Wednesday, November 01, 2006

World's Shortest Political Quiz

According to the World's Shortest Political Quiz over at the libertarian site, I am a Right-Libertarian.

I have been taking the quiz on a yearly basis for some time now, answering as honestly as possible, to see how my political views may have changed over time. It's an interesting exercise just to see where I stand in a libertarian sense of the world. For the most part the results haven't yielded much difference, although I have noticed a slight movement to the right and downward in the Libertarian column.

Where do you stand? Take the quiz today.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Iraq round up

Winds of Change has their weekly Iraq roundup. Check it out here.

Basing relationships on.....political views?

Ann Althouse links to an article in the NY Times about how politics has so fragmented society that some people can not think of maintaining a relationship with a person of opposing political views. She quotes from the NY Times:

Jim Coffman, 40, a Democrat in Chicago, said he and his wife have not pursued a friendship with another couple whose three children are the same ages as theirs after seeing photographs of President Bush on the other couple’s refrigerator. He said they have discussed with other friends “being so amazed that we could have so much in common, and yet be so diametrically opposed” when it comes to politics.

Ann Althouse then comments:

I think the greatest danger is that the people who are passionate about politics make a lot of other people not want to talk or even think about politics at all. Saying anything might make people not like you. That's enough to make most people avoid the subject... or to play the chameleon and seem to have whatever political opinions the other people have. Maybe you don't even know what you really think.

I think deciding who you will be friends with or social to based on their political views is a pretty narrow-minded and bitter way to go through life. Happily, I have rarely encountered the types of individuals that Althouse is talking about and that are profiled in the Times article, but then again I don't exactly go out of my way to display my political views to the world. That's not to say I don't talk, and sometimes even argue, about politics with colleagues and friends, but whenever we do we keep it pretty civil. An often overlooked freedom we enjoy is the freedom to disagree, the freedom to form one's own opinion. Often my colleagues/friends and I will simply agree to disagree - we simply accept that the other person has their own opinions on the matter and aren't planning on changing them anytime soon, so just accept it and move on.

To give you an example my colleague at work and I have a pretty friendly relationship: we'll hook up for lunch sometimes, share similar movie tastes, and regularly stop by each other's cubicle to chit-chat about what's going on in each other's lives. We share photos of family and pets with each other and have generally gotten to know each other pretty well.

However, politically, we couldn't be more different. She once commented that Idaho could be a nice place to live if it wasn't so "religious". She thinks the world would be a better place if incomes were more equal and that the government should play a prominent role in equalizing those incomes. While she refrains from the Bush=Hitler/greatest-threat-to-world-peace theme so prevalent on the far-left, she thinks he's an idiot and still can't believe he became President - twice. And don't even start about Iraq or the war on terror. She's your basic, typical, California Bay Area Democrat. Now while I'm not a Republican (I'm a moderate/independent with some strong views on the war on terror - probably could be classified as a "Freeranger" based on Pajamas Media definition) most of my views venture pretty far to the right of hers, although I am not too fond of Bush myself (but I don't think he is an "idiot"). Yet we both get along just fine, content with our own political views and happy to find that we have some common interests outside of politics.

My next door neighbor is pretty much the same, in fact one time I saw him wearing the obligatory Che Guevera t-shirt , yet we get along just fine. We talk about the neighborhood and the city, chat about yard and garden maintenance and generally just get along great. Another acquaintance and I have argued somewhat strongly about politics from time to time, but at the end of the day we put it aside to talk about baseball, which is what brought us together in the first place.

Perhaps I just don't know enough "passionate" political people, or perhaps the really passionate types just avoid talking politics around me, I don't know.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

San Francisco: Politics as usual....

I have always loved San Francisco. It's a beautiful, quirky city full of eclectic and interesting neighborhoods, amazing restaurants, funky foggy weather, and great shopping. There was a time when all I wanted to do was find a place to live in San Francisco and when my friend and I finally managed to squeeze our way into a multi-tenant house after searching for nearly 6 months I was overjoyed. But I only managed to live there for just under 2 years while going to school. Eventually it just got too expensive to live there - San Francisco is an incredibly expensive place to live, even if you are a fresh college grad with a steady job.

One of the interesting things about San Francisco that I remember very well are elections. The ballots were always a mess of wacky propositions, more than a few that made no sense at all. Sometimes reading them was an excercise in humor, and other times I just shook my head in disbelief.

This year's election is no different: according to the Chronicle, 6 of the 11 measures were placed on the ballot the last possible day, 4 within the last 5 minutes of closing time at the registrar of
voters office:

Of the 11 measures, six were slapped on it the last possible day by a minority of city supervisors.

No hearings, no economic analysis, no public notice. Four of the measures arrived less than five minutes before closing time at the registrar of voters office on deadline day.

Each proposition deserves a serious look by voters. But when a measure drops unannounced on the ballot, it should make a voter think: How thoroughly was this idea vetted?

How thoroughly indeed? As the article explains, in San Francisco only 4 out of the 11 supervisors are required in order to place a measure on the ballot. Here's what the voters of San Francisco get to vote on in this election:

Proposition A - $450,000,000 in bonds to to modernize and repair up to 64 additional school facilities. (Is this even necessary in a city where the number of households classified as families with children under 18 is only 16.6% and shrinking?)

Proposition B - A parental leave policy for Board of Supervisor members due to pregnancy, child birth, or a "related condition" that would allow them to participate in meetings by teleconference.

Proposition C - Raising the salaries of certain city employees (such as Mayor, City Attorney, Sheriff, etc.) based on the average salary paid to comparable officials in other Bay Area counties. Boo hoo. Other counties pay their officials more - we're jealous.

Proposition D - Measure to prohibit city and city contractor's from disclosing individuals private information.

Proposition E - To raise the parking tax from 25% to 35%. I'll quote the Chronicle from the same article linked above:
The city's 25 percent tax on parking rates is among the highest in the nation. This measure would push it to 35 percent but where will the money go? Backers say the new money will support transit, but that's not guaranteed. This measure was put on the ballot by four supervisors with no hearings. Vote NO.

