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Bali, Paradox Island: What’s wrong with this picture?

by Susi, 3 May 2011

let's get real: problems beset bali

Travel guides and glossy magazines call Bali paradise and wax poetic about the island’s glories, and how peaceful and spiritual a place it is. Of course, there is some truth amid all the hyperbole, but reading the local newspapers written in Indonesian gives a somewhat different impression. There is evidently some dissonance between the public image and the day-to-day realities of Bali, which is beginning to seem more like Paradox Island than Paradise Island. As a bellweather, let’s just take a look at today’s Bali Post, the local Indonesian-language daily, to see what’s up in this so-called paradise. Remember, this is just one day, and a day chosen completely at random. Yesterday was not dissimilar, and tomorrow probably will not be either.

Following are brief synopses of 13 news items prominent in today’s Bali Post (a broadsheet sized serious newspaper, with a total of 24 pages, four of them devoted to sport, two to classified advertising, and one to international top stories).

beauty and the beast, both are bali

Polluted Beaches
At least 13 beaches in Bali are polluted by raw effluence from hotels and other businesses. Among those beaches are tourism faves, Kuta, Sanur, Mertasari, Lovina, Soka, Candidasa, Padangbai and Tulamben. The Governor of Bali says hotels that disregard sanitation and dump waste in the sea will be prosecuted.

Comment: Illegal effluent certainly contributes to the seasonal algae blooms that kill fish along Bali’s southwest coast, causing noxious odours.

Coastal Abrasion
The beaches of Bali’s popular southwest coast are eroding at a troubling rate. During an open discussion forum held by the Governor at Petitenget temple in Seminyak, chemical fertilisers were identified as a major contributor to the problem. Canggu resident, Wayan Tambun, says popular surf spots at Seseh, Batu Mejan (Echo Beach), and Berawa are among the beaches vanishing to abrasion, and that it has been going on for a long time. Farmers are urged to stop using chemical fertilisers.

Comment: This comes at a time when the fields of south Bali are hit hard by plagues of insects, plant diseases, rat infestations, and the effects of extreme weather. Farmers can hardly make a go of it as things stand, and they are unlikely to consider risking a switch to organic farming, fearing the cost of making adjustments, and the risk of even poorer harvests.

Abandoned Babies
A newborn baby was found abandoned on a terrace in Denpasar. It is now one of three recently-abandoned newborns currently being cared for at the main public hospital in Denpasar

Power Supply Problems
Rolling blackouts continue. Today’s scheduled all-day blackout areas include the Oberoi and Petitenget districts, which are popular elite travel enclaves, and the main university campus of Bali (UNUD). Tomorrow’s areas in the dark include Ungasan, and nearby exclusive neighbourhoods in Bukit Jimbaran where the Bulgari Resort and other star-to-diamond class resorts are located.

Armed Robbery
Investigation of an armed robbery continues. A few days ago a young businessman withdrew about $24,000 in cash from his bank, and was robbed at knifepoint on the way home. The police criticise him for not bringing along a guard.

hiv aids threaten paradise island of bali

AIDS Epidemic
Bali ranks 5th nationwide in terms of the total number of officially reported cases of HIV/AIDS, and four of its eight regencies still have no official resolutions ratified to address HIV/AIDS. Among those four are Badung (where most tourism activity is located), Denpasar (the capital city), and Tabanan (agricultural and elite villa/resort development zone). A public health officer warns of the risk of Bali having a “lost generation,” noting that most cases are in the 16 – 49 year old age group. There are thousands of officially reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Bali. Transmission here is primarily through heterosexual contact.

Comment: Bali is certainly not the most populous province in Indonesia, by a long way. What does this mean in terms of percentage of population infected? Is Bali perhaps in the top two provinces for infection levels? How rapidly is the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Bali increasing?

