For now circumstance dictates that Graeme Swift spends only half the year in Bali with his Balinese wife and their son. Between them they manage their holiday villa rental business while Graeme also works in the UK as a freelance business English teacher. Eventually hoping to cut all ties with the UK to retire and live full time on the island, he talks to us about his life in Indonesia.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I am from Torquay, Devon, England.
And what did you do there, then?
Business English Teacher.
How did you end up in Bali?
Went travelling to Australia, stopped off in Bali, enroute, fell in love with the place, decided to make it a regular holiday destination.
Have you lived abroad before?
Yes, Germany and Australia for several years at different periods in my life.
So what’s so good about Bali?
Climate, the traditional culture, the people, most of the time!
And what don’t you like?
a, The bureaucracy and corruption at every level of government, as a foreigner living in a foreign country, you pay to get things done, also the double price system, one for locals, one for tourists/foreigners. This really grinds, especially as I am married to a Balinese citizen.
b, The pollution and rubbish, the Balinese have no concept/interest in their environment. Plastic everywhere you go, they dump/burn everything!
c, The on-going materialistic attitude of Balinese people who seem to be unaware of how beautiful their environment is and how they are destroying it in pursuit of materialistic wealth.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
The majority of the time, an outsider, even though I am married to an Indonesian citizen and have a son who goes to school in Bali, I still need a visa to stay in Bali, constantly need to fill in paperwork, am considered by all as a walking ATM machine, without a constant stream of money coming in you cannot survive in Bali as a foreigner. I do not believe that it’s ever possible to be fully accepted in Bali.
How do you support yourself?
I financially support myself and family by working 4 to 6 months each year in the UK and the rental income from our business in Bali. However the cost of living in Bali is constantly increasing, especially for western products.
Any advice for wannabe Balinese?
First, come and spend at least a year living here, rent a place, learn the language, pick your friends, both western and Indonesian very carefully, learn from your experiences.
Do not act in haste, make sure your head rules your heart. Look and listen to what’s going on around you. Do not invest money in Bali until you’re sure it’s a place you really want to live in, think carefully about how you are going to support yourself if you make the move, think about health insurance, nothing is free in Bali, as a foreigner, you pay for all!
Is the move permanent?
Like I already mentioned, it’s my intention to finally retire in Bali however I think this may change over the years depending on how North Bali develops – its fast developing its tourist infrastructure. Once the new international airport is built just outside Singaraja, about an hour’s drive from where we live, our lifestyle and environment will change. For the worse, in my opinion. I choose to live in North Bali to get away from the tourism and materialistic way of life in the south of the island.
Our holiday rental business , Luhluna Tropical Retreat, caters for guests wanting to get away from it all and experience the real Bali. Once this changes, it time to sell up and move on. Writing this has started me thinking, maybe I will get the world map out and see if it’s possible to find another challenge/fresh start for my young family. Or maybe I will stay here, adapt and just accept that I will always be considered a foreigner living in Bali! Watch this space!
Finally, tell us about something typically Balinese
Easy, once I finish writing this, I must put on my traditional Balinese costume, and go with my wife and son to our Uncles family temple ceremony. This is a 2 to 3 day affair, the family temple stands as the focal point within the Balinese family compound. Pigs and chickens will be sacrificed and offered up to the gods for a blessing and good luck for all the family.
The woman prepare the offerings, like Balinese cakes and floral decorations, the men kill and prepare the pigs and chickens in the traditional Balinese way. Its moments like this that make me realise why I love Bali, the concept of the extended family and support structure. However, reality hits home, as standing outside in the middle of the compound, stands a large screen TV, blasting out reality TV and Indonesia soaps.
With his wife, Graeme manages the Luhluna Tropical Retreat, on the North coast of Bali, close to the coastal resort of Lovina, famous for its resident pod of dolphins. He can also be found on Twitter @baligraeme.