Upon arrival in Bali, I immediately felt overwhelmed as I walked through the airport in Denpasar. I had never been surrounded by such a diverse culture before. When I arrived in Sydney, Australia to study abroad, I felt no different and I encountered very few cultural barriers. The Balinese language and currency were the first cultural barriers that I dealt with in Bali, as I tried to purchase some bottled water at the airport. Tourists were prohibited to drink tap water in Bali, otherwise they would get the Bali belly disease. I knew that this was already a major issue that I could potentially face and knew that I had to be extra precautious. Our hotel had sent a local driver to pick us up and take us to the airport. As soon as we arrived at our boutique hotel, I felt as if I was immediately transported back to Los Angles.
The hotel that I was staying at in Canggu, a small beach town in Bali, was designed and created by a couple from California. They designed the hotel based off of the small hotels in Palm Springs and Los Angles. All of the products were American and the radio stations that they played in all the rooms were aired from LA radio stations. As I woke up on my first morning in the new hotel, I had instantly forgotten that I was in Bali. Rather, I thought that I was back home in the United States, on a family vacation in the scorching Los Angles sun. At first, I was grateful for this feeling of familiarity because I was becoming more and more homesick every day back in Sydney. This was the taste of comfort that I needed. However, this rare feeling of comfort on this Southeast Asian island was not necessarily a good thing. I became attached to the serene feeling that the hotel filled me with to the point where I preferred to just sit by the pool and hotel bar. I knew that once I left that hotel, I would once again feel overwhelmed, confused, and anxious in the scorching Balinese sun. I felt conflicted because although I felt so comfortable, I knew that I would most likely never have the opportunity to travel to Bali ever again. Therefore, I had to push myself to make the most of every waking minute that I had in this beautiful place.
The second day in Bali, my sister had finally convinced me to leave our little LA bubble and head over to a very touristy town on the north end of Bali for a taste of some culture. As we hopped out of the tour van at a distant temple, I immediately felt overwhelmed by all of the locals and my surroundings. I was surrounded by so much unfamiliarity and was experiencing and overwhelming feeling of culture shock. In that moment, I wished to be back in the hotel where I could listen to familiar music and be surrounded by American accents. However, I had to face reality one way or another and knew that this was an obstacle that I had to conquer.
As we approached the temple we were greeted by some tour guides who dressed us in the proper ritual attire. We then proceeded to the ceremony at this temple in which the Balinese locals put on a show and prayed to the spirits. After an initial feeling of discomfort, I became used to being surrounded by the Balinese people here at this temple and grew quite fond of their ritual celebrations. Once I stopped worrying about my surroundings, I was able to focus on the moment that I was living in. I was at a sacred Balinese ritual at the Uluwatu Temple on a cliff. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I listened to the chants and songs that the locals were singing in order to summon the good spirits. A local women sat next to me and began explaining what the chants meant. At this moment I felt as if the bubble that I was trapping myself in had disappeared. There was no longer a barrier between me and this unique culture, rather I felt as if I was part of this ritual. As we walked around, Balinese locals would come up to my sister and I, asking us for photographs. This was very strange to me because back in America, I was viewed as ordinary people and no one would ask for a photo with me unless I was a celebrity. I soon understood that these Balinese locals asked for a photo with my sister and I because it was rare for them to be around Americans. After five photographs with groups of Balinese friends, families, and children, I realized that we were just as unfamiliar to them as they were to us. The cultural barriers and these distant “bubbles” that we lived in are drastically different and it is was a memorable sensation when our worlds collided.
At this moment I had realized that I didn’t travel to Bali to be trapped in the touristy, luxury experience that most individuals venture to Southeast Asia for. Rather, I traveled to Bali with my sister to get a genuine taste of culture that I had been deprived of back in Sydney, Australia. Going abroad for most people is a time to immerse oneself in a culture vastly different than one’s own culture back home. However, upon arrival in Sydney, the Australian culture was must more similar to American culture than I had anticipated. Although the accents took a while to get used to, overall, I felt the same as I did back in America and I continued to be trapped in the same bubble as I was living in. My experiences in Bali were awakening and allowed me to fully immerse myself in a culture vastly different than anything that I had previously experienced in the United States. Once I took the risk and stepped outside of my comfort zone and “bubble,” I was able to open my eyes to the endless, unfamiliar opportunities that were available.