Ephedrine? Young lady? Happy ending?
The following words have been used to describe Bali: sanctuary, oasis, retreat.
Here is another: tragic.
The picturesque seaside lined with posh resorts is the sleight of hand meant to cover up the ills of an island marred by drugs, sex trafficking, and an apathetic regard for humanity.
That is not an exaggeration nor a dramatization of day-to-day life for so many of Bali’s inhabitants. At the same time, it is not a condemnation of the Balinese people who are overwhelmingly hospitable and kind. This isn’t ground breaking news of the reality in Bali, Phuket, Boracay, or any other pristine beach community in Southeast Asia. Likewise, it isn’t a cautionary tale for struggling economies who bait tourists with cheap alcohol, affordable accommodations, and nonstop parties. The opportunity cost of that tradeoff is well documented.
This is a critique of the rich and powerful who prostitute communities for the all mighty dollar. The solicitation of tourists by creating a safe haven for illicit activity is no different than the vices offered by that jack of all trades taxicab driver who is also the local drug dealer and pimp.
The trickledown effect of a mercenary tourism strategy may, in gross, create wealth for the country, and may create jobs for working in the service industry, but the negative externalities create a net loss for the community as a whole.
Emblematic of the epidemic that plagues tourist reliant countries is the street Poppies II, the pipeline that links the party street of Kuta, to the peace of the ocean. There are the laborers who work tirelessly in the mini marts, tolerating the drunken tourists in order to earn a nominal wage. There are the vendors in the souvenir shops who bargain all day to sell all sorts of goods, real and fake, for next to nothing. Then there are the motorbike drivers who without hesitation or embarrassment offer Cialis and Viagra to everyone and anyone. They are surrounded by honest and not so honest women who parrot the line “massage”.
Yet even among all the filth, the locals still put out their daily offering to their Gods, a symbol of gratitude.
So what has Bali become besides the perfect honeymoon destination? A haven for drug dealers who operate with impunity, a den of drug addicts who wander the streets at all hours, and a prostitution ring of women whose ages are unverifiable.
While the solution is not found in cynicism it is hard to be hopeful because everyone is to blame and nobody is willing to act.
The government will continue to sell ocean front property to hotel chains, a mutually beneficial exchange that provides no incentive for either side to demand change.
The tourists will still come to those resorts rationalizing that their dollars help not hurt the economy overall.
The motorbike driver and massage madame will continue to proposition, as they are not educated nor empowered to do anything else.
And in the middle of it all, the Balinese people will continue to hope as it is not in their nature to complain.