Bali (imagine a long sigh)… the world’s favorite tourist destination in 2017 (according to Tripadvisor). To me, it is not easy to summarize this place quickly.

The first time I went I loved it for the reason that it was my honeymoon and my first adventure to Indonesia. Otherwise I was not too enchanted by the sunburnt tourists with their big bellies that were garnished with a giant Bintang logo, the markets which sell big wooden penises in front of every attraction, or the trash on the street, on the beach, in the gutters.

Yet, I made a lasting connection to Bali that has lasted so far! Back in the days, I did some training and volunteering in Australia and East Timor. I reached someone still working in that organization but who has relocated to Bali. He and his friends were amongst other things visiting families in a specific neighborhood in the capital Denpasar. Many more or less poor families from another province of Bali moved there to find job opportunities in the city. The volunteers offered education programs at that point. By now their involvement is broader and aims to develop the community.

The living conditions of the urban poor have been my main motivation to study urban planning. Their resilience I admire. Building up friendships with some of the passionate and humble volunteers has not only built me up personally, but also allowed me to get to know some of the many urban poor. Three stories are depicted in my illustration section. Some of them live in slum-like conditions: the houses and huts are prone to flooding and storms, no running water, cramped spaces and so on. Some of the children do not go to school, but sell goods on Kuta’s streets. We saw little boys younger than 10 years old tattooed all over their body as uprising tattoo artists pay a few Rupiah to practice on them. And the sweetest five-year old girl knows certain dance moves from the TV. Many – not all! – parents struggle with income, petty crime, sick family members, paying expenses for religious rituals. Indonesia was my favorite country to study. And Denpasar has become my case study.

Because of my friends and my research project in Denpasar, Bali was frequented regularly. Especially the study trips allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the history of the island, the impact of tourism, the society and its norms which are derived from the Balinese Hinduism. This is very valuable to me and something I take a little bit pride in. Denpasar is a big crowded city. It is not the glamorous exotic Bali you know, but rather the hectic and ugly backyard with all the amenities capitals have: schools, universities, hospitals, government buildings, public parks, temples, meeting places.  Still the city allowed me to learn so much: Village leaders, politicians, teachers, students, government administrators, Hindu priests, Imams, missionaries were met. A Hindu funeral, impromptu Balinese dance lessons, church services were attended. Nyepi was celebrated. Homes were opened to me.

I must say that I do not like exploitation of the island and its people by tourism. Yet I am one of the many millions now. Denpasar is no longer my case study. While I don’t mind a nice day trip to the soft white and golden beaches of the south, I prefer the lush north. East Bali is my favorite, yet the coast of Tabanan has also caught my attention during my last visit.

The chosen photos hopefully show the diverse impressions from the many trips. They do show the natural beauty of the island. But they are also in an invitation look beyond the perfect surf wave, the hip beach bars, the commercialized dances and glimpse at the daily routine of Balinese residents. While many pictures have already been taken from the island, I hope you still enjoy my perspective on it.

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