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Half-serious reflections of a foreigner living in a hosting Country

Volunteer's Blog

Denpasar, Bali, June 2015 (Stefania Sechi)

As a European living in Indonesia, there are many habits of my Balinese daily routine that I found interesting, fun or at least I will try to keep fresh in my memories as much as I can.DSC_0007 (3) - Copy

  • Everything is sell as mono-portion.

Cookies, markers and toilet paper are sold one piece by one. Even big packages of snacks have inside small packages containing one portion. “Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouth
wash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends
” once said Tayler Durden in Fight Club. Considering that plastic and waste management are a big issue in Indonesia, I do not really understand why all those packages are necessaries…

  • Riding the motorbike on Saturday afternoon in Bali is awesome.

I sincerely hope I will always remember the way back from Seminyak to home: the fancies clothes shops near the beach, the stone craftworks, the dusty bridge which lead to Pemogan, the small warungs and finally our gang. It’s still awesome even if you seat in the back –as I often did- enjoying the turns and the rice paddles landscapes on east Bali. If I was a poet I would write an “Ode to the motorbike” singing in a lyric way all my feelings for this two wheels loyal friend. Fortunately for you, I am not.

  • When collectivism and capitalism drive together.

Life in Europe is individualistic and class struggle do is a thing. In Bali specifically, and south-East Asia more generally -from what I see- collectivism has perfectly married the capitalist modus vivendi. Differently from most of the surrounding Countries Indonesian has a strong anti-communist history (Suharto has been a strategic USA’s ally during and after the Vietnam’s war), but the (social) life here is still really collective. I think this is not something relate to politics, indeed it’s more about oldest history and traditions. There are clubs for everything: runners, bikers, couch surfers; and every activities usually contemplate the involvement of big groups of people. On the other hand homologation and think in the box is a must. People who speak their mind are not positively evaluated, and in order to be humble people often avoid to be honest. As a daughter of French revolution (because of my culture) sometimes this really irritated me. Since primary school I have been taught to use my own mind, to build my own opinion, to be different and unique, and those are the kind of people I appreciate: deep, brilliants, unconventional. I worth braveness, spirit of rebellion, originality. Here forgiveness, mildness, plainness are treasured. From my scale of values, here everything is upside down. It is really hard here to find someone who want to be unconventional, marketing and brands are all around. Nowadays this need of standardization flows into capitalism. Brand is almost a synonym of modernity. Homologation is good. Logo is identity. Close to our house there is a shop which only sells branded stickers. For me define myself as an artist, for example, does not make myself an artist; in Bali maybe it does. The label is not necessarily more important than the content, but sometimes the label is enough. If I say “I am an artist”, here people will trust me. In Europe they will be suspicious and extremely critics.

I feel like my words turned out to be really means, but I think that the more I learn about different cultures, the more I feel I can not deny mine, if I want to “survive”. Adapting in a completely different environment imply, for me, have my own identity really clear to me: I do know who I am, and that helps me on not getting lost in an unfamiliar environment. Hearing a lot about intercultural learning, I start believing that the more you learn about other cultures, the more you feel the gap, and you realize that there are some differences that, even if one you will be able to understand, you will never embrace. It is like Socrates said: ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat”, or “I know one thing: that I know nothing”. Neutral communication and mutual understanding should be the goal to reach between different cultures, but not uniformity. My own answer to (cultural) globalization is: avoid it. Stay local. Do not act as world citizen, because anybody is. If you think you can, it is because you are shallow. And if you leave in a foreigner Country (as many many foreigners do in Europe) respect the hosting country, but keep alive your traditions and your roots.