Behind the smiles of Bali

FORMER Herald editor BRIAN MITCHELL visited Bali with his family for the first time a few weeks ago. While there he became increasingly edgy about the glaring inequality between the tourists and locals. Unable to sleep one night he broke out the iPad at 2am and this is what he wrote.

WE are four days into a six-day holiday and what had started as a quiet unease has become my principal focus: the pittance Balinese people are paid for working extraordinarily hard, and their inability to enjoy even a taste of the holiday lifestyle they provide foreigners.

Tourism underpins Bali’s economy and the people here go out of their way to ensure the holiday experience is a happy one, but I wonder whether cheap and cheerful tourism, where operators seek to outdo each other with severely discounted accommodation packages and happy hour liquor, is restraining the Balinese from developing a more sustainable and diverse economy.

Behind the ever-present smiles I detect sadness and, sometimes, resentment. And with good reason.

Our driver (I’ll call him Madé—Hindu for second son) works for a company that pays him 500,000 rupiah a week as a wage. That’s about $50. In addition, Madé earns 10 per cent commission on fares. So of the 500,000 rupiah we’d paid for a full day’s driving, he took home to his wife and six-year-old son 50,000—about $5. He says in a good week he can expect to supplement his wage with 150,000 rupiah in commissions and about the same again in tips—so wages, tips and commission comes to $80, in a good week.

Half Madé’s day was spent waiting by the car while we strolled through villages and admired the work of artisans paid similar peanut wages, or less, for intricate handiwork that takes years to master. Our drinks at lunch time cost us more than Madé made that day. He ate his packed lunch of rice and vegetables in the car, having refused our offer to sit with us.

My nosy questions about pay for workers in Bali made Madé a little uncomfortable at first, and it was only after we’d spent a couple of days together, and after a corrupt policeman demanded a bribe at a bogus traffic stop, that he really opened up.

“Why they pull me over?” he grumbles, getting back into the car 50,000 rupiah lighter. “I have all my licences and even wearing my seatbelt. He tell me, Mr Bron, he want 80,000 rupiah so two polisi can go to lunch. I argue down to 50,000.”

My attempt to lighten the mood by saying that in Australia our traffic cameras and speed traps cost us more cut little ice.

“That money go to government, not corrupt polisi Mr Bron. It not good.”


If Madé hadn’t paid the bribe his documents would have been seized, disabling his ability to earn a living: The money demanded by the policeman meant Madé had effectively worked all day for nothing.

“Your employer doesn’t cover it?” my wife asks, aghast: “He no care, my car for the day, I pay,” he sighs.

But in the end I pay, adding the cost to the 250,000 rupiah tip I give Madé for his hot day’s work, which had included de facto tour guide duties and entertaining our 5-year-old, whose unceasing questions and yabbering would test the patience of the Dalai Lama, but could not defeat Madé.

Earlier, when I’d asked Madé whether Balinese people ever get to enjoy the holiday lifestyle of their own island he laughs: “No, Mr Bron. Work too hard, all the time, all the time. Work.”

Anyone who takes the time to look can see the truth of it. The only Balinese you’ll see on a beach or by a pool are those who serve you drinks, hand you a towel, massage your feet or look after your kids. Smiles everywhere, but also what seems to be a bone weariness.

Anyone who’s visited the US to be served almost exclusively by African-Americans and Hispanic people may notice uncomfortable similarities: It may be the 21st century but the darker your skin, the more likely you’ll still be serving someone white.

Balinese workers are everywhere: Four shop assistants for every customer, drivers, masseuses, gardeners, security guards—cheap labour means lots of jobs, but at subsistence level. Life is work. I couldn’t help but think is this a glimpse of Australia’s future if we continue to pursue casualisation and drive down or eliminate penalty rates in hospitality?

Full employment, but at what cost?

My wife, taking a cue from my questions to Madé, took the opportunity to interrogate her young masseuse. Suhalla (name changed) is 31 but looks 21 and says she has four children, one of whom is no longer here (the local custom is to include dead children in the family tally, and infant mortality is stubbornly high). Suhalla’s husband works at another hotel, doing laundry.

