Hello from Hong Kong! This is quite a change from Bali.
Bali is basically an agrarian society with tourism plopped on top of it. The only Caucasian faces visible are those belonging to tourists; white folks don't go to Bali for the business opportunities. Bali is also very poor and getting poorer: the price of rice has gone from 700 rupiah to 5000 rupiah in the past eight months, AND tourism is way down, at least in the northern part where we spent most of our time. Two references: my dive instructor said that business was only about 15% of "normal" for this time of year, and we met NO Americans who are living in America. (One living in Vietnam, one living in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and one living in Vienna.)
Thus, there is a significant population of natives chasing tourist dollars, and hard. "Transport? Transport?" is practically a mantra repeated over and over in the tourist areas. When we got off the inter- city shuttle buses, people would press upon us to stay at their friend/brother/cousin's hotel. Jim felt like we got ripped off the two times we allowed ourselves to get hustled, as there was something lightly wrong with both rooms. My attitude was that at six bucks per night, I expected something to be not quite up to Holiday Inn standards.
(I should note here that most hawkers took rejection gracefully, were very honest, were very friendly, and were genuinely very nice people.)
My dive instructor made a comment once that he didn't know whether banning feeding of fish (by diving tourists) was a good idea or not, since the fish were already dependent upon the tourists. In essence, the divers had become a part of the fishes' ecosystem, and to remove the divers would be to damage their ecosystem. I had sort of the same feeling about the Balinese society: tourists have become part their economy, their ecosystem, and to remove tourists now would harm them greatly.
Now we are in Hong Kong, where nobody came up to us at the airport and tried to get us to stay at their hotel. Nobody tried to get us to eat at their cousin's restaurant, and nobody is trying to get us to rent a massage from their sister. We never have a nagging question in our minds over whether or not we got a good deal. The price, however, is that it costs ten bucks to have the hotel launder one pair of slacks, eight bucks to take a taxi a couple of miles, and we won't even talk about the room rate. The candy bar that I had from the minibar last night cost almost as much as our last hotel night in Bali.
Does not compute. Tilt. Does not compute. I keep trying to make sense of this disparity, keep trying to fit this into a moral or ethical or political or social or economic framework and it keeps not fitting.
Kaitlin Duck Sherwood