Foreign workers are illegal in Bali, as I understand. In other words, let the economy support the nation’s very people. So standing in front of us at the entrance of Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar was – not a native Korean guide hired by the Korean tour company – but a young, native Indonesian woman who greeted us in Korean. The air was instantly warmer and the hue of skin around us was several shades darker. Are we in Bali or Seoul? Her name was Pastini, and she did not speak a lick of English. Pastini had never left the archipelago, but she learned Korean to the tongue, and is now employed by a Korean company and leads tours in Korean, for Koreans. I blinked.
Despite being absolutely grateful for the basic amenities provided by the tour package, I have always had apprehensions about enterprises promising brief periods of snorkeling, paradise fun. Why?
1. tour groups
2. The chancy “perks” that come with traveling in a foreign country, or bow-tied activities linked to the country’s commercialized tour industry, which can be irrelevant to the country itself … want to be stuck in an elaborately monstrous
cruise ship boat filled with tourists indulging in nothing but overflowing buffet after buffet of “your-grub-mashed-in-with-a’lil-o-native” while the kids splash in a dolphin-shaped pool out on the deck?
3. Korean tour groups traveling outside of South Korea
After herding the appropriate Korean families (two) that had signed up for this “Balinese experience,” all ten of us jumped into the van, and Pastini proceeded to tell us … well, I didn’t know. The Balinese guide informed, joked, and laughed in Korean. I was having a slight panic attack. I left South Korea to leave – literally, leave – South Korea and her people. But there I was, where Seoul was packed in a small van, and sitting next me was a young boy who was clearly not impressed by where he was. Cue: Janet Leigh screaming in shower scene.
The van was driving towards dinner, and I couldn’t wait to dive into Bali’s cuisine: Babi guling! Suckling pig! Lawar! Rojak! Papaya! Mangosteen! Nasi ayam!
Nay. The van approached a Korean restaurant tucked away off the main road en route to Sanur. The Balinese employees waiting at the entrance for another van-full of Koreans welcomed us in Korean. It was discomforting. The Koreans in the van didn’t seem to think twice about a business catered to them in another country, and dove in. I, however, was in full disagreement with the entire situation. I wanted to grab a waitress and ask her to slide me a dish of her leftovers from her family’s kitchen at home.
Package? Thanks, but no thanks.
The bizarre “we serve you Koreans even though you are on our soil” experience was compensated after our drop-off at an unexpectedly breathtaking resort in Sanur, East Bali. Nature freely weaved throughout the establishment, as there were no walls built to segregate what was inside or out. The breeze followed us walking past the front desk, the bar, and into the hallways. Time? Laughable. All of the rooms were empty of clocks.
stroll skip through a pitch-black beach led us to a jetty where a few couples sat in complete darkness. Along the shore was a stretch of mellow cafes and restaurants, and we sat at a reggae-themed cafe on the sand at the strip’s end. An acoustic guitarist sang tunes on a makeshift stage, where he strummed a few admittingly cliched beach tunes, i.e. Starry-eyed Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” but nonetheless, the few people at the sandy cafe swayed and laughed.
“Summer Breeze” Jason Mraz cover (orig. Seals & Crofts, 1972)
A sign that we were finally no longer in Seoul: a humble course of chicken and vegetables in coconut milk with a side plate of rice were presented to us by the young waitress. With plumerias tucked above our ears, it finally felt good to have the unquestionable permission to finally, finally relax. Even though Bourdain would have already been hanging from a ceiling by that point with Samantha Brown dancing around him, the first evening in the island ended with NO trace of kimchee in sight.
Just visiting? start from the beginning.