I first interviewed Sheila and her family back in 2016 when they were living in Bali for over a year and the kids were only 4 and 15 months old!
Fast-forward to 2020 and now they have been living in Bali for over four years, the kids are at school and her growing business Bali Interiors is going gangbusters! Like nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram! Bali Interiors is a blog dedicated to photographing and curating the best interior design and architecture Bali has to offer.
This year will also be known when the world had to live through a frightening pandemic called the Coronova virus or COVID19. This interview took place at the end of May so who knows how this pandemic will all play out?
In this chat we get an update on how the family is going, the growth of Bali Interiors and how Bali life has changed.
Profile: Sheila, husband Sasha and Luna (7) and Phoenix (4)
Originally from: Sydney, Australia
Arrived in Bali: February 2016
Home in Bali is: Echo Beach, Canggu
Living in a foreign country during COVID19 is stressful, how have you and the family managed it?
Like everyone else, we have tried to be as rational as possible and tried to work out the best and worst case scenario. There have been so many expats that have packed up and left Bali like within a week. Sure there were times when it was scary and we thought should we also go and talking to people creating hysteria it makes you hysterical too. So at one time we shut down and didn’t speak to anyone for a while and we had to think what was best for us.
There were a few reasons why we didnt leave. First of all we are building a house here right now so if we left what would happen to the house we have been building? Also if we left where were we going to stay? We knew if we left it would be indefinitely. We knew this was going to big and that it would last months whereas a lot of my friends thought they would be back within a couple of weeks. We projected this could last till next year and there is no way we could afford to stay in an airbnb for 8 months and for us it was not possible to stay with family. The third reason we stayed was because this is our home now – people say ‘go home’ but Bali is our home. There is no other home.
We also tried to assess the level of danger as well and if it was something like SARS or Meningitis then we would have packed up everything and tried to figure out how to pay for it all. We would have left if we thought we were in imminent danger.
Overall I do really feel lucky to be living here, we have our house and we have our garden.
How has life changed for you?
Bali is super social, you interact with people everyday and you are constantly in chats with people and we went from that to absolutely nothing. Originally I liked how the social aspect changed and then I went through a stage where I needed to see and talk to friends.
On the other hand it has been nice having a moment of peace and chilling at home. Bali is quiet which is so nice. For example today we found a beach that was open about 10 mins away and at the beginning there was no one there and it felt like we were on a deserted island and it was very wild.
Of course there is homeschooling and I am cooking a lot at home, gardening and I am making Jamu. We just started going to a few cafes so the kids can have a treat and go out and do something because as most of the beaches are still closed and there aren’t many places you can go.
How are the Balinese coping during COVID19? Do you have any concerns for their welfare?
It is scary for the Balinese and just not for the Balinese but its actually more scary for the non-Balinese people because the Balinese people have a safety net where they will get looked after by the Banjar (local village government). So there are a lot of initiatives from the Banjar to help families in need. I would say 80% of the expats have left which made up a big community and there is like 4 million tourists a year approximately which of course all brought a lot to the economy. So all the restaurants, cafes, beach clubs, spas, warungs on the beach, hotels have no one. A ghost town and so many people have lost their jobs and people are on the poverty line with no money to eat. It is very concerning.
However I am impressed that the Balinese have done well not to open the airport and are holding off on tourism. They have been quite cautious and really taken it seriously. I dont know if people agree with me or not but I think they have reacted quite quickly and taking lots of measures to be in control. I think the only thing they are lacking in Indonesia and Bali is more testing.
What do you think will happen to Bali when we get to the other side of COVID19?
I am an optimist and I think it is a wake up call for a lot of people in Bali not just the Balinese who cant just expect that tourists will come forever but to also not sell all their land have nothing left. For example, where I live there was an orchard full of fruits and rice field and they sold all their land for quick money. Now they also dont have the food that was grown by there.
