Big-Screen Bali

There is much and apposite concern about the direction our island is heading as it gains more global exposure and appeal, and legions more come here to holiday or relocate. That is good: A vibrant economy of expanding sectors benefits all.

But in a locust-like rush to ravage, and then move on in search of increasingly vanishing still-pristine pastures, the advantages could turn out to be fleeting.

Such is the voracious development in some areas of Bali that what for centuries were idyllic scenes of farmland have almost instantaneously changed into new towns with wall-to-wall houses and supporting buildings like shops. 

Into this heady picture are cast local men and women who weigh the odds of continuing their rural practices – largely rice farming in southern parts – just as their forefathers did or lease or sell the land for a substantial, immediate sum.

For them, thirsting, it is difficult not to be drawn into the mirage: Why toil in backbreaking work when you can have riches now, even if it means giving up ancestral land and traditions.

And meanwhile, due to development, land prices keep soaring, in many cases putting land forever out of the reach not only of Balinese – whose island it is, after all – but also many potential foreign buyers.

We caution against this uneasy equilibrium, one in which the balance is distorted and may easily tip in the wrong direction, sparking travesty for the island.

The environmental aspect of these activities, and rising numbers of foreigners coming to Bali for holiday, is severely impacting Bali. It stands to get much worse.

As Bali becomes ever-more appealing, government in turn must become ever-more assiduous in making regulations – and in enforcing them. If it is does not, chaos, already in its infancy, will ensue.

In a week or two, lush and inviting scenes of Bali will be appearing on cinema screens around the world, as the Julia Roberts movie Eat, Pray, Love goes on worldwide release. Travel-industry observers are already predicting the movie – also filmed in Italy and India – will engender entire new generations to discover our island and come to enjoy its unparalleled culture and beauty.

Let us hope that the movie is a success, and does, as one publication put it, put “Bali on the map.”

But Bali is already well known. What we do not want is for our island to be wiped off the tourist map.

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