I Love Bali Forever

May 27, 2011

A hard look at a once-idyllic isle that tourism has transformed – for the worse.


943 Although most pictures depict beaches in Bali to be tranquil and peaceful, reality bites when you are thrown into a mad crowd upon arrival. (Photo: Nicole Low)

A convoy of Porsches and Ferraris from the local automobile club went past my hotel the other day. All of Jalan Kartika Plaza came to a complete halt, and for five whole minutes, no one offered to braid my hair, do my nails, drive me to Ubud, teach me to surf, change currency at the best rate... Everyone was too busy gawking at the fleet of luxe cars. The automobile club should drive down my street more often.

The Indonesian girls in the above passenger seats were all very fair.

There are Indonesian tourists after all. Like vampires, they only descend on the town at night. I think they all hide in their villas during the day or visit temples. The Indonesian tourists dress really well (simple, classy, neutral tones) and are also fair-skinned.

A tourist spends an average US$100 a day in Bali. A Balinese earns an average US$2 a day.

All cafes/restaurants in Kuta serve French fries, pizza, garlic bread, spaghetti and club sandwiches. Even reputable Indonesian restaurants have Western food on the menu.

There is a security presence in places frequented by Caucasians, and at night this is boosted considerably. But the many guards and cops don't appear to be doing anything. "Screening" vehicles entering resorts is a cursory glance at best.

Half the girls at the spa went into an excited frenzy when I pulled out a 100 rupiah (15 cents) note. They took the note and showed it to the

other half of the spa employees, with everyone chattering excitedly, looking at me with envy and admiring the 100 rupiah. As it turned out, it is an out-of-circulation Sukarno-era note featuring a freedom fighter and none of them had seen one before. Some of them wanted it but I just smiled, took my note and placed it carefully back in my wallet. I felt a tiny, tiny bit bad but hey, if their grandparents didn't have the foresight to keep their old money, it's not my problem.

There is definitely a correlation between tacky souvenirs and Caucasian tourists. Case in point: Taiwan has no Caucasian tourists and no cheap souvenirs. You'll have a hard time even finding a souvenir store in Taipei. When I walk along the town centres in Bali, I wonder, who on earth is buying orange-blue print shirts and multi-flowered dresses? I can't even point to Americans as there aren't any. Lesson: Tackiness is universal. Europeans and Aussies shouldn't behave as though it's an American disorder.

Best deals: spas, (pirated) DVDs and villas. Since I managed to survive the last decade without an "I Love Bali Forever" bag and T-shirt, I'll probably be okay without these crucial wardrobe essentials.

Okay, bye Bali! It's been a blast. I love you forever.* Bye!

*Not really.