The western world is culturally and ideologically anchored in US and European values. From a traditional global perspective, it is regarded - especially by itself - as a leading force pointing the way to the future. This is not only visible on political levels but also in the individual’s perspectives on social behaviour, especially while observing these individuals active in situations considered cultural exchange. Tourism, or the trips made to worlds less steeped in western influences, or even not at all, is still too often more a self-indulgence in the exotic than selfless generosity towards different ways of living.

This „daring adventurism” attitude nearly always comes with a degration of the cultures explored, or at least with a pitying comparison to the one best known to the visitor, which is one of the key problems we believe to have witnessed during our time in Indonesia. This objectification of a culture has to be treated as the neocolonialism it is. The cases in which cultural exchange is practiced as equals seem disappointingly easy to count; prejudices and expectations towards the hosting societies prevent this desirable kind of non-hierarchical interaction.


In front of this background the frontiers between the visiting and the visited harden, perfectly visible in Bali, which has been the Mecca for esoterically interested Westerners for quite a while now. Tourists, may they come from America, Europe or Australia (to just name the biggest sources), are prioritarily treated as what they positioned themselves as: wealthier customers who, by visiting, demand a certain bouquet of offers in culture, culinary and consumption.
Our personal experiences verified that reception. Sarah’s past as a child growing up in Indonesia (with an Indonesian mother), even her speaking the language fluently didn’t make a difference - she was as bule (white) as me.

Typical export products like Singha shirts, penis shaped bottle openers and batik clothing represent more harmless visible consequences following these imposed demands. A line is crossed, however, when ancient temples, like Borobudur in Yogyakarta (largest Buddhist temple wordwide), function as magnets for gift shop labyrinths and food stands between entrances and exits between which there is no space for successful maintenance of the sanctuary; when an 89 year old woman, born and raised in the area, is hushed away and made to clean the premises so she may not scare the customers with her poor appearance. Or when the younger customers pee inside the temple because the distance to the public toilets deemed too long. Hardly any commercial religious places, coral reefs or national parks are spared from this mechanism.


For the hosting side, there is a complex dependency tagging along. Western tourists are peculiarly admired for their lifestyle and education system. Those who can afford western education commonly have access to a western lifestyle and therefore are seen as the privileged. The more privileged you are, the wealthier you seem, the wealthier you seem, the more worthy you are.

Alternatives were hard too find in the areas we travelled. Though we met up with a Yogyakarta-based collective that is actively fighting pollution, animal trade and popular tourism to shift focus to sustainability in economy and culture, these movements are still exceptions and widely seen with scepticism both by tourism and the state itself.

With all of this mentioned, those who are actually interested in original cultural contact are left with a feeling of guilt. Noticing you can’t help but being part of this destructive stream, while being surrounded by all this real and potential beauty Indonesia has to offer, you have to ask: Who is going to pay for this?


Photography & Words
Ringo Lukas & Sarah Little