Mapping Bali #5: Kuta!

Culture | Written By, Life on the Island |

In contrast to the intentionality of Nusa Dua, Kuta looks like a place that just happened by itself. It is the most cosmopolitan place in Bali and has the best people watching in the entire Indonesian Archipelago. It is the first place where foreign controlled commerce began and it remains intensely commercial. Even books about Kuta are full of ads. It runs 24 hours a day transforming itself hour by hour into different places for different people.

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At 5 am it is a typical Indonesian city with its traditional markets in full swing, local people buying and selling the goods necessary for their everyday lives. Beginning at mid-morning it becomes a shopping extravaganza, offering the gamut from sweaty and frenetic, family run art shops to hushed, air-conditioned, high-end retail. While the sun shines the beach is in its glory. You can see Islamic women, covered with long flowing robes that allow none of their skin to show, next to other women who are almost naked. In the evening Kuta offers up the spectrum of world cuisine, from local foods served in plastic bowls, to elegant dining where savory morsels are artfully placed on oversized ceramics. Later in the evening the air is full of rhythms; Techno, Reggae, R&B, while partiers roam through the night club districts. When the bars close down a 3am the street life gets a little strange until the last of the night shift has finally retired. Soon afterwards the market folk head out again with yawns and sleepy eyes to start the whole cycle over again.

People come to Kuta for many reasons: to relax, to have fun, to work. The differing interests and approaches to life by these various groups of people make this a fragmented place, its not as much a community as an interface of distinct and sometimes contradictory interests jostling for predominance. But for the Balinese Hindus who were born here there is another layer of meaning in Kuta that is not as readily apparent to the casual observer. Whereas outsiders might divide this up this into different types of entertainment or shopping districts, the native Balinese Hindus define this area according to the three main village temples. These temples are the traditional ceremonial centres for Kuta’s native Hindus, even though the prominence of these temples is somewhat obscured by modern development. Despite their low profile they continue to define life in Kuta for their members, the traditional social system they represent overshadows all the glittering growth in Kuta during the last 40 years. When it is time for a religious procession to leave one of these three temples and march along the congested main street of Kuta, the rest of life is required to pause for a moment. The Balinese who are conducting the ceremony are very polite about it, and efficient in organizing the activity with their walkie-talkies and cell phones. But it is clearly understood that everyone else will wait for the ceremony to proceed, this hierarchy is never questioned or violated.

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