Sunday, January 18, 2009

Now more than ever.

Hey, how you doing? I thought I'd share a couple of things that I've written in the past. No real reason, it just gives me something to post. This first one is an essay... no, probably not an essay as such... actually, I'm not sure what it is. It is just something I wrote for fun a while ago, about 8 years ago I think, after Trin and I got back from our honeymoon in Bali. I'm not sure why I wrote it, but I did. And here it is.

Now More Than Ever.

“Come back to Bali,” our host, Wayan, told the handycam I had shamelessly shoved tourist-style in his face. And he meant it. My wife and I were about halfway through our ten-day Bali honeymoon and thoroughly enjoying an evening dining on the sands of Jimbaron Bay. The sun dropped over the horizon after about forty minutes of technicolour changes, shades of pinks, reds, oranges and blues fading to black in the distance. In the foreground, empty chairs and tables were silhouetted against the amazing scene. Wayan sat with us throughout, we were his only customers tonight, maybe all week. He watched us watch our first Balineses sunset, but he didn’t seem bored by it, or us.

Earlier, when we arrived, driven by our hotel’s barman who was moonlighting for a little extra cash, we were taken through the resteraunt and onto the beach. Either side of the tiny eatery were another fifty or so tiny eateries stretching off about 500 metres in each direction. All had rows and rows of empty tables and cheap plastic seats packing the strip of sand. A few months ago, before the atrocities inflicted on nearby Kuta, the beach would have been packed with people like us, honeymooners enjoying a romantic dinner, tourists from the world over and yes, young people having a meal and drinks before hitting the popuar nightspots of Bali.

“If I had a gun,” Wayna said, “and those men were here now, I would say “you killed Bali” and I would kill them.” “Those men” being the likes of Iman Samudra and the so-called “Smiling Assassin”, Amrozi. Like so many Balinese, Wayan had a perpetual smile and a face that belied his thirty years, but at this point he didn’t look like a happy, carefree young man. Perhaps this was the private face of Bali that we, the tourists, we shielded from by the sunny persona we had come to expect from our hosts. It’s not rocket science, you only had to look up and down the beach to see that these were desperately tough times for the locals. It was the same everywhere on the island. Empty tables on the beach. Empty stools at the bars. Empty rooms in the hotels. Empty seats on the planes. An economy that was built and survives solely on the tourist trade will surely die without it, the only question is can Bali last until we let go of our collective fear and return to our once most popular holiday destination? Time will tell.

In stall across the island t-shirts were being sold with slogans such as “Bali loves peace”, “Fuck terrorist” , “Bali black Oct. 12” and my favourite, “Bali, Now More Than Ever!”. Are these t-shirts what the real Balinese think? The cynic might say it is just another way of grabbing the now rare tourist dollar, playing on our emotions. The cynic may well be right- so what? I bought a couple of these t-shirts, I gave a few of my tourist dollars to a Balinese vendor who otherwise wouldn’t have got them, I wouldn’t have bought a t-shirt that simply had the word ‘Bali’ on it with an eighties-style picture of a palm tree on it. I wouldn’t come home and wear that in public. Who want to walk around their home town looking like a tourist? Instead I wear my “Bali loves peace” t-shirt, and hopefully people see it and think that maybe there isn’t anything to be scared of, that maybe Bali really does love peace.

This brings me to a question that really puzzles me – what is it really that people are scared of? Are people really so na├»ve that they think Bali will be the subject of more attacks from Islamic extremists? Irrationally, people now seem to think that Bali is a haven for those Islamic extremists. Not true. Bali is predominantly made up of peace loving Hindus. Muslims are something of a minority and they too are peace loving. It only takes one in every million to tarnish the reputation of the silent majority, but unfortunately, that is exactly what seems to have happened. And that is why we (you?) are scared. Please don’t be.

My wife and I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to extraordinary ordinary Balinese on five or six occasions. You start chatting, you offer to buy them a drink that they seem embarassed to accept, but eventually do, and you talk. You talk about anything, everything. And if you talk long enough you see the real Bali and the real Balinese. Go there. Try it.

As Wayan said on the empty beach of Jimabaron Bay, “Come back to Bali”.

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