Suhalla earns 10 per cent commission, so she gets 60,000 rupiah for every 90-minute massage (resort massages are more expensive than street vendors’, so the jobs are highly sought after as they have more prestige and pay better).

Suhalla’s money is better than Madé’s but is intensely physical and still what any reasonable person would consider to be sweatshop rates.

It takes Suhalla and her husband an hour a day to get to work—like most Balinese they commute by motor scooter from suburbs that few tourists see or seek out. Suhalla’s widowed mother, who lives with the family of five in their two-bedroom house, cares for the children.

If you think “the wages are low but so are the prices” think again. A 35,000 rupiah ($3.50) satay lunch was incredibly cheap by Australian standards but it would have gobbled up more than a third of Madé’s daily wage. For an Australian earning $1000 a week that’s like spending $70 on a lunch you’d expect to pay $9 for in Australia.

Happy hour buckets of cocktail grog cost 40,000 rupiah—$4—ridiculously cheap by our standards, but getting hammered on anything but the cheapest rice wine or Bintang beer is out of the question for Balinese.

When you add costs like education—no state schools, they’re all fee-paid costing at least AUD$400 a year—and health (no free doctors, no Medicare-style insurance and few can afford private cover) you can see how difficult life is for the people whose job it is to smile and serve every day of their working lives. University is a dream for all but the wealthy and a tiny minority who secure rare academic scholarships.

Most Balinese leave school at 17 and head straight into hospitality, retail or labouring. Just 10 per cent will leave the island to try their luck in Jakarta and very few will ever travel for leisure.

And so we come to haggling: I know it is part of the culture but it is distasteful to me to haggle over a price that to me means $1 or $2 but to the person at the other end of the transaction represents a great deal more.

I bought a kite in Ubud, handmade on the premises. No machinery—hand-crafted and painted. Madé said I should be able to get it for 60,000 rupiah ($6). The seller quoted 150,000, clearly expecting a fierce haggle. I half-heartedly beat him down to 120,000 but because I didn’t have any smaller notes gave him the 150,000 and told him to keep the change. He might think I’m a western sucker who paid twice what he was willing to sell for, but if the profit margin I provided means he can afford to sell a kite to a Balinese kid for less, then well and good. I got a beautiful, hand-crafted kite for 15 bucks. Bargain.

Foreign investment

As we drive through Denpasar on the way back to our Kuta beachside resort, Madé, following my prompting about the economy and jobs, expresses some modest but out-of-character resentment at the high level of foreign investment that is pushing up prices, making it harder for Balinese people to afford to own property, start their own businesses and master their own destinies. However, he also remains deeply appreciative of tourism for giving him a livelihood, however modest, and seems genuinely fond of Australians.

“After the bombing, no work for four years, no tourists, very bad, Mr Bron,” he says, shaking his head at the memory. The bombing continues to resonate deeply in this peaceful place.

Madé’s hope is to buy his own vehicle—the Suzuki people-mover he’d ferried us around in sells for about 90 million rupiah ($9000). To him that’s 180 weeks of wages (equivalent to a $180,000 vehicle for an Australian on $1000 a week). It’s a mammoth goal, a life-changing undertaking for the price to us of a second-hand bomb.

Enterprising, engaging, unfailingly accommodating, knowledgable and with very good English, resentful of but resigned to living with corruption and serving the rich while dining on scraps cast from our table, Madé sums up our first Balinese experience.

It’s an unsettling feeling to enjoy being here and taking advantage of the cheap eats, drinks and digs while knowing the Balinese are paying for it. But if I was honest with myself, if the place wasn’t so cheap I probably wouldn’t have booked the holiday. So am I part of the problem, the solution, or a bit of both?

Clearly, tourism must continue but it’s my sincere hope that Australians stop seeing Bali as somewhere to screw down prices: Some Aussies seem to take perverse delight in competing to be the world’s best haggler and consider you an idiot if you pay 40,000 rupiah when you can pay just 35,000 (a difference of 50c).

Instead, I hope we work to strengthen our bond with Bali, one that’s now forged in blood. There’s a deep affection for us here and we should nurture it by doing what we can to be generous in both deed and spirit.

Tip generously and often. Don’t tip 10,000 rupiah when you can tip 50,000. Haggle ferociously but with good humour—and then invite them to keep the change. Go up to the gardeners, cooks and cleaners and thank them with a generous tip for the amazing job they do, as they’re so often overlooked. Be happy to pay more for hand-crafted jewellery, textiles and carvings. Appreciate the talent and time that went into them.

Help nurture a new relationship between Australia and Bali. One that says we are a generous people, a good neighbour, and a better friend.


61 responses to “Behind the smiles of Bali

  1. Absolutely excellent article. Thank you, Brian Mitchell. I thought much the same around the time of the bombings. Was anyone thinking of what the Balinese people injured were going to endure? In the years since, at ever memorial to the event, I have only ever seen one article reflecting on that – and it was unbelievably sad.

  2. Thank you for writing this excellent piece. It sums up perfectly how I felt on holiday in Bali last week. The people are beautiful & should be treated with generosity, kindness & respect.

  3. We have just returned from a holiday to Bali this month. It was our first time there and it was amazing. The people are so beautiful and they couldn’t do enough for you. We tipped often and didn’t always haggle or also told them to keep the change. We also had a taxi driver called Made who we had booked for 6 hrs for $50 Australian but we probably had him for 7.5 hrs. He also waited while we ate our dinner etc. There were 4of us and we gave him a $50 tip. We met some lovely people and would always love to chat to them about themselves. They are a very modest people.

  4. I agree completely, well written. I came back to my room tonight (homestay in Bali) feeling uncomfortable about being tough on my tailor (I’m hard to fit so I don’t buy off the rack in Australia and come here to get work clothes made that fit well) anyway he messed a few things up. I’d already decided to return tomorrow to give him more Rp than we had negotiated because I felt mean (not a feeling I enjoy). We don’t always get it right, he messed up. Big deal. Then I messed up by being a bit stingy. The incredulous smiles I’ve received when I’ve gone back (guided by feeling stingy or forgetting to tip someone) have really paid off, feeling generous is priceless. Seeing the look on people faces that others forget to tip brings a look you don’t forget. Anyway, when I read this article it confirmed my decision. I’m only a working class woman. I feel very uncomfortable staying in high priced accommodation and can’t afford it and I’d rather tip well anyway. I hate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling I have but I come to bali regularly and always tip well. I’m happy contributing to this economy and have been since 1994. It’s great to think in dollars and remember the Balinese also have many many religious festivals and commitments to pay for on top of daily living costs and everything else. Be generous, you will go home feeling blessed! Cheers

    • Great article and lovely comments from everyone. I’m in Bali at the moment and completely agree. 🙂

  5. thank God, I’m not the only one to feel this! I feel the need to do something. I whis it existed a more collective awareness of the problem among Balinese but they look non organized due to the delocalizitaion of powers (each village is not very linked to the others). Balinese are amazing people it’s very sad see what is happening to them

  6. Great read. My family and I are in Bali now. We call ourselves the worst hagglers. We don’t pay top dollars we pay what we are happy with. The Balinese are very friendly people and hard workers. We are staying in a Villa and tipped both cleaner. It was not much to us but afew weeks wages to them. They cried and tried to give as some back It is a great feeling being kind to someone. Have been on a high all day.

  7. I went to bali the other time, came across the exact same issue with the police asking for money from my driver.
    Your post really got me. Good read.

  8. Brian,
    I feel the same way as the other readers. I am a Bermudian and live on an island of 61,000 people with one of the highest cost of living in the world. It is hard for me to believe that one could or should live on so little. Our driver was stopped as well and handed over money for lunch. However, I think there is a bigger story here. I heard that these policeman pay to get on the force and then try to recoup their investment. The question is does these funds go high up the chain.

