As my taxi drove me from the airport to my hotel in Bali's Kuta beach, I looked out the window and judged it within 10 seconds with a sigh and a shrug.
I knew I was staying in Bali's most touristy area, but I guess I was expecting it to be a little bit less... lame. Giant signs for MacDonalds, KFC, and overpriced boutiques jut into the sky like the novelty wooden penis carvings you find at every tourist stall lining the streets. The resorts and restaurants are all designed to look like temple ruins, which gives the place a weird Vegas-y feel. And the place is overrun with families with children. I have never seen so many sunburned knee high mini-people.
Last night I went on the hunt for 20-something backpackers looking to go on the piss (a charming English expression for getting wasted and dancing). I knew they had to exist - beach + $1 beers + Southeast Asia = backpackers. I wandered in to a restaurant, overheard mixed accents at the table next to me which meant they weren't travelling together and had probably met that day, and joined them.
This is how I found myself at a cocktail stand in a back alley drinking something neon green and lethally strong out of a plastic cup with a lid and a straw. These holes in the wall are Bali's version of Thailand's bucket stands, and if you're ever in Bali wondering where the backpackers are, this is your answer. And this is also how I became aquainted with Bali's community of a very specific type of backpacker - the kind that never leaves.
This is globalized capitalism's little loophole. The western dollar is worth so much more in these countries that you can spend your life working for a few months at home, then living the life of a Southeast Asian beach bum for another few months until your money runs out. I'm a millionaire for the third time in my life right now - I've also been a Vietnamese millionaire and a Laotian millionaire. Sure, it's a life of alcoholism and instability, but it's basically a philosophical choice about the meaning of life. If you don't think slaving away at 9 to 5er for 45 years to scrimp and save for a meagre retirement is a particularly meaningful way to live your life, either, you can literally just drop out and run away.
This is a totally rational life choice to make and, quite frankly, I don't understand why more people don't make it. What does bug me, though, is when this type deludes themselves into thinking they're having some kind of deep cultural experience. "There's just something about this place that draws me in," I kept hearing. Yeah, dude. The thing about this place that keeps drawing you in is the fact that it's intentionally designed to cater to your every desire. You want cocktail? You want massage? You want girl? Of course you do. Cheap cheap.
Personally, if I were going to drop off the face of the earth in Bali, I would do it in Ubud. Ubud is a little town north of Kuta that I drove to on a motorbike yesterday. You have to brake to let chickens cross the road. It's surrounded by rice paddies. And this is no exaggeration - every other building is an art gallery. A lot of the art is mass produced souvenir crap, but there are also a lot of serious gems. I biked away with a backpack full of paintings and a big smile.
I would love to spend more time here and bike further afield to the volcanoes and tiny villages and jungle temples. But sadly, I'm only here for three days, and I'm too hung over to do anything today besides blog and go to the beach. Next time, maybe.
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