Bali is the Brooklyn of Indonesia and Canggu is the Brooklyn of Bali

It is presumptuous of me to make a claim about the entire country of Indonesia, when I have visited just a small percentage of its over 17,000 islands. The best book on Indonesia that I’ve come across is Indonesia Etc by Elisabeth Pasani:

Declaring independence in 1945, Indonesia said it would “work out the details of the transfer of power etc. as soon as possible.” With over 300 ethnic groups spread across over 13,500 islands, the world’s fourth most populous nation has been working on that “etc.” ever since. Author Elizabeth Pisani traveled 26,000 miles in search of the links that bind this disparate nation.

But I will make the claim that Bali is the Brooklyn of Indonesia based on having lived in Bali for over 3 years. The weight of my claim is that the Balinese are tolerant enough to allow a relatively small island to become the melting pot for the entire country.

In June, on the first anniversary of Ohana Retreat Bali, I wrote that we had guests from 30 different countries stay with us. This is not because we aggressively market ourselves across the planet. Our global visitors found us in spite of being new and unknown and having a minuscule advertising budget. The reason is that the Balinese have paved the way for its island to be a safe and welcoming place for decades. And since Bali has historically brought in over 40% of Indonesia’s tourist income, it is clear that, as only one of over 17,000 islands, it has been a standout.

Having spent my first 17 years in Brooklyn, NY I can add some more weight to my claim. Unlike many parts of the USA, growing up in Brooklyn is also a global experience. In high school the cafeteria had sections for Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Jews, Jamaicans — you name it. These were not designated sections set up by the administration. They were just tables where certain groups of friends from particular neighborhoods hung out.

4th grade class in Brooklyn, NY

Above is a photo of my 4th grade class. I’m in the middle, second row, above the girl with a green, purple and yellow striped blouse. You may not notice but 12 or more of the kids are Jewish, and so the majority of the class were from ethnic minorities.

In the same way Bali is Hindu, which is an ethnic minority in Indonesia, as it is 87% Muslim. To be fair, Indonesia has over 300 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of whom are Javanese (over 40%). However, having been to Java and other parts of Indonesia, I can say that the vibe is somehow different than it is in Bali.

Balinese art combines both Hindu and animistic gods

For a long time pundits have criticized Bali for being overrun with tourists, hurting the Balinese way of life. I disagree. Ever since the Dutch tried to plunder Bali in 1906:

Despite Dutch demands for surrender, an estimated 200 Balinese killed themselves rather than surrender.


During the decades of Dutch control, the Balinese held on to their religion and culture with an iron grip.

It is my opinion that the Balinese are gifted both artistically and spiritually and part of that gift manifests itself as being able to tolerate others seamlessly.

Brooklyn, originally named Breukelen by — you guessed it — the Dutch, is an extremely diverse (and surprisingly tolerant) part of America:

In 2014, there were 914 religious organizations in Brooklyn, the 10th most of all counties in the nation.

Brooklyn and its neighborhoods
Indonesia, with an arrow pointed to Bali

Diversity of people, like diversity in ecosystems, are the jewels in the global crown.

I am not the first person to refer to Canggu as the Brooklyn of Bali:

Modern, innovative restaurants opened doors next door to Indonesian warungs (family-run restaurants run out of homes)… Surf bars, art galleries, yoga studios, co-working spaces, and public markets selling artisanal products filled the empty spaces in between…

The result is something unique: a Balinese neighborhood that’s been modernized, staying true to its village roots while making space for first-world amenities. Canggu exists in the sweet spot between old and new, local and international, traditional and trendy… Some have even dubbed it the Brooklyn of Bali for this unique combination.

Read more here

And this article highlights six places that help to make Canggu a hipster, Brooklyn-ish place:

Expatriates longing for a reprieve from the tourist throngs in Kuta and Seminyak have lit a fire under Canggu, Bali’s hottest coastal bohemian hub. Known for year-round swells, photogenic rice paddies, and a thriving yoga scene, the one-time fishing village has seen private beachfront properties fetch sky-high prices (as high as USD12 million). It’s not all des res boltholes for the super-rich though. Beach clubs, street art, sustainable restaurants, healthy cafes, co-working spaces, skating bowls, and alternative lifestyle businesses maintain a countercultural vibe. Newly transplanted households, meanwhile, are catered for with increasingly family-friendly amenities, including an international school and several water parks.

Having grown up in a place that wasn’t desirable (Manhattan was the only game in town), I was astonished to see Brooklyn become a global brand. The same can be said for Canggu. A few decades ago Canggu was simply rice fields and local villages, with the bonus of having beach access.

Given that so much of our current political climate is dividing us, it is good to remember that there are places — melting pots — where the sum of the parts creates a more wondrous whole. Let’s cherish these special places and make room for more.

Let’s Brooklyn-ize the world, if that means greater tolerance for all.

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