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Does Bali Need a System Reboot?

by Susi, 29 December 2008
Does Bali need a reboot? Or a new operating system?Is it just me? Or do we have a total system crash here?

I wrote the following rather long piece start to finish without stopping, in response to two heartfelt comments on the Jakarta Post reader’s forum. In those comments, the writers were giving voice to their concerns as visitors, about Bali and the issues that this island faces.

While their comments were valid, I doubt these two writers understand the unprecedented and bizarre situation which Bali finds itself in now, being all at once many things, among them: a beloved tourism mecca; a crossroads of global and regional cultures; a development boomtown; a small province in a country beset with serious structural, economic and ideological crises, many of which are not especially salient in Bali but affect it nevertheless; and a hotbed of internally generated and internally felt conflicts that are unique to the island. All of this is Bali now.

Internal conflict can result in internal injuries, or economic and social ones.

The issues mentioned in these two readers’ comments touched on various themes often noted by visitors, like long queues on entry at the airport, bad sidewalks and garbage strewn hither and thither. I agree entirely with their comments, but felt compelled to go a bit further.

Why Bali Might Need a Total System Reboot

Bravo to both Jakarta Post readers for speaking up. I have the same concerns that they do. As well as several others. Where to begin?

The traffic jam problems in Bali point to chronic corruption and mismanagement. Getting around the popular areas of the island (Ubud, Jimbaran, Tuban, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Kerobokan, Umalas, Canggu) means averaging less than 20km per hour. Often far less. And it means sitting in long queues and chaotic logjams at many intersections (more like rugby scrums on wheels). It’s frustrating. This island needs more roads, better roads, parking bans, parking violation enforcement, road repairs and public transportation. If they don’t get going on these issues, then the tourism industry will grind to a halt, stuck in a steamy jam of exhaust fumes and road rage.

The daily mash up on wheels in Seminyak.

My next concerns are crime and law enforcement. Crime levels in Bali have skyrocketed in the past five years. Robbery, bag-grabbing, vandalism, vehicle theft, assault, prostitution, widespread use of drugs by the local population (notably MDMA, heroin and crystal meth), fraud, rape, firearms offenses, and murders are becoming commonplace, to the point that the local daily newspaper doesn’t even put them on the front page. But they’re in there. And they are tactically sidestepped by the English language media, lest the truth dampen the enthusiasm of the world’s deep-pocketed tourists.

The crime situation here will strike a devastating blow to tourism if it eventually breaks the surface and emerges into the international press. It will certainly strike a devastating blow to quality tourism, at any rate. When I first came to live here almost 15 year ago, Bali was safe. Completely safe. It certainly is not now. Staying here, even for just a week, requires vigilance. Doors must be locked at all times, personal security guards must be in place, and valuables must be either locked in a bolted-down safe, or carried out of sight when one ventures out of the house.

Touching on the broad issue of law enforcement, in addition to the serious crimes mentioned above, lighter ones, like driving offenses (including driving under the influence), are so commonplace as to be normal, rather than extraordinary. On my 8 kilometer journey from office to home, I made a daily ritual of counting all of the traffic offenses that caused me to brake or swerve during the journey. The lowest count was 27. The highest was 48. The journey takes 15 to 20 minutes. Do the math. That’s 3 to 6 dangerous violations per kilometer, or about 1.5 to 3 per minute of travel. Daunting indeed.

The number of traffic deaths in Bali is a grave disaster. According to a local newspaper, the death toll on the roads averages more than one a day (that was in 2007 – – certainly it will be higher for 2008). This means that more people die unnecessarily on the roads each year in Bali, than all of the victims of Bali Bombs I and II. In addition to road deaths, the numbers of injuries and disabilities due to accidents is enormous. Certainly more people are seriously wounded or incapacitated annually on the roads, than were injured in both Bali bombs put together. Think about that for a moment. In Bali there is more terror on the roads than there was in all of the bombs that have ever exploded here. But no one is holding memorial ceremonies or erecting monuments for these victims. Perhaps they should be. Unlike the bombs, the traffic terror is certain to recur, every year, ad infinitum, unless something changes.

Turning a blind eye to the poor quality of Bali’s health services.

