Kuta, where is the Balinese touch?

Kuta attracts millions of visitors every year. It has been one of the largest source of tourism dollar for the Balinese. But does Kuta offer one the real Balinese touch?

The journey of Kuta - from a quiet town with long stretch of white sandy shoreline into a prime tourist spot as it is today - is not exactly well documented. However, it is said that it was the Australian surfers who first arrived in large drove and make Kuta their second home. Inns and guest houses started to mushroom, catering for the long stay of these surfers. Some of them even stayed for a few months. Slowly but surely, the two very different cultures - west (Australians) and traditional (Balinese) - assimilates and this is probably when the Kuta evolution started. Over time, Kuta's popularity grows and International Hotel chains such as Harris, Accor - Mercure and Hard Rock decided to establish their presence.

Today, Kuta is more than just the long sandy beaches. The Kuta art market is colored by rows of shophouses. At this market, you can find goods of wide variety and of course price tags. The most commonly found item is t-shirt and particularly the oblong t-shirt with local Bir Bintang signature mark on it. Balinese handcraft (wood and stone) is another common item on display. Accessories, aromatheraphy produce and beach gear shops are generally visible.

Further inwards from the beach, hotels and commercial billboards are common sights. Spa and Massage houses have been propping up in almost every corner of Kuta, offering reflexogy, body massages and the latest craze in town - the fish spa. Small desks labeled 'Tourist Information' are omnipresence. Lines of motorcycles and even private cars are awaiting to be rented out. Minimarkets - Mini Mart (most expensive), Alfa Mart and Indomaret - are mostly operating on 24 hours.

Based on my personal experience, I can frankly say that roaming around Kuta can be quite unpleasant. The shop vendors can be quite persistent and irritating most of the time. The opening price tag can be ridiculously high. Worse still, you can never be assured of the product quality. Adding to the horror is frequent reports of tourists being hypnotized and made to purchase goods at exorbitant amount.

Having spent significant amount of time in Kuta, the question that pops up to my head is "Does Kuta still exhibit the real Balinese touch?" To answer this question, I embarked on a discovery project and decided to interview the locals directly. Many things surprised me.

It turns out that considerable proportion of the shop vendors are not of Bali origin. They are migrants  from different parts of Indonesia - from Medan to Lombok, from Padang to Jakarta, from Moluccas to Bandung. A migrant found success in Bali, go back to home village and come back to Bali with another two or three friends and the human chain continues. Temprament and living attitude of each migrant is influenced by the place of origin and they are not the same as that of an authentic Balinese. While sacred rituals and traditional ceremonies are still respected, the role of adat (tradition / custom) is slowly diminishing. Shophouses adopt modern architecture and no longer built and designed according to Balinese architecture.

To sum things up, I come to the conclusion that the answer to the question is yes and no. Yes, Kuta still provides a glimpse of Balinese touch. No, the real Balinese touch is missing in Kuta.

1 comment:

  1. I've always heard good things about Bali. Now I'm thinking again... Hmm...