Bali needed this pause, to take a breathe and I think the Balinese needed this to wake up a little bit and realise what is important and how we need to go forward. Also for the expats that live here I think a lot them had businesses that operated for foreigners and all those businesses have gone under pretty much. So now they have to come to the realisation that they cant just have one target market they also need to target the people that live here because there are so many expats, it is a huge community. I think the businesses surviving are those that not only targeted the tourists but also the people who live here as well.
Back in our first interview I asked how long you plan to stay in which you replied at least 3 years. You are now building a dream home so I take it the plan will be a lot longer?
Yes, Bali is our home and we are definitely building a dream home which will have two offices as well because my husband and I both work from home. It will have a photographic studio so I can do shoots in the studio and it can also be rented. We hope to moving in about 2-3 months. The house is in Babakan in Canggu which is 5 mins away from where we live now and it is inland.
A few years ago Bali Interiors was in its infancy, now it has grown in so many ways! How is it going? Has COVID affected it much?
It has grown a huge amount and it is still evolving and I am about to start a podcast! I am working on that at night time and doing lots of interviews with people and with all the editing it is taking a while.
There was about 6 weeks where I didnt have any work but I was fine with that and enjoyed being home.
Where I make money is through photography and styling and now I am finding ways to monetise it without having me to take a photo. I am very fortunate because my business has so much potential and I see all the potential so it can be very hard to reign all the ideas that I have and do them one by one because I have like 50 right now! It is exciting but I wish I could implement them all with a huge a team but I dont have a team as it just me basically. There are lots of different avenues I can go and grow the business and a lot of them take time and some take money and with the kids at home I am time poor at the moment.
Currently with COVID you are doing home schooling but please share where the kids normally go to school. Are you happy with the education?
My son Phoenix still goes to the Garden Preschool but we wont send him back until August.
My daughter Luna is at a home school in the Umalas and it only has 20 kids and it is the most beautiful school – its a diamond. It doesn’t have the facilities of the other big schools like Canggu, Green School or Australian School but what it lacks in facilities it makes up with the love that school has. The teachers are the most amazing teachers! For example today her teachers sent Luna a fresh tray of delicious sticky buns because she has been sick. Her teachers are a couple, the wife is Indonesian and the husband is Canadian.
The values they instil in the kids are exactly what we want to instil in our kids. It is the perfect school and it is like a big family, the education is amazing which goes until about age 12. They follow the Canadian system (similar to Australia) but they also have ability based learning so at the moment the kids are divided into two groups. There is no competition and no child is on the same page and they encourage them to learn at their own pace.
Now that you have been part of the Bali expat community for over 4 years have you seen many changes? Do you still miss anything back in Australia?
Its funny when I see friends photos at the moment in Australia and you can see how cold it is and I think how nice it would be to feel cold! Or to be able to go to the shops and buy the kids basics like Pajamas, just little things like that but I really dont miss anything though. I guess it is just those conveniences that I miss about Australia.
There is so many more expats in the last couple of years, it used to be like a village and very small and after the pandemic it has solidified all those people that have stayed here. There have been a lot of people that left for lots of different reasons and some will come back and some wont. Even those that left perhaps didnt think they would not come back as well.
Last time you described Bali in three words as Yummy, hakuna matata (no worries) and be ready! Has this changed?
Well the food is still so good! I think the longer I live here I feel that Bali is a place that is so alive and there is so much energy. It is like it has its own personality you would call it.
You are kind of in it and you have to ride the wave. Because it is so small and so active like volcanoes and things like that you can really feel when it is tired and when it has had enough and when its awake you can feel it like with its earthquakes.
Living in Bali is like nowhere else in the world with this force of nature that you are a guest of and you have to respect and understand it.
I think Bali is not for everyone because it is completely out of your control and you can be freaked out by it and understandably. But on the other hand if you respect Bali, if you give your love to it, it gives it back tenfold.
Living in Bali is like being in a relationship with a third person and you always have to take into account that person that is in the relationship with you when you make your decisions.
All photos by Sheila.