Running to Paradise from Hell
You step out from Denpasar airport into the throbbing tourist masses of Kuta, this fresh new hell on earth. Tropical paradise transmogrified into a festering open wound of ignorance and shameless consumption. But you have The Real Bali to visit. You’re going off the beaten track to a place so vivid and untouched that to spoil it would be a crime towards all that is genuine and intrepid. To protect this gem from the invasive throngs, we shall address it as Village X. After hours shifting from crowded highways to curving back roads to finally a gnarled, pothole-ridden track, you step off your rented scooter to find, between the local warung and Hindu temple, Le Monde Blanc Café.
Why does this keep happening! You skip the world, to Europe, to China, to Japan, to Indonesia, but they’re always there. Sure, first it’s just coffee, but then the same products, the same packaging, the same billboards promising you how incomplete your life is, all displaying ‘I was paid to do this’ perfect smiles and people who orgasm when they bite their spicy-bigranch-triple-bacon-McSausage-turducken-supreme. The first step in a sure invasion of chains, corporations and profit. Health cafés, yoga, more homestays than actual homes.
Needless to say, your pilgrimage to the untouched village was horrible. An utter fucking failure.
After three or four days of barely tolerating the shell of an establishment called Le Monde Blanc Café, you became so mercilessly depressed at the loss of your slice of The Real Bali that you booked a flight straight home. It’s no better here of course, hollowly grinding out the days, working various part-time jobs 50 hours a week just to afford the dim prospects of food, shelter and the occasional relief of travel. And all that’s left in the pantry when you get home is, dammit, bread and Kraft singles with their “now 150% more orange!” glow, homogenised flavour and texture the same as their plastic sleeves. Your rumbling stomach interrupts your complaints: butter up that bread, bitch, and grill that sammy. But without the pungency of blue or the sharpness of cheddar, the tartness of goat cheese or the richness of brie, it’s not better than real cheeses. It’s just less controversial.
After downing your sammy and feeling further isolated by your cramped apartment, you walk to the nearest café, one that’s creepily similar to Le Monde Blanc. You stare vaguely out the window and watch the cars glide by. Why do they live like this? That flashy red sports car with the how-big-is-myyyyyyyy-penis muffler deafening people as it rolls down the street. Who drives them?
You snap out of it, because the lady at the next table is yelling loudly over her phone about where her order is. “How long does it take to make a fucking latte?” Tap tap tap, obviously somewhere to be, someone “important” on the other line. Fuck, it was probably someone just like her who put up that shithole Le Monde Blanc Café. She’d have a name like, I dunno, Francine. Francine was probably an ex-pat half the year in Ubud. She’d do SQL coding for a construction-supply warehouse. She probably wanted to quit her shit job and move to Bali full time. Francine takes out her savings to build something all the ex-pats and other foreigners love, a chic-modern but not-so-modern-it-doesn’t-feel-homey café with attached homestay. Ubud is expensive, competitive; Canggu is just as quickly on the way. But Francine is a really smart woman. She reads travel blogs, checks Google analytics; there’s a beautiful off-the-map-hip-fresh-accessible-but-not-too-accessible town of, well, Village X. Yeah, she definitely did it. She uses all her money and contacts and she stains your new paradise with a fledgling, consumerist skidmark. What a bitch.
After spending a couple months back home, you’re finally relaxing in a really Real place; for secrecy’s sake we’ll just refer to it as Island Z in the Mediterranean. No Prada or Gucci in this paradise. No way is anyone ever gonna find this place and Kuta it up this time. You were getting so depressed back home you just needed to leave. You’re not the same as those wankers back home. The life you live is genuine, authentic. Right?
It’s so fucking hard to exist in this commercial-scape without becoming a pawn of it. If paradise vanishes as soon as you call it by name, then maybe you have to make it back home. If you don’t, if I don’t, all that will remain to travel to are places that become easier and easier to get to and less and less worth visiting. But if we don’t go home and do something, then the machine will follow us around the world. Can we fill up our souls without leaving? Can we make a paradise without ruining it? Can we save Earth from being chewed up and spat out by our blind discontent, or will we turn it into a branded, individually-wrapped-for-your-protection flavourless commercial item – a Kraft single?
Cover by Dan Nguyen