Gross Misrepresentation: Bali
Tales from the Road
Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Updated: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 11:09
Events over the past few years have cast a shadow on one of my favorite places in the world: the island of Bali. Terrorists have once again taken a beautiful, peaceful place and propelled it into international attention with their senseless carnage and cowardice. Now of course, travel advisories have been issued for travel to Indonesia which breaks my heart - especially considering what our government's line was after the 9/11 attacks: Go to New York! Spend money there! Support the local economy! My suggestion to anyone who has the time and money (you need more time than money) for an unforgettable vacation: go to Bali.
Bali is a true paradise filled with beautiful beaches, rainforests, and river valleys. Equally as beautiful as the natural surroundings are the numerous temples and open-air theatres and holy sites that sprinkle the island. This is one of the unique qualities about Bali, beautiful surroundings are coupled with cultural relics. The temples scattered around the island are still used and serviced on a daily basis.
Bali is a Hindu island located in the middle of the largest Muslim country in the world. These two cultures have managed to live together peacefully for centuries and generations, proving that it is not impossible. Partly because this small island is surrounded by 200 million+ Muslims, the Balinese are very open and passionate about their culture and religion. You see offerings all over the streets and shops.
Every morning, women make and distribute offerings to local businesses and homes. These offerings are made of a large dried leaf intricately folded into a square bowl shape. Inside are flower petals and other beautiful plant offerings and a stick of burning incense. Thousands are made every day. Just outside my hotel room on my most recent visit, along with my Asian Wall Street Journal was an offering. I peered out of the door and looked down the outdoor hallways and saw offerings all the way to the end.
Every property, home or business has a shrine on the point furthest north-west of the property, considered the holiest ground on the site. It is there where local Balinese go to pray several times a day and to ensure enough offerings are present. Local legend has it that a large western chain hotel on the island refused to put up a shrine in the north-west corner of the property, prompting much protest by the staff but the hotel would not yield. The staffers took up a collection and built by themselves - the local newspaper found out and put pressure on the hotel. The hotel apologized and reimbursed the staff members for the shrine. This is the spirituality of the island. This is what is lost on media reports of car bombs, suicide bombers, body parts and carnage. Take a map of Southeast Asia, and put Bali in the center of it. Of all of the lands and cultures within a 1000 mile radius, Bali is arguably the most peaceful. The most devout (others would say "radical") Hindus are Jain Priests whose disciples brush the ground before them to prevent them from accidentally stepping on insects and spiders. They also can only eat food that has already fallen from the tree. They cannot kill anything to eat - it must already be dead. This is the religion and these are the people of Bali.
You can see where I'm going here. These people are so beautiful, spiritual, soulful, and they are everywhere all over Bali. Yet, the only images we see in the west are of charred bodies and flashing ambulance lights and screaming of tourists, and the implication that comes with it is that Bali is an unsafe and unruly place to visit. To make matters worse, the focus for both bombings have been on the foreign tourists killed, how many Australians, how many British and so on, with no mention of Indonesians. In both bombings, Indonesians ranked either number 1 or number 2 among those killed. These have been tragedies for the Balinese as well, for their families, for their economy and for their lives.
Such a peaceful place should not be viewed as terror trap or as an unsafe place to visit. It is unfair and statistically incorrect. These people are a beautiful people, soft-spoken, eloquent and have a spirituality that you can feel when you walk among them. Go to Bali and see for yourself. Support their local economy. And take a nice person who seems amenable to conversation, and tell him or her that you are not afraid of those who try to hurt us, and that you want to enjoy yourself in this beautiful place.