I burst out laughing when I scrolled down my Facebook feed. I was lying on my bed in my Airbnb in Canggu, North Kuta and this cartoon by Mila Gerber popped up in the ‘Bali expats’ group.
It was a caricature of the different types of male expats around Bali and it was a perfect summary of their ‘evolution’ from Kuta to Ubud. I arrived in Canggu a week and a half earlier to find myself in a chillout zone for surfer dudes (everyone and their best friend is on a surf board with a selfie stick in their Tinder pics). Naively, I had expected everywhere in Bali to have a calm, spiritual kind of vibe and so I was confused. The scene was completely different in ‘Party-town’ Kuta, ‘Boutique-Chic’ Seminyak and ‘Eat Pray Love/ Be Spiritual’ Ubud. What struck me about Bali is that there’s such a big difference between the different areas on such a small island.
Chatting with Mila
I got in touch with Mila, the artist behind the buzz and she told me that she thought of the ‘evolution’ as a geographic thing and not a scenario in which Ubud was somehow ‘better’ than Kuta. The tourists change dramatically based on location. She’s also adding new locations like Sanur and Nusa Dua in her ‘Couples’ illustrations, which are also laugh out loud funny. I asked her about any future projects she had and it turns out she’s making a series on ‘Selfie Sticks’, where the viewer is watching down on a restaurant where you see a group of Western tourists and a group of locals taking selfies. It will be funny because the locals are all done up and looking classy and the tourists are half naked. There’s also a piece coming up called the ‘Motorcycle Evolution’ so it goes from a person who’s barefoot, to a bicycle, to a normal scooter, to a big Deus bike. One on the stereotypes of different nationalities in Bali, like Australians, Russians, Brazilians etc. is also in the pipeline. Her cool cartoons can be found in her Instagram account @milartbali
Why are her cartoons going viral in Bali right now?
Because they’re a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the looks adopted here by Westerners that can border on eccentric and how those looks seem even more caricature-like and unnatural when compared to locals that actually live here. When I first arrived, I noticed a huge gap between the expat and local ways of life, especially in Canggu and Kuta. I mean, how many locals do you see with elephant pants or man-buns munching a smashed avo-toast? The ‘Bali bubble’ is almost a physical barrier between the different areas on the island and between the locals and the expats and as a newcomer, I can acutely feel it.
Why does the ‘Bali Bubble’ exist?
Because of the hype. Before I came, I told my friends that I was going to Bali. The word ‘Bali’ evokes a special kind of reaction from people who see in their mind’s eye a marriage of rice fields, traditional dance, surf boards, vegan cafes and Javier Bardem all through a glowing Instagram filter, perhaps ‘Slumber’ or ‘Hefe’. I was met with sighs and frequent “Oh, I’m so jealous, it’s going to be like a paradise holiday.” People think of Bali as a ‘Paradise’ and come because of the hype. Perhaps we even add to that hype because we do the things we’re meant to in our paradise imagery – whether that’s surfing, sipping coconuts, partying, or being ‘spiritual’ like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love. This leads us to a situation where there’s different groups of foreigners living out different versions of ‘paradise’, categorised in various ways including Mila’s cartoons, alongside local people living out real daily lives.
Is it such a bad thing to be able to live in paradise?
No. I mean, people like me could whine and bitch about the stereotypes and tourist trappings from dawn to dusk. But I can appreciate the fact it stands out from other parts of Indonesia, because it’s so developed. For the Australian teen on a package holiday, the family with small kids, or the retirees, this is the perfect ‘getaway’ and who am I to say we should deprive people of that?
What is Balinese ‘Culture’, or ‘Culture’ in general?
It’s wrong to think of culture as something that’s static and not evolving. Yes, Bali is revered because it is ‘authentic’ and ‘spiritual’ due to only being colonised much later than other places by the Dutch in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result, practices like the Day of Silence for the New Year are strictly observed. But wasn’t the Indianization of Bali before 1800 also an infringement of a pre-existing culture? Should we just accept that foreigners coming to the island and bringing with them notions of ‘paradise’ are adding to new forms of culture rather than robbing Bali of its cultural heritage?
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