Imagine opening your eyes after the sounds of beautifully singing birds and the humming of lively insects faded into your ears. The morning light is streaming into the traditional Batak house you sleep in, together with a cooling breeze. You rise with the birds and that allows you to have a slow morning. The day is opening up to you like a beautiful pink water lily in the sun. The quietness is present, as is the mind, and meditation seems like a natural thing to do.

Erase that image now and allow a new one to enter your mind. The traffic seems never ending noisy, the high-pitched sound of horns are everywhere, motor engines dominate the streets and whistles are heard constantly, as helpers are trying to make it safe for tourists to cross the roads. This is what a morning in Seminyak on Bali is like.

We have been in the area of Lake Toba for two weeks and the differences with this part of Bali were quite big. Not only the way we experience mornings has changed, also very simple things like ordering food in a restaurant or even just walking down the average street! Our best friend in Lake Toba, Google Translate, is no longer needed on our phones to read the menu. We learned to be prepared for hidden spiciness in a lovely dish, but are no longer surprised, as the sambal is served on the side here. And when we walk down the street we don’t see girls excitingly waving at us, or boys saying hi to us, let alone hearing little children say ‘merry Christmas!’ to us (because that would be the only English words they know).

Instead, we have to say no to all the motorbikes and cars offering us a ride and we have to watch our feet so that we don’t bump into one of the many other tourists. In a restaurant we don’t only get the menu in English, most waiters even say ‘dank je wel!’ when you tell them you come from Holland. The menu includes burgers and fish & chips and the prices have risen together with the increased demand.

Not only do we experience differences, the Indonesian people themselves also appear to see distinctions between Sumatra and Bali. Batak people around lake Toba have told us to be cautious of the fake smiles the Balinese people would give you. They seem to be happy to see you, but their real feelings are hidden behind a mask. Contradictory, the Balinese people have said that Batak people especially are rather straightforward, loud and sometimes even rude. They would tell you what they really think, without pretending, and they sound like they are arguing all the time, when in fact they are just having a regular conversation. All things considered, Batak characteristics have much in common with the Dutch. We are often considered blunt, loud and straight to the point. So, it is very interesting to learn that such different cultures, still can have many things in common.

As mentioned before, we have spent two weeks in the area of Lake Toba, and so far we have been on Bali for four days, in the urban South. So it is not really a fair comparison. We know we are biased about this and luckily we will have the chance to open our minds and change our perspectives of Bali in the next coming days, which will be free of university or research related activities! The research has been great fun and has given us many lessons that we will use for the rest of our lives. But a few days off are great as well!

Written by: Simone Quaedvlieg & Jasmijn Peele