• Sarah Yoo

They Want Your Respect, Not Your Money - My Experience with Inequality, living as an Expat in Bali

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

This is my lovely cleaner, Illuh.


She's one of the warmest and loveliest person I know.

She comes to clean my studio 6 days a week.

She buys fresh water for me.

She tells me when my electricity credit is low and tops it up for me.

She takes my clothes to the laundry. She bring them back washed, ironed and folded the next day.

She does my dishes. 

And my bed. 



I know. It's a crazy life that I'm living right now here in Bali.


But let me tell you, in the beginning, I was REALLY uncomfortable with this.

Whenever she came into my house, I felt bad and wanted to get the hell out of there!



But as with anything, I got used to it. 


One day, I was working at my desk and she came in with her usual warm smile and asked me how my weekend was.


I said, "It was good, thank you", except this time, I was annoyed. I really didn't want to be interrupted so I was frustrated that she was disrupting my flow. I think she must have felt this tension because she continued to clean away without talking.


Of course, I felt really bad..... Sigh.



The next day, I wanted to take the time to really get to know her.

We end up sitting on the floor and talked.


I learned that she's 31 years old.

She lives with her parents and younger brother.

Her dad has been sick with kidney problems for a few years now so it's just her mum working on the rice fields.


So, on her day off, which is Sunday, she goes and helps her mum.


I asked her if she could show me a picture of her family.



She smiled and said "My phone... Only messages."

And that she used to have a phone with pictures but she accidentally went for a swim at the beach with it in the pocket. 


She's saving up to get a new phone so she can have pictures again.


I said, "That's great! When do you think you can get it?"

"Mmm, maybe in one year, I'll have enough."with a big smile on her face.


My heart stung and I couldn't help but ask how much she gets paid.


She gets paid $220NZD per month.

That's about $10 per day.

For cleaning all day.


In instances like this, it hurts me to think why I got to live such a different life to her. Why I get to sit here,  while she cleans away.



What I've learned living here in Bali is that, unfortunately, there isn't much we can do to fix this problem of inequality.



It is what it is.


When I first arrived, I used to tip all the time because I felt like it was the least I could do.


Yes, I'm sure money helps but my experience has shown me that what the locals want the most is actually our respect and our genuine desire to get to know them.


I know it sounds cheesy but it's true.


I FELT it from my own experience.


The more effort I put in getting to know the locals and their culture, and the more I share, the more I feel the gap closing.


Illuh and the staff members here loved it when I shared chocolate from New Zealand.

They love it when I share my lunches with them.

They love it when I stop for a moment to ask how they are and what they did in the weekend.





I feel their appreciation more.

I feel like we are closer.  

And I don't feel the difference as much.


As expats living in 3rd world countries, (or as travelers), I think it's very easy to adopt certain perspectives due to the class differences that are so prominent here.


Superior VS Inferior.

Rich VS Poor.

My way is right VS Your way is wrong.


Even with those with good hearts and intentions, I can see how living or being in an environment like this can change their expectations and therefore the way they show up and treat people.


I often see those from developed world get frustrated at

- the lack of English language

- lack of western-standard services

- the slower speed here

- and general cultural differences


It's scary to see how easy it is for people to think that money is everything and that if you have money, you can do whatever you want and show up however you wish to.


Even nice and well-mannered people can change quickly in this kind of environment.


So, as expats living in the 3rd world countries, I think it's even more essential for us to remember that the biggest gift we can give anyone is

our respect,

openness and

the desire to understand from a place of curiosity.



And perhaps, this is all we ever really want from anyone.


I think we can ALL spend more time and energy to ALIGN our daily actions to reflect the respect, openness and patience that we WANT to have for others who are different to us.


And it starts with the smallest things.


We can't change the inequality or the injustice that exist in our world but we can make a difference by closing the gap to our best ability.


By simply remembering that we are all the same (I know you've heard this before but for real, we need to be reminded of this more!) and that all we ever want from anyone is respect, understanding and compassion.



Maybe that's the secret to truly closing the gap that we see and feel between the races, gender and countries in our world


Let's start focusing on the similarities that we already have with each other, instead of the differences.


We only feel the gap of differences because we believe we are separate beings.

We won't feel the gap if we realize that the differences are an illusion, created by our conditioned mind and that by simply realizing that deep down, we are made with the same things and have the same challenges, we won't feel so alone anymore. 





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