I glance behind me, checking that my little sister is asleep on the bed as I slip out onto the balcony of our rented villa. It’s early evening in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, right after the heat of the day has passed but before the mosquitos have come out to feast on unsuspecting tourists.
I walk to the edge of the tiny balcony right outside my room and climb up onto the wooden railing, wobbling a little. Carefully, I slither over the edge and step onto the hard roof tiles poking out a few inches away. I drop to all fours and creep up to the peak of the roof, my hands and feet becoming black and stained from the grit and grime. Settling onto the ridge, I take a deep breath of the humid Balinese air and look out over the rooftops spread before me.
As I gaze out over the small, tropical city, I suddenly notice the sound of dishes clanking and excited voices murmuring. Right next to the luxurious villa my family is staying in is a small, misshapen, metal shack placed in the middle of a dirt yard. Piles of junk are strewn on the outskirts of the yard: a stack of firewood, an old tire, a clothesline with a basket of clean laundry sitting next to it. A couple of stray chickens and a large rooster strut around the corner of the building, looking as if they owned the world. The rooster gives out a loud crow and I wince, recognizing the sound from this morning. Shapes move around behind the dirty windows, and the sounds of people giggling and washing dishes fills the evening air.
I look back into the yard of the house I am perching on. It’s about the same size as the adjacent lot, but the yard is clean and well maintained with clipped grass, a brick path, a small swimming pool and a marble patio. The difference between these two neighboring houses is startling. They are two completely different worlds, only separated by a thin brick wall. Both are part of Bali, both belong, but they are drastically different.
Unfortunately, a large amount of the tourists who visit Bali never see the other side of the culture. As a popular tourist destination, there are many resorts and hotels and even entire districts that cater directly to tourism. Some travelers never leave these areas and miss out on the opportunity to learn from the other side of the Balinese culture.
But Bali is both. Bali is luxurious, bright and cheerful, with a plethora of beaches and temples and markets and other interesting sights to visit. Bali is also rundown, poor, and dirty, with lots of hardworking families who have never ventured out of their own country.
That is why I love visiting real places with culture and history – it is so rich and diverse, full of opportunities to learn about people and history and life. There are some things that one cannot learn from a book or from the Internet. Some things you can only learn by experiencing it yourself. Realizing that every country, every city, and every person has a multitude of faces and experiences and attributes gives you the opportunity to discover these different sides and understand them better.
I am very grateful for my chance to glimpse both of the personalities of Bali.
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