  9. Awesomely written. Let’s not beat down the worker but instead help him be lifted! Bali is the best place because of the people…but how long can they keep trading smiles for pennies?

  10. Thank u so much for this. I’m from the U.S. and currently on day 4 of my 8 night trip to Bali. My resort is incredible and everything is cheap accept the actual accommodations but I am astounded by how impoverished it is and how wonderful the service is despite the horrific wages. I’ve been tipping everyone in sight because 100,000 rupiah is literally about $7 USD so my guilt has been raging strong. I like ur technique suggestion about negotiating prices so as not to seem dumb or insult the vendors but to also help in any small way that I can.

  11. Great article but I’m honestly cringing reading some of these comments. I think some may be getting the wrong idea. Tip out of generosity and for good service! Don’t tip JUST because they have less money than you. Don’t treat the people of Bali like dogs begging for treats. Business is business and if they can make more by making you feel guilty, then they’re gonna use the same strategy every time. Remember- you came here to live alongside the locals, not look down on them.

    Example: Your driver asked for a month’s rent for a lift from the airport, you know the price is BS, but you paid anyway. You felt good about it because you got a rush from “helping a poor person”. Dude- your driver works for a living. He’ll take your money, then roll back the airport and start asking for 2 month’s rent from fresh tourists.

    Basically, be generous but don’t make it a pity party. All you’d be doing is reinforcing the local culture of servitude. The cops will still be corrupt and the kids will still not be getting an education and the people will forever be driving taxis and giving massages. The author touched on this briefly and I just wanted to expand on it a little.

    Be generous, be respectful and of course, have a good time in Bali! Thanks for reading, hopefully I don’t sound too exasperated 🙂

  12. Yes, they are on low wages to our standards but one has to remember that when we visit Bali we are lifting their standard of living and they thrive off the tourisim. Should prices increase then it would make it less popular with tourists. So don’t feel guilty in paying $5 for a meal or a couple of dollars for a taxi as you are driving the economy. And everything is relative. Go to Cambodia – half the price of Bali and they love our dollar.

  13. I guess it would be unfair to expect that you would have a clear picture of the complex Balinese culture in only 4 days. So here are just a couple of pointers in response to 3 things your raise in only your 2nd paragraph. Firstly, Indonesia has strict and extensive labor laws. It is known as Kementeriann Tenaga Kerja Dan Transmigrasi. In short – Man Power, google it and you will learn a lot. These laws include the hours people can work per day, before they are paid over time, how many holidays they are due per month, per year etc etc etc. In the end most people are employed for an 8 hr working day including a 1 hour meal break. It also includes 3 month maternity leave for all women and it goes on and on. Your driver would be paid overtime, but he also knows that by working that bit over, he will get an enormous tip to make it well worth his effort. You are partly correct that Balinese do not enjoy holidays as much as westerners, but it would be more correct to say that they don’t enjoy them in the same way nor want the same thing. This isn’t because of their working hours, which are usually a 42 hour working week over 5 or 6 days, it is because of their ceremonies which they then fit around their working days or vice versa. It is a different case for the majority of Indonesians who are working in Bali. If you had of been here during Ramadan, which starts on the 6th June, you will find a lot of businesses are closed, as many people have gone home for a couple of weeks holiday, and for some this extends into 3 weeks or more. And finally why presume that people of other cultures want the same thing? Do you seriously think that Balinese want the holiday lifestyle that Westerners crave? Many don’t want this at all. The great thing about Balinese is they haven’t been fooled to think that the Western lifestyle is better than theirs.

      • It is always good to read a different point of view but I wonder how much of these “strict and extensive labor laws” rely apply.
        I mean, it is known that cops are corrupt in Bali so I wonder if that is a representation of the whole justice system. I landed in this article because in the last time I visited I felt like poverty increased.

  14. Mintybot, You have got it right.I once asked a local why they tolerate corrupt police and he simply replied, if we do not , then how do they feed and send their children to school.

