Street ceremony. Munduk, Bali, Indonesia. 2010

Just about anyone I’ve spoken to, who has been going to Bali over a long period time will comment on how the island has changed so much over the decades but the people are still pretty much the same.

Bali is such a magic place that despite recent terrorist attacks, it attracts more tourists every year. With over half a million visitors a year, Bali is in danger of being loved to death. More tourists, means more development to cater to their every needs. The Balinese seem fairly pragmatic about the huge influx of foreigners. I suspect it’s because the average Balinese only makes about $125 a month and there is a lot of unemployment, so they probably think of tourism as a boon.

In many places around the world that have been overrun by tourists, the locals can get quite jaded and nasty (as I’ve seen in parts of Croatia), but not the Balinese. With the exception of Kuta beach, which has been the stomping ground of drunken tailer trash Aussies, most of the locals in Bali are such nice people.

Actually they a really, really nice people. So warm and friendly.

As a foreigner walking down the street in a small town away from the touristy areas (which are full of hawkers hassling for a sale), you will be greeted with huge genuine smiles and a “hello!” “How are you?” Where do you go?”  The Balinese love to have a chat and it’s not uncommon for people serving you in restaurants etc, to try and strike up a conversation. Just to make a connection, and for no other reason than they friendly people .

A hotel (a very nice one) owner I met in Ubud, told me that most foreigners are reasonably understanding of the chatty locals, but he mentioned a French couple who told one of his waiters, “please don’t talk to us, we don’t talk to staff”. The hotel owner then went on to explain that the Balinese waiter didn’t take offence, but he did think that there was something a bit mentally wrong with the abrupt couple and as such, he felt a bit sorry for them. Whereas the Danish guy who owned the hotel wanted to throw them out for being so rude and “up themselves”. Same situation and such culturally different responses.

In my experience of three visits to Bali (the first in 1976, the second in 2004), the Balinese have retained such a beautiful countenance that it truly astonishes me and it makes me wonder why I’m amazed and why they seem to be so relatively unaffected by the tourist onslaught.

Just like other people in the world, the Balinese would like to live more comfortable lives and even though the average Balinese doesn’t have that much in a material sense in comparison to us in the “west”, they seem to have a very rich community life that is held together with the glue of a multitude of religious obligations they have, and all the Hindu ceremonies that they participate in.

When we were being driven around (about $45 a day and way less stressful than driving Balinese roads yourself) in Munduk by a local, we passed a large gathering of people sitting on the footpath.

Our driver stopped the car and said, “you go take a picture”.

To which I asked, “are you sure, is it all right, will they mind?”

The driver then said, “just stand back, and keep out of the way and it will be O.K.” He seemed to be proud of what was going on and wanted us to record it.

So I took a few shots and we went on our way. As we drove off I asked our driver what it was all about, and he said, “Don’t know, some ceremony for family”. At first I thought this was an odd answer but later on I saw a Balinese religious calendar and I was stunned to see so many religious events all around Bali. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said there is probably some public ceremony going on somewhere in Bali every single day.

Although I haven’t got a religious bone in my body, I find myself thinking, “oh well, what harm does it do?” It keeps them busy and happy. I’d say that Hinduism has had a very positive effect on the Balinese.

As a matter of fact, I’d much rather hang out with a bunch idolatrous Balinese than fundamentalist monotheists back home, any day.