Bali, Hi - Eight months in Bali

Part XI
Don't start the revolution without me
by Mad Dog

 

The last revolution in the United States was almost 225 years ago and I missed it. From what I recall hearing in school, and the reviews I read of The Patriot, it was a pretty good one as revolutions go. 

    Iíve been here four and a half out of my six months and Iím trying to figure out what to do next. Iím not going to lay my neurotic lack-of-decision-making process out here for all to see. Trust me, itís not pretty. Letís just say that day to day, minute to minute, it cycles through: stay here for another month or two, go to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a while, head back to the U.S. where I have a prospective petsitting gig in Portland for three weeks and nothing else lined up, or, well, something else.

    As usual, Iím not wracking my brain, Iím waiting for divine inspiration, though at the moment any inspiration would do nicely. Iíve tossed around the pros and cons: it feels pretty good here/ thereís not a lot of varied sensory input/thereís some semblance of community/ thereís no Balinese word for infrastructure, blah, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring. But this week a new factor cropped up: itís looking more and more like the government could topple andówhat can I say?óIíve never been around that before.

If Balinese scarecrows only had a heart    The last revolution in the United States was almost 225 years ago and I missed it. From what I recall hearing in school, and the reviews I read of The Patriot, it was a pretty good one as revolutions go. But unfortunately we donít do these things every day. Or even every century. Itís a shame too, since thereís a lot to be said for shaking things up once in a while. Sure itís a big change having a president who has more money than experience and more of Daddyís staff than brains, but thatís just not the same thing. Hell, thatís not revolution or evolutionóitís more like a recurring nightmare.

 

In the rest of the world they take these things much more seriously.  They fill the streets in protest, they have general strikes that paralyze the country, and they block the roads with trucks just to see if traffic can really get any worse than usual. 

    Face it, as Americans weíre too civilized, too genteel, and most of all, too jaded. We get excited over the president getting a blow job, hanging chads in Florida, and our favorite soap opera being interrupted by an annoying announcement about some devastating earthquake in India. But we donít get too excited. Except maybe over missing those three minutes of All My Children.

    Sure, weíll spout off at the dinner table and watch the family recoil in horror as the mashed potato bits fly out of our mouth. Weíll even write a letter to the editor and not bother to mail it. But take to the streets and demonstrate? Hah! The U.S. hasnít seen a good demonstration since Nixon resigned. God, I wish we had him to kick around some more.

    Itís true there was Seattle during the WTO conference, but that wasnít a purely American protest. Besides, no one had any idea what the cause wasónot those demonstrating nor those at home watching it because they accidentally hit the wrong button on the remote. In an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, one activist who was at a demonstration training campóďMom, instead of going to computer camp this summer can I go to Camp Its-a-Pro-Test?Ēócouldnít tell the reporter what she was against, only that she was against ďsomethingĒ. So it was really just a mass temper tantrum, and the best most of them could come up with was, ďBecause. Thatís why.Ē

 

 

 

In the U.S. the only way you can get this many students in the street at one time is to give them free tickets to the taping of MTVís Spring Break. And tell them Jennifer Lopez will be having sex with Daisy Fuentes on stage. 

    In the rest of the world they take these things much more seriously. In fact, itís an important part of their life. They fill the streets in protest, they have general strikes that paralyze the country, and they block the roads with trucks just to see if traffic can really get any worse than usual. Maybe itís not as ďcivilizedĒ, but itís passionate. In the U.S. our passion is reserved for the Thursday night TV line-up, small nation-sized bags of chips, and spouses during the first year of marriage.

    Hey, I might get the chance to be around when a government is overthrown!

