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Aussie traveller exposes ugly reality for Bali workers

Controversial Australian TikToker Luke Erwin has posted a series of videos showing him performing "acts of kindness" in Bali, which expose the vast wealth gap between Australian tourists and locals. The clips show Mr Erwin giving one million rupiah ($95 AUD) to a range of people including service staff, and have amassed over 20 million views.

In one video, he approaches a resort staff member, asking how many hours she works and how much money she earns. The woman explains she works nine hours each day for the equivalent of $10 AUD, at which point Luke tells her she's a great worker and offers her one million rupiah. The woman is reluctant to take the money at first but eventually accepts.

In another video, Mr Erwin questions a street food vendor and another man about the cost of a rice dish before pretending he has no money, but is hungry. After the pair offers him two serves of the rice dish for free, he gives them one million rupiah.

'Greatly appreciated'

While some of Mr Erwin's previous acts, such as showering $5 notes on people experiencing homelessness, have been called out as degrading and exploitative, reactions to his Bali content appear to be mostly positive.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Balinese culture expert Professor Adrian Vickers, Director of the University of Sydney's Asian Studies at the School of Languages and Cultures, questioned the need to film an act of generosity, but said the money would make a huge difference to the Balinese woman in the video.

"Bali is an expensive place, and the wages are pretty low," Professor Vickers said. "Good hotels would cost more per night than the one million rupiah he gave her. For tourists, eating out is only slightly cheaper than US or Australian restaurants. Working people like the woman would never be able to afford to eat in such a place, they'd rely on local food stalls that cost a few dollars for a meal."

Bali ragpicker collecting unwanted waste for resale at a dump
A large number of Balinese people survive on less than $50 AUD per month, forcing some to make money by reselling items thrown away by tourists. Source: Getty Images

"I think in Balinese cultural terms this gift would be seen as a bit excessive," he continued. "You might give that kind of money to a friend to help with a funeral or family event, but it's unusual for strangers to give others gifts. However, most ordinary people live from week to week, usually carrying permanent debts and just like everywhere else, prices for basic goods such as petrol have gone up a lot, so the money would be greatly appreciated."

Despite some criticism over his social experiment videos, including one that prompted viewers to condemn an elderly couple who appeared to ignore a request for help, Mr Erwin is comfortable he is doing the right thing. "I've found my happy place and that's giving back to the people in need," he told Yahoo News.

High praise

"You are absolutely awesome," reads a comment similar to hundreds of others. Some Balinese TikTok users went ever further, sending him compliments including, "Thanks Luke for existing in this world, may God bless you more and more," and "We love you so much Luke, thank you for looking after my people!"

The rate of poverty in Bali is much lower than the Indonesian national average, but there are still an estimated 200,000 Balinese living in extreme poverty, surviving on less then $50 AUD per month. Tipping isn't expected in the country, but expats and travellers who frequent the island recommend generosity wherever possible.

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