The Trouble with Paradise
It felt surreal despite the bloody normalcy of it all. Where were the paparazzi, the dark sunglasses?
I was at Sydney airport and I’d just spotted Australia’s couple-of-the-moment: Bachelorette darling Sam Frost with her chosen beau, Sasha. I was totally surprised to see them for two reasons: firstly, because I’d read in WHO Magazine that they’d recently sought treatment for a very serious PDA overdose; and secondly, because here they were, impressively blurring into the throngs of mediocre humans that tend to loiter agitatedly around the AirAsia check-in. With no bodyguards or fast-tracked queuing, they were just as exposed to the discomforts of public spaces as the squirming young family nearby. Warming to the fact that they had opted to fly a budget airline alongside lowly citizens such as myself, I briefly checked my cynicism.
As it turned out, Sam and Sasha were on my flight to Bali. Shortly after touchdown, I was relieved to be notified via Sam’s Instagram feed that she and Sash were happily settled into their “little slice of paradise” at Jimbaran Bay’s Four Seasons resort.
By the way, you too can experience this “little slice of paradise” for roughly $1,555USD per night this time of year. I don’t know, maybe you’ll find a better deal on Expedia or Booking.com?
To be honest, the price is probably worth it. In the comfort of her Premier Ocean Villa, Sam lapped up the magnificence of her very own infinity pool overlooking the ocean (so she could imagine she was swimming in the ocean, without the fear of cutting her foot on the reef or being eaten by sharks); a private garden (so she could experience the great outdoors); indoor AND outdoor showers (just in case she has a preference); and a deliciously over-pillowed king-size bed.
The resort does its very best to deliver true Balinese culture to its guests; without having to venture beyond its conveniently high walls, you can tour its shrines, learn about Balinese art, or sit back and enjoy a traditional dance performance.
Best of all, the villa is “inspired by a typical Balinese courtyard house” – so you’ll really get to experience living like the locals during your stay. Heck – if you find the common areas of the resort a bit too confronting, with all the paradisiacal essentials lying within 10-20 paces from your futon, you really needn’t leave your suite.
At the Four Seasons resort, and other similar institutions, the turbulence of the outlying city can be blissfully disregarded: the stink of open sewers is perfumed into oblivion; children are for the most part absent, prices are set (not bargained for) and no one will try to sell you a flimsy bracelet made from cut-up vegetable tins. The world outside doesn’t exist. This is your “little slice of paradise”.
Every year, thousands of tourists head to exotic lands like Bali for luxury getaway holidays. Many will probably be busy booking rooms at the Four Seasons right now—having succumbed to Sam’s enticing Insta feed—with piña coladas, detoxifying body scrubs and #nofilter sunsets on their minds.
Desperate poverty is not part of the equation.
Indeed, the slightly inconvenient fact that many of these tropical destinations are planted in the midst of underdeveloped nations can easily be circumvented.
A few days ago I sat at a warung in Seminyak, hoeing into oodles of delicious noodles and pondering some of life’s biggest questions. Like, what could possibly lie beyond the menacing concrete wall directly across the road, which sat like an uninspired 300-pound bouncer with a chunky neck and swollen veins telling me that I did not satisfy the dress-code? Was it a prison? Due to its immense height, it was impossible to tell. Some internet investigating ensued, only to reveal that the wall was guarding the sacrosanct paradise of another luxury resort.
Oh. How silly of me to have presumed that five-star living was more than a pole-vault away from the polluted, raucous, colourful and fantastic bedlam of Balinese civilisation.
In his project Unequal Scenes, photographer Johnny Miller evidences the class divide that exists in various South African cities. His aerial shots show an ugly gash in the landscape where expansive, green acreages meet tattered slums.
Miller’s photos demonstrate how upper-class dwellers can comfortably live alongside poverty whilst remaining emotionally disconnected and often devoid of social integration.
As one of many privileged, white Australians receiving the benefits of a comprehensive social security network, I am saddened at how easily we can be desensitised to the problems faced by the better part of the world’s population. We opt to ogle over lifestyles that shamefully misrepresent entire cultures – why? Because it is nicer to dream ourselves into Sam Frost’s vacationing than it is to imagine the destitute realities of others. It is nicer to vicariously indulge in the luxuries that Bali has to offer than to acknowledge the underlying poverty, the deficient sanitation and the corruption that threatens to tarnish its utopian image.
Why do we continue to glorify celebrities who make hard-hitting statements about the injustices of the world one day, but then choose to disassociate with impoverished locals and their culture when holidaying in its midst?
I cringe to think of the extravagances afforded in my 18-buck-a-night dorm-style accommodation in Bali – indulgences not extended to many locals, like purified drinking water, hot water and air-conditioning.
Bali is a beautiful island – but I believe the true beauty of any place can only be fully realised by getting to know the people and their culture, which make it so. Just as there is more to Paris than Dom Pérignon and boutique shops, so there is more to Bali than coconuts and oil massages. And while Bali’s notorious affordability is a major drawcard to Westerners, your $10AUD massage is only directly proportionate to the local minimum monthly wage of $180AUD.
So if you are heading off to an underdeveloped nation for your next hedonistic getaway, I’d encourage you to immerse yourself in all that it has to offer; to venture beyond the confines of your resort, where culture is often purified to give an aesthetically pleasing, but incomplete, depiction of the people that it represents.
Eat the food – not just your resort’s Western appropriation of the local cuisine – and learn about the local customs, skillsets and languages: watch as the Balinese Hindus spread stunningly intricate offerings through the streets three times daily; delve into the local markets and emerge laden with fruit and veg that you never knew existed; and chat to the locals – you’ll likely get a more sincere smile back than the one dished out by the bell-boy at your hotel. You will be rewarded with a holiday all the richer.
Take the time to look beyond your little slice of paradise.
Cover by Scott Webb