I’m here in Bali, and it’s such a positive difference from Cebu in the Philippines that it’s a relief to the soul. The environment here is beautiful and not aggressively annoying and painful, as it so often can be in Cebu.

I didn’t travel much in the Phils, so I can only speak for Cebu City and Moalboal. Cebu City has thrown away so much quality of life by not regulating the decibel level allowed for automobile horns. The horns are as loud as firecrackers – it is painful on the ears. Certain to cause hearing loss. And the drivers use horns for no reason. As they pass you while you are safely on the edge of the road, while they are right beside you, they will honk. Why? It feels as some sort of power trip – hey, I’m bigger than you – HONK! Cars will go through little neighbourhoods and BLAST out several honks, for no reason at all, and it goes right through walls. I had to wear earplugs, even indoors. And the kids are often lighting off very big firecrackers – the kind that you can feel in your chest as well as your ears. So the noise, but then also the Jeepneys are diesel, and in the daytime the car headlights will stream though a thick soup of exhaust – it stings the eyes and makes breathing uncomfortable instead of a joy. And most of the building aren’t pretty, and there isn’t much landscaping. Cebu city feels oppressive to me after a while. There is a lot of what looks like and is desparate poverty there also, and all the ills that go with desparate poverty gettho living. Kids crying for lack of food, children too poor to go to school, incest and beatings and drunkenness and drug over use and pussy more accessible than it really should be. The up-side though is people are really friendly and accessible, everyone speaks at least some English, and pussy is more accessible than it really should be. It’s easy to meet and become a part of a group, and the people are fun loving and very sociable. A neighbourhood clan might get together in a field and disco down into small hours. People always seem up for a little fun. It is a Catholic country, but it feels more loose than tight. It is not a rigid culture.

I’ve been coming to Bali since 95, with my last visit being for 1 year 3 years ago. Kuta is still changing fast! It looks great. I had always hoped that the two stroke motorcycles and diesel autos would eventually get replaced by newer 4 stroke gas vehicles, and it has been happening. The air quality is improving. And thank heavens no aggressive and excessively loud honking! What a difference that makes!

Bali has such a strong focus on aesthetics – many call it the most beautiful place they have been to. It’s not just the magnificent terraced rice fields or the fancy and funky shops, even a little house poking out of a crouded city street is likely to have a cool 3-D wall mural and attractive and comfortable covered outdoor living room. People pay attention to their surroundings, and not just with trimmed green lawn, but with flair. A lot of arfully placed flowering plants, a lot of sculpture, ponds, trees, it makes a big difference to the state of mind. Many of the apartments are located in private gardened and tree shaded compounds, with an alsmost mini-village feel to them. What a difference and I’m so glad I’m here instead of in Cebu City.

The last time I was here I was before I had tried dating around in Thailand, before I saw just how incredibly easy it is to date any number of people you want in the Philippines (although I chose monogamy that year). Now I suspect that doors are also becoming quite open here in Bali for dating. It may even be a bit too easy having white skin here, but I won’t look a gift horse the wrong way.

Plenty of restaurants and clubs, the prices seem just fine. I��ll report more exactly later, but off the top of my head it seemed a good fish dinner can be had for about 2 bucks, and beer will be somewhere around 75 cents in a touristy restaurant, and 50 cents at the store. Give or take 20 cents or something. Although it’s more developed and touristy, the prices are in line with the larger region.

The big downside of Kuta has always been the aggressive street and beach touts. They are still here and aggressive, but it seems better than 3 years ago. Perhaps the locals don’t tolerate the touts who come from Muslim Java as much, after some radical Muslims devastated their economy again with another bombing. It still does lower the quality of living – a lot – to be harassed while walking down a pleasant street by people who seem to have no respect for you as a person whatsoever and see you as an ATM to be shaken and shaken until money drops out. I could stay relaxed after someone asks me if I want a taxi and I say no, but going on and on and on is just a kind of torture. Of course it’s going to get to you after a while. “Taxi?” I just smile and don’t make eye contact and wave my left hand no as agnowledgment. I don’t look all touristy and green and open to their social manipulation. That might work – that’s the best strategy, I think. But some are stuck in a rut – even if you are holding your motorcycle keys in your hand and walking to your bike they’ll ask if you want a taxi. “Girl? Marijuana? Where you go? Hey boss! Boss!” They’ll often try to block your path, and will walk all the way across the street to do it. Saying no won’t stop some of them. Even 5 times no, because they are hunting and you are the prey they try to outsmart. It’s not a good form of social interaction, I really don’t like that game at all, it seems way too disrespectful.

Internet access seems a tad better. At this cafe in the busy Legian street I’m paying about 50 cents an hour, and the connection is usable. It’s not DSL speed, but it functions.

Comparing Kuta to Chiang Mai, the air quality is better here, the tourist infrastructure is way more built up with restaurants and shops and clubs everywhere, there is beach bounding the island, and the culture seems less closed off. There is no nearby forest, unfortunately, but there are many public little and large gardens and hideaways. I could easily step off of a busy mainstreet to practice Thai-Chi in a beautiful spot. The Balinese still have a very strong sense of communal property, and Warungs are everywhere. Many of the big hotels have heavenly landscaped acreage – I couldn’t imagine more beauty.

So it’s good to be back. It was also good to be gone. I’m glad for what I learned in Thailand about dating, glad about what I learned in the Philippines about living in a ghetto among poor ghetto folk and living in a touristy little brothel and diving town, and about devoted monogamy, and glad to come back here with new ways of looking at the place.