MADE was a tall, handsome 22-year-old Balinese man who was in love with one girl but expected to marry another. His stepmother had arranged everything - he would wed a distant relation and bring the two families closer together. Made had two choices. He could either marry the girl he did not love, or he could go against the wishes of his parents and be expelled from his village. Actually he had another choice, one which none of his family foresaw. One day his friends found him slumped in a coma on his bed after he had consumed two litres of a powerful insecticide. For more than 60 years the tropical Indonesian island of Bali has been portrayed to the outside world as a heavenly paradise where a strong culture and sense of community protect its inhabitants from the rigours of the modern world. It is an image supported by many millions of dollars from the international hotel community which provides luxury accommodation and facilities for nearly a million foreign visitors now travelling annually to the holiday island. Yet behind the marketing hype lies another story - one which exists in stark contrast to the sun, sand and sea 'dream'. The truth is that the lives of Bali's 2.7 million local inhabitants are often marked by poverty, suffering and family strife. Ketut is a 22-year-old maid who works part-time for an expatriate resident in Ubud, in the centre of the island. Her husband works as a driver for a white-water rafting company which provides day trips to tourists. 'Sometimes I have no money for my baby because my husband gambles all his wages,' she says, adding she has twice left the family compound and returned to live with her mother in Kintamani, in the north. Each time she has returned to her husband's family, where tradition dictates she must live. The husband's father, unfamiliar with Western support systems, combats his son's behaviour by calling in the dukun, a spiritual 'healer' who makes offerings to the 'bad' spirits at play in his mind. This same family has also had to deal with Bali's rapid acceleration into the 20th century world of business, exacerbated by an enormous volume of investment made in the island by property developers out to make a fast buck from a massive influx of tourists. 'Ten years ago we sold our land to another Balinese man for 50,000 rupiah per are [about HK$200 per 100 square metres],' says Wayan, mother of four. 'Now the same land is worth 15 million rupiah per are, and we have nothing.' Bali's image as an earthly paradise was first created by the writers and artists who visited the island in the 1930s, according to University of New South Wales lecturer Adrian Vickers in his widely acclaimed book, Bali, A Paradise Created. 'Decades of tourist promotion, travel and academic writing bear down on the island, making the image almost irrefutable,' says Mr Vickers. 'National Geographic, presidents, prime ministers, anthropologists, film-makers and poets are all too much to argue with,' he says. One 1930s writer, Helen Eva Yates, described the island as 'a forgotten medieval community where sun-bronzed women dress as Eve, a land where nobody hurries, and all is peace'. Another, Dan Davies-Moore, claimed in 1928 it was a spiritual community of 'care-free islanders . . . as happy as mortals can be'. The image continues to this day, but the reality is often different. One Balinese girl, a barmaid, has had three abortions in the last two years. She has just turned 18. 'It shows they are able to bear children, which is necessary in our culture,' said her Balinese employer. Unfortunately, none of the girl's Balinese suitors were prepared to marry her. Prostitution and drug use are also becoming more common in Bali as an increasing number of girls from all over the Indonesian archipelago discover they can make fast money from the island's booming trade in foreign tourists. Once a problem more associated in Asia with Thailand and the Philippines, Bali is now coming under increasing pressure from a growing trade in sex. 'There is one part of the island which is a maze of brothels,' said a long-term expatriate resident. 'Prostitutes are obvious in many bars and discos.' Bali's problems are not confined to the Balinese. The island's image as a spiritual retreat continues to draw a healthy number of European, American and Australian travellers in search of self-revelation amid the undeniably beautiful landscape and ceremonial life. As long as they comply with visa restrictions, they are entitled to stay. Some, however, never leave. A 34-year-old called David arrived in Bali in 1992 with his girlfriend. He soon dropped into a thriving nightlife scene in Legian, a beach community on Bali's southern coast, found a drugs supplier, bought himself a classic Mercedes, and indulged himself in an endless round of parties. Last year he died after consuming a lethal mixture of heroin and cocaine. With the influx of tourists has also come the problem of pollution. One Australian sewage treatment expert - who asked not to be named - estimated 80 per cent of all hotels near Kuta beach, the island's most popular resort area, disgorge untreated liquid waste directly into the sea. A cholera scare late last year brought home the scale of the problem. Following an unsubstantiated report in a Japanese newspaper, thousands of tourists from that country boycotted the island for fear of catching the disease. Many hotels in the luxury resort enclave of Nusa Dua are still suffering from the effect of the cholera rumours. At the end of the day, says one travel industry expert, it may be the tourists who are to blame for the flaws in the island's magical image: 'Bali is known around the world as a tropical resort island with a stunning local culture. Nobody wants to hear about its problems, especially while they are on holiday.' That is cold comfort to 20-year-old Nyoman, a Balinese prostitute from the west of the island. 'If my parents found out what I do for a living they would kill me,' she said.