I am not sure if the eyes of the world have been on Bali this week, but the eyes of the region have certainly been on Ubud and some very distinguished guests. President 44 of the USA, Barack Obama and his family have been staying in a resort not very far from where we live. Evidence for us has been the security on the streets and a passing motorcade this morning, but others have been lucky enough to get a bit more up close and personal.
Accounts have him walking the Campuhan Ridge, visiting warungs and markets and mixing with the locals. No doubt he has retained enough language skills from his younger self living in Indonesia to communicate effectively. People here are pretty happy this week. This image has been doing the social media rounds without attribution, so my thanks go to the unknown photographer who I hope doesn’t mind another sharing.
This seems like a good opportunity to write about some little known facts about Bali in general and Ubud in particular.
1. Ubud is not a city. Rather, Ubud is a collection of villages that over time have morphed into what appears to be a single entity, causing no end of local governance difficulties. Ever since that film, tourism has boomed, the traffic has become diabolical, yoga pants are everywhere, but down the lanes and in the rice fields village life goes on as it always done. The place is still small enough that if you mention landmarks such ‘the football field’ or ‘the petrol station’ everyone will know exactly where you mean. There is more than one petrol station of course, but only one is the petrol station. And Ubud is also large enough to accommodate more than 700 restaurants, according to TripAdvisor.
2. There is no high rise on the island. Not in Ubud, nor in the capital city Denpasar, which is more like a very large village than a conventional capital. Compare and contrast the national capital, Jakarta, for example, which is sinking under its high rise weight. Why is this so? For the most Balinese of reasons. Building regulations state that no building must exceed the height of a coconut tree, officially 15 metres. One Bali Beach Hotel would be enough for this island and its construction in the 1960s led to the decree, which is still in force. Despite this …
3. The largest statue in the world will soon be unveiled on Bali. You read that right. Taller than the Statue of Liberty and wide to boot. We have been watching this statue of Wisnu grow larger and taller with each flight in and out of the island. Very mixed feelings about this particular enterprise.
4. Bali is a Hindu island in the most populous Islamic country in the world and is one of more than 17000 islands that comprise the very diverse country of Indonesia. The Hinduism here has reinvented itself from the Indian but a caste system remains. This manifests in worship, language and naming of people. Too complex to go into detail here but worthy of a dedicated post later.
5. Bali is being swamped by tourism. Its population is around 4 million and in 2015 11.15 million tourists came to the island. There is a plethora of hotel beds and to obtain 100% occupancy 92.5 million tourists would need to come annually. Planning fail much?
Despite the problems, Bali retains its unique culture and beauty in many places away from the crowds. And still attracts the Obamas, other rich and famous faces as well as Julia Roberts wannabes. And for now, is our home.