Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bali Blues

I've tried not to be negative on this blog. But there's no time like the present, so here goes...

No trip, especially a long trip like this one, is without setbacks. I've been told that travelers hit a wall around two or three months, when questions like "What the hell am I doing" are answered with "I have no idea." I think I've hit that wall. Perhaps it's the culture shock. Perhaps it's me. Either way, I'm not having fun. I find Bali oppressive and depressing. What should be a paradise strikes me as a pain in the ass.

I can deal with the heat. I can deal with the beggars. I can even deal with a little food poisoning. What gets me is the constant pestering by taxi drivers, merchants and touts. I understand tourism is down. I understand people need to make a living. But I also think that if I wanted a taxi, a painting, some jewelry, a massage or that thing that looks like a box of poison-tipped skewers, I would ask for one. Has anyone ever said yes to the offer of "transport" or actually bought that cheap statue of Buddha? I'm not disparaging the country or its people. I'm fed up with the way tourism presents itself here.

How about letting tourists just look at the goods in your store, or sit in your restaurant, without hovering and making them nervous? I know they need to make a living and I'm a source of income. But the hard sell doesn't work here. It actually makes me turn inward and shut off to the country I'm supposed to be opening up to. Like I said, maybe it's me.

Here's a good example. Today I paid a visit to the fastest Internet connection in Ubud. A few emails later, I logged off and paid the bill. The owner of the business asked me what I thought of his service. I said it was fast and thanked him. He then tried to sell me on a package deal for 10, 25 or 50 hours, at a discount of course. I told him I was leaving town soon and he assured me I could transfer the hours to a friend or use them when I return to Ubud. I have no friends here and no plans to return. What happened next convinced me I'm in some kind of alternate universe. He then picked up a brochure from his desk and tried to convince me to buy life insurance. Life insurance? All I wanted to do was check my email!

I know travel is a way to learn firsthand about other cultures. I know there is a vibrant and interesting culture to explore here in Bali. And I know there are Balinese who could teach me a thing or two. Unfortunately, as a foreigner I'm treated as an other and I've so far been unable to see what's so special about this place. Sure, the people are willing to ask me where I'm from and how long I will be here. But they are also rather circumspect with information and hard to trust. I don't feel like I'm being outright lied to, but I don't feel like I'm being told the truth either.

That's enough whining for now. I have three more weeks in Indonesia and will plow on, continuing north to a beach called Lovina and then west to Java to see the Buddhist temple at Borobudur and perhaps on to Jakarta. Getting away from tourist centers and seeing some of the real country will be challenging. I accept the challenge.

By the way, if I were in the mood to post something positive and upbeat, I would write about the food. It's the best thing about Bali so far. Have you ever tried a mangosteen? They are delicious.



Blogger Dan said...

For whatever it's worth, I've heard before that Bali is not the paradise its reputation would imply.

Plus, I think you always hit a wall when traveling. Go elsewhere for a fresh perspective and you'll be fine. :)

5:33 AM  

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