Kisha Patel is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A political science and gender/women's studies major at Ursinus College, she is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
In this week's post, Kisha shares her adventures from spring break in Bali and reflects on her observations of local life and culture.
Studying abroad in Sydney is definitely a cultural experience in itself. If you checked out my post a few weeks ago, I wrote all about the diversity and culture of Sydney as a global city.
However, this spring break I traveled to Bali, Indonesia and I got a taste of a very different type of “being abroad”.
Bali is breathtakingly beautiful. Everything you read about in Eat, Pray, Love and saw in travel magazines and pinned on Pinterest is absolutely real. Bali has gorgeous beaches, sunsets, temples, and retreats. It is definitely paradise...
But what they don’t tell you about Bali is how gorgeous the culture is. Believe me, I soaked up every minute of the warm sun on the black sand beaches with turquoise water; but I made sure to get a cultural experience out of my trip as well.
Most people travel to Bali with the idea to stay at a fancy resort or rent a private villa; however, my friends and I decided instead to choose a homestay and it was the perfect decision. We stayed in Kerobokan, a small town near Kuta in Denpasar. We stayed with a wonderful man named Gusti and his family - his wife and adorable little children. My favorite part of staying in a homestay was how much we truly immersed ourselves in Balinese culture. Gusti’s family welcomed us with open arms and taught us so much about Bali and their culture, religion, and lifestyle.
Originally, when we booked our flight to Bali we failed to realize that our 2nd day there was a holiday called “Nyepi” which is their Day of Silence. We originally muttered and pouted about how we were going to waste a day because we weren’t allowed out of the house. However, being in Bali on this important day turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We got to experience first hand this incredible New Year celebration. We walked through the carnivals and festivals occurring the day before and then spent the Day of Silence doing a reflection of our own about our time so far. One of the best things about being locked inside was that all of the other international people staying at Gusti’s house came and interacted with us. We met new friends from Finland, Germany, and Spain and all watched the sunset together in peaceful silence.
My 2nd day in Bali made me realize how much I wanted to see and how much I wanted to truly get a taste of Balinese culture outside of the beautiful beaches. Therefore, we decided to extend our flights an extra two days, which turned out to be worth every cent.
We jam-packed our days in Bali to make sure we saw everything possible. Luckily, our homestay family let us use their private driver so we had convenient access to everything we wanted. During our time, we saw so many landmarks such as the Ubud Rice Paddies, Tanah Lot Temple, Pura Saraswati Temple, Tegunanan Waterfall and Monkey Temple/Forest. We also got to ride elephants and have a traditional Balinese coffee and tea tasting.
Driving through the streets of Bali was truly an eye-opening experience. It reminded me a lot of visiting India. It was shocking to see such poverty on the street, which is never photographed and talked about when planning vacations to Bali. The thing is, I have never been in a country where the people are just so happy. I mean, I am sitting here complaining about the most trivial things and people around me are surviving on bare necessities and they are still smiling and full of love for you. It was beautiful. It really made me double think about complaining how hot it was in my air-conditioned private car driving past sunburnt elderly Balinese people working so hard in the rice fields with pounds and pounds of rice on their unprotected heads. It just really made me check my privilege.
I also found that when talking to locals, Bali apparently really runs on the tourism economy. The agriculture of Bali is so vast, however now its biggest industry is tourism. I was told that young people now are not even encouraged to study anything else besides English and hospitality because that is where the jobs are. Part of me feels like we are slowly shedding their entire culture by just turning the country into a vacation destination. I mean, even their religious places of worship have been turned into tourist traps complete with booths at the entrance selling souvenirs. I see these artists with incredible talent, hand-painting fabrics or hand-carving wood or stone sculptures that belong in museums and see that they are barely making enough to get by on their masterpieces, which should sell for hundreds but sell cheaply as tourist souvenirs instead.
It was a breathtaking experience to visit Bali and see a completely different side to what the island is portrayed to be. I encourage anyone who plans to visit in the future to really take some time to appreciate and understand the local culture rather than just spend the time at a resort.
I am sitting here back in Sydney really trying to reflect back on what I got out of spring break. Obviously, I got gorgeous Instagram pictures, beautiful dresses and sarongs, and memories for a lifetime; but I question what I am taking away besides the material. The truth is, while I see that there is so much help needed, I find myself lost in how to help, is it my place, what do I do? I hate to be that ‘ignorant American tourist’ that comes in with this idealization that ‘my way and my country is better’ and who am I too say that one’s quality of life is not at my privileged standards?
I think it hit me closer to the end of my trip as I was realizing I was seven weeks into the semester and the cash flow was starting to dwindle that I started feeling excitement and accomplishment when I could grab dinner at a local place for $2 AUD or bargain at a market for a dress that was $4 AUD. It started to hit me that what I saw as deals was barely giving people enough to sustain their livelihoods and actually make a profit.
It is definitely hard going through a lesser developed country and finding yourself full of privilege and at a loss of what to do. I am incredibly blessed that my parents could afford to send me to Australia or pay for my education at home and my health insurance and that I always had abundant food. What did I do to deserve that over someone else? I don’t have the answer to that. And I do not know what the perfect solution is to help. What I do know is that love is an international language. Sometimes the least you can do is smile, be kind, and be respectful and that will go a long way.
I encourage everyone to spend some time in the next week to sit down and reflect on their privileges and maybe determine what you can do to help open your eyes to the world around you. Maybe volunteer abroad, maybe donate money, maybe do an exchange, who knows? We all can love each other internationally through different ways and maybe if we all tried, the world would be a happier place.
"The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet...we would all love better if we used it as a verb."
– Bell Hooks
Thank you Bali for the most educational experience, even during my week off.
Kisha's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.