My next concern is the dire state of public health, and of health care facilities in Bali. This island is now experiencing an active rabies outbreak with numerous human deaths, ongoing avian flu infection in poultry, occasional localised cholera outbreaks which killed many during the past year and devastated numerous villages, an exploding bomb of HIV infection, continuous problems with TB (including TBC and drug resistant forms), and widespread seasonal epidemics of dengue fever. Last year Chickamunga was added to the mix, felling scores. Typhoid and salmonella infections are commonplace as well, and even tourists visiting for a short time have been infected. According to a paper delivered recently at an international medical convention, 80 percent of the population is chronically infected with heliobacter, which causes gastrointestinal distress, wasting syndrome, tropical sprue, and is the root cause of stomach ulcers.

Add to all of this the local population’s sad statistics for diabetes and serious complications related to it (kidney failure, gangrene, blindness, etc. ), high blood pressure and complications related to it (stroke especially), and infant mortality. Public health and health education here are minimal at best. Just today I read on the front page of the Bali Post that it is almost impossible to get the local population to enact simple household mosquito eradication techniques, or to wash their hands after using the toilet (remember, this is a non-tissue-using culture). This top-of-page-one article bemoaned the lack of cooperation on the part of the general population in basic public health matters and no light was glimpsed at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the prosperity and the abundance of luxury in Bali, poverty is a gnawing problem, and is ever more acutely felt by increasing numbers. Poverty and its symptoms are familiar neighbours to the Balinese: malnutrition, gambling, child prostitution, panhandling, crime, and suicide. Just today, the newspaper reported three suicides in poor areas. This is not unusual.

If one man’s trash is another one’s treasure, am I rich yet?

So the pretty picture in the travel books and brochures clearly does not accurately match the picture on the ground. The disconnect between the tourism rhetoric, and the voices of those who are suffering from these myriad problems is surreal. Paradise? For whom? For millions it’s not paradise at all, particularly when they fall ill, which is often, unfortunately.

As for the quality of health care facilities here, it is astonishingly poor. While Bali’s neighbours (Singapore, Thailand), are enjoying a big economic boost from medical travel and the foreign exchange it brings, Bali is still a hardship posting in terms of health issues. You don’t come here for medical services. You get out of here for medical services.

The poor state of public health and health care facilities in Bali and Indonesia as whole is one of the reasons that Singapore and Thailand are enjoying such an economic boost from medical travel. Those who fall ill in Bali are rushed to Mt Elizabeth or Gleneagles in Singapore, or Bumrungrad in Bangkok, and they’re not just tourists. Local residents if they have the means (or can scrape the cash together or borrow it), high-tail it to Singapore and Bangkok as well. No self-respecting professional class Indonesian would check into a local hospital for a hip replacement or bypass or kidney stones or cancer treatment or even for diagnostic work. This is a truly tragic situation for an island that could be enjoying the benefits of its popularity and prosperity in the form of improved health care facilities staffed by skilled and conscientious professionals.

Not a happy camper. An injured tourist tests his luck at a local clinic.

Where does the blame lie? Much of it lies in the protectionist stance of the Indonesian government, which bans foreign doctors from practicing here. The rest probably lies with lack of public investment in basic services like health care, the toll of corruption on all public services, and with the extremely poor quality of education in Indonesia.

Medical schools here are generally decades behind the rest of the world. They lack quality faculty, facilities, and information. And they are rife with corruption. Exam scores can be bought or negotiated, and frequently are, since a medical degree is seen as a magic carpet ride to easy money and respect. Parents pay. It is also important to understand that most M.D. candidates (and practicing doctors) lack adequate language training, and so are unable to participate in ongoing international professional education and conferences (mostly conducted in English). Nor can they read The New England Journal of Medicine, or The Lancet (English, again), or use normal online resources (English). While Latin was once the lingua franca of medicine, now English is. Without rigourous language training, starting long before formal medical training, there is scant hope for Indonesia in terms of health care.

Regarding its health issues, Indonesia and Bali could look to Singapore or India for examples. They haven’t yet, and show no signs of doing so. There seems to be little interest in putting the people’s wellbeing before petty nationalistic pride (or disguised shame mixed with a misplaced sense of self-importance?). And so cooperation and collaboration with foreign medical professionals and agencies is effectively blocked. Occasionally one wonders if perhaps there is a conscious policy being carried out which is based on the notion that the population of this country is already huge, and therefore health care should not be promoted lest the population balloon further. In that case, every death would be seen as a boon. We certainly hope this is not the case.

Where are we going? And will there be room for all of us when we get there?

To sum up health concerns here in Bali, if you come to the island, don’t get hurt or sick, and take sensible precautions not to. Certainly take care on the roads and practice safe sex, at any rate. And don’t take animal bites or scratches lightly.

Among this constellation of troubles, there are the added tribulations in Bali of excessive duties and poor distribution channels for imported foods and beverages. While certain factions in the government hold that severely restricting and taxing these imports will stimulate domestic enterprises, history and the wisdom of the world’s wisest economists have shown otherwise.

If imports are restricted because they have become preferred (being of higher quality, or being more appropriate to the market), then what happens is a widening of the local producers’ competitive disadvantage and decreased ability to export, as well. With fewer higher quality or more advanced products in the local market, local enterprises have no high water mark to strive for, and quickly fall behind. They also have no examples to follow (or emulate and eventually improve upon). The current unwise policy of erecting fear-based trade barriers will hurt Indonesia, not help it. I hope that the leadership here can brush up on what even economics undergraduates elsewhere are expected to understand, otherwise the country is putting itself in a very tight corner, from which it may be impossible to extricate itself later.

This last point is relevant to tourism, because the tourism “product” of Bali depends on delivering an experience that meets and exceeds expectations, and compares favourably to other tourism “products” on offer elsewhere. The most lucrative target markets around the world are made up of people who enjoy quality and expect to find food and beverages of a global standard readily available when they are on holiday – – particularly when they are on holiday.

 Do they look like deliberate destroyers of domestic wine and food industries to you?

Most of these people work hard to enjoy their leisure time, and they want to use it to relax, and enjoy the refined pleasures of life – – eating well, drinking fine wines in good company, perhaps sipping a well-mixed cocktail on the beach at sunset. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if Bali loses out to the competition in its ability to provide what this discerning and wealthy clientele expect in a tourist destination. Especially since Bali already has all eyes on it, and is becoming a darling of the moneyed and educated elite. What a waste it would be to repel such an opportunity.

Bear in mind, that neighbouring countries limit duties on imported food and beverages (wine in particular), in order to be sure of providing equivalent (or a higher) levels of culinary, enological and cultural experiences than their competitors do, and at prices that represent good value (more important than ever in these belt-tightening times).

Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore are case studies to consider carefully. We can purchase fine Australian and French wines in the supermarkets of Yangon for the same price, or less, than they cost at home, and for one-tenth of the price they cost in Bali. People who appreciate the finer things in life are the ones you want to attract, not repel.  

Ill-advised trade barriers are a vintage problem that could leave the economy corked.

Singapore and Thailand have been very proactive in addressing this particular matter. They are both intent upon establishing their countries as centres of not only local but also global high culture, understanding that it is advantageous to attract the interest and investment of cultivated, educated, and refined populations from the whole world over. And they understand that meeting the expectations of the world’s cultured and educated populations ultimately supports and fosters conservation – and development – of their indigenous cultures.

This is a far better strategy than making gross arrival numbers the target (as Bali has). In aiming for gross arrival numbers, what happens is just that: gross. To get the numbers, this small and precious island has abandoned its almost automatic claim to quality, and gone down-market. It seems intent on becoming a Circle K franchise instead of being a Bergdorf’s. What a grand mistake.  And how avoidable.

Bali by numbers. What you get when you go for gross arrival figures.

My background is in marketing. We certainly know from long experience, that if the client has something rare, desirable, widely known throughout the world, something forever and always available only in a very limited supply (like diamonds), the only strategy to take is to market it “up”, not “down”.  The only possible strategy to follow is to cultivate and maintain quality, and to offer it to those few who can appreciate it.

In this regard, it seems, this little island has gone terribly astray.  If Bali can’t get back on the right path soon, it will be too late. Perhaps it already is. Looking around the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak area, I rather think the toll of midnight has already struck for Bali, and the vampires, werewolves and “living dead” are about to take control.

Eager to learn, but what’s on the beach curriculum?

My greatest concern and greatest hope for Bali is education. The quality of education here is terrible, and there is absolutely no excuse for that, given the amount of money sloshing around this island and the levels of international interest and attention focused on it.

The availability of education here is terrible. There is no free education. From gradeschool up, there are monthly and annual fees, books must be bought, uniforms must be bought and washed, and transportation to and from schools is not provided. This is effectively like levying a tax on the working class and the poor, and pressing them down further.

The physical condition of schools here is awful as well, with many buildings leaking, filthy, and some on the  verge of total collapse. Given this, one wonders about the quality of the facilities and equipment inside the schools. Don’t ask. Don’t even dare to ask.

Maybe the kid’s are alright, but Mum’s feeling marginalised.

Meanwhile, there are cries and protests daily in the local newspaper about unemployment among the Balinese themselves on their own island. All I can say is put out an advertisement for a position that requires a moderate level of education and skill, and see what it yields. I have done this, innumerable times, and also resorted to recruitment agencies, and the results were daunting and depressing. Now try putting out an advertisement for a fairly-paid manual or heavy labour position. There will be no Balinese people applying whatsoever. Why not? I can’t quite fathom why not. It seems that the local population deems any hard work beneath them. Construction and labour jobs are left to the Javanese, Lombokers, Sumbanese, and other outsiders.  

And now we have the next big issue that claims so much space in the local press. The Balinese are griping that their island is inundated with arrivals from elsewhere in Indonesia, and that most of them are a pretty rough lot, not to mention the fact that they are eroding the hegemony of Balinese culture as we know it, which has been the island’s tourism bait for the past eight decades or so (since it was reinvented and embellished collaboratively with foreign Bali groupies). This is a tricky problem indeed. The tension about arrivals from other islands, unfortunately, tends to crystallise around ethnic and religious differences, which are not in fact the real mechanism at work.

The mechanism at work is socio-economic. The Balinese, seem to have been convinced by their own PR over the past 80 years, that they are very special indeed, and therefore no longer take menial jobs. It’s nearly impossible outside of Karangasem or Buleleng to find a Balinese person willing to work on a building site, for example. These projects are all manned by outsiders, because the Balinese seem allergic to pouring concrete or nailing down wood. The result is that the most prosperous and desirable areas for development are inundated with labourers from outside, sucked in to fill the insatiable demand for construction workers. With so much building going on in Bali, they just can’t get enough of them over here to get the jobs done on time. Meanwhile, the Balinese are complaining loudly that they haven’t got jobs, and that non-Balinese people are infiltrating the island, and setting up home in their midst.

Something here doesn’t jibe, and I think it’s pretty obvious what it might be. The local labour force cannot, or will not, meet either the demand for skilled workers, or for manual labourers. There’s not much left in between, unfortunately.

Interestingly, at a time when Balinese people are crying out publicly about the plight of the farmer, and the need to preserve agrarian life, the Balinese no longer harvest their own rice. I suppose it’s considered beneath them nowadays. So they hire itinerant labourers from East Java to set up tent camps and harvest their fields. And then they complain about the influx of non-Balinese people in their midst. This sounds like a typical migrant agricultural labour story, one that re-runs ad nauseum all over the world (grapes, apples, cherries, olives, sheep shearing and such like). But here in Bali it could have, and should still, play out differently.

Would Balinese farmers prefer migrant Aussie labourers to Javanese ones?.

What is the upshot of all this? It appears we are looking at a socio-economic software conflict, which is about to crash the system. The local labour market has strata that operate on a global scale, with global-scale incomes for certain people. It also has strata that operate on a rural Indonesian scale, with daily wages under five US dollars. There are also many other strata in between (and some below and above). There are so many points where conflicts could result in a total system crash, that it would exhaust any amateur (or professional) economist to analyse or solve them. Is system crash inevitable? How do we reboot?

My personal opinion is that back in about 1998, the whole island should have changed to another operating system (and the chatter in the local media seemed to already acknowledge that the old paradigm was dying). It’s like the Windows-Mac story. The old paradigm was clearly dying, way back then, but too many people hadn’t the basic courage or adequate information to jump. Those who did rejoiced. They were the few, the outriders, the iconoclasts, and they have vanished from view.

Now Bali seems to be stuck with a set of Vista disks it bought at a dear price, and simply cannot use, because they are practically useless. The system will crash unless it is changed. What can one say?

Think differently.

Can they learn a new operating system without the benefit of a Genius Bar™?

To think differently, one must already be trained to think well in the first place. That’s what good education does. It trains the brain, helps the hardware work to best advantage, and cultivates the ability to make difficult decisions wisely. And we do not have good education here. 

I must add as a footnote, that in tandem with the basic problem of bad education, there is the pernicious problem of corruption.  Corruption is the other head of the serpent. The two heads live as one creature. Education cannot be fixed without fixing corruption, and vice versa. With corruption as rampant as it is in Bali now, nothing can be fixed. Nothing can be changed. 

Corruption is theft. It takes many forms – – not just graft and nepotism and collusion, but also disregard for one’s responsibilities as a public servant after being elected or appointed. Not working is the norm for government employees and officials here. Not working, in this context, is theft. It is theft of the services and leadership that the people struggled to pay for and shape.

Government not working. TV screenshots of house of representatives during assembly.

Not working – – this special form of theft – – is institutionalised here. So rarely do government officials turn up for debates, votes and office work, that the governor of Bali has crafted a special squad to go out and find them when they are loafing off during working hours, and tooling around in government cars. Some very embarrassed individuals have been hauled before the public with very dirty hands, caught gallivanting about on work time, in government vehicles, on personal errands, in scandalous trysts, gambling, and generally goofing off all over the place, blatantly abusing the powers and resources that are at their disposal and inteded for public service. Shame on them. But they have no shame. It’s all considered normal. That’s how dysfunctional the whole operating system is here. I’m just saying . . . reboot or perish.

I’m not trying to get harsh here, I’m just saying . . . 

    12 Comments


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      • December 31, 2008

      good article. bali is part of a third world country (a relatively wealthy). healthcare, education, corruption almost by definition will be of a low standard. also, u probably know more than me, but do u really think things have regressed so much since you lived on the island? english newspapers don't report murders now, but u can be sure back in the new order days all newspapers pretty much toed the party line. personally, i've heard of lots of stories of friends of friends drug abuse going on, back in the early 90s...

      • Susi
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      • December 31, 2008

      It's true that Bali is part of a third world country, and a relatively wealthy part at that. I guess I have to keep that in mind, and recognise that the glass is half full, not half empty! Things haven't regressed so much, it's just that they have developed so fast that things are getting trampled and damaged in the mad rush forward. Development without balanced "backstage" work (like infrastructure, public health, education and training, waste management, environmental stewardship) can become a very big problem. Regarding drugs and crime, things have definitely deteriorated.

      • afi
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      • January 1, 2009

      It's really sad reality. I agree bad education is roots of all problem.I ask my Indonesian friend that went study overseas the different of Indonesian education system and the western one, and she told me that in Indonesia they teach you what to think not how to think! I felt really upset the first time I was told that Suharto(military) regime provide bad education system on purpose to keep their power secure. So it is really the nation's problems, Indonesian's big cities have better access to it but not necessarily means good quality one. That at least giving me more hope if we reboot the system we can produce different generation with developed thinking ability. In the case of Balinese, from my interaction with them and seeing how strongly the old tradition belief affect their idea of the world and how things work, unfortunately i haven't met so many educated balinese, do u think their tradition/culture somehow affect their openness to new idea/knowledge that they received through education that might be contradictory to their belief?What do you think is the concept of education in Balinese culture, and how the modern education system can be fitted in? Thanks for the thoughtful writings, it made me think even more. Being part of it, hard for me to see it as clearly as you and put it in perspective.

      • Susi
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      • January 1, 2009

      Interesting questions you pose about attitudes towards education in Bali. I don't think there's a resistance to new ideas because of traditional culture, but I do think traditional culture here doesn't generally put a high value on education. There are strong traditions of encouraging scholarship (literary, scientific, philosophical), for example, in Judaism, in Islam, and in Mahayana Buddhism. I don't see that kind of encouragement in Balinese Hinduism. Nevertheless, I don't see the local culture here as a hindrance to education at all. I think the problems are rooted in poor funding, low salaries for teachers, low status of teaching as a profession, erosion of funding and quality of facilities through corruption, and especially the legacy of generations that are accustomed to low standards of education. It's kind of chronic. That takes a long time to repair.

      • sophie
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      • January 3, 2009

      Appreciated every word of your blog - and in general I agree with it - sadly Bali is reflecting - on a smaller scale - what is occurring in the rest of the world... Think illiteracy and stabbings in the UK, the lack of health care and the rampant poverty in USA, gang warfare in Mexico add to those the most blatant corruption ever visible with all the governmental bail out packages! It would have been lovely if Bali could have been exempt, however the tourism wheel brings with it more than just foreign exchange...!

      • Christine
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      • January 5, 2009

      Indeed, what is happening to Bali is happening everywhere. Just look at Jakarta! What makes the situation in Bali difficult to digest, however, is the insane pace of change and deterioration while marketing brochures continue to promote the island as a paradise. Of course, we want to believe that there is a paradise somewhere on this besotted planet (and who doesn't?), but we must accept that paradise-with-amenities in a place like Indonesia is bound to end up like this. Bali has always had very marketable commodities (nice views and a flamboyant "mystical" culture). After years and years of praying for the tourists to come, selling rice fields to build bungalows (and now, "villas"), getting millions of dollars for infrastructure development from the World Bank (and Bali is FAR better infrastructure-wise than the rest of Indonesia!!!), I believe the only solution is for the Balinese to wake up from the modernization reverie and the wealth it has generated and take responsibility for their island.

      • Susi
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      • January 5, 2009

      Very valuable points, thanks for making them. There are many dimensions to this situation. Very many indeed. I also received private messages from Graeme MacRae and Kadek Krishna with really pithy points. Trying to take the big view, I note that opinions are divided regarding development and the best strategy to take. And the differences seem to be based on whether the person speaking is optimistic or more "realistic" about the situation and likely outcomes of it. Let me explain. Those who are optimistic advocate Bali leading the way in enlightened social evolution, saying "no" to more cars, saying "no" to oil addiction, saying "no" to further building and tourism development, except for sustainable, zero-impact development. This vision sees a future Bali which could be a model society, or approximate one. The more pessimistic (or "realistic" as those of this persuasion put it), seem to base their stance on the belief (or prediction) that Bali cannot say "no" to the "no-nos" above, nor can it alter it's course significantly enough to slow development and population growth enough so that damaging impacts can be addressed and resolved in an enlightened way. The pessimists see a certain inevitability to increases (or at least stable levels of) driving, shopping, consuming, building and energy consumption (at least in the short to medium term). This stance requires that with that inevitability, it would be detrimental to forego the creation of a viable road network with capacity to handle existing traffic levels, and it would be detrimental to keep the current four-story cap on building heights, and also detrimental to forego increases in energy supply and generation to meet current demand levels. And so on. It's a very, very tricky quandary. If you think that Bali as it is now, with the various forces and interests at play here can "reboot" quickly and manifest a more enlightened vision for its future than one of shopping malls and freeways and flyovers and car culture and tall buildings, then you are on the optimists' side of the coin and would oppose road building, geothermal power plants, hotel developments and cruise ship ports and bigger airports. That certainly does not constitute a Luddite stance, but it is one that is as regressive as it is progressive. If you think Bali cannot possibly "reboot" and change course quickly, because of the present arc and speed of it's trajectile (developments under way, continuing and unstoppable inmigration from other islands, already vastly overcrowded roads, need for energy and investment just to sustain what is already manifest without collapse), then you would be on the pessimists' side of the coin, or perhaps it would be fair to call it the realists' side. To take this stance does not imply that you are a go-go pro-development greed-monger, but it does mean that rabid profiteers would stand to benefit from the direction you advocate, at least in the short to medium term. Complex, indeed. A lot hinges on what you believe is possible. To go the optimists' way would involve discipline, restraint, and regulations. Discipline has not been a strong suit here. Neither has restraint. And where regulations have been imposed on economic players in Indonesia, they have been met by and over-run by more rampant corruption. That's one of the risks of the optimists' path, at least in the short run. What a quandary. My heart is with the optimists. My head is with the pessimists (or realists if you will). What is possible? What is not possible? Even if we agree on our core values and what we would like to see in the future, we may not agree on what route will get us there most effectively, and that disagreement is not about values, but about predictions, or wagers, regarding the likelihood of certain behaviours among a large population of people with divergent interests and limited ability to effectively analyse complex situations.

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      • January 28, 2009

      Susi, Thank you for the article. You sure nailed alot of the problems facing Bali today. I face many of the problems and dilemmas on daily basis but i remain optimistic that things will work out and we can be steered into the right direction. I have hopes that the new Governor Pastika might go ahead and take unpopular decisions that are good for the future of Bali as dealing with the traffic congestion, roads and infrastructure but this is just 1 of the problems facing Bali today. If we as persons try to deal with all the problems facing Bali today the task will be overwhelming. I try to focus on one thing or task at a time whenever there's a window of opportunity to help out. I've thought it would be a VERY good idea for the people taking the big decisions in Bali (or Jakarta) to, dare i say it, 'consult with foreigners' and take a look at countries or places that have already set an example worthy to be followed. The blueprints for a viable future is out there but i'm not sure what it'll take for people to take notice of it. I guess it all starts with someone actually looking for them? With articles like yours i think you put a much needed spotlight on the problems and issues going on in Bali. thanks again for that 'slap in the face article'. I mean that in a good way. suksma. / Tompa Ps. I don't know about comparing Bali to Jakarta but um.. well.. Let me put it this way. I'm still optimistic about Bali but Jakarta.. phew.. now that is a task beyond my comprehension. I believe i saw a show on CNN just the other week about the future 'mega-cities' of Asia and Jakarta fell into the category of 'mega-cities gone wrong'. Ouch!

      • Susi
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      • January 28, 2009

      Thanks, Tompa. Your comments are great, and so is your advice: "focus on one thing or task at a time whenever there's a window of opportunity to help out." I also hope that Pastika will continue to be brave enough to make wise but unpopular decisions and follow through on them. I think he realises as I do that Bali now is not the paradise that it believes itself to be. It is not a natural paradise of peace filled with gentle spiritual people who work together cooperatively in harmony. It is a small, densely populated island, developing rapidly, and facing all of the most perplexing dilemmas and dissonance that has come with rapid development elsewhere. No better, no worse. And the local population does not seem to have any special qualities that have served to change the course of rapid development toward economic, social and environmental disaster. I sometimes wonder if the "Bali" people are crying out to preserve was ever real in the first place. It certainly isn't real now. The reality here is very different. Only after pulling the wool off of our eyes and facing reality as it is, can we preserve what there is of value in Bali that is worth preserving. Development here is real. The buildings that are standing are real. The ones being built are real, and most will probably be completed. Many others that are planned will also be built. There are going to be more buildings and more hotels, and more villas, and more restaurants and more shopping centres and more nightclubs in Bali. There is no doubt about that. The non-Balinese people who have migrated here from other islands are also real. They are not going to leave, and the numbers of migrants arriving will in all likelihood continue to grow. The environment of Bali is degraded, and is degrading further every minute. The roads are full of holes and clogged. The number of vehicles in Bali is growing and will most likely continue to grow. The built-up tourism-driven areas of south Bali are filling in rapidly, and expanding outwards to the north, east and west. The density of infill is already very high, and the urban and suburban sprawl is already very widely sprawled. This isn't going to "un-happen". And as a trend it is likely to continue. Development in far-flung parts of the island has already happened, and is increasing. Candidasa, Seraya, Pemuteran, Sideman, Payangan, Munduk, Soka, etc, etc, etc. That is real. Problems of public health are also real. Whether you have lab tests to pinpoint the pathogens or not, outbreaks of diarrhea, fever and vomiting are occurring. Rabies cases are occurring. Avian flu in birds is occurring. TB, hepatitis, HIV, typhoid and dengue cases are occurring. Energy consumption in Bali is continuing to rise. Fossil fuel and fossil-fuel generated electricity are needed here in large quantities, and the demand will certainly continue to increase. The level and type of education provided to the people has not created competence and skills that match the demands of the island's industries and enterprises and governments. All of these situations I describe are neither "good" nor "bad," they are simply reality as it is in Bali at this moment. Without taking a very good look at reality as it is, we can't possibly make things better. Bali's being bitten hard by the "Paradise Paradox". There is no paradise on earth, but I am optimistic also, that Bali can still fashion of itself a pleasant and relatively peaceful society on an attractive and interesting island, with habitable heavily-populated urban areas that work reasonably well. Let's get going on it, then, focusing on one thing at a time (tough to do that). I agree completely that Bali (and Jakarta) should bring foreign community members into the circle of discussions about shared problems and possible solutions. The habit of not doing this smacks of insecurity+pride=arrogance perpetuating ignorance and incompetence. We know that formula, it's a familiar one, and never gets anyone anywhere. Case in point. Two days ago, the landlord of my office/gallery space (affable Balinese gent in his 50s), showed me that work had begun on transforming the rice fields across the road from my office into a parking lot. The rice fields belong to the adjacent temple, and are its traditional "laba pura" land, set aside as a renewable resource for temple prosperity. Many communities in Bali flatly refuse to develop their "laba pura" land, as it has a function which they recognise as not only material but also symbolic and sacred. My landlord proudly stated that he was among the circle of people who conferred to make decisions about this land. I immediately felt saddened that myself and other foreigners who are part of the local community in very real ways, were not consulted or drawn into the discussions about this land. It looks to me like the land is to be bulldozed-over with limestone and opened as paid parking. There are already two large limestone-covered wasteland parking lots in our immediate neighbourhood. Both are oddly cordoned off by the local community, forcing people to park on the streets, increasing congestion. So, do we need another white stone wasteland in the neighbourhood really? I asked my landlord-friend about plans for the parking lot. Is it going to be green, with rows of trees and plantings among the cars? Are there going to be trash cans provided, with trash collection on a regular basis (of course it will be a garbage magnet . . . drivers, taxis, transport touts . . . )? Would the street frontage part of the land be landscaped or provide an attractive townscape via some other means? Had the necessity for drainage been considered? Had the effect on drainage of adjacent properties been calculated? Had an engineer or urban planner been consulted about the optimal layout and size of parking spaces, with proper turning space to allow cars to park and unpark with ease? The response I got from him indicated none of this had been considered. I looks like we are simply losing a rare patch of green in this almost-totally urbanised neighbourhood, and gaining a white stone wasteland of dust and heat and garbage. If the little consortium of locals who are responsible for decisions about their temple land had invited a few of the foreigners who live and work in their community to join in the discussions, I am sure that very valuable contributions would have been made, and perhaps without any added costs, a better parking lot could have been created. Or perhaps a park. The long-term economic and human value of this little district could have benefitted. I feel very sad about this little story.

      • Susi
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      • January 28, 2009

      Oh, and I forgot to ask about public toilets in the parking lot. They will be required, and will also require maintenance. Nobody in their right mind can expect that drivers and transport-touts will sit around for hours in a parking lot without needing a toilet.

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      • February 8, 2009

      Hmm... what a complex issue and challenge you face. Often with things like this, the solution lies within. I wonder what aspect of Balinese culture/ethos/etc. could be connected to, where one or two or ten Balinese would feel the motivation to take steps that could be a beacon for their compatriots to follow? I imagine the Balinese don't like much of what's going on either, but feel a sense of inevitability due in large part to how they've been selectively "polluted" by Western culture. This has lead to the changing of their views (as you described), their general apathy towards their future ("let's face it, tourists are still coming, so it can't be all bad"), and the feeling of frustration in the minds of those who can see back to their old world, but aren't able to look forward. Creating local passion, desire, entrepreneurial pressure, etc. is hard without some native sharing of your ideas. Are there those in the local community that might exhibit such tendencies, that you can nurture, develop, make successful, and promote *within* the local community (i.e. not to visitors) who can be the beacon for people to be inspired by? While I'm the first to agree that education is paramount, I think you have to start elsewhere, with exemplars that create "adult" value and where adults will see possibility, try and realize it, and then (with the help of your beacons), inspire their children to go to school to become beacons themselves. The thing is, this requires patience - answers will take years, if not decades... So great to see someone from outside who wishes more for those she now lives with.

      • Susi
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      • February 8, 2009

      @ Shafeen, Great points, great suggestions. Thanks for posting them. Indeed I see a dearth of positive role models, and hear very few (if any) voices speaking to a general audience about how to grow a healthy society from within. I will take your suggestions to heart, and act on them.

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