Bali’s Snake of Greed Is Consuming Its Own Tail

February 3, 2011

Much has been said about foreigners in Indonesia feeling as though they have targets painted on their backs. We are treated as mobile ATMs.  We are on the mahal end of the ubiquitous dual-price system.  We are in the cross-hairs of Indonesia’s officialdom, with its entrenched corruption and endlessly inventive ways to charge us more for all imaginable services, commodities, goods, foods and beverages. In some ways, it is understandable, if not excusable. We are wealthy; the locals are not, so it is considered acceptable to reduce our ‘wealth’ and increase theirs by any means available.

This all-but-official ‘let’s grab what’s theirs’ attitude is emboldening the losers, thugs and criminals here as well. In recent months, an escalating spate of armed robberies, home invasions, bashings, stabbings and murders of expatriates are causing people to review their plans to move here, or even stay here. The hard-liners, of course, might say “good riddance”, but those who understand tourist and expat economics are becoming worried. As if Bali’s endemic rabies – virtually ignored by officialdom – Dengue fever, tottering infrastructure, horrific road toll and unsustainable over-development weren’t enough!

Sadly, the spectre of greed that fuels these rapacious rip-offs is not limited to bules. I always thought – mistakenly, it seems – that Indonesians stick together, even while employing increasingly ingenious ways of separating bules from their money. However, recent events seem to show that some Balinese have a streak of ruthlessness towards their own people that is both sad and disturbing.

A Balinese acquaintance was recently invited to go to Australia by a long-time friend. In the course of going through the administrivia required to get permits and passports, he was informed by a gentleman at the Immigration Department here that he needs to pay the FISKAL exit tax of 2.5 million rupiah. Somewhat confused, he pointed out that not only was this tax was abolished as of 1st of January this year, but it was normally paid at the airport, not to the Immigration Office.  He was then pressured by an annoyed Immigration official to pay, or his passport would not be issued. When he continued to refuse, he was told that there were ‘irregularities’ in his application, which the helpful official could overlook for a mere 1.5 million rupiah ‘facilitation fee’. The only way this hapless local could get a passport was to meet the corrupt official at Kuta beach and pay him the bribe demanded – an entire month’s salary. This is wrong and disgusting.

But even this shoddy example of corruption pales compared to what just happened to a Balinese friend of mine. Recently married and just having become a proud father, he lives in a kost in Legian, for which he pays 500,000 rupiah per month, a significant part of his salary. His wife, of course, isn’t yet able to go back to work. However, his landlord,  a man lacking compassion, but endowed with an additional serving of greed to compensate, has just informed him that his two-month old infant boy is an ‘extra person’ now living in their single, bathroom-less room. Because of this, he is demanding a rent rise of 200,000 rupiah per month, “because of the extra costs”.  My friend has no option than to try to relocate his little family. Heartless landlord – almost a cliché, but not one I expected in Bali.

Other friends tell me similar stories – landlords prohibiting fans, laptops and even mobile phone chargers in their kosts. Refusing to allow rice cookers in the rooms, or gas stoves. Demanding that doors to rooms be kept open all the time regardless of privacy or security concerns. When I asked my friend what happened to Bali’s famously touted familial, village and community support, he just laughed. “Where money is involved, no-one is a friend”, he said. “It’s all business”.

Am I the only one who finds that sad?



  1. Now that’s the Bali I know and think very little of

  2. Well, sadly but most of Balinese are exactly how you described. This mostly to the most busiest tourist areas, whereas business established towards expatriates and local workers (restaurant, cafés, bars, hotels, etc.).

    And yet ironically enough, as it has become a public secret, it also impacted to the local tourist. The hospitality business ‘discriminate’ the local tourist and their present is ‘not indulging’ to their present. This pretty much very annoying to locals. And as locals, you can tell their service are horrifying chauvinist in a way!

    However, not all of Balinese are like that. The friendly images of its people are still as friendly as it always been. Only rarely to be found!

  3. dear vyt, unfortunatly very true, well written. i will forward this to my friends, who always think we are living in a paradise. bali is not a paradise. it’s a money machine. the rise of crime, not only in the expat’s villa zone, also in denpasar should ring all alarm bells! but hey, if i would be a javanese thief or from where ever in indonesia, of course i would go to bali. compare to other islands we are super rich. and it will becone more rich until the island is blooded out and completely lost it’s magic and beautiness.

  4. Spot on (again) vyt…

    I have good friends (Aussies),who live up on the Bukit, that i see on our yearly trip to Bali, who
    tell me many similar stories, they have had their
    Villa Robbed, she has had the Motorbike/bag snatch
    thingo happen to her ( right in front of myself and wife!), suffering pretty bad injuries. Plus all the
    Bureaucratic buggery that happens in their day to day life…..

    She, being female is treated a lot more disrespectfully than her husband by the locals.

    No wonder she wants out (he wants to stay), but a
    $300,000usd villa that nobody wants to buy is a real sticking point!

    Even with all our Floods, Fires and Cyclones, i still and always will, call Australia Home and see
    Bali as a holiday destination….

  5. Is it still worth it? Do you get a better ‘balance’ of life in Bali that makes the overwhelming annoyances bearable?

    • On balance, I think the answer is a resounding “yes”. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own happiness. We can choose to respond negatively to all the things that annoy (and get all bitter and twisted), or we can accept that this is way things are in Bali, focus on the great things, go with the flow, and maintain our composure.
      We are guests in this country; we don’t have the right to tell the locals what to do or how to do it.

      But we do have the right to shine a spotlight on the many things that locals here (and the Indonesian Government) would prefer to be kept in the dark, and I will continue to do so via this blog. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the place. On the contrary, I love it here. I write about problems, greed, corruption, religious terrorism and the general day-to-day absurdities of Indonesian life because pretending that this is a 100% paradise serves nobody. And ultimately, it’s only my opinion anyway.

      • Yes, this idea that Bali (or anywhere) is paradise makes my blood boil. I occassionally post on a Bali forum and there are posters there who have “adopted” Balinese families buying cars bkes and education. The locals kowtow and clap in response. To me it smacks of Virtual World and is a gross disrespect. Why do I continue to holiday in Bali? Because it’s pulsing with life and despite all the hype, still has religion and culture just under the surface. Massing into a temple for Galungan and Kuningan, or even walking alone in Goa Gaja recharges my respect for an ancient belief system that worked for thousands of yrs. Yes, I get the same feeling from aboriginal Australian sacred areas…

      • It’s a magic place in its own right – we really shouldn’t have to meddle. We can help in small ways (particularly when that ‘help’ is not demanded as a ‘right’), but we don’t have to fix social/financial ‘problems’ by always throwing money at them. The more we do that, the more Bali begins to develop a Cargo Cult mentality. And then, there goes self-sufficiency and sustainability.

  6. Yep!

  7. Funny, it looks like what expats are saying right now about Thailand.
    And for knowing a bit both places, i’m sure you’re all right.
    But greed is the logic contrepart of mass tourism so i guess we just have ourselves to blame ?

  8. But the western idea of “paradise” was always going to be a delusion anyway. It doesn’t exist. You can look long and hard and you will never find it. Everywhere, there is ying and there is yang. It’s inevitable there’s a dark side to Bali, and it’s all the bad things you have written about on this blog. What’s great about the “West” is that feeling of “trust” that you can have in dealing with people you know. In Indonesia, and in Bali especially, you just have to be far more cautious – check everything and then check again. But then again there are the beautiful beaches…

    • That feeling of “trust” in the West is often just as misplaced as it is here. These days, the adage of ‘walk softly and carry a big stick’ applies everywhere.

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