How The Little Things in Bali Can Bug You

February 3, 2010

It’s the little things in Bali that bug you. The broad brush-strokes of life on this island – the weather, the culture, the prices, the freedom – are wonderful, and I treasure them. But it’s the little things that soon become festering irritations that niggle and nibble like termites feasting on your spirit, creating a multitude of disappointments that can tarnish the gloss of life here. No place is perfect, but when too many dissonances erode one’s ideas of what Bali should be like, it can breed the type of cynicism that seems, over time, to take root in many expats here.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the early experiences of brand-new expats. My long-time friend and her son arrived in Bali last week to live here after decades of being frequent visitors. She knows the ropes. She is aware of the way things are done in Bali and accepts them. After one has made the choice to live here semi-permanently, one gets a little dewy-eyed about how great it is going to be. Her recent experience has dimmed that idealism somewhat.

She chose to rent a luxury villa in a good location in Batu Belig. It was advertised at a high-end price, as you would expect for a large villa with all the trimmings. It was presented as being air-conditioned, with a barbeque, phone and wi-fi. The wi-fi was the clincher for her, as she needs a fast connection for business. The owner was also to expedite the long-term rental of a near-new car and provide a full-time driver.

So she arrives, and the villa looks beautiful in its aspect and presentation. But there is no car and no driver, and her son starts school the next day. Reach for the phone. Er, sorry, the phone is not connected – the bill has not been paid. So that first glitch is fixed forthwith, but after firing up her laptop for a few essential money transfers, she finds there is no internet connectivity.

More bemused than annoyed, my friend asks where the modem and router are for the wi-fi and is told: “Oh, you just plug your laptop into the phone socket …” OK, so there is no wi-fi, it’s a dial-up connection! Great. Two decade-old technology in a luxury villa; 20 minutes to download a page, 10 minutes for an email, and forget Skype – it’s as inaccessible as Pluto. Call an IT tech – yep, can connect you in a week. Uh oh, this is not looking good for her business.

Unfortunately, the litany of disappointments continues. None of the four air-conditioners emit more than the barest exhalation of tepid air. Call the service technicians, who, aghast, say the units have never been serviced. The pembantu confirms that, no, the owner has not had them looked at in four years. My friend watches as box after box of compacted dust and congealed grime is scraped out and taken away. And there is no refrigerant left in any of the compressors. The cleaning and re-gassing is messy, time-consuming and expensive. The expat owner magnanimously offers to pay half. My friend grips her lip. No sense in fomenting confrontation at this early stage; that can come later.

To regain her good cheer, the new expat can at least have a barbeque, right? Wrong. Closer examination of this appliance reveals a rusting hulk with burners that look like they will disintegrate at the merest touch. No-one is game enough to light the thing in case it explodes in a fireball that grills the diners instead of the meal. Oh well, looks like bungkus for her tonight …

After two days of having to hire a temporary car and driver, the promised sleek, low-mileage, near-new, long-term rental car finally arrives. Except it turns out to be a ancient wreck with 125,000 km on the clock, collapsed shockers, multiple dings (which the car hire man studiously tries to avoid putting on the condition report), a broken driver-side window winder, broken mirror and a non-functioning air-conditioner – for a mere 2.8 million a month. What! Where’s the new car we were promised? “No, no” says the man, “this is the only car we have for hire”. It is late, so my friend puts up with this abomination, intending to sort it out the next day. She doesn’t get the chance – the heap expires next morning on its first trip, leaving its passengers stranded.

OK, they are little things, all fixable, albeit at my friend’s expense. A tech is setting up the wi-fi, the air-conditioners now work, and the car returned to the hire place with a request for a full refund. The hire place, loath to return the money, miraculously discovers that they do have the new car she was supposed to get after all. It must have been parked somewhere inconspicuous. But, like I said, it’s the little things that bug people, and this experience was not a great introduction for a new expat looking forward to Bali life. People such as landlords only get one chance to create a good first impression. The same goes for purveyors of hire cars too.

And the barbeque? Well, I guess my friend will just have to buy a new one. The landlord might even offer to pay half, if she’s lucky.



  1. Pagi Vyt (or I imagine it will be Siang before you greet the day)
    Yes, these are annoying things certainly but I don’t think they are unique to Bali, do you?
    This goes on in every city in every country surely, or similar problems exist in each new situation.
    In some cases the owner of the property may not even know of the problems, or some of them anyway.
    I know in my case, for example, when I stay in different villas in Ubud, I am able to tell the owner of little things, like the broken shelf in the safe or the noisy fan. These are things that the staff would really not be expected to know. Only somebody staying in the villa would experience these day to day things.
    Anyway, I hope everything has now been fixed for your friend and she gets her Bar-B-Q up and running.
    You can all come to a Bar-B-Q in Ubud when I get settled. Ho ho!!

    • Count on it!

  2. Hi –

    “But it’s the little things that soon become festering irritations that niggle and nibble like termites feasting on your spirit, creating a multitude of disappointments that can tarnish the gloss of life here.”

    Great writing! I’ve been buzzing in and out of your blog about expat life on your tropical island for a while and I always enjoy reading it.

    I’m an American who’s been living in Mauritius for 2 years now and I know the sting, have felt the burn and am now in the process of developing super-human levels of patience and understanding. It’s all part of the unspoken gift of expat life, right?

    • Thanks! It’s both a gift and a curse, but without these polarities, life becomes banal. The patience and understanding are a sort of Darwinian by-product; without them, one can not survive.

  3. So she rented the villa without checking it out first? That is a recipe for disaster in any country.

    • She checked it out – but it was obviously too cursory. I don’t think I would have tested all the airconditioners myself, or taken the hotplate off the BBQ to check burners. But you know what? You’re right. After this, I certainly will be checking everything very carefully before I rent my next villa 😉

      • I have bought/rented places before without checking everything out. It is hard sometimes if you are with an agent and you get the feeling of being rushed/pressured. The internet is important for me also, so if a places advertises “free internet” I actually take my laptop and test the connection.

  4. I enjoyed reading this. I was just having a conversation with my wife about expat life here the other day, and these kinds of issues arouse. And after a couple of decades here, I can confirm that it’s the small things that have sent so many expats here back home.

  5. yes the thing is too little, what’s happening, seems very awful.

  6. You really do seem to ramble on. Surely you advised your friend to look over the villa carefully. You seem so bloody clever!
    I rent properties out in Kuta and dealing with people like you is what makes the life difficult. You think you are clever, when clearly you are not.

    • I defer to your uncanny knowledge of what I think.
      Let’s hope that not too many people like me continue to make your life in the property rental business so difficult.
      And thanks for being peeved enough to respond 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: