Bali Divided and Apart
By Bali BS News
Aug 29, 2005, 05:34
Bali has many reputations, such as being a tropical island paradise yet offering such high quality[sic] food so as to make “belly” Bali’s number one synonymous noun! But the most endearing facet of Bali has to be its welcoming smile right? But if you only knew what the different communities of Bali think about and even how they treat each other, and about what businesspeople from outside Indonesia think of them, you might be a little surprised. A recent email from a clearly very opinionated Michael White (AKA Made Wijaya) who runs a design company in Sanur, de facto berating expats in Legian and Seminyak by using the defamatory slang word “Legianspeak” inspired us to let everyone know about the different groups in Bali and how they are thought of both within and outside Bali! Of course the following generalizations are not true of everyone they deem to cover, but we think the percentage is so high so as to justify the normally unjustifiable; making generalizations in the first place.
First, the Indonesians overall, including the Balinese, have perhaps one of the worst reputations in the world for doing business with. Typically, Indonesian business people appear to be very aggressive and very disloyal, even dishonest. For example, if you think by going back to the same person you bought from before would guarantee you at least the same standard and price as before you had better count your fingers! Indonesians are renowned for always trying to make an extra buck out of their customers, even though this means potentially losing that customer’s business in western terms. You see, the edict of business in Indonesia is to always negotiate hard and carefully. The western concept of trust and rewarding loyal customers with guaranteed standards and pricing simply does not exist for most islanders. Therefore, a western customer who walks back in for more business without going through the same wretched and tiring negotiation process is a legitimate target for having “one pulled over them” by the Indonesian seller. Be warned!
The irony is that the previously and still to a certain extent currently repressed Chinese community in Indonesia are about the only group that use the “keep the regular customer happy” practice, irrespective of their business and customer type. Of course, when you stay in a hotel, most hoteliers know that guests will come back if given value for money; especially western name hotels. Conversely to that “foreign equals good” rule, the Balinese expat and to a lesser extent Indonesian expat community have one of the worst reputations in the world. It seems to boil down to the distinct impression that many of Bali’s expats have an annoying quasi colonial attitude. Where they lap up and then expect being referred to as “Pak” this, and “Ibu” that (salutations of respect) by humble low paid islanders. Next time you talk face-to-face with a Bali expat, take a close look at the way they deal with the Balinese. However, not only are Bali’s expats regularly much maligned for their pompous nature, but also for adopting the nastier traits of the middle class Indonesian businessmen; So to the stereotype groups.
Sanur Expats and middle class Indonesians
Sanur is beachside Denpasar, and Denpasar is the business and civil capital of Bali. This is mostly where you will find Bali’s very aggressive and highly self-opinionated expat business community. We have lopped in Indonesian middle class business people, who can be found all around the island, as this is about identifying certain groups and their traits. We believe these two groups to be alike and also the hardest people to trust on Bali; real “dog eat dog” purveyors of self interest that will stop at nothing while feigning utmost business ethics. Pious shopkeepers pretending to be big businessmen, true friends to no-one, able to lie even when their mouths are not moving. Brash dishonest "wanabes" you would not want to invite to your dinner party. For just two examples of their number, see our reports on Ixora Villas Bali and Jack Daniels Sanur Bali. Sanur is admittedly also the base for many of the island's worthwhile and ethical expats, some of which are married to members of Bali's upper class (caste) and even the former Balinese royal family.
Seminyak & Legian Expats
Mostly well meaning but haughty self believed followers of fashion, who are despised by Sanur Expats and local small Balinese businesspeople alike for their pretentious nature; one local tailor in the area we know of refuses to even speak to Seminyak expats. Yet these restaurant loving, too often drug taking, just past their prime, have to be seen socializing group of villa, restaurant and travel company owning “la la’s” feel somehow connected to the Balinese, when they so obviously are not. Suburban ostenticity to the extreme, many have relationships with the locals, if they can, but probably would only marry a Balinese if they were from the upper caste or royal family, as that would definitely be a trip; but no such Balinese would likely touch them! “Isn’t Seminyak perfect darling for quick trips to see friends and to go shopping in Australia and Singapore? Which did you say was your villa again? Sanur? Never been there, never want to go!”
