It took about 30 hours to travel from New York to Jakarta. It took about one hour to travel from Jakarta to Bali. When we landed in Bali, if felt like the second trip had taken us further. We had heard that Indonesia is an extremely multicultural country, but witnessing the divergence between these two regions separated by just about 750 miles was an eye-opening experience.
From the first step out of the airport, it felt like a another world. Lush greenery, shimmering blue waters, cloudless skies unscraped by buildings, scaffolding, and the developmental signs of an emerging economy. The only evident emergence was a need for sunscreen.
While nearly 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, most Balinese practice a local form of Hinduism, bearing deep effects on the culture and cuisine of the island. We saw this quickly as we dined on suckling pig prepared several ways for lunch and cooled down with cold Bintangs, a popular Indonesian beer.
The character of the trip was instantly different. From visits to a Hindu water temple and a park to feed monkeys to a traditional Balinese dance recital and a dip in the Indian Ocean, it was almost baffling that just the day before we were discussing tax incentives for investment and strategies for raising the collection base with the finance minister. The challenges of infrastructure in an emerging economy felt worlds away on this picturesque island marked by such unique culture.
No experience better embodied this than the preparations and parades for Nyepi, the Balinese New Year. Nyepi involves several days of preparation culminating with a day of silence symbolizing purification for the New Year. During the day of silence the entire island shuts down and tourists are not to leave their resorts (was not a problem with how beautiful our resort was), but the night before includes parades in every village. The children of these villages spend weeks building Ogoh Ogoh, demon statues made of bamboo frames that are destroyed at the end of the night. To be quite honest, being at this parade was a once in a lifetime cultural experience that I never dreamed I might witness. Undoubtedly a #WhyCBS moment.
The day of silence was extremely relaxing at the Mulia resort. Hours by the pool, a little tennis, a lavish dinner, and good times with great friends new and old. One of the most relaxing and enjoyable days I have had in a long time. GDP per capita didn’t cross my mind once.