A response to Iyer’s optimism
“Among the Beverly Hills–worthy sanctuaries that encircle the village of Ubud—full of signs for paradise regained, bikini parties, and furniture stores called Reincarnation—people will tell you that Bali is “spoiled,” as if choosing to forget that this is what the island has been tempting every visitor to say since the beginning. And as if the so-called spoiling makes the place any less eerie or unsettling or unfathomable. Pundits assure us the world is homogenized now—there are KFCs everywhere on Bali, and DHL will now send your owl masks back to Santa Monica almost overnight—but forty years of travel, from Bolivia to Ladakh to Ethiopia, Beirut, and North Korea, have only convinced me of the opposite.”
Bali is certainly not spoiled, but it is less unsettling because of the overwhelming amount of visitors. It is wonderful that Iyer can find the beauty in Bali being more homogenized than other countries and the merit behind KFCs and bikini parties. As wonderful as it is, he is leaving out a lot of what makes people say Bali is spoiled. It is true that Bali is basically paradise, riding around on a moped through the sweet smelling jungle, eating the rawest fruits, vegetables and chocolate, and lounging by almost magical fountains and pools. Its air is tangibly tranquil, the culture is full and beautiful but Bali is not just some magical foreign place.
The recent development and increase of tourism in Bali has definitely made the small island prosper and has fed its people and culture. It is certainly beneficial, but it is so oversaturated with tourists it removes the wonderful uncomfortability of travel. Yes, when someone travels to Bali they are removing themselves from their habitual day to day, but many people treat Bali as a bender and less so a cultural exploration. It is true that regardless they will feel a different culture and I can not tell a person how to appreciate a place, but I met so many people that didn’t leave Canggu their whole trip because they were too hungover.
I struggle with this view because I have only been there once, and I have no place to say that partiers do not appreciate Bali. I felt that I appreciated Bali and I still subscribed to stumbling through the streets late at night. I am also not saying that these partiers make Bali any less Bali. Bali is whatever it chooses to be, and whatever it morphs into. I am simply arguing that this influx of tourists doesn’t necessarily make Bali more culturally beautiful.
There are some huge downsides to the tsunami of Aussies, Americans, or Germans who have an aim of not being sober or seeing the sunlight. That downside is specifically the lack of respect people give Bali. The disrespect comes from their pure aim to simply use it as an adult playground for drinking.
After, living with a widowed Balinese native, her two sons, and my old family friend Tom Lang for two weeks I felt I got to see many sides of Bali. I attended a ceremony deep in the mountains under a volcano and learned how to pray. I was dressed in traditional clothing by my hostess grandmother who did not speak a lick of english, and bathed in an ancient spring. I went to the international school made of bamboo, and yoga retreats where my friend would teach. I met foreign business owners who told me how difficult it was to have a business as a foreigner (lots of bribes was his answer). I met a woman who fled from her abusive husband in California and has lived peacefully in Bali with her wonderful daughter. There are so many enriching and wonderful sides of Bali, from people that are native born and immigrates. I feel not many people seek to explore these different avenues. I was lucky, yes, to have a local as a guide, but many tourists go to parties do not see these magical factors that make up Bali. It disheartens me, but then again I cannot tell another person how to travel. That is up to them. I just believe the influx of tourists is not just a magical collision of culture. I think it is more complicated than what Iyer makes it out to be.
Note: This is what was on my mind after the readings. In no way do I think I am qualified to retort what Iyer is saying, because of my personal experience. I also struggle with bringing my personal experience into the mix since it can come off as me just wanting to talk about me going to Bali, that of course is not my intention.
“I wasn’t rich, but the door to the world was swinging open for those of us ready to live rough and call ourselves foreigners for life.”
This quote made my heart sing. I have a core brief that anyone, from any background can travel. I am in no way saying everyone at the drop of a hat can get on a plane and fly away. There are major obstacles in people’s way. From children, to felony charges, to demanding jobs, to overprotective parents, but I have seen people who have a deep urge to travel overcome many unsurpassable obstacles. Do not become a fugitive, but people often hold themselves back just because they believe they just can’t travel. Even if one can’t leave the country Kenab, Utah or Atlanta can be just as foreign as Cairo or Kathmandu. It is about how one prioritizes their life. There are legitimate reasons people cannot travel. For example, I am not a mother with three children and two jobs and I understand that, but many of the people I come across are also not mothers with demanding jobs. Yet, I hear all the time from young, privileged people, I wish I could go to Japan. My response? Do it. Save the money, prioritize and go. Can’t find someone to go with you? Go alone. Can’t speak Japanese? Stay in hostels and meet people that do. Do not have the time to plan an itinerary? Make it up as you go, it’s much more freeing.You do not have to be privileged to travel is what I am trying to get across, and I think Iyer believes that same.