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A Closer Look at Inequality as it Exists in Bali

A Closer Look at Inequality as it Exists in Bali

 

Many travelers have fallen victim to the overcharging or similar treatment that tourists receive when they are in SE Asia. It can be annoying but usually once you get your head around the language as well as the actual prices of things it can become much easier.

Something that some people never see though is the inequality that can exist to locals within their own country. It happens quite frequently in Indonesia though, especially Bali.
While Indonesians are generally known for being very tolerant of people as well as friendly, there is a lot going on that not everyone knows about. Skin color plays a huge part in social status, religion which is often tied to ethnicity within Indonesia and other things often cause tension. That is on a broader scale though and what we are going to be focusing today is the issues that exist among Bali’s entertainment establishments.

A friend over at Nomad4Ever touched on this topic a while back and I am going to expand on it a bit. Sky Garden will be used as the main example here as it is (arguably) the biggest and most successful club in Bali and also the one I have the most experience with.

Just like most other clubs in Bali, Sky Garden charges an entry fee just for locals to get through the door. While controversial, this is somewhat understandable. By charging locals to get in they can reduce too many “working girls” from overcrowding the club, as well as too many male locals from entering but not buying drinks while they try and hit on international tourists. For lack of a better word this is “quality control”. It might be unfair but admittedly it might be better to have this broad rule rather than create arguments by trying to judge everyone on an individual basis.

Since introducing this rule though they have let local females enter if they were accompanied by an international guest. This has always been an unofficial rule by the other clubs, and if you are a foreigner and enter with your girlfriend or platonic female friend you were let in for free. Sky Garden made the difference a while back when they posted this rule up as official. Around a month ago things all changed and they reverted back to the “all locals must pay” policy and local females accompanied by international guests now have to pay, no ifs, ands or buts. This seems a little crazy why they would revert back to being so strict on this rule as it has angered many people so far. Also it seems a bit arrogant on their part as they are making money hand over fist in there night after night, do they really need to squeeze that little bit more out of the handful of couples that want to enter the club each night?

What is worse than that is the top floor of Sky Garden known as the VIP area, where locals are completely banned from during VIP hours. Entrance to the VIP is granted by a pass which is forcibly handed out to every foreigner entering Sky Garden and any local asking for one is refused. Since VIP obviously stands for Very Important Person, what does that tell you about the view of foreigners vs. locals? Foreigners are very important and locals are not?

Even if a local has already paid their entry into the club, they are still refused access to the upper floor of Sky Garden. Some might argue that a club with a VIP section reserves that right to restrict access, but it can hardly be considered a true VIP area with passes being handed out at the door, and girls walking around the streets and beaches of Kuta during the day handing out the VIP passes ahead of time. It is no wonder you don’t very often see many Balinese in Sky Garden. Try and imagine how you would feel as a Balinese if you were told there was a part of your own island in which you were restricted access to, and no amount of money would let you in there. Indonesians who are lighter skinned and can speak English well can sometimes convince Sky Garden staff that they are from places like Singapore, although sometimes they are still not allowed entry until they produce their passport (who brings that to a club anyways?).

For the most part, we can’t be too upset with the people working the floors and other areas among Sky Garden. They are only doing their jobs by enforcing the rules that are set by their boss. I did have a very disturbing conversation with one of the security guards the first time I realized that my Balinese friend trying to get upstairs with me could not get through. I asked him “Are you Indonesian”, to which he replied “Yes”, and I asked him “How can you feel good about yourself then while enforcing these sorts of rules on your own people?”. His reply that astonished me was “Do you really want a bunch of locals up there harassing you and your friends while you are trying to have a good time?”. I couldn’t believe it and don’t know whether it is the thought process of this one guy or whether they are taught to respond this way. Still though, I don’t feel that Indonesians being around should be considered as harassment, and if I didn’t want any Indonesians around and simply wanted to hang out with westerners all day, I wouldn’t have moved to Bali in the first place.

Sky Garden is not the only place in Bali with questionable practices in this regard. Many restaurants in Bali attend to their international guests first, leaving their local guests waiting no matter who was there first. The examples are plentiful and that is a shame and what is even more unfortunate is that it doesn’t seem like things will be changing any time soon. Do any of you have any examples of this happening to you or your friends directly? We would love to hear your own accounts in the comments section.

 

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