As the wave accelerates past me and angles sharply towards the shore, I start swimming as hard and as fast as my arms and legs will propel me. Before I know it, I am up high on the crest of the swell, body-surfing the biggest wave of my life. The feeling is absolutely exhilarating! I can see the palm trees and the white-sand tropical beach laid out before me. “Yee-haw. I’m doing this! I am king of the world.” A moment later, the bottom of the wave suddenly drops out from under me; in seconds, I’m transported from my lofty position atop a wild Balinese wave to face-planting in the sand like an African ostrich. Slowly checking my body to make sure all my parts still belong to me, I lift myself up, clean a few drops of blood off my sand-papered chin, and swim on back into the ocean for a go at the next wave.
Situated on Bali’s west shore, not far from the airport, Kuta Beach is a place of contrasts. On the one hand, the body surfing is amazing – the best I’ve ever done. The beach, itself, is everything you want in a Southeast Asian vacation destination: blue water, cheap massages, outdoor restaurants selling tasty curries, forgotten coconuts dotting the sand. On the other hand, Kuta’s side streets are chockablock with cars, trucks and especially motorcycles, handled by testerone-fueled youth intent on replacing every last atmosphere of oxygen with their oily, belching motor smoke. How can such a beautiful place simultaneously be such a repellant one?
To enjoy Kuta is to compartmentalize. Although the back streets away from the sand are, indeed, awful, the beach, itself, is a tropical marvel. As the sun goes down, I sit on my towel, a cold drink in hand, worn out from a rigorous day of body surfing (and face planting), looking out at the perfect sunset – every color in the spectrum (and no doubt a few that aren’t). Can I keep looking forward while somehow not looking back? As I sip my drink, I think, “Yes, I think I can.”
(A wise teacher once told me, “If you don’t like the marshmallows in your Lucky Charms [which I didn’t], just pick them out. Don’t throw the whole bowl away.” What interesting advice! You don’t have to like everything about an experience to still find the value in it. That holds true for jobs, vacations and relationships. Maximize what you like, minimize what you don’t. But don’t chuck the whole thing away because there’s only one small aspect you dislike. If you do, you’ll miss out on a mighty nice bowl of Lucky Charms.)