  15. Pingback: Bali – First Impressions – World Momento·

  16. I fell in love with Bali on my first trip here and have returned every year since. I’m not from Australia so I might not feel the things in Bali are as cheap as you do — in fact, prices in Bali are very close to my home city, Kuala Lumpur. Which brought me to think, how the hell do Balinese afford this place when they’re earning five times less? I know sellers here have different prices for tourists and locals but I’ve been to fixed-priced supermarkets like “Giant” that cater to locals, the prepaid mobile service and gas prices here is also very much comparable to those in Malaysia, and just based on just these, the prices are still too expensive if I was Balinese.

    I’ve made a few Balinese friends because we share a similar language and it’s been very easy to communicate with them casually. One of them works at a launderer and makes a meager 1.2 million IDR (US$ 89) a month. The minimum wage in Kuta is supposedly 2 million IDR a month but this law isn’t enforced.

    After speaking to another Balinese friend, I found out that the cost of doing business in Bali is unusually high. E.g. Land rental is preposterously unreasonable (he owns a 600 square feet stall by the side of the road that no tourist goes to). After accounting daily costs including salaries for his two employees, he makes meager IDR 200,000 a day. Ironically, his restaurant is always full with local patrons – and he charges 120% of what I would pay for the same thing in Kuala Lumpur.

    Do you notice how basic the “Kintamani Buffet” is? No one will visit your restaurant in KL if you charge that much. Obviously this could also go down to business owners greed for making unreasonable margins when they could clearly afford to pay their employees a lot more.

    The equivalent of Bali in Indonesia is equivalent to Sabah in Malaysia where tourism had increased prices to insane levels leaving the locals deprived of basic things (though I would say Sabah is a little better off as locals can still visit KFC once in a while). Bali needs to diversify it’s economy, or it will stay like this forever.

    And yes, do haggle (a lot of sellers here do tend to overcharge on things) but do so reasonably — at least to levels slightly less than you would pay for in your home country. As tipping isn’t an Asian culture, I rarely do it (plus I’m a backpacker) but I do tell series to keep the change of it’s unsubstantial or drop them in the tipping box.

  17. I’m always facisnated by the ignorant assessments made by people who have spent a week or two in Bali. As someone who has lived in Bali and befriended, dated, and employed Balinese people, I can tell you that many of your assumptions couldn’t be more wrong. It is you who come to holiday throwing around your money trying to save the Balinese people (and “adopting” the local dogs only to dump them a week later when you return home) that widen the wage gaps and create the expectation and resentment of the Balinese people.

    Made didn’t want to eat with you because he prefers his rice and vegetables to your food. And to compare his wage against the cost of the food is ridiculous because he doesn’t pay that to eat. You do because you are white. It is called the “bule tax”, and likely 100-200% more than what the local would pay for that same meal at that same place.

    I’m so tired of westerners that come to Bali trying to “fix” it. The Balinese have an entirely different set of values, ethics and aspirations than you. Yes, sometimes they will express frustration on the government corruption or wanting more money. But comparatively, I’ve never met a NYC cabbie that wasn’t complaining about something similar and I’ve never seen a traveler looking to start a revolution on their behalf. Maybe they don’t need “fixed”. So why don’t you just put on your Bintang t-shirt and eat your nasi goreng while you admire your new yoga tattoo, and just enjoy your ridiculous f-ing holiday.

    • M – can you elaborate on your previous post? I understand your point that the Balinese are proud and capable and not requiring ‘saving’. However, your last comment genuinely intrigues me. You said enjoy your “fuc****” ridiculous holiday”. Why was the authors holiday ridiculous? As you know the people well, what is a “good” holiday in terms of the tourists and the locals? Genuine question please.

  18. I’m there now and this article almost mirrors my observations and thoughts. Hope more people,especially, Australians, take time to read it.

  19. Here now and just caught up with my Balinese friends at Internations, one has just returned from her holiday in Singapore (she works in a spa), another from Hong Kong (she runs her own holiday house), another has built a house (she is an accountant) and another celebrated their daughters graduation (she is a housekeeper). They passed on their thanks to all those who come on holiday to Bali for making this happen as they all work in the tourism business. Come along to Internations if you want to get the real story behind the hard working and smiling Balinese faces.

