As I walked out of the airport at Denpasar, Indonesia for my Spring Break vacation, I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of unfamiliarity and confusion. Even after all of my previous travels, this was truly the first time that I felt so much uncertainty. Bali was the first third world country that I have ever traveled to and I experienced so many new things that I would’ve never expected too. Previously, I had pictured Bali to be a “luxury” resort island where people escape for their honeymoons or a week of ultimate relaxation. This “luxurious,” five star resort image immediately vanished. Bali ended up exceeding my expectations and was spiritually and culturally awakening.
Being in Bali, the tourists were presented with so many opportunities to immerse themselves in the Balinese culture. I had never previously been presented with the opportunity to partake in another cultures’ sacred traditions. For example, I got the opportunity to travel to several distant temples in Bali in which I had to dress properly in the sacred ritual attire. One of the temples that I had the honor of visiting was on top of a cliff at the north end of Bali called Uluwatu Temple. This experience was truly awakening because there were locals coming for their weekend worship and I got to watch their musical performances in which they worshipped God through songs and chants. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to embrace this Hindu ritual, dressed in the traditional attire, on the top of a mountain, surrounded by native Balinese people. Also, I got the chance to partake in a Balinese offering making class in which I learned how to make a traditional and symbolic offering that all natives place in front of their homes in order to summon the good spirits.
I didn’t feel as if I was living the “touristy” experience as most people feel when they travel to a foreign country. As a traveler to unfamiliar territory, we tend to experience the “luxurious,” artificial side of a culture. For example, in places like Hawaii people isolate themselves in their fire star resorts and convince themselves that they are experiencing the “culture.” However, in Bali the tourist attractions were all sacred and required individuals to go out in nature and explore the many hidden treasures that Bali has to offer. For example, my sister and I head out one morning in Bali with a tour guide from the hotel. However, unlike any other tour that I had ever been on, this tour guide presented us with the ultimate, local, non-artificial experience. He took us to a hidden rice field that spanned many yards across the town. We walked through the rice fields as we encountered several local farmers and observed the irrigation systems that the Balinese people use. As I walked through the rice fields in the pouring rain, I truly felt as if I was fully immersed in the true essence of the Balinese culture because I was witnessing how they produced their most favorable crop: rice. After the rice field excursion we ate at a local restaurant right about the rice field and ate fresh rice that came from the fields. This was an experience unlike anything else that I had ever gotten the opportunity to partake in. In the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, the jungle part of Bali, we got to interact with wild monkeys. This was unlike any other animal-tourist attraction that I had ever witnessed because it wasn’t a petting zoo situation. Rather, you were able to just roam through the monkey forest sanctuary and monkeys would jump on your shoulder or approach you. This was once again, a very natural experience that I got to witness with the most sacred animal on the island of Bali.
All of the Balinese people that I met were living in impoverished conditions but they were the happiest population of people that I had ever encountered. All of the native Balinese people were always smiling, cracking jokes, or starting conversations with the Americans and other tourists. They treated tourists with hospitality, respect, and honor. They welcomed the tourists to celebrate and embrace their culture through inviting them to sacred rituals at the temples or ceremonies. I was in Bali for Nyepi Day which is a “silent day” celebration that occurs once a year on the island of Bali. This is a day to stay at home with no technology, no light, no communication, and no interaction. This is a spiritual holiday in which you stay at home and spend it with your loved once and family members until sunrise the next morning. This was unlike any other holiday that I had ever witnessed and the day before silent day, the streets were filled with local parades. Monstrous, evil figures were being burned in the streets in order to scare off the negative spirits. It was truly an honor to be able to witness this sacred, rare holiday that occurs once a year.
Once I returned to Sydney from Spring Break, I realized that upon arrival in Sydney, I didn’t feel any culture shock. Unlike Bali, everyone was speaking the same language as me. Also, everyone in Sydney has very similar lifestyles to Americans and embraces very similar traditions and customs. I finally understood the reason that traveling to Bali left me with an overwhelming feeling of culture shock. I am grateful for the experiences that I had in Bali and am honored that I had the chance to immerse myself in a culture that is drastically different than the culture in the United States.