We no longer live in Bali, but our extended time spent there has given us a perspective from both the point of view of a tourist and of the locals.

Bali is in transition.

Although it is undoubtedly a third-world country, the influx of tourism is slowly westernising the island, and it is turning first-world. This has hugely positive effects but is also a downside. There are still great discrepancies between local and tourist life with more and more Western ex-pats deciding to make Bali their home.

Traditional farming methods
A day trip exploring the area of Penestanan, a short distance from Ubud.

The thing I notice the most is the changing dynamics of health. But the change is also having effects on housing, transport and other aspects of life here.

The traditional diet of most countries is often healthier than one with a western influence. In Bali and broader Indonesia, the staple food is rice eaten with lots of vegetables and a little meat and eggs. Really old school eating included more unrefined rice, as well as eel, lizards, frogs and other forms of wildlife. With western influence, came the belief that refined white rice is better, so now it is what everyone eats, plus an increase, especially in the wealthy villages of packaged foods (which are generally high fat, sugary, and salty). The kids (and some adults) will snack on these with frequency, causing a shift in their nutrition intake in a negative way. In some villages, there is an increasing rate of obesity among children. One could suspect what the problem is.

Trying some local Bali food
Jetson trying some local Balinese food

There is another side to the food culture in Bali which is the influx of western owned healthy cafes and blended juice bars, to cater for the growing number of detox retreats in Ubud. These cafes often provide meals that are raw, organic or vegan or all of the above, and are aimed at the many holistic yoga-loving tourists trying to improve health and wellbeing, and are certainly a positive thing (if not a little pretentious). But as they sip on their green smoothies, the wealthier locals feeding off the tourist money, unknowingly eat western processed food for the worse, not realising that westerners come here to avoid the processed food and get back to a healthy organic diet.

Balinese style accommodation for tourists

Housing is still very traditional, with most local families continuing to live in compounds that house the whole extended family. These compounds often still have dirt floors, with open living spaces along with the chickens and the dog. Some families have built a house on their property for tourists, as a homestay which is a nice way to get a feel for local life. More often, companies are building very modern housing to suit the tourists, mainly in the beachside resort areas. But while the tourist lives in the polished air-conditioned house, the locals live out the back in the dirt floor shack. There is something not quite right about this.

Hitching a ride in Ubud Bali
Hitching a ride in Ubud Bali

Transport; For what used to be mostly locals riding bicycles for transport there has been a slow transition to motorbikes, and then to cars. Many locals have cars for a work opportunity to drive the tourists around, but some of the more wealthy families will have their own car as a sign of status. The problem, aside from pollution, is that the roads were mostly built for bikes. Most roads are very narrow, and leave little room for large vehicles to pass, especially with all the road hazards we have written about.

Stay long enough and you begin to turn Balinese
Our daughter dressed up in a traditional dance costume

Bali is changing, and for the locals, there are some good side effects, such as greater wealth, more sanitary housing, and reduction in water-borne illness, but that is also mixed with the problems of shifting dietary patterns which may be harmful to their health.