Having lived for a long time being one of the handful of bule’s (westerners) in the village that I called home – I often found that finding an internal balance between my own culture and trying to “fit in” with the culture that I was living in was my biggest challenge. Having an attachment to that which is familiar is what stirs homesickness in us, it’s not just the people we love and miss but the familiarity of place, the understanding of language, the ease of assimilation.
I watched two cultures crash headfirst into each other in my own relationship and in the relationships of my close friends who were in mixed culture relationships. I watched it time after time, the challenges, the arguments, the misunderstandings that come when the places you come from are so fundamentally different. But we all knew we were up for this, it was part of what we signed up for.
In Bali this past trip I watched this crash of cultures happen in a very different way, on the streets of Bali. The Western Culture crashing (often drunkenly and unashamedly) into and often breaking through the soft local culture of the Balinese people – smashing loudly through the culture of the Indonesian people, who often live side by side with vastly different belief systems, with great grace and respect.
The landscape of Urban Bali is forever changing. I’ve seen incredible shifts in the past few years as local tourism tries to keep up with western trends. From hair braiding and trashy bars to this new era of tattoo parlours, hipster barber shops and raw food cafes – the two era’s seem to sit side by side, on every corner, peppered by temples and glimpses of the traditional culture that goes on alongside the seemingly endless hum of life, the incessant beeping of scooters and the shouts of drunken tourists.
The thing about tourism is it’s difficult to understand. A tourist is a valuable commodity to a country, especially one that is in stages of economic development. But the tourist is also poses a great risk. The tourist escapes accountability. The tourist doesn’t understand the money, or the food, or the language. The tourist demands the comforts of their homeland whilst forgetting their unbearable privilege. The tourist brings money but stomps filthy sandals across the beautifully handmade offerings placed carefully on the stone.
All that being said, there is something beautiful about the meeting of these two worlds. We see worlds collide – and yes, sometimes it is disastrous – but other times, it’s just colourful and beautiful and tinted with the laughter of languages from across the globe.
That in itself… is a spectacular thing.
I always considered myself more a traveller than a tourist. But standing in the noisy centre of Bali’s tourism district I know that I am often both, at the same time. From a place of great privilege and great respect, we seek not to change but to come together and meet the world where we are with arms wide open even though sometimes it’s complex and difficult – it’s also unbearably beautiful.
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ― Kahlil Gibran