The Culture Shock in Bali No One Tells You About

The Culture Shock in Bali No One Tells You About

The Australian couple 10 feet way away from us asked us to, and I quote, “Get your own beach!” as they casually resumed having sex on the sand.

“Big sookie la-la!” I got called that once. What on Earth does that even mean?


Overwhelming – that’s it, the perfect way to put it. Every morning for the past few weeks, I have woken up in Bali, Indonesia, to find myself surrounded by dozens of Australians and their unfamiliar accents.

First of all, their slang is mind-blowingly confusing. Abbreviating words are their forte (see: arvo), and without an “I reckon…” I wouldn’t even realise a new sentence had started. I knew immediately that I had to don a different accent from my usual Singlish (Singaporean colloquial slang), where every sentence ends with either, “Eh I’m hungry sia,” or “Today I got no time to do this lah.” Getting rid of this was essential – simply so everyone could understand what the heck I was saying.

For starters, the word “thong”, which for non-Australians will immediately come to mind as a g-string, is also the way Australians refer to flip-flops. This has, alas, resulted in a number of embarrassing conversations for me, particularly the time when I mistook a guy who was talking about thongs as an invitation to discuss my choice of panties.

Don’t even get me started on the word “bottle-o’”. I actually pictured ‘BOTTLE-O’ in neon lights to depict the name of a specific store everyone was talking about. But I was misled once again. There’s no actual shop by that name – it’s just slang for liquor store.

Speaking of which, drinking isn’t a hobby for Australians, but a lifestyle. Empty (and occasionally drunkenly broken) Bintang bottles, costing one-third of the price of a beer in Australia, are strewn across my shared villa almost every other day. It is the norm to go out on a bender repeatedly, for weeks at a time. Not to mention one of my friends who ended up getting drunk every night for a month, losing more of his possessions as the days went on and even sleeping in a pool of his own vomit once. And let’s not forget about the seriousness of beer pong matches, and how missing a happy hour is almost considered a crime.

I came to Bali to meet people and suss out Indonesian culture on a journalism exchange program, but little did I realise how different my experience would be compared to everyone else’s. As a lone Asian amidst a bunch of Aussies, I find myself resembling somewhat of an outsider – a fish out of water in what is supposed to be my own continent. It feels like a chore to try to fit into a westernised setting 24/7, and I find myself craving for any alone time I can get.

Culture shock works in more ways than one. The Australians I live with are facing it from mingling amongst locals in Bali, and have to make an effort to get the hang of simple Indonesian greetings, which come naturally to me. On the flipside, while I am articulate in Bahasa Indonesia due to my years of learning the similar dialect of Malay living in Singapore, I am an amateur in the lifestyle and slang of Down Under, which seems to be a dominating culture in Bali. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memo on that one before I arrived.

Singapore may be dubbed a more westernised society when compared to other Asian countries, but since finding myself in a situation like my current one, I realise how far this is from the truth. We may be modernised, but we are definitely not westernised. The Asian values and culture is still strong in Singapore, and living with Australians for a month has taught me just that. C’mon, our government doesn’t even allow chewing gum, let alone homosexuality in the country.

I’m pretty sure some of my fellow Singaporeans who have travelled solo or embarked on exchange programs in South East Asia will have had the same taste of Australian culture as me. But the amount of Aussies you’ll meet in Bali is just extraordinary, especially considering that it’s a tiny island in Indonesia. There have even been some days in where I’ve come across more Australians than Balinese locals. They have made their homes here, and this upped my culture shock factor two notches.

Despite everything though, as I’m writing this back in Singapore, I oddly miss being bombarded by Aussie slang.

So heads up to any non-Australian travellers keen to head to Bali, especially if you’re travelling solo: make sure you get comfortable with the Aussies, cause they’re gonna be hanging around whether you want them to or not. If you pick up some colloquialisms (both Indonesian and Australian) and prepare to get friendly with these fun-loving larrikins, I reckon you’ll have heaps of fun on your next trip.

Oh, and just a tip. Don’t fall for the hoax: drop bears aren’t real.

Cover by Marvin Meyer

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