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Culture can be perceived or it can be experienced. Yet some visitors to Bali may not know exactly how to get into the thick of things. Fortunately, a little "one woman show" in an out-of-the-way Balinese community has created the perfect environment for just such an experience.

Sua Bali "resort is a unique pilot project on sustainable, socially-responsible village tourism. With just five thatched cottages set in a traditional Balinese village, it introduces guests to culture, language, cooking and daily life on Bali, all on a very personal basis. For its owner, Ida Ayu Agung Mas, Sua Bali represents the culmination of a 15-years-old dream. And a commendable dream at that: last March, Sua Bali received The Berlin-based Study Circle for Tourism and Development's first International award for "socially Responsible Tourism".

The thesis for Sua Bali as born from the reverse culture shock Agung Mas experienced when she returned to Bali after studding literature and language in Germany. "When I returned here, I found nothing was right. Than I realised it was I who had changed," she recalls. "I tried to frame a solution for the meeting of cultures, based on tourism and language."

Sua Bali's Agung Mas takes her guests out of their way to prove that tourism is a two-way street.

The cultural conflicts in Agung Mas'own life. Through the challenge of building Sua Bali, she overcome her own personal battles with culture, family and tradition. "Finally, I am free of binding tradition, yet living in the middle of it and sharing it with others," she says.

Using the Balinese philosophy of balance and harmony, Sua Bali (which literally means "meet" or "experience" Bali) strives to merge tourism concepts with authentic experience, while respecting local economic, socio-cultural and environmental interests.

Agung Mas set her own criteria for the retreat's location. l"It had to be a village setting, but not too isolated. A view of nature was essential and a river side location was important - to avoid building a swimming pool!"

She found the spot in Kemenuh village, just south of Ubud, 10 ears ago. "Most tourists staying along the southern coast get a very superficial impression of Bali on their inland excursions," says Agung Mas. "They see landscapes, beautiful smiling people and mysterious dances, but they never get a chance to understand much of what they see. They return home with photos but no true experiences of what makes Bali different from other destinations.

"Sometimes the Balinese are hurt because tourists fall to show the necessary respect when visiting ceremonies and temple festivals. Or they are disappointed because they receive little financial benefits from tourism."

Sua Bali aims to ameliorate these shortcomings by giving tourists an opportunity to delve into the island's traditions. Immersed in natural surroundings, guests of Sua Bali awaken to the crwing of cocks and fall asleep to the chirping of cicadas and the music of nearby temples. By learning the culture and reasons for customs, they appreciate the nuances of ceremonies and festivals and can treat them with respect. Tourism becomes a two-way relationship.

…"This is not a vast money-making project. Sua Bali is here to offer a different perspective."…

Guests are treated like part of the community and share in the village upkeep by donating a dollar a day to the village. More than $US 5,000 has been contributed in this manner and more than $3,000 has been donated voluntarily. These funds go toward temple festivals, villager welfare and to Kemenuh's general upkeep. Thus, the villager welcome tourists and invite them to all local events. l"It is a frame within which the guests, the villager and I can live in harmony with each other and learn from one another," says Agung mas.

With only eight rooms, Sua Bali has a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. Friends have suggested Agung Mas capitalise on her success by expanding the property, bt she remains firm in her commitment to small-scale developments. "this is not a vast money - making project. Sua Bali is here to offer a different perspective."

Many guests use the retreat as a base from which to explore the island, taking off and returning to Sua Bali before departing the island for their home countries. Like a home base, they return to the resort and find guests they already know. Half of Sua Bali's guests are either repeaters or those who come based on the recommendations of friends.

Guests participate individually or in small groups in a range of discovery courses held at regular intervals, such as Indonesian language or Balinese cookery. Intensive language study of 20 to 30 hours a week is an option for those planning to be in Indonesia for the long term, while conversational lessons are available for short-stay tourists who just want to chart with locals. A professor of language and tourists studies at Bali's BPLP and Udayana Universities, Agung Mas teaches several of the language, cooking and culture programs herself.

Local batik artists or wood carvers teach other skills, and discussions and seminars can be arranged for visitors with specific professional interests. Once, when Sua Bali was hosting a German physician, Agung max invited a Balinese doctor to discuss herbal medicine and natural remedies. Teachers staying at Sua Bali are likewise invited to visit Balinese schools.