Hey, come on now, those raises for city officials have to come from somewhere!

Proposition F - Sick Leave Ordinance - will require all employers to provide sick leave to their employees working in San Francisco. Again I quote the Chronicle:
This one's a stunner: required sick pay for all workers in the city. Were there hearings, negotiations, an assessment of the economic impact and a consensus buy-in like the city had when it approved universal health coverage this year? No.
This measure -- handed in at 4:58 p.m. on the last day possible -- could put the city at the forefront on an important issue. Or it could be an inflexible plan that spells failure.

Proposition G - This one's my favorite. It's a classic liberal elitist rejection of the free market economy: banning retail chain stores. (No! No! That's not true, we will simply require them to get special permission from the planning board before operating in a neighborhood that already has a retail chain store!) Don't worry. Most people vote with their pocketbooks and feet anyways, this will just drive more San Francisco shoppers to leave the city to get their Starbuck mocha lattes and shop at Target or WalMart; better yet, by being outside of the city, they can avoid that shameful embarassment of being seen by their friends as supporting the evil global corporate conspiracy!

Proposition H - Another classic. Requiring landlords to actually pay to relocate their tenants who are evicted "through no fault of their own". One of the reasons San Francisco is so freakin' expensive is because of all the ridiculous rent control laws. I have a question: how can someone be evicted through no fault of their own? You mean it's not their fault when they forget to repeatedly pay the rent? It's no fault of their own when they violate the rent agreement they signed? Oh, right, this is for those landlords that just kick people out to the street for no reason - and we all know how evil landlords are!

Proposition I - Where's the love? We miss our mayor. So we'll propose some bonehead measure that will require him to visit with us at least once a month. Why won't he love us??

Proposition J - My second favorite: a useless measure calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Yeah, San Francisco will get far with that one folks.

Proposition K - Adopting a policy that acknowledges the housing needs of seniors and disabled persons. No action, no plan, let's just acknowledge the problem. Come on, we need your vote otherwise we can't acknowledge there is a problem.

And some people wonder why San Francisco's population has fallen nearly 5% in the past 5 years, why families are leaving for cheaper cities and suburbs with better schools, and job creation is greatest outside of the city, not in it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hot Air Interviews Mark Steyn

Part I here, get Part II here.

Absolute must watch internet TV. Also check out Mark Steyn's new book "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It." Here is an excerpt from Austin Bay's review at Strategy Page:

Steyn is an arch "Euro-pessimist," who backs his pessimism with numbers.

Europeans are reproducing below the "replacement rate" -- thus the average age of their populations is increasing sharply. If current trends continue, by 2050 one in three Germans and Italians will be over 65 years old. In the United States, only one in five will be so gray.

As a result, the Europe of the European Union (Steyn disdainfully calls it "Eutopia") faces economic decline and risks systemic change. Steyn writes: "Tax revenues that support the ever growing numbers of the elderly and retired have to be paid by equally growing numbers of the young and working. The design flaw of the radically secularist Eutopia is that it depend on a religious-society birth rate."

Japan faces the same "gray threat." Even China has a birthrate below the demographic replacement rate. Among the modern industrial nations, only the United States (and possibly India) has the knack for reproduction.

The United States also grows through immigration that includes political and cultural integration.

Europe's Muslims, however, are multiplying -- but they are not integrating culturally. Steyn argues that if European nations fail to culturally integrate Muslims, Europe faces profound political changes.

"As fertility dries up," he writes, "so do societies. Demography is the most obvious symptom of civilizational exhaustion, and the clearest indicator of where we're headed."

The rise of home-grown Muslim extremism in Australia

A couple of days ago we linked to a story about Australia's most senior Mulsim cleric, Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali, blaming women for sexual attacks and likening them to meat. Today the Counterterrorism Blog has a detailed post profiling the rise of home-grown Mulsim extremism in Australia, where at least one Australian-born Muslim cleric has called for Australian Muslims to fight against coalition forces (which include their own Australian troops) in Afghanistan and Iraq:

While the radicals comprise only a small number of Australia’s 300,000 Muslims (who come from some 20 countries), their vociferous and intolerant discourse is disturbing. It also adds increasing light to the problem of home-grown Islamist militancy in Australia.

Last year, the firebrand imam, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, originally from Algeria but who eventually became an Australian citizen, went on national television and stated unequivocally that he could not tolerate any religion but Islam: "According to my religion, here, I don't accept all other religion except the religion of Islam… I am telling you that my religion doesn't tolerate other religion. It doesn't tolerate. The only one law which needs to spread, it can be here or anywhere else, has to be Islam."

Benbrika, who described Osama bin Laden as “great man,” also caused a stir by inciting Australian Muslims to go to Iraq and fight coalition – including Australian – troops; stating that it was a religious obligation for Muslims to do so.

Benbrika was arrested last November for being the ringleader of a terrorist plot. According to police officials from the State of Victoria, though the plot was in its "developmental stages,” Benbrika and his followers (two cells, one in Sydney, the other in Melbourne), were clearly inspired by the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London and were planning a major attack. In a telephone conversation intercepted by the police, Abdulla Merhi, said he "could wait months but not years" to carry out jihad. "You shouldn't kill just one, two or three," Mr Benbrika allegedly responded. "Do a big thing." "Like Madrid?" Mr Merhi allegedly inquired, to which Mr Benbrika was said to have replied: "That's it." He continued, "If you kill, we kill here 1000, because if you get large numbers here, the government will listen." Members of the Melbourne cell were allegedly filming the Australian Stock Exchange and Flinders Street Station, the main commuter rail terminus in Melbourne.

They also provide this tidbit of information on Al-Hilali, the cleric who likened women to meat:

Al-Hilali has been in the news before. He was nearly deported several times before gaining citizenship owing to his radical preaching and tirades. He called the 9/11 attacks "God's work against oppressors" and continues to astound people with his virulent anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. These statements got him expelled from the Prime Minister's Muslim Advisory Board.

Public school systems say charter schools unfair

Because, dammit, charter schools are able to use their entire budget to focus entirely on their schools and provide the education that their community demands:

"I think it's basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools," he said. "They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district."

Via Cato-at-Liberty, who comments:

Yeah! Lauritzen is right! I mean, the nerve of people creating schools that can provide what parents and communities want!

It’s no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling’s defenders fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when an old, hopeless system is suffering?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Post-Trip Report: Observations on India

While the majority of my postings were basically just day-journals describing where I went and who I met, etc. I wanted to do a post-trip report detailing some of the things that I learned or discovered and thought were interesting, at least to me.

India's greatest export is human talent and they know it. Everyday I read the newspaper and managed to read the occasional local English language news magazine. They were chock-full of advertisements for private universities, colleges, and technical schools offering degrees in Medicine, Engineering, Computer Programming and Science, Advanced Chemistry, Physics, or Biology, Nursing, etc. The advertisements openly stated that their goal and purpose was to prepare their students for overseas positions in the U.S., Europe, and other developed nations, some even made dubious claims that guaranteed their students placement with a multinational firm. Despite India's "developing" status it is still an incredibly poor country with huge income disparity, massive poverty, barely functioning infrastrucure, mass pollution, and a rocky democracy. Anyone with enough education or money to immigrate has done so or is trying to do so. The few wealthy I met who were content to stay were those that owned factories and business and often had government or influential family connections. They lived in considerable luxury, driving Mercedes and BMWs, servants to take care of their every need, and took vacations all over the world, so they had little desire or need to move anywhere else. From what little I could gather, it was the middle class or somewhat upper middle class that was yearning for a new home elsewhere.

My agent had tried unsuccessfully to immigrate to the U.S., Germany, and France. He still had aspirations to move his family to another country, despite being fairly well off with what would be considered a very good job in India. A short time before I arrived he had gone to a farewell party for one of his close friends who had finally managed to find a way to immigrate to, if I remember correctly, Australia - after numerous attempts to European countries and the U.S. over a very long multi-year period. He had another friend who had spent a small fortune obtaining an engineering degree and several years of experience in a big Indian firm just so he would be considered for engineering positions overseas. After many months of searching, he finally got picked up by a firm in California willing to sponsor him for a work visa.

Bottom line, Indians are very well aware that the industrialized western world is short of skilled scientists, doctors, and technical workers such as engineers. There is a huge market for educating and developing skilled workers to supply developed countries and there is plenty of interest from the public.

The difference in our education emphasis was profound. Talk to most Indian parents and they will tell you their children are studying science, math, technology, finance, etc. Same goes for the students, who invariably end up studying whatever their parents want them to. While there are liberal arts colleges and classes, it seemed to me they were in the minority. When I told them that in the U.S. our students, for the most part, studied what they wanted to despite their parents' expectations, they were horrified that a child would even consider not fulfilling their parents' wishes. Keep in mind that this is a culture where some marriages are still arranged.

As can be imagined, many Indians are vegetarians, but what may be surprising to some is the militancy to which some Indians take it. For example, in Delhi some landowners refuse to rent to non-vegetarians. They will ask potential tenants if they eat meat or not - if the answer is meat, then they refuse to rent to them. This is obviously discriminatory and would never fly in the U.S., probably they even have an anti-discrimination law, but nobody follows it. In fact, that is a common feature of third world and developing countries: a lack of respect for the law and little enforcement of it. Many people just ignore the laws in place because they know there is little to no consequence for not following the law.

Another example of this is the concept of multiple wives, which from my understanding is forbidden by largely ignored laws. It is seen as a sign of affluency to have more than one wife. Of course, you can only be legally married to one wife, but often men will take a second or third "wife", just not legally marry them. Sometimes they all live happily together, sometimes the men will have several homes with a wife in each. Most of the time the first wives were fully aware of the situation and some were quoted as saying they had no problem with it - as long as their husbands took care of the family and the finances, then they were fine. However, I did read one story where they finally busted a guy after one of his newer wives complained - seemed he travelled a lot and was in the habit of marrying a girl in just about every province he visited. He even had homes and kids with these "wives" and somehow managed to keep it all in order without any of this wives realizing he had other families. He even used false identities in some cases to secure marriages. Eventually he was found out and they sorted through the guy's messy life. In most cases the men simply ignored or flaunted the law.

While many in the cities are well educated and live modern lifestyles, one only has to travel a short way outside the city limits to find dirt poor Indians living in the stone age. What middle class exists is thin, with most of society divided between urban and poor - you either live in a city in the modern world or eek out an existence in the rural country. As I stated in one of my India posts, it was not uncommon to see a shining gigantic mall and right across the street are farmers living in tin huts raising chickens and scratching out a living in the dirt. Often both sides were living smack dab next to each other.

The communist party has always enjoyed a fairly strong presence in Indian politics and from what I read it seemed they had taken good advantage of these "class" differences to bolster their numbers. I was alarmed to find that in one province the communists had won a large majority and was considered a major victory. Photos showed huge crowds of supporters in red shirts. My colleague could see I was surprised and told me not to worry, that the communists were a minority and not so bad. Yet one of the party organizers had named himself Stalin - legally changed his name to Stalin! - and it is an open secret that there is a growing Maoist insurgency wreaking havoc in different parts of India.

All the Indians I met were incredibly friendly, gracious, and polite. While certainly part of that is due to being on a business trip where I was the client, Indians are simply gracious hosts and value hospitality. They are also very proud of their history and culture, it only takes a few prodding questions about this or that landmark or building and they will eagerly provide you with a detailed history about it. Everywhere I went my Indian colleagues were eager to find out if I liked the food or pushed me to try something different. They went out of their way to ask if I was happy with the hotels or had any problems and seemed especially pleased when I complimented them about their offices or operations.

While we mostly avoided politics, the Indians I met seemed to genuinely like America and Americans, although many also expressed disappointment in our alliance with Pakistan, their old enemy. India has long been a victim of terrorism from a myriad group of enemies, long before the U.S., and those I spoke to expressed their strong opposition to any and all terrorist attacks and sympathized greatly with the U.S. during and after 9/11. Those I spoke to were avid supporters of the war on terrorism; some thought we weren't doing enough to kill terrorists and wondered why we showed so much restraint, and one gentleman even suggested we changed the wrong regime - he said we should have taken over Pakistan instead of Iraq.

While I thoroughly enjoyed all the wonderful people I met and found Indians to be incredibly friendly and gracious wherever I went, I can't say that it is a country I am looking forward to visiting again soon. I loved the food and have definitely made at least one good friend, but the entire country is basically broken - nothing really works. Sure, they have beautiful 5 star hotels with every amenity and modern air conditioned tour buses and cars that will take you to every major attraction you wish to see, but step outside that false comfort zone and you will find that all is not as it seems to be. Infrastructure is old and dated and unable to keep up with the pace of growth. If it weren't for the numerous generators installed at hotels and factories and major office buildings the electricity would be going out intermittently throughout the day. Litter was everywhere and in some cases piles of trash were found in the middle of fields or just on the side of the street. The pollution is almost unbearable and traffic is insane. Of course, it didn't help that I got horribly sick while I was there, that will put a damper on anyone's trip, but even when healthy I just saw a country trying to catch up with the industrialized world. Surely, they are making progress, and with such intelligent and hard working people I believe they will get there and become an economic powerhouse in the years to come. But that day is years away.

Next: Bali post-trip comments.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Australia's senior Muslim cleric: Women are to blame for sex attacks

Apparently, any woman who dresses immodestly (in his eyes) is simply "...uncovered meat..."

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?

"The uncovered meat is the problem."

The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men.

"It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

Big hat tip to Hot Air.

It should be noted that many Muslim community leaders were outraged by the remarks:

Muslim community leaders were yesterday outraged and offended by Sheik Hilali's remarks, insisting the cleric was no longer worthy of his title as Australia's mufti.

Young Muslim adviser Iktimal Hage-Ali - who does not wear a hijab - said the Islamic headdress was not a "tool" worn to prevent rape and sexual harassment. "It's a symbol that readily identifies you as being Muslim, but just because you don't wear the headscarf doesn't mean that you're considered fresh meat for sale," the former member of John Howard's Muslim advisory board told The Australian. "The onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves."

Australia's most prominent female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said the hijab did not "detract or add to a person's moral standards", while Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said it was "ignorant and naive" for anyone to believe that a hijab could stop sexual assault.

"Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that there is a relationship between rape or unwelcome sexual interference and the failure to wear a hijab, clearly has no understanding of the nature of sexual crime," he said.

Ms Hage-Ali said she was "disgusted and offended" by Shiek Hilali's comments. "I find it very offensive that a man who considers himself as a mufti, a leader of Australia's Muslims, can give comment that lacks intelligence and common sense."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eager to go home

This day was my last day with our agent and transportation rep, neither of which was local, both having travelled away from their families and homes on Java. Even though Bali is also a major vacation destination for local Indonesians from Java and other islands and provinces, being away from their families was taking its toll and I could tell they were itching to get this day done and head home.

Once again we headed up to Tampaksiring and by this time I was recognizing the roads and landmarks as we travelled into the hills. We visited a new supplier for my company who, like so many others in Bali, had simply located their "factory" in a residential area behind their house. They had about 20 workers busily carving and finishing different types of handicrafts in a large building constructed behind the main house. A small driveway connected their "Cargo loading area" to the main street outside. The owners were very young and had only started the business a couple of years prior. They were very proud of their accomplishments, although they seemed somewhat uneasy at their long term prospects, having only secured a handful of major accounts.

We then moved on to another factory located in yet another area we had been to before. This one consisted of several buildings thrown up amongst fields of rice paddies. They were substantially larger with a somewhat more traditional factory operation in the western sense, although I was confused as to why they had located in the middle of nowhere, I guess it was really cheap. The owners were interesting. They were a married couple, the husband a local Balinese and strict Hindu, and his wife a former Muslim from Java. I was a bit surprised as most of the married people I had met were either both Hindu or Muslim or Christian, never a mix of the two. The man's wife had since converted to Balinese Hinduism after marriage, mostly because her family and friends had denounced her decision to marry someone outside of the faith, declaring her "unfit" for Muslim membership. She explained that the decision to marry her husband was one of the toughest decisions of her life. A devout Muslim her entire life, it was expected that she would simply marry a fellow Muslim man, most likely arranged by her parents. She kept her relationship with her Hindu husband secret for awhile out of concern for her parents reaction. When she announced she wanted to get married to him, her family was very angry, with her parents threatening to disown her and receiving threats of bodily harm from so-called friends and relatives. She decided to stick with her decision and her parents basically cut off communication and refused to attend her wedding. She still maintained limited contact with some of her relatives, but the relationships were strained. While she had converted to Hinduism she explained that she still could not bring herself to eat pork, while her husband could not eat beef (Muslims don't eat pork because it is considered an unclean animal while Hindus don't eat beef because they consider cows to be sacred animals). She laughed, saying this made for some interesting dinner combinations, particularly when they went to her in-laws for dinner. Despite her family troubles, she seemed very happy and content with her new life in Bali. She took us out for lunch to a restaurant set amongst fields of rice paddies. It was very quiet and peaceful and kind of odd to be eating lunch while farmers worked the fields only yards away.

Later I asked our transportation rep, who was Muslim, what he felt about this woman's situation. He said it was not an uncommon reaction among the Muslim community to reject or threaten those that marry outside the faith or convert away from Islam, although he was quick to point out that reactions varied heavily depending on the family and situation, with some being more harsh or far more lenient than others. He said he was not surprised at her story but personally felt no ill will towards other religions or those that converted to other religions. I should point out that the management staff of the factory was of mixed Hindu and Muslim managers, and they all seemed to get along just fine. I doubt the owners would have hired them if they felt their managers would not get along or would look down at them for their inter-faith marriage.

The last factory visit of the trip was to busy Kuta, the commercialized, crowded, tourist area close to Denpasar, the main city. Here was a very large, western style industrial factory employing hundreds of workers. The owner was supposedly one of the richest men on Bali, who owned several factories and a score of hotels and restaurants in the Kuta area. I won't bore you with details, but on the drive back to the hotel the driver slowed down to point out each hotel and restaurant we passed that were either fully owned or partly owned by the factory owner.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to my wonderful agent and the transportation rep, who were happy that work was done and eager to head home to families. We promised to stay in touch and said our goodbyes.

I went back to the hotel and took a long shower and changed my clothes. This would be the first night I had been alone since my first day arriving. Seminyak, where the hotel was located, was a quieter residential area away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy areas of Legian and Kuta, although it was becoming well known for its many restaurants. I decided to just walk and find something to eat close to the hotel, which involved quite a bit of walking seeing as how the hotel was located right on the beach in the middle of a residential area.

I walked quite a ways as I wanted to get a good look at the restaurants. I finally settled on one of the quieter, smaller restaurants and sat down to eat. I ordered a fancy salmon appetizer, some sort of spicy noodle dish, fresh grilled fish, a vegetable dish, and tropical ice cream for dessert. Total price, including drinks and tip? A whopping USD 5.00!! I couldn't believe it and even asked the waiter to make sure he hadn't charged me in error. He smiled and assured me it was correct. The food was outstanding too, not just basic family-style stuff, but prepared brilliantly and presented like you would find in an upscale Manhattan restaurant.

I walked back to the hotel and spent the rest of the night sitting on a beach chair looking up at the stars and listening to the surf.

The next day I had the day off and decided to do absolutely nothing. Running around visiting factories all day every day for 2 weeks had worn me out and my hotel was so beautiful and the beach so inviting that I decided to just hang out there. I grabbed some newspapers and magazines and plopped myself down in a beach chair at the hotel with the sand at my feet and the ocean in front of me. When I got tired from reading I would take a nap or just take a swim in the ocean, which was incredibly warm. The beach was full of tourists and locals, but not crowded, and again I can't describe in words how beautiful Bali really is.

Later in the day I took a nice swim in the huge pool at the hotel to get all the saltwater off, took a quick shower, and then headed out to the same restaurant as the night before for another wonderful meal.

I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and happy and the hotel took me to the airport. I was eager to get home and see my wife and young son, but I would miss Bali.

To be continued......

Friday, October 20, 2006

More of the same

The next day was a repeat of the first, albeit different factories. We once again headed up to the hills of Tampaksiring to visit a handicraft supplier, this time owned by a young guy who spoke perfect English. Turns out he went to school in San Jose, CA and had recently moved back to Bali to start his export business. My agent looked over at me and silently rubbed his two forefingers against his thumb, the old universal sign for "has money", which was probably true. Too few Americans are aware of the astronomical cost of tuition for foreign students. For example, at UC Berkeley a foreign student can expect to spend approximately $26,000 for 1 year's tuition and fees, while a resident Californian can expect to pay about $8,000. Not to mention the expense of applying for an receiving a student visa plus housing, food, etc. In addition most foreign students can not work legally in the U.S., their visa is only good for studying which means the only jobs they can get are on campus, although many work illegally on the side, but certainly not enough to pay for themselves while studying, which means that most foreign students pursuing a full 4-year degree tend to come from wealthy backgrounds.

But I digress. The factory owner was very pleasant and kind and was very enthusiastic in showing us his factory and proud of what he had accomplished. He was getting married soon and was looking forward to a good year of business so he could afford a nice honeymoon.

We soon moved on to the next factory which wasn't really a factory but a trading house run by an American woman. We had actually met briefly when she visited my company in the U.S. and she seemed very nice. She took us out to lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the beach close to my hotel. Turns out she lived in Seminyak, just a stone throw away from the hotel I stayed in. She was very tall and slender with tanned skin and long dark hair, and my Indonesian counterparts where quite taken with her. When she got up to use the restroom my colleague asked me if she had been a model before - how the heck should I know? I knew just barely more about her than they did.

She ran a very small trading company with just a tiny handful of employees working out of a single room office less than 1,000 square feet in size. She traded in fashion accessories and designed the items herself, then farmed out the production to one of many contractors located in Bali and on Java. Her staff checked the completed items for quality and then they were shipped on their way. Like so many others, she had come to Bali and decided to stay there.

After this very pleasant visit we moved on to the largest factory in our list which was owned by a wealthy family who operated several trade shops and crafts production facilities in Bali. This area was close to Tampaksiring but was an actual factory in the western sense of the word. A huge, elaborate 2-story showroom divided a lot full of sculptured trees and Balinese fountains. One side of the lot was the office building, the other the showroom. The factory manager met us and drove us to the factory. I was puzzled, as there was evidence of a large building on the far side of the lot, which from my records was supposed to be the factory. He kindly explained that only weeks before they had experienced a massive fire which had literally gutted the entire interior of the factory building, forcing them to work at a temporary location.

We drove a few minutes down the road to a large building in the middle of nowhere, jungle forest on one side and acres of rice paddies on the other. It was a huge gated facility, but the building inside was literally just a giant roof on multiple pillars, obviously a hastily built construction just to get roofs over everyone's heads so they could continue working. The place was utter chaos, with several hundred workers desperately trying to replenish all the orders lost in the factory fire while keeping up with new orders. It was obvious that it was going to be impossible to do a proper visit with their operations, so we simply held a brief discussion outside the building. One group of workers hurriedly tried to keep up with an ever growing pile of finished merchandise, packing it to be shipped overseas. Another group was busily painting and staining pieces while another was involved with the actual carving and crafting. We eventually left for the office and were assured that things would settle down in the future and then they could confirm the information we were looking for.

We had some time to kill so we were invited to one of their sister companies. a small operation that dealt entirely in hand carved wooden crafts that sold locally and to visiting tourists and businessmen. The showroom was incredible. Beautiful hand carved furniture, tables, statues, and home decor items all in traditional Balinese style. I asked my agent why people didn't buy more of these items. He said these days people wanted modern styles and modern looking homes - no one wanted their homes to look like a 100 year old Balinese home except for old-fashioned Balinese and eccentric tourists. Well then, count me as an eccentric tourist as I would have no problem with my home decorated with the likes of what I saw.

That night my agent took me to Ulawatu, which was a sacred Hindu temple all the way to the very south of the island, high above the southern cliffs. While there we witnessed a traditional Balinese dance which was very interesting.

On the way home our driver asked us if we wanted to try a Sumatran restaurant. We said sure. The restaurant was sort of like a buffet. You sit at a long table and they bring out dozens of small dishes of different kinds of food, mostly curry items. No pork, for this was a Muslim restaurant. As usual, the Indonesians ate with their hands. This time I opted for a fork and spoon as some of the dishes were difficult to handle with just hands. Basically you chose a dish and dumped it on your plate. At the end of the meal the restaurant counted how many dishes you consumed and charged accordingly. You were only charged for the dishes you ate. I had a wonderful curry beef dish and some salted fish along with some fried vegetables.

We made our way back to the hotel were I sat up for a couple of hours in the night listening to the sea and someone playing Balinese music in the background.

To be continued.....

"Don't worry, no more terrorists"

My agent picked me up from my hotel promptly along with the representative from our transportation provider, who had been with us all day visiting factories. He asked me if I liked seafood and of course the answer was an enthusiastic yes. He said we would be heading to Jimbaran, a touristy area famous for its fresh seafood restaurants popular with both Indonesian and overseas tourists. It was also popular for another reason, but I would not find that out until later.

Luckily Jimbaran was too far from my hotel, maybe 20 minutes or so. Jimbaran is located several miles to the southeast of Kuta, with its beaches facing the airport in the near distance. The place we were going was a long and crowded narrow street lined with restaurants. The front side of all the restaurants faced the street, but the second you walked through the main door you were outside on the beach. Each restaurant was laid out similarly, with large fish tanks and counter tops displaying the many different seafood items available. Attentive staff pounced on their guests the second they entered eagerly directing them to the choices available and tallying up whatever you chose to eat on a notepad. They in turn handed this over to the cooks behind them, who would then cook your chosen meal on a giant outdoor bar-b-q grill. The restaurants themselves were very small because they only needed to house the grill and the fish tanks and counters full of food - nobody ate inside, you simply ordered your food and then literally sat at a table on the beach. The waves were maybe 10-15 feet away and I wondered if the occasional fast tide washed right into the guest tables on the beach.

Up and down the beach, as far as I could see in the night, was nothing but tables and tables and tables. Each restaurant had their own little on the beach and they distinguished themselves by different colored chairs and tables. I have to say it is quite enjoyable sitting on the beach watching the waves and looking up at the stars, watching the occasional plane land at the distant airport.

Our food arrived and we had 2 grilled crabs, 2 grilled fish (forget the name, but they were delicious), grilled clams, gigantic grilled prawns, and a vegetable dish. My host explained that traditional Balinese ate with their hands and suggested I do the same. While eating with one's hands may seem adventurous and exciting, it is quite messy and all I could envision was my mom's childhood lectures about filthy doorknobs and dirty hands and the risk of getting sick yet again on my trip. But before eating, my hosts and I proceeded to wash our hands at the community sink inside the restaurant, complete with a strong-smelling anti-bacterial soap. So I guess they too were concerned about germs, as everyone in the restaurant made a point to wash their hands before eating. Then we sat down and proceeded to devour our deliciously grilled meal by hand, which, as you can guess, was quite messy, but somewhat fun in a demented child-like way.

As we sat chatting on the beach, my host pointed out a restaurant just 2 doors down that had scant visitors and appeared to be mostly out of business. I asked him why. "That is the restaurant that was hit in the October 2005 suicide bomb attack". Here we were, sitting and eating on the beach that was the subject of a terrorist attack only 7 months prior and the main attack point was only 2 doors down. My host pointed out that while the restaurant we were in and several others seemed to be doing ok, the Jimbaran area used to be heavily crowded with tourists and locals. He said before the terrorist bombings the street outside would have been extraordinarily heavy with traffic and all the restaurants full, sometimes having to wait to get in. Now they were mostly quiet, although the restaurant he had chosen seemed somewhat busy.
I remembered the complete lack of security or police when we drove down the street and asked my host how safe it was to be sitting in such an obvious terrorist target. He laughed and said "Don't worry, no more terrorists". I was puzzled and more than a little worried and annoyed that my host thought he knew for a fact that there were "no more terrorists". This was a distrubing phrase I was to hear more than once talking to people in Bali during my trip. It was as if the fact that some people had been arrested after the bombings who had connections to the acts solved the problem - much like a criminal who robs a bank or your house. You arrest the criminal, no more problem. The overall theory was that since the police and government had managed to arrest a number of suspected terrorists and organizers that there simply were "no more terrorists". No one seemed to identify the problem that terrorism still existed and that while catching some of the people responsible for an act was a good step forward the umbrella organizations and ideology that kept terrorism going were still very much alive. In fact that very day the local news had a story about the Balinese police stopping a suspicious truck from Java that turned out to be carrying explosives and bomb making materials. But "don't worry, no more terrorists". I am sure that some of this was just to reassure me that "hey! Bali is still safe, please come back, tell your friends that Bali is ok, no more terrorists" but it was obvious some people I spoke to really believed it.

But one thing that did resonate with everyone I talked to was the extreme hatred every Balinese had for terrorism in general, particularly the ones that had destroyed the tourist industry of Bali. In targeting crowded tourist areas the terrorists succeeded in killing large numbers of people that included westerners but also managed to kill just as many locals while simultaneously killing the tourist economy that Bali depends on.

Our driver, who ate with us, was Muslim, as was the representative from our transportation provider. I asked them both what they thought of the Bali bombings. The driver said he did not understand it - why would the terrorists want to kill their own people (Indonesians)? He was visibly upset at the damage the bombings did to the local economy as well, he said it was much harder to make money these days compared to before. The rep from our transportation provider, who was not from Bali but Surabaya, echoed similar thoughts, stating that most people just want to live, work, get married, and enjoy life - why would anyone want to destroy that?

After quite some time we decided it was time to head back to the hotel for some rest. The next day we were going out to the same areas, again, to visit 3 different factories.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Handicrafts and interesting people.

I didn't think anybody was reading this thing, so I kind of dropped out for awhile, but after some encouraging words from a couple of people who said they enjoyed reading my travelogues, I decided to continue and conclude my trip to Indonesia.

Luckily I did not have any episodes with the porcelain god that night, I slept incredibly well. I woke up earlier than normal, and feeling quite well although I decided it would be a good idea to continue to be careful about what I ate for awhile, but that would prove to be difficult as the guest in a foreign country.

As is my usual habit, I skipped breakfast - I can't stand breakfast except for maybe a glass of juice - but I did stop and enjoy the gorgeous beach and watched the local martial arts group practice in the surf.

Today I was going to visit 3 factories and as luck would have it none of them were close to each other, they were scattered all over the island of Bali, and Bali is not as small as some people think. It is roughly 60 miles wide and 90 miles long at its furthest points. Unfortunately my agent, who hailed from a town near Jakarta, failed to consult anyone in Bali regarding our schedule, so instead of hitting all the factories in one area and then moving on we were hitting factories in 3-4 different areas every single day, which meant repeating visits to the same geographical areas over and over again.

The first visit was to a factory up in Tampaksiring, which is in the rice-paddy covered hills far above the hustle and bustle of Denpasar, the major city in Bali, and all the touristy areas down south. One thing you will notice quickly in Bali is the number of scooters and small motorbikes and the almost complete absence of sedans or any other 4-wheel vehicle that isn't a pick up truck or suv. There are few major roads in Bali with most roads, particularly outside of Denpasar and Kuta, being of the single or 2-lane paved variety. Once you leave southern Bali the island is very hilly and mountainous with winding narrow roads rising up into the hills surrounded by small villages and dotted with picturesque rice paddies. Those that could afford to buy a vehicle drove SUVs, I assume because of the hilly terrain and occasional absence of paved roads.

Tampaksiring is the handicraft center of Bali. There are numerous export showrooms and handicraft factories everywhere. Of course, calling them "factories" is a bit much, as most "factories" consisted of 20-50 artisans working in a single facility that more often than not was someone's modified house. I was told by my agent that this region of Bali was famous for its artisans, hence the prevelance of small export houses and trading companies. He said certain villages or families were famous for specific kinds of handicrafts - perhaps one village was famous for its stone carvings, another for wood, and yet another for decorative fabrics or metal working. You would find a family or village that excelled in whatever handicraft you were interested in selling or exporting and hire several of them to work in your "Factory". They would in turn refer their relatives and close friends to work with them, so it was kind of a unique experience, as many of the "factories" were simply extensions of one's family or village, with so many of the artisan(s)'s relatives and friends working with them. It is not uncommon to find "Factories" located in residential areas where the chief artisan and his family lived in the house at street level and simply constructed a second building behind the house for production. Imagine simply waking up, walking out your backdoor into the backyard, and opening the door to your workshop to work. It is not unlike some craftsmen we have here in the U.S., particularly those out in the country, who have built their workshops on their home property and simply work from there. People like my Uncle could relate. The only difference is that all the product manufactured in these cottage industries in Bali is for export.

The first factory we went to see was indeed an actual factory although located in a residential area. And it wasn't an industrial factory in the western sense, it was simply a small office with a large building in the back for production. Production consisted of re-working bamboo handicrafts by hand by roughly 20 workers, boxing them up and then sending them by truck down to Denpasar to be shipped out to Surabaya for transport via sea freight to the rest of the world. I was excited to see this factory as I had experienced numerous pleasant conversations and correspondence with the staff from this factory. Sure enough, they were as I expected, friendly as all get out and very genuine and serious about their business and their customers. It is always a pleasure to work with suppliers like this. Everything was fine and in order so we moved on.

We then had to travel all the way down out of Tampaksiring to another village that I think was located somewhere on the southwest portion of the island. The whole area was farmland dotted with the occasional home with a very busy road running through the middle of it. We did not see anything that looked as if some kind of production was going on. We must have driven up and down the same area 5 times before finally stopping in front of a locked gate - was this it?? My agent said it was. Nobody was there. We both speculated whether this was an actual factory or just a showroom, which was not acceptable for our purposes, we needed to see the actual factory. After waiting about 15 minutes a gentleman pulled up to the gate on a scooter and unlocked it. We drove into the driveway of what was obviously a private residence. My agent and I gave each other dubious glances.

Some other workers soon arrived and we were told we were waiting for the owner. We could not see anything that appeared to be production or storage of any kind. While no one appeared to live in the house, the rooms were set up like showrooms, with various products laid out for display. We began to question the workers - is this a factory? a showroom? or a packing/shipping facility? We got answers for all three, which only confused us more.

Finally an SUV pulled up and a young American guy roughly my age hopped out. He introduced himself and I suddenly realized that we knew each other. While we had never met in person, we had communicated with each other months ago regarding a number of factories in Bali. He was the previous agent in Bali, yet he was also one of our suppliers. I did not know this at the time, figuring he was only our agent.

He had been living in Bali for about 18 years. Like so many other stories I was soon to hear from other local expats, he came to Bali on vacation, a surfing trip with a bunch of his buddies. He liked the island, the people, and the culture so much that he decided not to go back. In order to make a living so he could stay, he started buying product from local craftsmen and would fly back to Hawaii and California to sell the products in flea markets. Eventually he got some regular buyers and then started hooking up with larger outfits in the U.S. He spoke fluent Indonesian although my agent said it was with a strong accent.

We finally got to the bottom of things. His company was strictly a trading company, they did not produce any of their own product. They sourced from several different local suppliers, did some minor re-work, and then packed and shipped things out. His previous packing/shipping facility was inadequate so he was moving everything to his showroom, which we were at. He was a nice guy and I had to admire him for sticking to his dream of living in Bali and finding a way to make it work.

Our third appointment was all the way back in Kuta, the crowded touristy area close to Denpasar and the airport. My agent was on the phone conversing hurriedly in Indonesian. He explained to me in English that the driver did not know where this factory was and the directions were too confusing so we were going to meet the owner of the factory at a recognizable location.

