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Wednesday, April 11, 2012 1 Comments 6 Likes
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A year ago, in April 2011 Time Magazine published an article on Bali called “Holidays in Hell: Bali’s Ongoing Woes”. Since then, many other publications have echoed this –however accurate (and that’s debatable)– heavily skewed and one-sided piece of journalism. The author would rightly defend this one-sidedness arguing that the article does not intend to portray a complete picture of Bali but rather, as he justly warns us in the title, only its ongoing woes. Here our take.

As a journalist of such a highly reputed magazine supposedly intended for the highly-critical thinker, he will not expect this intelligent, worldly reader to take his piece as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The reader’s assumed intellect is his safeguard. We humbly think he overestimates Time Magazine’s reader. Or maybe his overestimating is but a surreptitious underestimating, because on expounding his apology he would slyly omit the title’s opening phrase. We, on the contrary, openly underestimate Time Magazine’s reader. We won’t let it pass. We won’t because that opening phrase –statement none the less!– is so powerful in its meaning and imagery and so powerful in its position as the real and only title of an article on such a reputed magazine, that it is in fact, the one and only phrase that will burn in the retinas becoming embedded in the consciousness of the thousands of browsing readers around the world who will not actually read the article: “Holidays in Hell”. Wooed by it, the actual readers who have never been to Bali, will but agree: Bali is holidays in Hell. Time Magazine said it.

Here is what we say:

We suspect that the occurrence of the word “Hell” rejoiced the author as a genial catch phrase that will at once make the reader unconsciously link it with its antonym: Paradise. As in the Paradise that Bali was imagined to be for decades in the minds of thousands. As in the Paradise that the author wants to make clear Bali is no longer. In fact, he even makes reference to another (indeed happier) catch phrase used by many editors in other publications: “Paradise Lost”. He, however, purposely takes it a step further. It’s not Paradise Lost anymore. It is Hell.

And here is where the author starts deceiving many some and angering many some others. Paradise, in this context, refers to a place that is extremely beautiful and that seems perfect. An idyllic place. That Tropical Paradise that experts from the tourist industry knew and know so well how to market. If the image that we have seen portrayed in so many posters, postcards and surf magazines which promptly pops up in our minds when we think about Tropical Paradise is full of unspoiled nature, open and deserted beaches wearing nothing but a pair of board shorts (or a bikini) and a hat to protect us from the energizing sun with only our footprints trailing on the white sand behind, and hours of staring at the ocean until our mind goes blue, or the swell arrives pounding the shore with perfect lined up barrels, then its opposite imagery would be –still in a tropical setting– crowded beaches, plenty of concrete buildings, asphalt roads, traffic jams, and shitty or not so shitty waves packed with surf schools, and over-zealous surf guides and their Japanese or Norwegian customers. And here is where the author continues to deceive the reader: that imagery is not Bali. That imagery becomes reality as only one side of one part of Bali. Furthermore –and here is where the author grossly deceives the reader, favoring a dramatic catch phrase that will echo across the globe and will earn him his wages– that is not the meaning of Hell. Hell, according to online reputed dictionaries and in its non-religious context, “is a place of misery, torment, or wickedness; and extremely unpleasant and often inescapable situation”. And that, trust me on this one, is not Bali. Nor is it one or any side of one or any part of Bali.

To be fair with Time Magazine and the author, the article presents, in a concise and professionally written way, a big aspect of Bali’s present rapid development from sleepy villages to a world class tourist destination with a wide and large range of hotels, dining out, night clubs, shopping outlets and other entertainments. It presents its many and hard obstacles to overcome. It presents them, however, as insurmountable and not as an opportunity for people to get together and do their smaller or bigger part in facing them, analyzing them, and tackling them.

To be fair to Bali, the author neglects a great deal of context, omitting the past, the future and even skewing the present. For this is not the reality of Bali. It is the reality of less than ten percent of Bali’s territory. By all means, it is the most visited side of Bali –hence its development, duh–, but by no means the only side of Bali. It takes only a bit of will to see and discover the Paradise that –according to the author– Bali no longer is. Take your bike and go riding. Take your bike and get lost through the island. Go to the east coast. Go to the west coast. Go to the mountains. Go to the inland rice fields. Bring a smile and take your surfboard too. You will be amazed of what you can and will find.

Time Magazine in referring to Bali’s ongoing woes, also forgets to mention many initiatives that are being carried out by different public and private organizations springing from and encompassing not only the Balinese but also other Indonesians and other people from all over the world to redirect Bali’s growth and development. Of course, many and diverse interests are at play. It’s not easy and it won’t be easy. A lot of people care. A lot don’t. However, environmentalists, urban planners, conscientious government officials, business men, developers and average Joes and Wayans are aware of the present and are trying to foresee and work for a sustainable future for the island. In fact, important urban and road developments have or are already taking place or have been recently kicked off, most notably, the Ngurah Rai Airport expansion, the Kuta Beach wall, the toll road connecting Nusa Dua and South Denpasar, and the Dewa Ruci underpass. All projects that will, of course, have supporters as well as detractors. The desired results to ease and decongest traffic flow and the effort to keep the South of Bali beautiful are, however, undeniable.

Rapid and unchecked development has, by all means, taken the South of Bali by surprise. But the shock is now being shaken off and Bali seems to be recovering its footing. With its rich past and traditions in heart, its present as a world class tourist and surf destination in mind, with all its all too real ongoing woes (thank you Time Magazine), and its future in sight as an urbanely better organized all-welcoming island, Bali should be able to march on. At Bali pace, of course. I mean, this is Bali. And it surely is not what it used to be not long ago when pioneer surfers travelled to the island in the 70’s. Many of those surfers have stayed and still live here. Many have wandered around the other islands and came back to settle in Bali. Many still come back regularly. I don’t think any of them will ever think of Bali as Hell. Hell no.

(Check Time Magazine’s article here: Holidays in Hell: Bali’s ongoing woes)

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