Terror Scare
Saturday night a mysterious suitcase was found abandoned in the nightlife hub of Jalan Legian near Kuta. The street was closed off, the bomb squad contacted, and patrons of restaurants, bars and other businesses abandoned the area in fear. The bomb squad arrived after approximately one hour and the suitcase was checked, removed, and found to contain no explosives.

road accidents and deaths on the rise in crowded bali

Death on the Roads
A 16-year old boy died of head injuries in a motorbike accident near Tejakula in North Bali. A 54-year-old woman died of head injuries (no helmet) in a motorbike accident in downtown Denpasar. A spokesperson from the main public hospital in Denpasar states that 80% of traffic injuries in Bali are injuries to the head, and almost 16% are head injuries to riders not wearing helmets.

Comment: Normally one to three road deaths per day are reported in the Bali Post. A week ago Saturday, I arrived on the scene of a deadly motorbike mishap at the intersection of Jalan Raya Tanah Lot and Jalan Raya Canggu just minutes after it occurred. The image of the rider’s face smashed on the tarmac amid blood and bone fragments is not one that will fade from memory fast.

Problems Providing Road Infrastructure
The Governor during a public forum in Seminyak complained about how difficult it is to provide new roads in Bali to overcome its dire traffic problems. He cites excessive criticism, debate, and discussion as well as high land values. The central Government, he states, has been very supportive and ready to fund road projects in Bali, but with every project getting bogged down in interminable debates and complaints and special interests, they have become confused. Projects are stuck in stalemate.

Bird Flu Outbreak
Dozens of chickens died suddenly in West Bali, apparently from bird flu. The carcasses were burned and chickens in the immediate surrounding area were eliminated to prevent the spread of this outbreak.

silent secret - domestic sexual abuse exists in bali

Domestic Sexual Abuse
Yet another Balinese man in Buleleng regency is arrested for having sexual relations with his own daughter, in this case, a girl of 6.

Broken Roads
The roads in Karangasem regency, including the road to Besakih, “the mother temple,” are busted up and full of holes. The problem is due in part to overweight trucks carrying sand and gravel from illegal quarries. Locals frequently plant banana trees in the holes to mark them and as a form of protest at the bad state of the roads. The sand and gravel quarries in Karangasem run 24 hours a day, putting approximately 14,000 cubic meters of stuff on the road daily in some 2000 trucks. In tiny Klungkung regency three excavations were closed for environmental reasons. These sites are notorious for harbouring packs of stray and rabid dogs which have bitten numerous victims recently.

Comment: Last week a sweep of goods trucks on the main highway of Bali revealed that 80% of them were severely overloaded, posing safety risks, and causing damage to road surfaces.

Government Centre a Tranny Hangout
The Government’s Civic Centre in Renon has become notorious as a hotbed of crime, and a hangout for transvestite prostitution and cruising.

Unemployment and Help Wanted Ads Both Up
The double-digit unemployment rates in Bali have become quite daunting. At the same time the number of Help Wanted ads in the Bali Post has increased by approximately 100% in the past year. The majority of jobs advertised require English language and computer skills. Both of these skills are relatively rare among people seeking employment. Poor education is to blame. Businesses across the island are hard-pressed to find even entry-level staff with adequate skills.

What we see here, scanning the daily newspaper is no paradise. It’s a complex, challenging and challenged society with internal conflicts, conflicts between man and his environment, and conflicts between human flesh and hard tarmac. It would probably be fair to say that when all is said and done, Bali is in no better or no worse a state than any other tropical island “paradise”. Problems arise, evolve, resolve, and new ones emerge to fuel the continuing struggle that is human life on earth. What is troubling is not so much the problems themselves, but the mass conspiracy (or mass hypnosis) under which Bali tends to tell itself that it is perfect, blessed, the ultimate island. Whether this was ever true or not, such an idyllic state certainly could never, and will never, be attained or sustained in a climate of denial, delusion, ignorance, or arrogance.

One hopes that everyone and anyone who has an interest in Bali, whether they are visitors, travellers, residents, Balinese, or non-Balinese, will at the very least disavow themselves of the dream that this island is paradise, or that its people exist in a state of grace or superiority. Uniqueness, value, beauty, yes, all of those qualities can be attributed to Bali as it was, and as it is. But they are only part of the story. As someone once said,  probably in about 1969, “Let’s get real.” Perhaps some kind of balance can be re-won in Bali, and then sustained. I hope that everyone who receives some benefit, tangible or intangible from Bali, is also willing and able to reciprocate by providing some benefits to Bali in return. Being aware of the day-to-day realities here is a good place to start.

