Welcome to the Bali Show

“IF YOU WANT TO SEE REAL BALI, Ubud is the right place,” our driver, Lemon, told us en route from the airport. It’s not like Kuta in the south, he explained — “That is not my culture,” he said, shaking his head at the notorious northern party beach — but a genuine place overflowing with kindness and culture.

It is not entirely clear to me whether he has seen Ubud before. It certainly has undeniable moments of sincerity, namely in its many crumbled buildings and bold outdoor local ceremonies, but it’s hard to look past the swarms of new signage advertising cafes, cheap laundry and authentic souvenirs (an oxymoron?).

Kuta, Lemon said, is a great spot “if you like to party” with magic mushrooms. And Jakarta is “hell” — noisy streets, heavy pollution, expensive utilities. (This, coming from a man who yearns to one day quit his job driving across the island and return to his parents’ farm to live in a home with no scooters and two lightbulbs.)

But Bali is, according to this pretty honest-seeming man, “one of the last paradise.”

I feel like I am in The Truman Show. Everyone, everything is designed for my comfort. Our abode, Jati Homestay, is gorgeous and peaceful and we have an outdoor terrace and free breakfast. Our drivers are friendly and don’t beg us for tips. The food has been terrific. The weather is everything you’d expect from hearing the phrase “vacation in Bali”. It’s hardly expensive. The whole place is genuinely charming.

I was skeptical of coming to an island so removed from reality. I have battled in the past with questions of authenticity when your only means of experience necessitate these locals’ English-speaking ability. We are forever white, forever outsiders in this and so many other parts of the world.

But, you know what? For once, on this island, I’m kind of okay with that.

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