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Think fast, can you quickly explain where Indonesia is without mentioning Bali? 

Most Indonesians who have lived or traveled abroad are familiar with this type of exchange: a foreigner asks where they’re from, but somehow the world’s fourth most populous country is still too obscure for some people that they have to mention Bali so that the questioner can get their bearings. 

This has become a topic of discussion after former President Megawati Soekarnoputri lamented Indonesia’s lack of popularity abroad.

“When I go to a foreign country, whenever someone asks me where I’m from and I tell them I’m from Indonesia, they will ask: where is Indonesia?” the chairwoman of the ruling PDI-P party said during a virtual event recently. 

“I always say: ‘do you know Bali?’ [so they understand]. Imagine how upside down that is. That’s because Bali has preserved its local cultures, regional values.”

It’s an age-old question, really, and everyone’s got their own takes. Why are foreigners more familiar with Bali, instead of the whole of Indonesia? 

It doesn’t seem to matter that Indonesia is a behemoth in Southeast Asia; Bali as a paradise island and popular tourist destination just seems to stand out more to foreigners. The former president seems to think that local Balinese culture plays a role, but is there more to it? Is the fault even Indonesia’s?

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Read more news and updates from Bali here

This article, ‘Do you know Bali?’: Why is the island more well-known than Indonesia?, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.

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