    13 Comments


    • I agree wholeheartedly with your comments . . . alot of venues, resorts, park owners are trying to sweep it all under the mat . . . the only way to deal with it is to confront it

      • Ni ketut
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      • May 3, 2011

      Suksema

      • Vilo
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      • May 3, 2011

      Greed & laxism - - two main reasons for what happens in Bali. And that's not going to change for a while! Good luck, Bali.

      • Abby
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      • May 19, 2011

      Re: Comment: Bali is certainly not the most populous province in Indonesia, by a long way. What does this mean in terms of percentage of population infected? Is Bali perhaps in the top two provinces for infection levels? How rapidly is the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Bali increasing? Don't want to go on an epidemiology bender here (long and boring!), but prevalence (% of population infected) of HIV amongst sex workers and injecting drug users is pretty similar to elsewhere in Indonesia (new national figures expected out soon), none available for prevalence among general population as it still is an epidemic concentrated amongst IDUs and their partners, prostitutes and their clients and clients' wives/girlfriends and some kids. It's impossible to measure incidence without a cohort study. Bali has much better referral system for testing and treatment than many other provinces, hence higher numbers of reported cases. Numbers of cases can't be extrapolated to estimate prevalence.

      • Abby
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      • May 19, 2011

      Re: Comment: Bali is certainly not the most populous province in Indonesia, by a long way. What does this mean in terms of percentage of population infected? Is Bali perhaps in the top two provinces for infection levels? How rapidly is the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Bali increasing? Don\'t want to go on an epidemiology bender here (long and boring!), but prevalence (% of population infected) of HIV amongst sex workers and injecting drug users is pretty similar to elsewhere in Indonesia (new national figures expected out soon), none available for prevalence among general population as it still is an epidemic concentrated amongst IDUs and their partners, prostitutes and their clients and clients\' wives/girlfriends and some kids. It\'s impossible to measure incidence without a cohort study. Bali has much better referral system for testing and treatment than many other provinces, hence higher numbers of reported cases. Numbers of cases can\'t be extrapolated to estimate prevalence.

        • Susi
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        • May 19, 2011

        It's an honour to have Abby sharing thoughts and expertise here. She knows of what she speaks. As we all know, it's extremely difficult to even try to compile accurate statistics about HIV infection, because of the socially sensitive nature of the disease and its transmission. And ultimately, statistics don't really matter, except to help ring alarm bells where and when alarm bells need ringing. ("Fire! Fire! Fire!") What does matter, absolutely, is promoting safe sex and use of condoms in the commercial sex industry among customers and workers. And promoting awareness and spreading knowledge among all segments of the adult population about how HIV is transmitted, and what the consequences of being infected actually are so they will be motivated to avoid risk of infection. Massive public information campaigns in other countries have helped enormously in reducing infection over time. I don't see much in terms of public information campaigning here, and I find that very sad. Lack of knowledge and understanding lead to "misunderstandings" like the one mentioned in a more recent Bali Post article (see my blog post of yesterday), where the local residents in Kuta objected to a condom dispenser on the grounds that it promoted "free sex". Look at the positive influence that Cabbages & Condoms has has in Thailand. We need to get condoms "out of the gutter" as it were. What was most compelling for me, in the most recent Bali Post article was the statement that 80 - 90% of sex workers in Thailand are estimated to be using condoms, while only 26% of sex workers in Bali are estimated to be using them. Even if the figures aren't precise, the difference is huge. And the consequences of such a low level of condom use in Bali are likely to be huge as well.