    All week tens of thousands of students have been taking to the streets of Jakarta protesting because President Abdurrahman Wahid was allegedly involved in two scandals, neither of which, unfortunately for him, involves sex. Each day they demonstrate in front of the House of Representatives, making their views known, trying to effect positive social change, and putting off starting that term paper on ďThe Long-term Effects of PlayStation on My Grade Point Average.Ē

Lake Batur    In the U.S. the only way you can get this many students in the street at one time is to give them free tickets to the taping of MTVís Spring Break. And tell them Jennifer Lopez will be having sex with Daisy Fuentes on stage. With a donkey. Hey, you usually have to go to Tijuana to see something that good.

    For my parentsí sake, I do need to mention that Jakarta, where all this action is taking place, is 600 miles away and across the Bali Strait. While itís true Bali is a province of Indonesia, itís had precious little political demonstrating in the past. In fact, one popular guidebook describes a student demonstration in Denpasar when Suharto was ousted as ďmore like a street party.Ē

 

Not long ago, in Kuta, a guy actually asked me if I needed transport while I was climbing out of a car and hadnít even closed the door yet. If theyíre nothing, theyíre an optimistic bunch.

    I canít guarantee weíre immune here, but itís not likely to be a problem. For one thing, Bali is predominantly Hindu and people are much less hot-headed. For another, it survives on tourism, and face it, political uprisings arenít good for tourism. Well, not unless you want to attract a bunch of people like me, and I donít think Iím what most tourist boards consider their prime target market.

    But it definitely has an effectótamu are few and far between right now. Much of this is natural since it is, after all, February, and thatís hardly prime traveling season. Plus itís the rainy season, though so far itís been a pretty light one. (Excuse me while I continue typing with my dfcfuwindm gdnigy...I mean, my fingers crossed.)

    Sitting on the steps at Tinoís, a market on Jalan Raya, I talk to the drivers who hang around asking every non-Balinese who walks by if they want ďtransportĒ while making steering motions with their hands, even the drivers who have motorbikes and not cars. Theyíre persistent. Some days they ask me if I want transport while I have my motorcycle helmet in one hand and the key in the other. Not long ago, in Kuta, a guy actually asked me if I needed transport while I was climbing out of a car and hadnít even closed the door yet. If theyíre nothing, theyíre an optimistic bunch.

Komang, Pak Dog, and Ubud    But theyíre not very optimistic at the moment. Business has been slower than usual and they blame the U.S. government. After all, theyíre the ones who keep issuing those pesky travel warnings. You know, the ones that say, ďThe Department of State urges American citizens to defer nonessential travel to Indonesia.Ē

 

So I check the newspaper every few days to keep an eye on the situation. And watch the news on TV wondering what the hell theyíre saying. 

    Several drivers have asked me why they donít disclude Bali when they issue these. I tried to explain that as far as our government is concerned, Indonesia is Indonesia. I told one that Iíd see if I could get them to change it to say ďIndonesia with the exception of Bali.Ē Now every time I see him he asks me if Iíve heard back yet. At first I told him Madeleine Albrightís handphone was always busy. Then I told him Colin Powell took over and I didnít have his phone number. When he pressed me I said a friend was trying to get it for me. Iím running out of excuses. Iím dangerously close to having to tell him a gecko ate my e-mail.

    I can understand how people get the wrong impression about whatís going on here. After all, there are problems in Timor, Aceh, and Jakarta to name just a few. The fact that Indonesia is made up of 13,670 islands and the trouble spots are at least 600 miles away from me isnít made clear on the nightly news. Not that I expect Peter Jennings to use my location as a basis for describing Indonesian unrest, though it certainly would put my parentsí minds at ease if he would. It might also put a stop to the biweekly e-mails they send asking if itís really a good idea for me to be here. And while Iím at it, will I remind them of my real name, which son I am, and whether the Christmas presents I sent them are really lost in the mail or, as in past years, am I just making it up.

    So I check the newspaper every few days to keep an eye on the situation. And watch the news on TV wondering what the hell theyíre saying. I really hate to base a decision about what Iím going to do with my life on a governmentís political unrest, but it could be worse. I could flip a soon-to-be-devalued coin.

Previous ] Part XII - Size doesn't matter, but sometimes longer is better ]
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