An American couple’s Twitter thread blew up after they detailed how a year ago, they took off to Bali, Indonesia, and to live the high life on a low budget. The story was met with fierce criticism—and an alleged threat of deportation.
Kristen Gray, whose username is @kristentootie, shared the thread, which was no longer available on Monday evening because her account had become private. Screenshots posted by other users reshared the tweets, and one repost received more than 75,000 likes by Tuesday.
In the explosive thread, Gray says she and her girlfriend, identified later as Saundra, booked a one-way ticket to Bali after a year of career challenges.
“This island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living,” Gray said, according to one screenshot. She explained she was paying $1,300 for a studio in Los Angeles but pays $400 for a treehouse in Bali.
Gray said that as the pandemic and the subsequent global shutdown hit, she and her girlfriend changed their six-month plan and “decided to stay in Bali to ‘wait it out.’”
At least one Twitter user said the move may have been illegal. Indonesia grants a 30-day tourist visa for American citizens, which travelers can get on arrival and will only grant a one-time renewal for another 30 days.
U.S. citizens who are entrepreneurs and or entering the country for business purposes with the intention to stay longer than 30 days are required to obtain a visa. Gray said in one of her first tweets that she moved to Bali “to stack some bread and elevate our lifestyle" but didn't clarify whether she obtained a visa.
Gray acknowledged the presence of a large Black community on Bali and shared that as Black queer women, she and her partner felt safe there.
“We’re just two black girls trying to give knowledge and build a community of humans who know their divinity and want to thrive vs survive,” she wrote. She concluded her thread with links to her and Saundra’s socials, plus a link to their ebook Our Bali Life is Yours, described as a “guide to breaking down how we did it and how you can do it too.”
The story received thousands of comments of praise well wishes for the couple. Many said they were inspired by their journey to Bali. But as the story circulated, people began to question the legal and ethical considerations of their move. Some accused Gray and her girlfriend of gentrification.
“The old move from America to a developing country to ‘elevate your lifestyle,’” one user wrote. “Yeah it works because locals have much less $ than your western salary makes you well off.”
Some were especially concerned about the potential risk of traveling to foreign countries amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indonesia has recorded rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases, with January already tallying the highest number of cases since the pandemic began.
For some, the story was reminiscent of a trend called "begpacking" wherein white tourists travel outside of the U.S. and beg on the streets for money. One Balinese local lamented that "foreigners doing illegal jobs" have affected the cost of living.
On Monday, both Gray and Saundra's Instagram accounts, which have more than 23,000 followers combined, were made private, and they did not approve the Daily Dot's request to contact them. Their YouTube channel, which was created 2013 and has more than 2,400 followers, on Monday only had one video titled "Helping Families in Bali with Love Donations." The video has numerous comments, mostly people criticizing their move.
"Hiding your illegal stay with “helping families in Bali” isn’t cool you know," one comment said.
Gray also received flack for claiming that Bali is LGBTQ friendly, a show of the protection that American citizenship can provide while being a local cannot.
Gray and her partner being Black queer women added complex layers to the criticism they faced. User @gastricslut, who shared the screenshots, urged in a follow-up post to criticize the couple without being anti-Black Lives Matter or anti-Black.
"You can criticize her for glamorizing the Bali life with a western lens and being irresponsible for encouraging travel to a developing country during a pandemic," the user wrote. "You can do that without bringing up BLM and being anti-black in the comments and rts."
According to the Jakarta Globe, Indonesian immigration authorities are now investigating the couple and have issued a summons for Gray. Some people said on Twitter that the couple is facing deportation. A video posted by user @BetterWithBill on Tuesday shows Gray making a statement alongside her girlfriend and their lawyer.
"I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah," Gray says in the video. "I put out a statement about LGBT, and I'm being deported because I'm LGBT."
Gray is then escorted out by her lawyer, who wards off questions by reporters.
Some people blasted the statement, saying the claim of LGBTQ discrimination negated accusations of tax fraud.
TikTok user @lukelifecharms shared a video on Monday about his experience of living in Bali and dismissed claims that the attack criticisms of the women were anti-Black and anti-American.
"I'm Black and I love it here," the TikToker said. "People are super respectful but you need to respect their cultures, their customs, and of course, don't break their laws."