A pioneer in equally distributing the positive effects of tourism while consciously avoiding the negative impacts, Sua Bali demonstrates how small-scale truism can be carefully developed in untouched regions to the benefits of local ceremonies. Agung Mas believes the retreat's core aspects-training, visitor information, promoting local awareness, environmentally sensitive construction, local participation - can be incorporate dingo any tourist project, no matter how large or small, to provide tangible and spiritual benefits for all participants. She hopes Sua Bali will serve as a role model.

"If I can influence one person, it can affect 10 others."

Article taken from Bali Kini, August 1996, p. 14

Two men meet at the cross roads, one is going to the mountains, the other to the beach. They nod, shake hand and they may share a word about the weather or ask where the other is headed. But they soon continue their singular journeys.

Such is the relationship between locals and foreigners in Bali. Meeting frequently but never really understanding each other. One woman is trying to bridge that communications gap, by bringing a very Balinese philosophy to the concept of tourism. For Mrs. Ida Ayu Agung Mas, Sua Bali, a small ‘resort’ in a Balinese village in Gianyar, is more than just a personal dream, it is a reflection on her most intrinsic beliefs. The idea behind the resort is based on the Hindu concept of balance and the Gria principle, which aims to “bring about a harmonious co-existence”.

Recent research shows that tourist come to Bali primarily for the culture and the people. Mrs. Mas believes many of them go away disappointed because the form of tourism developing on Bali often lacks this special harmony between tourism and the Balinese daily life and culture.

Her success has been personal as well as on a professonal and social level. The resort was recently recognized by a European association, Studienkreis Fur Tourismus, at the 30th International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin for its role in developing ‘socially responsible tourism’.

It was chosen out of 23 projects from 13 countries and lauded by the chairwoman of the Parliamentry Committee on Tourism as showing that “it was possible to strive for something completely different and be successful”.

It has taken her ten years to achieve what she set out to do. Having grown up in Gianyar, only about 8 kilometers from Sua Bali, she became interested in language particularly German, at the University of Jakarta. She subsequently visited the country while studying for a post graduated degree. She returned to Bali after her studies and became a teacher at the Nusa Dua Hotel and Tourism school. “Always an alternative thinker”. Mrs. Mas left her job after three years and with her “small savings” started developing her concept of what tourism in Bali should be about.

“It started as an idea that kept getting stronger and stronger, I wanted to create a different form of tourism”, she said.

“Most tourism staying along the southern coast of Bali get a very superficial impression on their short trips inland. They see landscape, beautiful smiling people and mysterious dances - but they never get to understand much of what they see.

“And sometime the Balinese are hurt because some tourist fail to show the necessary respect when visiting ceremonies and temple festivals. Locals can also become disappointed because they often reveive little of the financial benefits from tourism.

Sua Bali means “meeting Bali” or “getting to know Bali”. It is Bali behind the glamour of the five star hotels and the beautiful beaches that characterize modern tourism. As Mrs. Mas will admit it is not for everyone, but for visitor looking for a deeper understanding of Balinese culture, it is the bridge that will take them there.

“Why do most people come to Bali? Not just because of the beaches or the nice hotels, they come because of the people and the culture,” she says.

“At Sua Bali my aim is not to realize a form of tourism that benefits rather than damages Bali, while giving my guest the chance to understand my country, my culture and not least of all, the Balinese people”.

Unlike the conventional resorts, Sua Bali hasn’t got a swimming pool or the glamorous lobby and lavish menus. What it does have is simple, comfortable guest houses set in lush gardens with a beautiful view of the valley. A nearby river is the best place to cooling off.

The kitchen/dining room is the focal point, where guest meet, eat and learn about Balinese cooking and lifestyle. In another part of the resort you can sit and talk about everyday village life, the different ceremonies and rituals. You can study the language or take a course in handicrafts.

“It is up to the guests what they want. It is very flexible, what we do is to provide the tools they need to develop a better understanding.”

Guest are treated as part of the community and each of them shares in the upkeep of the village by contributing one $US dollar per day to the Banjar. So far about 900 Sua Bali guests have contributed over $8,000.

The money is handed over to the village chief who, agreement with the villagers uses the money for upkeep of the temple, festivals and as a kind of support fund for villagers who are sick or in difficulty. In return, guests are invited to most of the ceremonies and festivals. They are welcomed to join in with village life.

“For me the best form of tourism is based on a two-way relationship.  I believe that the inhabitants of Kemenuh, the village right side Sua Bali, should share in the advantages created by tourism, not only in financial but practical ways as well”, she states.

Mrs. Mas, who also uses the resort as the language and study center believes that her efforts can retain Bali’s magical charms while creating an environment for growth and learning.
article taken from Bali Echo Visitors Guide.

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