Bali Raw and Bali Undercover claim to expose Bali’s underside: rampant prostitution, turf wars waged between local gangs and vicious drug- and alcohol-induced Western hooliganism.
With stories depicting cruelty, deception, infidelity, larceny, betrayal, conflict and despair, the reader might believe that Westerners are robbed, raped and murdered at every turn. Some stories are so extraordinary that you wonder if they are made up or grossly exaggerated for shock value. But we who live here are know that Bali is not that place and realize that these stories are not actually about Bali but about the dark heart of the Kuta area.
From the first ugly, sickening story in Bali Raw, I had misgivings that these were going to be a gladiator’s allegories of unending violence that only a pugnacious macho Aussie He Man could relate to. But I soon found that the stories possessed a strange and captivating energy. In spite of both books’ depressing and questionably true content, there is a consistent underlying ring of truth behind Malcolm Scott’s costly hard-earned lessons on how to deal with and interact with Indonesians, their cultural characteristics and social prejudices as well as the utter unpredictability of life in Bali. The chapter “How to Take a Villa from a Westerner,” for example, he suggests should be read by anyone who claims that “my Balinese friend is like family and never asks for money.”
Although there are truisms that apply to people and places all over the world, many of the writer’s insights have been gleaned from living in Indonesia for more than ten years: It’s wise to take any statement that an expat makes about himself with a pinch of salt.
*There is a syndrome that afflicts many Western men of wanting to “save” Indonesian prostitutes.
*Tales of older Western men taking up with younger Javanese women and moving to Java almost always turn out bad.
*Your safety as a Westerner is not necessarily secured by your generosity.
*Loyalty, friendship and love are commodities that are traded on a rental basis; the contract only valid as long as you pay. *Don’t cross or get an Indonesian woman angry or face the consequences.
*Never slap or hit an Indonesian; all the worse if you do it in front of people.
*The key to dealing with Balinese authorities such as the police is to be polite.
The books were no doubt more of a shocker when first published in 2012 and 2015. Today nothing really new is revealed unless you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard about prostitution and sincerely believe that native inhabitants of tourist locales all over the world would never rip visitors off. All the events depicted are common knowledge now that Bali is that much further along on its path of lost innocence. Just pick up a copy of the Jakarta Post.
Yet I feel that readers who give the books short shrift and are unremittingly critical do not give the writer his just due. The author’s brutal honesty saves both books. After years of hearing cloyingly gushy platitudes about this paradise isle, it was refreshing reading such an unapologetically prurient book that touches upon almost every offensive, politically incorrect behavior and opinion expressed in a shamelessly blunt and swaggering tone.
Scott’s writing is always more interesting and well-crafted when he develops his characters and goes deeply into their personal and family histories. He knows how to agonizingly draw out the suspense in a tale. I found myself reading on, propelled by an animal instinct to find out how the next desperate loser, sad sack Westerner, unlucky expat or forsaken lover ended up.
With his temperament, personality, background and crude sense of humor, it is actually Scott himself who is one of his most fascinating characters. Living in the back lanes of Kuta amongst “working girls,” expat friends and oddball street people with names like The Yank, Monkey Tail and Grey Sardine, Scott was a habitual denizen of shady nightclubs and gangster bars.
He holds himself up to petty rules of male pride, self-imposed challenges and self-defeating moral principles. He portrays himself always as a gentleman who is pushed into confrontations in spite of his infinite patience and peace-loving nature. Every time he gets into a fight, it is never his fault. People just love fighting with him.
Upon reading tale upon tale of woe, it becomes increasingly puzzling why he chose to live in such an unforgiving and unsavory environment. He often boasts about how streetwise he is, but is drawn to nasty hookers, sets himself up for failure and seems surprisingly gullible at times. He has a predilection for jokes about farting and humiliating women. He was employed in a risky nepotistic profession that dealt with bill dodgers, pilfering, frequent threats and reneging on promises. The sordid side of life would have found this person no matter where he lived.
The books could have benefitted greatly from more rigid editing. Twenty percent of the chapters are dull, hard-luck stories with the same repetitive foreboding sameness. There is little depth of research or knowledge; the random series of experiences address cultural traits but not culture. Still, I couldn’t help but like many of the characters, particularly the proud, sassy and independent Indonesian women whose personalities and characters were described with skill and panache. The syntax and pronunciation used in their Indonesian-English is authentic.
The books may very well be a turnoff for many people, but a portion of insights and advice is sound and irrefutable. The survival tips would obviously be of benefit to tourists and expats who base themselves in the middle of the swarm of nightclubs, bars, cafes, pubs and small hotels in the one square mile area of central Kuta.
But the dilemmas, frustrations, ambivalence and discrimination that the writer either observed or experienced himself can be shared by many foreigners and mixed marriage couples who have made their home on Bali.
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