  20. On this my first visit to Bali, just a weekend getaway from the Sydney mayhem. Now on my last night here took the courage to be obnoxious and ask what do you and your co-workers earn. Rest assured it’s almost 1am here laying in my comfortable 5 star hotel. Not sure if I enjoyed my stay knowing now of the evident inequity and injustice.
    Tearful from injustice and inequity
    Smiling faces, serving visitors,
    Only for about $13 a day,
    Bring and pop the Champagne bottles,
    Democracy and Capitalism,
    You two saviours
    Truly have made it all.

  21. I agree with absolutely everything you said, we have been here in Nysa Dua for 2 days and feel uncomfortable with the obvious divide, we are from the UKand probably just as guilty as the Australians.

  22. the people of Bali are predetermined by birth as were are ,the country is corrupt as Australia ,England, USA etc are.The poor people of each saidcountries do not get the opportunity its to lavish 150 thousand rupees on a kite,its world wide and overtime i go on holiday I’m safe in the knowledge that i have contributed to the counties economy and interacted with the locals ,assisted with toiletries and cleaning products ,donating extra money only goes to the BIG BOSS of the cartels

  23. Staying in Bali in May my friend wanted more tea and coffee in her room so I had already left money with a note on my bed for the cleaner but I grabbed only 20000rp and handed it to him and he cried. I didn’t know how to feel but it is something I will never forget. To me it was only $2 but to him it obviously meant something. I tip my driver well and always clean out my wallet at the airport and whatever is left in rupiah I give to him. He had his wife in hospital for 3 months so I know how hard it is for him

  24. Mate ..been going to bali since 83 and my wife since 77….I really cannot see how you can pass judgement after a weeks visit….majority of are australians are respectful and generous…helpful….yes there is corruption …but there is corruption in australia…everywhere…wages are low ..but have grown with thier economy over the years…there cost of living is way different to ours..I was there last week talking to my mate who runs beach umbrellas and surfboard hire …and asked the question would you leave to chase more money …he reply was no …live isn’t all about money he is blessed with love; religion and family…and if you really get to know the people over 25 years…not 4 days…then you will get a better understanding of there culture and welbeing…do we go to bali for a cheap holiday…no we go to share cultures ,experiences and to help bothways…have bit of faith in Aussies we do love to help…if you really want to see a great and experience a great motel ful of culture love and family ..go stay at the adi darma hotel …cheers

  25. Thoughtful and thought provoking, yes, having just spent two weeks surrounded by the the most patient, kind and gentle human beings I agree with every word. Everyone we met from our home stay hosts to our taxi driver or gardener made our Bali experience richer as we, like you, had question after question. We as Australians have so much to learn from the Balinese, beginning with gratitude and humility.

  26. Your experience in Bali reflects my own however it is not just Bali but possibly most island resorts and many Asian countries where there are locals who serve the tourists and earn very little. I think it happens here too and I think it will only get worse as the gap between rich and poor gets bigger. I am disturbed as you are by Australian tourists who try to pay the least amount possible. I was told by a Balinese worker that they prefer the Australian owners of resorts as they are more generous to their works. Workers can be exploited in any nation and the rich in poorer countries are often the worst due to corruption and unenforced or lack of employment laws.

    • Agree. In Indonesia there are employment laws and employees generally know their rights. Western owners are careful to follow these rules or there is trouble. Since this article was first written the minimum award wage has doubled and many are paid above the award wage. Interestingly, employees in the tourist areas of Bali are among the best paid Indonesians with the best work conditions in Indonesia.

