"When I was in Bali, I couldn’t wait to get back to Jakarta so I could eat some bread," my mom told me over the phone when I called from the Indonesian island of Bali.
"Yeah, but that was 30 years ago, right?"
I may have been naive in heading to Bali thinking of beautiful beaches, simple Indonesian food and locals hawking handmade crafts, cheap sundresses and crochet bikinis. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of western civilisation that I faced upon arrival, driving through the island’s centre.
While areas of the island further from the airport are more traditional and rural, the downtown centre and Kuta beach are a miniature western paradise. Starbucks, Haagen Daaz, Pizza Hut and McDonalds all flash their neon signs. International surf shops Roxy and Ripcurl are run by young Balinese people, wearing modern clothes.
Kuta beach is full of healthy stray dogs, tourists and local families: it’s a vacation destination for foreigners and Indonesians alike. Smiling Muslim women bathe fully covered, joining their kids in the surf. They are the only ones thinking of modesty: only a few meters down, Italian models frolic in bikinis, posing for a photographer. Tourists from all over Europe and North America wear big sunglasses and short dresses, and enjoy partying at Bali’s trendy nightclubs.
In hotels, to preserve your ‘authentic’ experience, staff dress in traditional clothes and greet you by joining their palms at their chests. Only their clothes remind you that you’re in Bali: the same staff serve a daily international buffet, with excellent food of every kind. You can even have bread if you like.
Bronwyn McBride is a student from Vancouver, BC, and now lives between India and Canada. After quitting her intensive study of circus arts and dance in Quebec, Bronwyn flew across the globe alone to see if she could live in a very different way. It wasn’t her first visit to India, and wouldn’t be her last!
Wherever she is, Bronwyn explores different ways to volunteer and get involved with local communities. She’s worked with severely disabled kids in a Mother Teresa orphanage in Kolkata, crossed the country with a social change performance tour, and has spent long months through the boiling summer in Varanasi, working in a school for girls. Next up: enjoying volunteerism and a foray into Bollywood in India’s cosmopolitan metropolis, Mumbai.
More of Bronwyn’s writing can be found at: www.bronwyngrace.wordpress.com