Discover more from Wandering the Grey
beyond the Bali cliché
If I told you I went to a tropical paradise, only to spend three days writhing in bed with painful stomach cramps, you’d assume I’d never wish to return. But you’d be wrong😅.
Despite Bali serving me a dish of food poisoning one week, and a side of RAW fish and chips the other, it remains my joint-favorite destination ever. And I’m looking for excuses to return.
How could this be so?
Bali gives people second chances
By the ice cream bar at Finn’s Beach Club, a woman bumped into my college friend and claimed it was an accident. To apologize for her “clumsiness”, she offered to buy him a scoop. He refused and they laughed it off. Her friend interjected: “Where are you guys from, I hear an accent”. And we spent the next two hours chatting.
But this isn’t a story about a meet-cute.
I asked what brought them to Bali and I felt them both light up. One girl explained how she came for a “refresh” after a horrendous breakup and stumbled into a role managing and investing in villas on the island. The other was a published creative writer who found her way into a product management role at an Australian startup. When I mentioned I was trying to do the opposite of her—leave tech for a creative career, she looked me dead in the eye and said:
Dude, this is where you need to be. I’ve seen this happen countless times, people come to Bali in exploration mode, and things fall in place for them. Especially if you’re trying to do something creative. The soul of this land will fuel you on.
She broke eye contact for a second and let her words reverberate in my mind. I had heard this idea before. This rhetoric of rebirth was loud and clear throughout everyone’s Bali origin story. In the video game of life, it seemed like people in Bali got an extra life—some free XP to explore another avenue, a chance to reinvent yourself that most people never get.
Allure of possibility
Earlier that week, I was walking down the street to the corner-store and I passed a restaurant playing dancehall music. I peeked inside and the owners, two American dudes invited me in. I soon learnt these guys who were my age, first-generation immigrants from Jamaica and Venezuela left their corporate jobs to start a business 10,000 miles away. A story that sounds as insane as it is. Who the hell does that?!
In the bustling streets of Seminyak, I met a twenty-five year old Taiwanese guy who was nine months into his move from Texas. I asked him why he left America and he replied “So I can enjoy my life before I’m old😳”. He explained his version of his rich life—he made marketing videos for American clients who paid $$, and that let him travel throughout South East Asia for cheap. Hmmm.
On a pair of rickety-plastic bleacher seats outside a football pitch, a British James told me how a spur-of-the-moment decision—a one-way trip to Bali ended up with him finding a “creative consultancy gig” and living there for the last three years.
I’m not here to romanticize Bali as a flawless utopia. It’s possible these people I met were outliers, but the trend was unmistakeable. The unifying thread through several of my conversations—in coffee shops, in loud clubs, by the beach, on the football pitch, at the monkey forest—was loud and clear:
“I was doing something else, I came here for a short time. This place is incredible and I’m never leaving.”
Some places choke your creativity with their grey skies, rigid lifestyles, and singular stories of what “success” looks like. But Bali is a breath of fresh, inspiring air. I know it’s cliche—man goes to Bali, has a spiritual transformation, and returns as a vegan yogi with a man-bun.
It’s easy to dismiss these stories as nonsense tropes. But the cliché endures because it’s often true! Bali is a natural paradise blessed with green rice fields and clearwater beaches—a tranquil haven for those visiting from concrete jungles.
This constant exposure to living, breathing nature is a catalyst for creativity. I got the idea for my first prose poem—isn’t it unwise—sitting on a huge rock on Pererenan Beach. I didn’t go there to write, but as I sat there for an hour—enveloped by the aura of the moment, the lush purples and reds strewn on the sunset canvas above me, the stillness juxtaposed against the motion of the waves, I breathed in awe. I took a picture to try to capture the moment, but I trust the easel of my fingers much more than my jittery camera. I let the handbrake off and the words sprang out of me. And that day unlocked a new creative format that I now love.
Last year, I was depressed for several months. I didn’t become a recluse—I still did all the fun stuff I usually did. But the comedowns were steep cliffs. One moment of joy followed by the sudden, crushing weight of “remembering my problems”. My smile exchanged for a fixed, forlorn frown.
I’ve since recovered, but the experience taught me to fiercely chase my inner child. To reacquaint myself with the one within who sought to play and laugh without restraint. The one who dreamed without boundaries before the nonsense of adulthood came in the picture.
That’s why my favorite experience in Bali was something so simple. It wasn’t the Amapiano club nights, or the monkey forest, or the beautiful beaches, or the famous Bali swings. It was a $1.74 motorcycle ride from Canggu to Seminyak one random evening.
We rode past rice terraces with plants taller than me, small sandy roads with calm chickens and gullible goats. Local barbecue spots where beer and laughter flowed. Little stalls selling the famous East Asian bracelets, necklaces, elephant pants but also…AirPod Maxes. Endless restaurant signs touting Nasi Goreng. A jazz cafe draped in mid-century furniture and digital nomads.
The breeze whizzing on my face as the driver sped through traffic. The harmless street dogs that waited their turn before crossing the street. French Bohemian fashion stores with transparent glass selling chic scarfs and overpriced sweaters. Tourists that met me at the traffic lights and left with a kind, knowing smile as if to say: “Look at us, living life in this paradise.”
Depression has a way of dimming the colors on display, or muting the theme song of your life. But during this ride, I remember thinking, “There’s so much life and vivid detail around me. I’m seeing so much. I’m feeling so much. Man, I’m just happy to be here”. The little boy within must have been smiling ear to ear.
Bali welcomed me in my liminal space—halfway between engineer, but not yet a creative, somewhat confused, looking for inspiration. It has seen many like me before and offered a comforting hug. It did not judge or ask questions about my “five-year plan” or “Q3 goals”. Instead, it introduced me to many “creative rebels” as living proof that life doesn’t have to be lived in a straight line.
The most important part of my sabbatical has been rewriting the stories I tell myself. For me, that meant accepting myself as a creative person. An identity that was foreign in my self-perception, but oh-so-obvious to me now. While I didn’t enjoy the food poisoning, it only lasted three days. But the newfound acknowledgement of my creative identity—I mean, that’s a lifelong unlock.
🚨🚨On that note..I have something to share
I'm opening up some time on my calendar for paid calls because a lot of people have reached out to ask about sabbaticals, golden handcuffs, and leaving tech. I've had 30+ of these conversations and I realise we all have the same fears:
money: how can I justify leaving $$ on the table? what’s the ROI here?
time: what would I do all day? how to structure the time?
guilt: is it right for me to just "not work"
self-identity: how do I introduce myself without work/title?
social: what would people (family, friends, recruiters) think?
Book some time here or reply to this email if you’re interested. I’ll send you a form with questions you’d like to discuss and we’ll take it from there.