  27. Always – wherever you go…tip the garden staff, kitchen staff, room staff – first.

  28. We stayed in Bali for 2 long…..weeks – spoke with many locals, cab drivers, shop owners , hotel workers etc. The Balinese warned us that Indonesians tell tourists they are Balinese because they know tourist tend to favour Balinese.
    We were told Bali is now overrun by Indonesians they own just about everything. What upset some of the Balinese was Indonesian Prostitutes have moved to Bali more tourists to take advantage of. The Prostitutes tell their customers they are Balinese when they are actually Muslim.
    Our Balinese taxi driver said our women are good Hindus never never sell their body.
    Personally I would never return to Bali it was too hot/humid, dirty
    – constant harassing of people selling rubbish to tourists on beaches & walking down streets.
    Went to Traditional Balinese Opera on way to Volcano. Sat in front row next thing young chickens head at my feet. Singer had whipped out Chicken from his ornate coat & bit off its head & threw it at my feet. I was sickened & walked out & sat on the bus thinking….get me out of Bali…the stray Dogs wandering the streets was more than distressing. The little Horses with jingling bells on – working day & night in the blazing heat transporting tourists was appalling. I have been to other Asian Countries…Bali was the worst…
    My opinion many tourists walk around with blind/holiday mode eyes…& never see what is really going on around them.

    Sent from my iPhone

  29. Cheap tourism? Foreigners are changed same prices as in Australia in tourist areas, but produce and labour are way cheaper; sometimes a supermarket has same product 3 times more expensive. I’ve been in three different cities and people lied and abused my kindness to get my money, always with a kind smile… I work very hard, as well, nobody gives me money as a gift. If some of the behavior I see in Bali and other places inIndonesia was shown in Oz people would be fined or jailed. I’ve decided not to come to Bali again after my first visit because I was treated as a wallet with legs, disrespected on a daily basis and lied at my face with a smile. We would not tolerate such a thing in Oz, why elsewhere? Last episode that changed things for me was while I was visiting a temple with my own saron, was told I could not use it, I was forced to buy one for 15 dollars, which is a month’s wages in Indonesia, one of those sarongs you find for 5 bucks in 2-dollar shops in Oz, while my driver played dumb and only apologized to me when I confronted him and said that yes, I could have used mine. This was at the doors of a religious centre. Really, why not telling both sides of the story? I had had taxi drivers in Yogyakarta not to return change, big chunks of Indonesian money, they do that on a daily basis with tourists. That’s called stealing. The stealing part, getting your money from lies or abuse not job done, I’ve experienced on daily basis. This is my experience, which I guess is as valid as the writer’s. unfortunately somebody is getting the money we pay here. Some beauty salons and spas are much cheaper than in Oz but the quality of remedial massage, manicure, etc is not even close to what I pay for at home. A breakfast in a touristy area costs you the same as in Oz but I doubt the workers have the same wages and work rights. So, please don’t be simplistic. Tourism in Indonesia, not just in Bali, needs a deeper and ore complex approach by a journalist…

  30. My attempt to lighten the mood by saying that in Australia our traffic cameras and speed traps cost us more cut little ice.

    “That money go to government, not corrupt polisi Mr Bron. It not good.”
    What! It goes to our if not “corrupted” government then our “ moraly corrupt goverment”.

  31. Very well “said”. I’m a Californian that has been to the lovely island of Bali on four, separate occasions; primarily due to some of my German friends who persuaded me into joining them in a venture to establish a nonprofit organization – Child Aid Bali – in order to supplement the possibility of Balinese Children to attend school. Although our organization is no longer in existence, we did manage to enable dozens upon dozens of children to obtain an education which resulted in many, many smiling faces and a bountiful group of very proud parents 😊!

  32. Thank you for your heart for the Balinese people. I was wondering the same things, and as I started researching, it broke my heart. Tops will become much more generous from me now, I can assure you. Thank you for this!

