Getting out on the road in Bali just before dawn is one of my special loves. The air is fresh; a gauzy haze blankets the countryside; small, wood cooking fires send up snake-like streams of smoke from dozens of kitchens along the rural roads that add the hint of an exotic smell to the morning crispness. Markets are busy with a mess of motorbikes, trucks, cars, bicycles and pedestrians all maneuvering for space. The earliest and most eager students begin to appear alongside the rode ready to begin another school day.
The road from Ubud to Kintamani via Tegallalang is mix of stretches of new, smooth asphalt and crumbly, potholed rubble. It’s better now though than in the past and it lends itself to a reflective drive – on cruise control most of the time as the early morning traffic thins out once past Tegallalang.
A three-day rest back in my usual homestay – my home away from home- for the past 27 years. It had been almost a year since I stayed these last: too many responsibilities at home with my job of raising my inquisitive little granddaughter, a month long cruise to Papua and the Moluccas, and the usual tedium of house repairs. So, back at the homestay a morning of friendly and surprised greetings – bapak, you’ve been away for so long, we were just talking about you, how’s Zoey, how’s Singaraja, have something to eat you must be tired from that long drive. Wonderful to know that I have my secret little sanctuary away from the bustle of city life in Singaraja and from the craziness of Ubud even though the homestay is only a hundred meters off the main street of downtown Ubud – if I can call it that.
Time to meet with old friends – foreign and local. Talk about the state of the world and the country in these post US-election days because everyone wanted to talk about that. And a lot of talk about the state of Ubud. My first surprise as I turned onto the main road on my way to the homestay was to just miss getting slammed into by two foreigners on a motorbike – obviously not used to driving in Indonesian traffic. And just as surprised by their state of dress – or perhaps state of undress – is a better word. The young man shirtless, wearing only shorts and flipflops, no helmet. The young lady on the back barefoot wearing only a bikini and no helmet either. It was the first sight of foreigners sporting beachwear in Ubud – far from any beach. Later I was to run into more of this as I walked around town: men shirtless, women in bikinis. I had to ask my friends because this was something new for me.
The responses from my foreigner friends were expected – something along the lines of “disrespectful,” “rude,” “clueless.” Maybe because we’re from another generation, or maybe just getting older and more conservative. But, what I really wanted was to hear what the Balinese think about this because regardless of what we foreigners think, if the Balinese aren’t offended by this type of dress in public places, well then, we should just get on with things and forget about it.
So, I asked a cross-generational group from great-grandpa down to the teenagers in the compound. Responses were pretty much uniform except varying in degrees of irritation: “rude,” “disrespectful to the local culture,” “eww, who want’s to eat in a restaurant when people are at the next table undressed,” “idiots” (a teen, of course), “kind of funny to see people walk down the street like that,” “OK for the girls but not for the boys,” “don’t they read the guidebooks on how to act in Bali?”
And it was that last comment that set me off on another line of thought. Whose responsibility is it to tell foreigners what is acceptable locally and what isn’t? Should they just figure it out on their own, should there be some kind of handout at immigration on how to behave in Bali, should the locals tell them directly (a bit confrontational for most Balinese that I know), should we old-timers act as the fashion and behavior police?
Well, there was no real consensus from my friends, but generally the idea of having some sort of informational pamphlet at the airport received the most positive responses. However there was also a pretty adamant group that thought that tourists should find out for themselves – “that’s what you did,” said an old-timer, “you were always asking can I do this, is it alright to do that. What’s so hard about that?”
So, I guess life with tourists will just muddle on as it has always done except for those extreme situations when tourists decide to have sex in a temple (yes, it’s happen a number of times here), or relieve themselves on a temple wall (yes, been done as well). So, in the meantime, I’ll just continue to look somewhat bemused when I see strange tourist behavior and just get on with things.
And when we got to politics, no surprises there. No Trump fans and some worries that things will get worse in the world with a loose cannon in charge of the US. Despite what Trump likes to say, Obama is respected here, and no one is looking forward to the change.
A lot more from this trip – it was eventful – but that’s for another time. Zoey will be home from school soon.
And another local take on Ubud and its foreign residents:
And another with a relevant comment even though the location is Kuta:
And since I’m on with Natasha today, one more cute take on foreigners in Bali: