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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.