Balinese mental acuity and alcohol

It is quite an eyeopener in Bali to encounter the incredible memory and other indications of mental sharpness demonstrated constantly by the Balinese.

Having published Kindred magazine, one of the world's most respected parenting magazine I came across lots of data linking alcohol, especially binge drinking amongst young people (while the drain is still developing), to memory gaps and long-term memory disability. Apparently the hippocampus, responsible for memory, becomes damaged via alcohol consumption. The Balinese, and Indonesians in general, do not have a drinking culture, or at least nothing like in Australia and especially not amongst their youth, and the impacts of this upon their mental ability is stark.

Repeatedly I go to restaurants where the water/waitress would come and take our order, with drinks, entrees and mains, and memorise who wanted what, then go to serve other tables on the way back to the kitchen, and then bring out the orders accurately. Possibly these staff have simply been really well trained, and such competence also happens in more up-market restaurants in Australia also, but rarely, while it happens pretty much at every restaurant in Bali.

Whenever I revisited some business I had bought something from they would remember me, where I came from and who I previously came with and what my needs were. One day I delivered some tubes of honey i was selling to a shop, and probably had 30 seconds contact with a man who noted my name and my product. I returned about 3 weeks later, and he looked at me, knew my name, the name of my product and also how many had sold. I was stunned. Other times I returned to a shop and they remembered what I had bought previously.

Yes there are occasions when staff completely forget instructions and you have to repeat the list of tasks, but mostly the ability of the Balinese to remember things is astounding. A friend with whom I travelled was amazed when we went to a village where she had stayed 7 years earlier and everyone remembered her and the name of her boyfriend and that she had gone to Australia in the meantime.

To then see my own memory lapses, in particular with names, made me feel embarrassed. To then see other Aussies instantly forgetting who they just met, and often not even bothering to pay the attention required to remember, made me reflect upon the possibility that our dependence upon alcohol may be a key reason why the West is being overtaken in so many areas by Asians.

This may be correct, maybe not, but nevertheless it is worth considering the effects of the Australian love affair with alcohol and what it is doing to our culture and society.

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By Mark O'Brien

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