirt department or anything. He then said something that began to change the way I think. He said: “If you walk slowly, you will feel better. And Matahari will still be there when you get there”. I walked more slowly, felt less stressed – and guess what? It was still there when I arrived. Bali is full of little epiphanies like that.
A year or so later, back here on holidays, I had become less time-conscious, but was still a neurotic basket case by Bali standards. I actually tried to buy a stop-watch here, but the concept of having a device that could measure vanishingly small increments of time was so foreign to vendors here that they were utterly bemused. A store assistant told me that she knew what one was, but couldn’t understand why anyone sane would want one. The watch-sellers on the beach were even more in the dark. I carefully described the function of a stop-watch to one of them and thought that I saw the light of understanding dawn in his eyes.
Him: “Ahh, you want a stop watch!”
Me: (Jubilant) “Yes, yes – a stop watch!”
Him: (Pointing to his friend) “You go to Jimmy. All his watches stop. All my watches are go-watches!”
The accompanying cackle told me that I was yet again a victim of that very special absurdist Balinese sense of humour.
And now, after having lived in Bali long enough to dispense with seconds, minutes and even hours as a way to measure the progress of my life, I give those of you – who are still making the transition – a solution to help you cope. Eight months in development, this amazingly inaccurate device will not only tell Bali time, but help you with your Bahasa.
My invention (Patent Pending), The Bali Time watch, has a 24-hour face, but no fine calibrations at all. It only has one hand which points to (more or less) the broad zones of any full day here: morning, middle-day, evening and night.
As an added bonus, there is a countdown timer to let you know when your pembantu and other staff will disappear from your villa or place of work. Certainly beats the 20 minutes warning you normally get.
And trust me – you will never need a timepiece with any more precision than this. After all, this is Bali.