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Short guide to Bali

These pages contain a number of tips for travelers that are going to bring a visit to the Indonesian island of Bali soon. They are simple tips about the daily life on the island and what to expect when visiting the island. Many things will be just slightly different than at home, but it is important to locals that you at least somewhat adhere to their lifestyle.

The Balinese character
Tips for first-time travelers to Bali

The Balinese are easygoing, courteous, gentle, and kind if you are kind. But don't think that because the Balinese smile a lot and are friendly they make good, long-lasting friends. The villages are tight-knit, almost impossible for non-Balinese to penetrate, and are very business and family oriented. Westerners dislike hierarchy, are suspicious of authorities, and believe in egalitarianism. Balinese, on the other hand, are submissive to authority. Loyalty to family, clan, village, and friends is most important.

Balinese are more direct than the Javanese who are taught as little children to lie, as in "If you stop crying, there's an ice cream man in front of the house." They want to tell you only what they think you want to hear. The Balinese though are more straightforward. In business dealings they come more quickly to the point. On Bali, every driver uses the horn; on Java, no one does. The Balinese also work harder than the Javanese, are easier to train, and complete their jobs. They make better houseboys, waiters, porters, and drivers. After all, they've been dealing with Westerners and their myriad idiosyncrasies since the 1930s.

The Balinese have a strong propensity for jealousy (iri hati) or envy of other Balinese and Indonesians, especially in the upper classes. They gossip, slander, and make snide remarks behind the backs of other people in their compound or village. A banjar can be a veritable hotbed of gossip-some mischievous, some vicious.

But the Balinese are very adept at hiding jealousy, envy, and anger. When Balinese men drink, they might lose their temper and become excitable over perceived insults or discourtesies, particularly if they lose face. Otherwise, they're passive. Anger is not shown openly. Loud voices are considered vulgar, and the more vehement the discussion, the quieter a Balinese is likely to become. In a quarrel with a Balinese, Westerners are assertive, confrontational, and openly angry. Westerners think they are being frank and down-to-earth, but Balinese find them rude and offensive.

Watch what happens at Denpasar airport when 17 pushy real estates agents from Los Angeles learn that Garuda has overbooked and their seats given away. The angrier they become, the more withdrawn and soft-spoken the Balinese become. He will continue to smile, maintain a calm appearance, and withdraw from the quarrel, choosing to deal with the issue later through a third person. Under intolerable stress, the normal Balinese reaction is retreat deeper into one's self, seeming no longer to inhabit their bodies and cutting themselves off from the outside world.

After a fatal car accident, relatives of the deceased can be seen sleeping at the accident site. Or as a village court decides what to do with a thief, he'll nod off. If you've been away and come back to find your ibu or houseboy asleep in the afternoon, you know that something has been lost, broken, or stolen. When pushed beyond this temporary catatonic state, a Balinese may "run amok," an extreme cultural reaction to overpowering stress. Balinese rarely show anger but when they do, they erupt without warning like a volcano.

Last revised on January 30, 2010
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