I am no novice to traveling in Asia, and I feel like I have put my time into giving Bali a chance, but there are days where I wonder, why the heck do I live in Bali? These days are generally the ones were I get ripped off, or spend my day avoiding getting ripped off in Bali.
There is no way of avoiding it, I am, in fact, a Bule. Bule originally translated to albino, and was the word that the Balinese used when first seeing the Dutch settling in Indonesia. Now, it refers to any foreigner, particularly of the white-skinned variety. That includes me.
There are benefits and burdens to being a Bule in Bali. The biggest benefit relates to the cost of living here, and is the reason why an increasing number of expats, retirees, and digital nomads are calling Bali home. When you earn your money online, or from other Western sources, and are living in Bali (or most of Southeast Asia), it is a steal.
One of the burdens of being a Bule, in Bali and elsewhere in the region, is that we are often seen as giant ATM machines. Now, I understand that there are a lot of things that I pay more for in Bali, solely because I am a Bule. And, most of the time I am okay with it, because I know I earn more money than the average Balinese. But, today, things went too far. They went far enough that I want to scream that I am sick of getting ripped off in Bali.
Our Babi Guling Place
There is a beach about 30 minutes from Ubud that Eric and I frequent. Part of our ritual is that on the way back we stop at this fantastic babi guling, or roast pig, place. They don’t speak English there, but I have been able to communicate with the woman who works there nicely. I always complement her, saying she has the best babi guling in the area, and that the food is delicious. She recognizes me, knows I live nearby, and smiles when I enter.
We have taken friends to this place, and recommended it to others, although I have never seen another Bule in the joint. It has become our place, our non-touristy spot for roast pig and pork soup. Over the last few months we have been in there over a half dozen times. My most recent visit was a little over two weeks ago. We always pay 45,000 IDR for two orders.
Getting Ripped Off
The first time we went to this place we were overcharged, but since then, it has been a reliable price. This time, when we approached to pay, the woman who knows me was washing dishes. There was a guy at the till and using his calculator he wrote down 80,000 IDR. I was shocked, and told him mahal, expensive. I told him my price, 45,000, and what ensued was an exchange that just made my blood boil. I told him, in so many words, all in my broken Indonesian, that we always pay 45,000, I paid 45,000 2 weeks ago, that I like this babi guling place, and that I did not want to pay the Bule price. He offered to lower the price to 60,000, but I hung tough on the 45,000. Finally, he told me the local price was 25,000 for one order. I placed 50,000 down and turned to leave, while telling him the opposite of what I usually say. Usually, I leave a place saying sampai jumpa lagi, or see you again. This time, as I left I said tidak sampai jumpa lagi, or I won’t see you again.
Bali’s Future and Our Future
What made me upset by this was not the haggling over the few dollar price difference. It was representative of larger issues in Bali. First off, the woman who knew me and apologized with her eyes could not say anything – because she was a woman, and the man was running the shop. That, obviously incensed me.
Mostly, though, it was symptomatic of a change that has been occurring in Bali, even before we arrived. The island is reaching maximum capacity, and is growing out of control. There is so much construction, so much traffic, and infrastructure is reaching a breaking point. There is insufficient resources for clean water and trash removal, but yet, the government is constantly concerned only with how many more Chinese tourists can be squeezed into the tiny roads of Ubud. And, then there is the corruption, and rampant overcharging.
I recently read an article where the local Bali tourism association was trying to engage in price fixing in order to raise the price of hotels and guest houses to be inline with Myanmar, where the average cost of a hotel is double or triple what it is here. There is a reason for that: in Myanmar tourists are flooding into the country and there is insufficient supply of accommodations. A simple supply and demand analysis. In Bali, you cannot walk 20 feet without seeing the remnants of construction debris for a new hotel or guest house, which is why prices remain low – high supply, low demand.
But, the tourism authority wanted to increase prices, just because they thought tourists should pay more. I am left to wonder, when will enough be enough? When will there be too many stories about trash littered beaches, or increased visa on arrival fees (another $10 per person increase in the last 2 weeks), or increased exit fee (another $5 increase over the last 2 months. How many stories of travelers exclaiming that Bali should be removed from your bucket list, or TIME decrying Bali’s woes. This is not to mention the recent violence plaguing Ubud and other areas, violence that is directly targeted to foreigners.
An island that until quite recently seemed to hold some magic for us, encouraging Eric to post on a regular basis that he “f*cking loves Bali” is losing some of the magic. I am sure it is like any place: when you stay for awhile, when you look behind the curtain, things seem to appear different.
There are still things that I love about Bali, and it will be a place that we call home for awhile more, but there is something to be said about having this particular incident while we were discussing our plans for 2015, and whether we want to live in Bali full time at all.
Right now, it is bad timing to have an “incident” such as this. Just when I need the Island to send me a sign that Bali should remain our home, I fly off the handle about getting ripped off for babi guling.
What do you think? Should we stay or should we go?