      • Abby
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      • May 20, 2011

      Indeed. Indonesia is way behind Thailand in the condom and campaign departments. One of the main issues is that most local leaders don’t see HIV as a politically beneficial issue for them, full of "morality" landmines, and are worried about backlash a la Kuta and the condom machine. Alit Kelakan (former Wagub) was a great and fearless HIV campaigner and paid a heavy political price. However, Pedanda Made Gunung and Nano Biru have been in a series of TV spots and talk shows, which is a start. The 26% figure is condom use by clients, according to BP, and I think may refer to consistent condom use. Condom use at last sex is higher (for both sex workers and clients), but far from what it needs to be. Interestingly, Indonesia is one of the leaders in SE Asia for very pragmatic harm reduction programs for injecting drug users. There is a methadone maintenance program in Kerobokan prison, for example.

        • Susi
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        • May 20, 2011

        Thanks for sharing this information, Abby. I'm going to share it around.

      • Arthur Karvan
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      • February 11, 2012

      Excellently written Susi, thank god your on the case here. Until i read your blog i think i am entirely alone about seeing Bali galloping towards annihilation. Having come to terms that it is no longer like 1969, but this !. It all happened too fast and there was no chance to develop a justice system and the rule of law. There has been little education, it didn't seem necessary, what for, you could get what you wanted by taking it from foreigners by simply being helpful and nice to them and it is still the case. We will see a great collapse here, all that wealth acquired by some Indonesians will go down the gurgle r, but enough will remain to rebuild a better society and that will have to start with education. Not just primary schools but Tech colleges, polytechnics and high education institutions, all which are state run (not by private money making institutions like now). The Balinese then after the tourist madness to get rich quickly will come into their own again, reinvented and unrecognizable to the Balinese we see now. To fix this system with new roads, bigger airports, more malls will not fix the main problem but rather will make it worse. That problem is the growing divide between rich and poor / the haves totally exploiting their brothers and sisters ( see Rio Helmi's Huffington post article on why the Balinese allow it to happen). You can forget about political correctness this or that but until you achieve economic political correctness there will be no improvement. Thats a tall order and can only come about through education. An educated spiritual society will help Bali regain it's Paradise title.

    • The people of Bali should do everything that will preserve the beauty and grandeur of this island paradise. If they really want to keep tourists coming, they should protect not only the tourist spots but the whole Bali itself.

        • Susi
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        • March 4, 2012

        Thank you Raymund, for your comment. I agree completely!

      • marian
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      • September 10, 2012

      Frank and to the point, beautiful Bali is under assult with all that is in the shadows coming to the surface. Thank you for speaking out. Not covered, the mistreatment of birthing women and babies in the hospital system. The balinese women being rated just slightly higher than the mistreated dogs. Domestic violence. corruption. Intercultural racism. Burning of plastics. And I heard a local report stating that of 60% of women tested for HIV in a costal brothel, 100% were tested as positive. :-( The local men refuse to wear condoms with these women, their wives are birthing positive babies clueless to their HIV status. The Balinese are enslaved to create bigger and bigger offerings to attain the wealth needed to support themselves with tourism and expat putting up the prices they must also pay. Empoer the women, educate the girls to high school instead of keeping them home to help with the women's disproportionate work load, Oh I could go on! again thank you for sharing. This is a concern for most of Asia and in turn for us all. May we all find peace and beauty without the cost of family and our beautiful mother earth. x

      • marian
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      • September 10, 2012

      Frank and to the point, beautiful Bali is under assult with all that is in the shadows coming to the surface. Thank you for speaking out. Not covered, the mistreatment of birthing women and babies in the hospital system. The balinese women being rated just slightly higher than the mistreated dogs. Domestic violence. corruption. Intercultural racism. Burning of plastics. And I heard a local report stating that of 60% of women tested for HIV in a costal brothel, 100% were tested as positive. :-( The local men refuse to wear condoms with these women, their wives are birthing positive babies clueless to their HIV status. The Balinese are enslaved to create bigger and bigger offerings to attain the wealth needed to support themselves with tourism and expat putting up the prices they must also pay. Empoer the women, educate the girls to high school instead of keeping them home to help with the women\'s disproportionate work load, Oh I could go on! again thank you for sharing. This is a concern for most of Asia and in turn for us all. May we all find peace and beauty without the cost of family and our beautiful mother earth. x

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