Articles

Paradise Waits for Our Return

The Australian
31 December 2005
The resilient Balinese are luring tourists again, reports foreign editor Greg Sheridan
 
IN Bali right now they're keen to tell you three things -- they hate terrorists, they love Australians, and Bali is much more than just the Kuta tourist ghetto (though for that matter they certainly feel there's nothing wrong with Kuta either).
 
The Governor of Bali, Dewa Beratha, tells Inquirer that in Bali all foreigners are identified as Australians. He's pretty straightforward about his attitude to the people who bombed Bali, both in 2002 and again in 2005: "Terrorism is an action beyond civilisation and humanity. Balinese people strongly condemn terrorists."
 
He's also pretty clear about what he thinks of Australians. The so-called race riots in Sydney had plenty of publicity in Indonesia before our interview but they hadn't dimmed the Governor's view of Australians. He likes us just as we are and only wishes he had more of us: "Bali and Australia are very close. Australia is very familiar for Balinese. I have to say thank you very much to the Australian people, who have chosen Bali as their second home and their tourist destination. I am confident the Australian people know very well the
recent condition of Bali and the efforts undertaken by Balinese people to increase the security and comfort of Bali. I would like to invite all the Australian people to come to Bali to see Bali directly."
 
Perhaps even the generous governor of Bali would think again if he had us all there. But the evil terrorist bombers have certainly impoverished the Balinese. According to the governor, before the latest bombings in October, about 5400 tourists arrived in Bali every day. Since the bombing, daily arrivals have fallen to an average of 2150 per day.
 
My wife and two of our children were four of those arrivals. We have just spent three weeks in Indonesia, a week working in Jakarta and a couple of weeks mostly enjoying ourselves in Bali.
 
It was a happy time, a great family holiday and I would recommend Bali as a holiday destination to anybody. Of course, intending travellers should read the Australian Government's travel advisory and make up their own minds. I saw nothing remotely threatening in any context and all foreigners that I saw were treated with almost infinite kindness and courtesy, yet every day in the media there were reports that terrorists would attack Christian churches at Christmas, or change their tactics to random assassinations of foreigners or kidnappings. It was a bit disconcerting, in part because there was
absolutely no social tension on the streets.
 
It also brought out some lovely elements of the Indonesian character. The largest Muslim organisation in the world, Nadhlatul Ulama, offered its own personnel as uniformed guards of Christian churches. The second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, offered its premises for Christian groups to hold Christian liturgies.
 
And yet there is an undeniably sad aspect to the Bali experience just now. Twice we went to Ubud, the famed and beautiful mountain village which has become the thriving centre of the Bali art scene.
 
photo: Hindu inheritance: A Balinese native visits a Denpasar temple to light an incense stick during the Galungan festival celebrating virtue. No photo credit.
 
Organised around narrow streets and every vista dominated by the dense jungle seemingly just a few metres back, it's an odd mixture of high-art chic, tourist tack and fading happy-hippy dippiness. There is a little stall seeming to sell paraphernalia connected to Bob Marley. A klunk-headed Western tourist wanders by in a Che Guevara t-shirt, very nearly the only man in modern Indonesia to publicly glorify an avatar of ruthless, terrorist violence.
 
There are galleries everywhere, some of them quite serious, a spacious and well stocked bookshop. We stop at a cafe, cooled by loping ceiling fans and opening on to a lotus garden of transfixing beauty.
 
The sadness comes from the small number of visitors. Ubud is not empty but there are nowhere near as many visitors as there should be. The second day we visit there are probably more cafes than tourists.
 
But we are only going to have one cup of coffee each, which is not much money per worker in Ubud. This is a monstrous evil of this terrorism, to punish these people, just doing a bit better than the average Indonesian -- just making enough money to further a child's education, enough perhaps to buy a fridge or a motor scooter -- to punish these people and send them back towards poverty again, on the altar of some insane ideology.
 
The most inane Australian response possible to the terrorists of Bali came from feminist journalist Margo Kingston, who worried after the first Bali bombings in 2002 that perhaps in our tourism we hadn't respected Balinese culture enough and this had contributed to the attacks. There is a sheer, unrelenting idiocy to this type of sentiment. Most Balinese want what most people want everywhere -- a decent standard of living -- and more of them get it
from tourism than from anything else.
 
Which brings us to Kuta. The dominance of Kuta is greatly exaggerated in the Australian mind, not that there's anything wrong with Kuta. It's very far from being the raciest tourist spot in Southeast Asia. But in any event you could walk it from end to end in about half an hour. Bali is home to nearly four million people, only a tiny proportion of them live or work in Kuta.
 
