Over the holidays this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia for the first time with my wife and our family from her side. We visited 3 cities/countries in 2 weeks: Hong Kong, Bali, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines. Each of these locations left a marked impression on me, and over 4 blog posts, I plan to recount some of the lessons and experiences I took away from the trip.
For this first post, I’ll talk about our first extended stop: Bali, Indonesia.
Visiting Bali at the end of December may seem like a foolish move at first because it’s the rainy season. The weather prediction was 100% chance of rain at all times throughout our 5 days there. We got lucky, though, and had the opportunity to explore the island unencumbered, experiencing the full beauty of the land and the culture. I have to say, it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
What struck me most about Bali, though, is the culture, particularly, the way it blends so many different cultures introduced over the course of centuries to produce a unique identity. It is an impressive illustration of how culture evolves through interactions with other cultures. According to what I was told, the original religion in Bali was animism, the belief that there is life in all things. (Across the island, you will see statues wearing skirts/kilts and trees covered in wrapping paper as a sign of respect for the life in each of them.) Due to a long tradition of trade and relations with China, though, Balinese animism included the belief that there is good and bad in all things, as well, that there is no way to eliminate what is bad, so you must strive to diminish and control what is bad, but recognize that it is always there. (There is an interesting HBR article that applies this same principle to business, arguing that with every solution you apply to a business, you create a new problem, which is not something to worry about, but to recognize and embrace: https://hbr.org/1998/05/evolution-and-revolution-as-organizations-grow.) Then, India began to interact with Bali, and Hinduism was brought over. A few hundred years later, Buddhism followed as it took root in India. These conflicting belief systems led to division and discord until the three religions were unified into one. Balinese Hinduism, the dominant religion in Bali today, is the result, which incorporates animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. This approach of unification rather than expulsion provides insights for not just societal, but also organizational change. Similar to how Bali was able to integrate the rituals, practices, and even beliefs of disparate religions into one, organizations are capable of integrating the systems, approaches, and assumptions of disparate strategies and people into one.
This trip was also an opportunity to try new things. I don’t mean the food (although that was delicious). I drove a motorcycle for the first time on this trip as it was the cheapest and easiest way to get around. And after taking a break for more than a decade, I went scuba diving again with my new brother-in-law. For years, I have avoided diving for no particularly good reason. The ease with which we were able to book a tour and I was able to pick up the habits again surprised me. While 40 feet under water, I remembered that there are two basic rules to diving, which if you follow them, you will likely end up fine. They also apply to most situations in life: Keep breathing and don’t panic.
Side Note: One day, the manager of our house took us to an art school his friend runs to teach the traditional Balinese painting to youth. It is an incredibly laborious technique that involves 4 drafts of a work before it is finished, and the final product is unique in its representation. Gabrielle and I bought a painting that one of the instructors was working on at the time, and the before and after pictures illustrate the effort that went into it.