  33. I’m in Bali at the moment, my first time, and I must say I’m disappointed.
    Bali is not what I read it would be.
    The business owners are very rude to tourists and pouring in with cash.
    I have on 2 separate occasions, one time for a palm reading and another time for a massage got rudely declined when I asked if they could come out to our Sanur villa and we would be happy to pay the extra.
    The palm reader charged $200 usd for an hour and wasn’t interested in my business . Replying rudely that he’s booked out 2 months in advance, is the best reader in the world and doesn’t need me.
    As for the massage, they replied saying they are to busy to come to me, if I want come to them.
    I also encountered Bali people lack empathy. The villa I stayed in had a cat that had kittens, the grounds people removed the kittens and when I asked what happened to them he smiled a sadistic smile and said he had drowned them as animal life had no value. My heart sank.
    I find these people are heartless. The country is a dump and the prices here are much more than the western world.
    Maybe some workers are earning minimum wage but most scam tourists and charge much more than you would pay back home.
    Never again. Very scammy country and people.

  34. I am in Bali as I write and what you say is unfortunately so true. The Balinese people are so friendly and willing to serve (for want of a better word) but somehow I too feel a dichotomy. Are we as tourists taking advantage of the. Wonderful Balinese or are we helping them to live a better life. At the moment here all I can do is tip amounts of money that in the scheme of my life, don’t mean much, but to them (as I was told by my driver) can mean the difference of feeding their family for the day.

  35. Excellent reading. Puts it succinctly into perspective doesn’t it. Makes me sad when people beat them down with no regard. All said and done if we use our generosity well, it’s a win win!!
    I love the Balinese.

  36. And that’s the thing why australians visitor’s mase from Bali worse place. You give them huge tip and than they expect it same for others. Real price od something is 10k and you give them 60k. Fine, but again they expect the same for others visitors. Try to go to Europe

  37. Good read. I have travelled with friends and know of people who “consider you an idiot if you pay 40,000 rupiah when you can pay just 35,000 (a difference of 50c).” I realise that sometimes, their main purpose is not to save money, but rather the driven need to have the upper hand over the seller. After all, what is a different of 50cents? Especially when the service involved is a motorbike sightseeing trip lasting half an hour.

  38. Thank you for sharing and voicing my exact sentiment. Indonesia offers us a tranquil paradise away from home. The Balinese offer dedication to their family and culture, front and foremost. I think many Australians could benefit from taking note of the respect, friendliness and generosity practised by the Balinese day after day. While many tourists are busy collecting hoards of ‘things’, the Balinese want for nothing more than love, peace and happiness. Education aside, which is the ‘smarter’ perspective in this picture?

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  40. Well done my boy for paying overs for the kite if it means a Balinese kid might pay less ,also the staff at hotels often go unnoticed ,very true statement ,always a good idea to throw them a tip

  41. Thanks very much !!! I’m in Bali now … And I will rethink my relationships with these kind hearted people …

  42. I’ve been living in Bali, amongst locals, not in a resort but in a regular neighbourhood, with no resorts, for over a month now. I think the article is great, I also think some of the comments here are correct. I just don’t understand when people saying things like: “pass judgement” and ” the Australian government”… etc. This piece is not about you. So get off your high horse and listen up. Any point of view is valid when you don’t get offended and just listen.

  43. Balinese do not respect people who are not careful with money.
    Throwing away/around money is considered foolish and arrogant.
    If you want true respect do not be flippant with money.
    Yes they will take all the money you give them. However they will likely appreciate you as a person as much as what Australians appreciate the government for welfare, probably less.
    Most friendships thereafter involve condescention, fakery, and is obsequious/servile/sycophantic.
    Buy them a present, a meal, or a tip closely descibing the appreciated specific exception/not usual conduct/service.
    This is considered good manners.
    One exception. Is if they take you to see their parents/family home. Particularly for a meal. It is customary to provide a significant gift or currency.
    Talk to them and express appropriate genuine interest regarding their financial challenges.
    I have paid directly for greatly needed dental work for a friend of twenty years for example.

    Balinese sport is seeing how stupidly they can encourage a person to behave with money.
    They take great pride in regaling their friends with how stupid Westerners are with their money.
    Unless you want to be described out of earshot as an putih orang gila (crazy white person.)

    As a rule the more you pay over fair price the worse the service/relationship you will recieve.

    In the estimation of the Balinese. Chance supplied you with the good fortune to live in a western country.
    Thrift you have learned (or not) as a personal pursuit of wisdom.

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