In Kuta itself, two doors down from the still wrecked Raja's Restaurant whereone of this year's bombings occurred, I see an almost identical restaurant, open to the street, with lots of Australians lunching there. I am filled with pride for these Australians.
 
I want to embrace every one of them I see and tell them: you're doing a good thing being here. Of course it's true that most Aussies at Kuta probably don't listen to ABC Radio National arts programs. A few weeks in Bali reveal a profound sociological truth: in two and three-star resorts the men have tattoos, generally on their biceps or forearms. In five-star resorts, the women have tattoos, generally not on their biceps, but revealed around the swimming pool. Such are the signifiers of class in a diverse international tourist island.
 
I base myself well out of Kuta, in the Meridien Bali Nirwana resort in Tanah Lot, in Tabanan Regency (a regency being the basic unit of Balinese local government), well up the coast from Kuta, Legian and Seminyak.
 
It is exquisite. Lush gardens fold into a vast golf course.
 
Golf courses are routinely cast as symbols of corporate wickedness to be deprecated by all bien pensants, but give the Nirwana a break. If its seamless melding of building, garden, rice padi, Hindu temples and expansive golf course, with the haunting sounds of the gamelan orchestra endlessly meditating its mysterious and conclusion-free melodies in the background, doesn't please you,then you are impossible to please.
 
The occupancy rate is down, but as Christmas approaches numbers dramatically rise, mainly continental Europeans -- many families, many mixed-race couples and countless kids -- happy with the ocean, the swimming pools, the food and the tropical weather.
 
Nearby the famous Hindu temple of Tanah Lot is perched on a rocky outcrop, accessible by land at low tide, seemingly adrift and magically floating offshore at high tide. It is said to be 300 years old and reminds you of the antiquity of Bali's Hindu inheritance.
 
I am constantly reminded of "Bali beyond Kuta". One day a friend drives us up to Lake Bedugul in the mountains and beyond that to several hundred hectares of terraced, water-logged rice padis, still being worked by man and buffalo, an area the Balinese government is trying to have World Heritage-listed. It is the most densely green and majestic sight of nature (for surely rice padis are natural?) I have ever witnessed.
 
Another day we drive to the east coast, to the town of Candi Dasa in the Regency of Karangasem. Wayam Geredeg, the Regent of Karangasem, says his regency is "the Bali of Bali, it is Bali 15 years ago".
 
I see what he means -- the facilities for tourists are good, with a submarine offering an extraordinary view of life at the busy bottom of the ocean -- but the place is quieter, slower, less cosmopolitan than many of the other tourist destinations.
 
My experience of Indonesia has been unusual for an Australian. In all the countless times I've been there, I've never before been to Bali, which many Indonesians find incredible. Politics has taken me to Java's big cities, endlessly to Jakarta, and sometimes to Surabaya, Bandung, Semarang and the like. And in truth I've never found any popular anti-Australian sentiment nor experienced, at the street level, any tinge of anti-Australian hostility anywhere in Indonesia.
 
Certainly there is none in Bali. Yet there are traces of bitterness here. "Why do they attack us?" one woman asks. She then answers her own question: "It's because we're different, because we're not Muslim."
 
She is referring of course to the terrorists. I can understand how she feels and yet it is a fact that the terrorists have attacked Jakarta and many other Muslim parts of Indonesia as often as they have attacked Bali.
 
As the governor of Bali says, terrorism is beyond civilisation and humanity. Bali, on the other hand, is the very epitome of both.
 
Greg Sheridan visited Bali as a guest of Garuda Airlines.

Print article only

4 Comments:

  1. From lila on 02 January 2006 07:56:23 WIB
    eh Greg Sheridan mirip Greg Barton ga sih?
  2. From ww on 02 January 2006 11:48:50 WIB
    fotonya sih kelihatan mirip krn sama2 jenggotan. orangnya beda walaupun sama2 orang baik. dia teguh pro reformis waktu gd digoyang orba & militer di tahun 2001, have faith in humanism and pluralism sebagai karakter bangsa indonesia
  3. From Helena on 03 January 2006 09:25:05 WIB
    Thanks to Greg for sharing his honest feeling about Bali. Australians should come back to Bali. Bali is waiting for you.
  4. From wimar on 08 January 2006 21:15:39 WIB
    thanks helena - people like greg and you are the reason we have a deep affection for people down under.

« Home