The Expatriate Dilemma… Reluctant Home thoughts from Abroad

The Bali expatriate community has a particular flavour all its own. Unlike Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta even, Bali is not a financial or commercial centre. Most foreigners who come here are tourists. Foreigners who come here to work and who have stayed for any length of time are here mostly in a travel-related capacity. In the past two decades this has come to include people engaged in resort and property development. Another commercial sector would be those involved in the design and manufacture of exports, often in the garment and house and home fields.

Bali with its vibrant artisan tradition has also become a creative hotspot for foreign designers and something of a shop window for Indonesia as a whole.

Whatever the make up of the expatriate community its hard core comprises men and women of all ages, surfies to retirees, who have made their home in Bali because they have come to love the place and prefer it above all others.

Anyone who has spent long periods away from the country of their birth take note of the costs and benefits of their non-resident stutus. For many such benefits are financial and climatic. The sun shines, there are blue skies, white sand beaches and you either pay none, or very little tax. The cost of living is low and you can afford help in the house. Add to that a local population that is by and large welcoming and possess a fascinating culture it is easy to see why so many foreigners are attracted to Bali.

Of course there is a downside. It isn’t home and they organise things differently here, so get used to it. Adapt or move on. By and large that is what most people who come here do. The only real drawback to Bali is the level of healthcare available and that is improving. That said the question of individual healthcare is the one thing to which all foreign residents in Bali would do well to pay particular attention.

All else is a self-indulgent quibble. Dealing with bureaucrats is a time-consuming pain in the arse in any country, as are dealing with the utilities. Don’t even get me started on that most post-human of all recent innovations, the curse that dares call itself ‘customer service’.

Australians of course are in the enviable position of having it both ways through sheer proximity to their ‘near North” while enjoying one of the world’s best national health services. Though quite how they need to square that with their tax obligations I couldn’t say.

In short we expatriates make our beds and we must lie in them with good grace, accepting the passage of time and what it brings, until we must move on – some of us never do.

As an expat, one of the things we inevitably come to see in time is how we don’t quite fit in back in the country of our birth. We are subtly different. They know it and we know it. Apart perhaps from family, we usually relate better and more readily to other expatriates of whatever nationality and in whatever country we come across them. Our own countrymen and women appear to us curiously insular, if not a bit dull, while their eyes glaze over if we are foolish enough to answer any query about where we’re from in more than a word. We don’t quite speak the same as they any more, something sets us apart and they don’t quite know what to make of us. The more blinkered of them consider us to be in some way disloyal and some of them would even seek to deny us the benefits of our citizenship and even pensions.

All of this is par for the course and need not abash us unduly, for by and large we are out in the world and they are not. We retain most of our birthright, culture and upbringing plus whatever we have the wit and desire to take aboard of the other cultures in which we are free to immerse ourselves.

That said, there are certain prices to be paid that become apparent over time that I wonder about and which nowadays I find increasingly matter. I do not know how much other longstanding expatriates feel about this, but it concerns me to find that I am effectively a political neuter.

I do not mean by this that I cannot vote in a general election in my country, which is (for now) the United Kingdom. I can and have. But that’s about as far as it can go. In Bali, Indonesia or even Hong Kong, where I have right of abode, I cannot vote and as a guest in these countries I may be welcome, but not if I’m unappreciative, critical or ungrateful. In which case the locals not unnaturally wonder what’s keeping me here?

I have to confess that while I would never vote Tory in an UK general election I have no burning desire to record my vote since to do so is not going to make a difference.

My dilemma then, and that of any expartriate anywhere – whether they feel it or not, is that without the standing to participate fully in the complete spectrum of political and social debate of our country of origin, we deny ourselves the right to address the burning issues of the day, issues which affect every one of us and generations to come.

These issues are by now clear for all to see: climate change, overpopulation, nuclear war and economic inequality. They are essentially one and the same, and cannot be left unaddressed any longer if our civilisation is to survive.

How we personally conduct ourselves does make a difference and is important, but – it is no longer enough. It’s too late for that. Enough of us need to join with other like-minded people and make a political difference at grass roots level. We can’t do that in a land where we have no legal standing.

The only way we can make a meaningful difference in the world today is to take action within local communities making the changes necessary to address these issues in a way and scale that central government is forced to follow suit at national and international levels.

The only agency that can bring about global change on this level is the national entity, that is for the majority of countries in the world going through such a bottom-up process.

We know international talking shops can’t do it. We have seen the Great and the Good , the talking heads of our world, shamed by the stark clarity of a girl barely sixteen years old speaking truth to power.

Something has shifted.

I didn’t plan or want to go back to my chilly country of birth, but when circumstances permit, I may find I have to.



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