Digging through all my experiences in America, never have I thought possible that language handicap can be a privilege. But in Bali, the island of Gods, where tourists are the Gods, such is the reality. I wondered why I did not panic as I did in America when I couldn’t produce a complete sentence to communicate what I want to say. In the warung (small restaurant) I first relied on Termana and luck to order my food. When Termana was not there I often hoped that the waitress would just take the order and bring the food to me without asking me “makan di sini? (eat here)” or “minum apa? (what do you want to drink)” and other details which I neither understood nor knew how to reply. When I faced such questions I either stare at the waitress with the “I don’t know what you’re saying look” or repeat the order with awkward pronunciation. I struggled but I never panicked or even worried much. It was not just because I’m relax in general. I realized that being a “tourist” from foreign countries (English-speaking is a plus) in Bali automatically put you in a higher rank. Besides skin color, language handicap happens to be the best indicator of whether you’ll be seen as a tourist.
Tourists got better customer services in general. So far I have heard quite a few stories of non-foreign looking people discriminated in restaurants, bars and clubs. Many clubs in Kuta, the tourists can get in for free while the locals have to pay. If a local goes in with a tourist he/she can then get in for free. The logic being that the local people can’t afford to buy drinks and the tourist can afford to buy one for the local. In few clubs the locals get in for free and the tourists have to pay. But they are the exceptions. An Indonesian friend shared with me some of his experiences in a mall in Kuta. A guard approached him and asked him what he wants to buy as soon as he walked in. The situation is kinda like you’re automatically judged guilty as soon as you enter the court room. Previous experience taught this friend of mine that his answer to the guard couldn’t be just “just looking”. Usually he would say he wants to buy some expensive brand name. One time, the guard “accompanied” him to the brand name store. Out of dignity and defense my friend bought the cheapest item from the selection, deodorant. It still costs 7 meals worth of delicious fried noodle.