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December 06, 2010

Revisiting A Patch of Paradise in Bali

Interview: Gaia Grant Author of 'A Patch of Paradise' – Reflections on a Life in Bali, Now in its Second Edition.

(12/4/2010) Gaia Grant's "A Patch of Paradise" has enjoyed a loyal following of readers since it was first published in 2002. The book shares a tale of self and island-discovery experienced by Gaia when she moved her entire family to Bali to live in a hut on the beach, and, with her husband Andrew, started an international consulting company while raising a young family.

Her book shares the joys and challenges of living and working on the tropical eternal holiday island in often stark contrast against the turbulent backdrop of a developing country in dramatic transition.

8 years on "A Patch of Paradise' has now been updated and re-released as an eBook by Amazon.

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While many people dream of finding their own personal patch of paradise and moving to a place like Bali – few manage to actually realize their dream. After packing up her family and travelling the world, Gaia and her husband settled in Bali fifteen years ago. From their simple thatched hut they started a business that has become a global success story.

Gaia Grant's personal memoir shares the joys and challenges of living and working in Bali. Through both humorous and heartfelt anecdotes, Gaia shares the universal search for contentment, and what she and her family have learnt through their ongoing 'paradise project.' caught up with Gaia and conducted the following interview.

The Interview: Gaia Grant, Author, 'A Patch of Paradise What was Bali like when you first landed on the island?

Grant: "I had actually first spent some time in Bali over 30 years ago when the island was not much more than a sleepy village with winding dirt paths through coconut groves leading to the ocean. So I was shocked to see the development when we decided to move there 15 years later. Fresh off the plane after working on a health project for 3 months in India, Bali seemed so clean and civilized at that time. The pitch black tar roads boasting white painted curb sides, the shops with glass fronts rather than the original thatched huts enclosed in bamboo blinds, and brand spanking new set of traffic lights on the intersection leading out of the airport. It had become such a developed metropolis! But when you look back from where we stand now, another 15 years on, we had no idea just how much more developed the small island would become. At the beginning there was no international standard medical care, no real international standard school - and no whole meal health foods available - which was my greatest challenge!" So how has it changed since then? How do you see it now?

Grant: "You can now get top international standards in health and education, accommodation, education, etc – and any type of gourmet food you fancy. Quite a change from those humble beginnings. But you now also need to deal with the by-products of unfettered development – with a population overload leading to increased traffic and pollution. There's always two sides to a coin, or in this case two sides to paradise." I enjoyed your book when I first read it in 2002. Share again some of experiences documented in the book?

Grant: "I share the humorous everyday incidents that remind you're living in a completely different culture than the one you grew up in. About getting it wrong when you point with your feet, or offering to shake hands with your left hand. And I share about the more profound insights that you gain from challenging yourself at a deeper level – about growing a family and bringing up children who consider themselves 'albino Balinese.' I also try to reveal the completely different value bases people can work from. I talk about trying to run a company and bring a western business perspective to a people who work on 'rubber time, and the philosophy that 'ceremonies always come first' - disappearing for days with no notice for a temple blessing or for a cremation after the death of a second-cousin's-uncle-twice-removed. I also explore sense of fate based on 'whatever the gods will' - rather than whatever the boss says!" What happened in your life after finishing the book?

Grant: "When the book was hot off the press and had just hit all the bookstores – immediately after I had just finished a promotional tour with numerous TV newspaper and magazine interviews – Bali was bombed. There were suddenly so many other stories that needed to be told about Bali at that time, of the tragedies of lives lost and of the zealous mindset that had led to the bombings. I was asked to do another a round of interviews – this time as the local 'author/expert.' Following that, there were more bombings – one of them no more than 50 meters from our front doorstep and impacting the very patch of paradise that had been our peaceful refuge and the lives of people we knew personally, It was a time of heavy reflection on life, and on what we were risking in staying on in such an apparently unstable environment. Since then there have been a range of other factors that have affected the island in some way and our personal life circumstances have changed. While we still have the same wonderful team running our business in Bali, our children are now finishing their schooling back in Australia, so we are spending much less of our time there and more of our time in our home environment. It has been wonderful to have had the unique travel experiences, but now also to come home with a new appreciation of our home in Sydney." How practical is it to try to run an international business from Bali?

Grant: "There are definite challenges like the Internet dropping out, or the electricity going out without notice and the phone suddenly cutting out when you're in the middle of an important conference call. Or, it could be a major ceremony blocking the roads when you're trying to get to a meeting and suppliers all closing-up shop for obscure religious holidays when you have client deadlines to meet. But, in general, the world has become such a global village and the communication technology is so advanced that it is not a major problem. It's funny to think that we can be speaking to a CEO from a Fortune 500 company in his high-rise city office from our hut on the beach. We now travel a lot - working with our clients in other destinations all over Asia and as far as the Middle East and Europe. Our team in Bali deals with all the administration and production of the resources, so we continue to run the business between Sydney and Bali, virtually, to support the work. Perhaps surprisingly, Bali has been a wonderful place to base a business – mainly because it has such wonderful people!" How do you see your connection with Bali going forward?

Grant: "We are now focusing on giving back to Indonesia through providing health education kit materials in Indonesian and through running workshops to teach about how to use them. These workshops have been offered to support NGOs in their work not only in Bali, but have also on more remote islands in Indonesia such as Sumba and Manado. We also try to encourage the corporate clients we deal with in our international consulting business to come to Bali to learn about the health and development issues and participate in development projects as part of their own leadership and team development. We have a big focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, and we now have programs that enable client groups to assist with renovating orphanages, with building bikes for children in need, with planting trees for reforestation, and so on. It is a very fulfilling and satisfying experience for the client, and also a great learning opportunity. And, of course, we remain closely committed and connected to the wonderful Indonesian team that run our business – some of whom have been with us pretty much since we arrived all those years ago and have well and truly become members of our extended family. Bali will always be our second home."
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