Here you will find the hard core of spiritual expats, so determined to absorb Balinese culture they often end up as mad as hatters when they fail, due to the fact Balinese culture is a round peg for the square hole of someone born and raised in the west, and from the often copious amounts of drugs and cheap alcohol they take. Here strange shops selling pretentious overpriced alleged spiritual items no-one really wants to buy are a clear indication it is Ubud expat owned. People joke that the first thing an Ubud bound new expat does after smoking a joint is to “assume’ a Balinese name. Looked down on by Seminyak expats as being poorer country cousins and thought of by the “good” westerner inhabitants of Sanur as nobodies. But at least they are not deemed as low as the bar and small restaurant owning expats of hippy happy Amed or “Ye Ha” Lovina!
As opposed to the above expats, these are the westerners who come in to manage the larger hotels. Although they are expats, the term “expat” in relation to Bali is generally a negative thing. These are well paid (in western currency) managers who spend some time, perhaps 3 years in Bali, then move on somewhere else. They generally mix better with the Indonesians / Balinese and some of the better other expats on the island. But working in Indonesia, they all play by the “rules” and overlook or even ignore what goes on. They are the same as foreign managers anywhere else in SE Asia; only in it for the money, the sun, and the money.
The Powerful Indonesians
From the governor to the police chief to the owners of the large hotels, these are the people with the real power in Bali. Their interests seem only to be the occasional PR picture that depicts them as happy, normal, pious, responsible, benevolent people, and to make as much money as they can without consideration to anyone else. With probably as much social grace and popularity as an STD, these people need to keep their present day jobs as they are.
The Balinese Upper Classes
These are the top two social castes in Bali, except for the former royal family. Many are public spirited, caring, spiritual people, but this is also the main area of the population from where senior public officials come from. And because public servants are extensively corrupt and too often with it naturally nasty to the extreme, this group also has some of the worst people in Bali within its ranks; one middle caste title “I Bagus” too often seems to demand the surname “Your Money”.
The Everyday Balinese
Bali is a predominantly Hindu island whose natives historically hate Java and who despise Islam. Not a good thing when you are next door neighbours to larger and more influential Java, with its polluted capital city, and in the middle of the world’s most populous Muslim country. Although local Hindu boys exploit the favoritism in law towards Muslims by wearing “kufi” Muslim cotton hats while on their motorbikes, as Muslims are excused the helmet law whilst going to or coming from a mosque. Let there be no doubt the Hindu Balinese immensely dislike both the Javanese and Islam.
One reason for Balinese antipathy towards the Javanese is the fact many of the large hotels in Bali are owned or part owned by Javanese companies, often with Suharto connections, built on land that was bought from the Balinese at knock down compulsory purchase prices on the basis that the hotels would brings jobs to Bali; when in most cases they brought in Javanese workers. While also, illegal settlers from Java used to simply turn up en mass in Bali, cut down trees, build houses and declare the area theirs. The Balinese seem to blame the Javanese for everything. Despite the fact the often horrendous garbage and litter problem on Bali is clearly home grown as you only need to watch what happens after a Hindu ceremony around the warungs or follow a Balinese registered car to understand that, they still blame the Javanese for the problem.
When it comes to Islam, the Balinese Hindus are equally unhappy. It is common place for the parents of any Hindu daughter who marries into a Muslim family to disown their child. Marry a Chinese descendant and they will not be happy. Marry a Christian, and it does not seem to matter. These are facts and speak volumes as to how the Balinese really feel. If an inherent anti-religious sentiment was not bad enough, politics really divides the Balinese. PDI / PDIP party supporters on Bali routinely and violently clash with Golkar party supporters, sometimes leaving people dead in the process.
A couple or so years ago, many Balinese sacked and set government buildings on fire in both Denpasar and Singaraja, as protest acts of frustration at the economy and inflation. With petrol / gas prices set to double in the near future, with increasing power cuts around the island, and with planned tax hikes, watch this space!
For the record, we believe people are people. The reason Indonesia has so much crime and so many nasty people in it, is because the rot comes from the top. And the higher you are to the rotten top, the worse you generally are. We believe that overly corrupt politicians, business leaders and civil servants [sic] give the people of Indonesia two choices; rat eat rat if you can to get ahead, or economically and socially fall behind. We believe the hostility seen in many Indonesians including Balinese to each other and foreigners is a result of their human need to vent the frustration they are too scared to vent at the perpetrators of their misery; the authorities with their mafia police. This is the reason the real, decent, everyday people of Bali need our help. Not by bringing money in to fuel the corrupt system, but by telling the Indonesian government we are not bringing our money in until they effect credible change.