Building Away Bali

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Bali is swelling with ex-pats from all over the world and they’re shaping the style and the flavor of the place.

Surfers and travellers have been flocking to the tiny island for decades and after tragedy and after re-birth there’s an unprecedented level of development and cultural change that isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.

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There’s restaurants of every cuisine, international DJ’s spin tunes in bamboo bungalows. There’s huge hotels and big-name fashion designers. There are architects and lawyers and musicians and writers, all drawn to this place.  They come for different reasons and they’re all influencing its path.

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Most live in suburbs like Seminyak and Oberoi and further North in Canggu. The rice padis and bamboo huts are giving way to the stark minimalist lines of villas. There are more cars and fewer scooters; there are French bakeries where once there were warungs; hotels where there was nothing.

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On this trip I was staying with an old friend who Lives in Seminyak. She’s an Aussie ex-pat, an interior designer and writer and she showed me a whole different side to Bali. I would usually find a basic room down in Bingin before fleeing to outer islands chasing waves, but this trip I had an air-conditioned room in a villa with a pool and a cleaner.

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Every night we would eat at a different restaurant with a cuisine from a different region. Sunset could be taken at any number of bars. There were cocktails and restaurant openings with French Champagne and canapés.

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One night we went to the Art Café in Seminyak where Dustin Thomas played. This slight lad has a sweet lilting voice and he caressed his guitar like a lover. Check him out.

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We zipped around on motos and we surfed at Canggu every morning. I started bumping into locals, seeing the same faces in the line-up and on the road. There was a sense of community despite the transitive nature of this heavily touristed island.

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This sudden influx of cosmopolitan life has been so rapid that the infrastructure can’t keep up. I was constantly struck by the bizarre contrast of it all. The immaculate glass facades of fashion boutiques right next to the dilapidated and ubiquitous warungs with their shabby tarpaulins and plastic chairs.

The roads are groaning with all the traffic and many spoke of an impending water crisis.

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With growth come jobs it shows with the local’s shiny phones and screaming bikes. I saw a Ferrari on Jelan Legian one day, a bright yellow Ferrari with the roof down. It was crawling along with the taxis; I can’t imagine the thing would have ever gotten out of first gear on that island.

It’s a unique spot, regulations are flexible and everybody wants a piece. There’s a new airport opening up soon and small hotels are being knocked down to make way for full service resorts. More and more people are trying to squeeze in, to soak up the rays and the smiles of the locals and absorb some of the carefree vibes; the question that remains, though, is whether this influx will see the end of that which drew us all there in the first place.

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