When I think about my childhood, I am reminded of my friend and me happily searching for dragonflies around the bank of a river bordering a hill in my village. Although most of my time was spent in the city for schooling, the promise of these moments are what made me enthusiastic about returning to the village. Vast rolling green hills, the melodic singing of the birds, squirrels jumping between the coconut trees, the tricking of the pure river water, and the pounding current of the waterfall all became unforgettable memories or my childhood. Never the less, those days would turn dark and end when my friend and I would here the shouting of our parents, “Time to come home’ it’s already dark, there’s tenget out there!”.

Tenget is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of the Balinese. Tenget identifies a place where one’ is not allowed to be after dark, or where one should not build a house; it is even a place well known for “eating” children. It is indeed a place that incites feat, and a story that I frequently heard in my youth was of children who often disappeared in a tenget area. This is not just an old wives’ tale told to children by their parents to keep them from playing outside too late. It is an actual Balinese belief because the Balinese believe in ghosts, often referred to as bhutakala. Bhutakala balance the natural cosmic life of Bali. The belief goes so far as to see a tenget area as a sort of haunted house. “Don’t play there if you don’t want to disappear,” my grandmother used to say.

Of course, a place referred to as tenget also becomes an “unproductive” place. Don’t land described as tenget, even if there was one it would go unnoticed and collect dust. An area such as this is seldom manicured by its owners, and rarely made into a rice paddy or garden. It is often left to grow naturally fertilized by the wanderings of cows and dogs. Usually this type of land has difficult contours which are not ideal foundations to build upon. Such as steep slopes or areas too close to sandy beaches. How ever, it is not unusual for a place such as this to have amazing panoramic views.

A month ago I invited several American college students to my village for their orientation as part of a summer internship program in Bali. We spent the last day of the orientation swimming in the same in river that I used to play in when I was a child. I spoke with them about the many foreigners who had built villas in my village. While noting this my thoughts returned to when I was a child, and I compared my child hood thoughts and impressions of tenget areas with the here and how, where places that were once called tenget have been transformed into large and beautiful buildings. “Oh, that place, it has already become a tourist’s house,” states my neighbor Pak Wayan.

“Villa” is a foreign word for most of the people in my village, one that is not an intimate part of their daily vocabulary. “The tourist’s house” is what they say when referring to a particular villa. “Yup, that’s definitely a tourist’s house. See, the person who lives there is a German tourist,” explains Pak Wayan. Of course, a tourist here means a person from overseas who has come to enjoy the natural beauty and exoticism of Bali. Tourists are often called tamu (guests), but this term is only reserved for foreigners. If an Indonesian arrives in Bali with the same purpose of enjoying the pleasure of the island, s/he will be called Nak Jawa, meaning Javanese, whether/he is from Sulawesi, Sumatra or Kalimantan. This is because of the bias of tourism; identification as a non-Indonesian comes first and foremost, and a non-Balinese secondly. Therefore. If you are a foreigner that has already lived in Bali for some time and owns a “tourist’s house” in Bali, it means that you will be called a tourist or tamu. It doesn’t matter if you are already arried to a Balinese, can speak high Balinese or have even converted to Hinduism, you will remain a tourist; and of course the service that you receive will always be “different” because you are a tamu.

Agung is a young architect who has just finished his first villa project. He also still refers to villas a tourists’ houses. However his vocabulary is somewhat different from Pak Wayan’s who defines a villa as a tourist’s house simply because of who inhabits it “Of course, that’s tourist’s house, See, there is a pool and air conditioning. If it were a Balinese house, it would be full of ukiran (traditional artistic relief’s)” explains Agung. For Agung, and many like him, what is important is his reputation as an architect. He must explore and clarify the many variables that separate modernity and tradition with regard to the differences between a tourist’s hose and a Balinese house. “Being able to get a villa project means that one is already an internationally qualified architect,” he explains. Before I could properly think this through; Agung adds enthusiastically: “In Bali, an architect can not be really called an architect if s/he has to yet received a villa project”.

In their own ways Pak Wayan and Agung realize that a modern identity for the the Balinese and Bali itself is dependent on tourism. That is to say that if Bali and the Balinese are already involved in tourism, it follows that they can be identified as modern; or borrowing that they can be identified as modern; or borrowing from Agugn’s term, it means they have already achieved an “international qualification”. In the other hand, from Pak Wayan’s definition of the word “tourist” it can be understood that tourism will always be indistinguishable from the idea of a tamu, meaning that which is not intimate with the Balinese way of life and thought. The culture of tourism is much like a tourist’s house; one can have a house in Bali, but one will always be distanced from the life of the Balinese.

I am reminded of a conversation with my late grandmother. “Grandma, have you already seen the tourist’s house above the river in our village?” I asked her. “Damn tourists,” she replied, they don’t make any sense! How can they build a hose on land that’s tenget?” I could only laugh hearing her answer. I wish I could go back and ask her: “If that is so, where do the bhutakala (ghosts) live now?” But, never mind, my grandmother has already passed away to….who knows, maybe even the formerly tenget area that is now a “tourist’s house’ in our village.

+This article has been published on FRV Magazine