It was a freakin' McDonalds. Even in Bali you can't escape the golden arches and this location was very prominently located on a major road. Apparently we weren't the only ones meeting people there, as a number of people were standing on the sidewalk looking around for people they were supposed to meet. Because of the recent terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005, there was considerable security at the McDonalds, since obviously many westerners dined there. Security was checking vehicles going in and out of the parking lot and I could tell the groups of people meeting others there made them nervous.

Finally a Jeep pulled up and a white woman with red hair rolled down the window and said something in Indonesian. I thought my agent was going to crap his pants. His jaw dropped to the floor as he stammered and stumbled his way over to the jeep. Apparently he had no idea that the woman we were supposed to meet was caucasian. He had been talking and dealing with her for months and never suspected she wasn't Indonesian thanks to her fluent skills in the local language. He told me her Indonesian was completely "native".

The owner of the factory was in fact a British National. When she was very young her father had gotten a position working near Jakarta on Java and worked there for many years. She ended up going to school in Indonesia. Eventually her parents moved back to the UK but she decided to stay in Indonesia. She graduated from high school in Indonesia and even gained her University Degree there as well. She had more Indonesian friends growing up than western friends. She basically grew up Indonesian and while she visited her family in the UK every couple of years she felt that Indonesia was more her home than the UK. She had been in Indonesia for more than 30 years, with more than 10 years in Bali. She had developed an interest in Balinese fashion and home decor and had developed her own export business.

We first went to lunch and they asked if it was ok if we ate local food, which I said would be fine, as a good guest does. We ate at an old-fashioned restaurant just steps from the water with open air rooms and all wood furniture. I had Nasi Goreng, which is basically a mixed fried rice dish containing shredded chicken, egg, fried pork crips, shrimp, a little fish, and some kind of green vegetable. It was absolutely delicious. The Balinese eat a lot of rice, breakfast, lunch, and dinner all consist of rice dishes.

After lunch we went to her factory which was - surprise - a house in a residential area with a building constructed in the backyard for production. The "factory manager" and his family lived in the house and the "factory" was basically a one room building with rows of sewing machines and a storage room for packing finished product. It employed about 30 people. The owner said in all the years she had been in business she had yet to fire anyone. Almost everyone was a relative or close friend of someone else and all were referred by someone else that worked there.

Everything was in order and it was time to head back to the hotel. My agent invited me to dinner that night and said he would pick me up around 7pm or so. So I had about an hour to check my e-mail and enjoy the waves and the view from the hotel.

To be continued.....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Crucifix Day" at BA

Her union, the TGWU, insisted Miss Eweida had a right to speak out and was blowing the whistle on an injustice, while her MP condemned any attempt to intimidate her.

Miss Eweida, 55, of Twickenham, south-west London, is a Coptic Christian with an Egyptian background.

She was forced to take unpaid leave after refusing to remove the tiny cross on her necklace nearly four weeks ago. She is waiting to hear whether her appeal has been successful.

If BA uphold their ruling she is planning to sue the airline for religious discrimination because the airline allows Muslims and Sikhs to wear headscarves, turbans and bangles.

More than 300 BA workers have now signed a petition in support of Miss Eweida.

The airline's staff are planning a 'Crucifix Day' protest in solidarity, with air crews and ground staff wearing crosses on lapel badges and neck chains.

Good for them. BA dug their own hole the minute they made exceptions to their fashion policy for certain employees while restricting others. They should cut their losses before things get any uglier.

Voting: Mission Accomplished

I finally managed to complete ny absentee ballot for the 2006 California General Election. It's quite a lengthy ballot, particularly with all the judges you have to vote yes or no on. It was near impossible to get information on any of them, so that was what took up the bulk of my research time. But I finally managed to get it done.

With all the talk about left vs right, Republican vs Democrat, I'm right you're wrong, shouldn't it be time to excercise a time-proven strategy? Vote for the candidate whom you think will do the best job regardless of their party.

And rather than simply sit this one out or vote straight Democrat to punish the Republicans, punish the ones who have really done the damage in Congress - the incumbents, regardless of party. Both parties are despicable, both parties have done their fair share of damage. Rather than pick one side to blame the other, vote against the incumbents, or vote for a third party for once.

My ballot is a major party's nightmare, although more so for the Democrats, coming from a heavily Democratic district. I voted for 8 Republicans, 2 Libertarians, 1 Democrat, and a host of others in local politics from both sides of the 2 major parties. But what they mostly shared in common was that I voted almost entirely for challengers and not incumbents. Out of all the candidates on the ballot I voted for only 4 incumbents, 2 of them local candidates. All the rest were challengers.

So if you too are disgusted with the current state of affairs in Congress, don't blame the Republicans or the Democrats, don't try to choose which party you will punish - vote for the challenger, vote for the third party. Surely they can do no worse, and hopefully at least a little better, than the idiots we have now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

2 Christians, a Muslim, and a couple of Hindus walk into a bar……

I was completely wiped out by the time I got back to the hotel. Not having eaten anything – except for water, a couple of cokes, and some dry toast - in nearly 48 hrs while being horribly sick pretty much saps your energy and health. I only walked around Legian village for about 2 hrs but felt like I had just run a marathon. I gratefully collapsed on my bed and watched a movie on TV. I wasn’t really looking forward to meeting my business contacts for dinner as I was still quite nervous about my stomach, but I hadn’t been able to reach them by phone, so I just had to wait.

Eventually my phone rang: it was reception, I had guests at the front gate, did I want to meet them? So I pulled on my shoes and made my way out past the sounds of the surf and a light ocean breeze coming off the sea. It was so nice I didn’t really feel like leaving and I still wasn’t up to solid food, but I was the “guest” of my associates and it would have been rude to turn them down for dinner. I was greeted by a very friendly, cheerful, stocky man in glasses who introduced me to two young women and a quiet thin man who was clearly the youngest of the group, appearing at least several years younger than myself. The cheerful fellow was the representative from my company’s agent in Indonesia and the other 3 worked for the local transportation provider. The two young ladies were from the local Bali office while the young man worked in the main office in Surabaya, which is the nearest major sea port for Bali.

We made introductions and then headed out to dinner. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I told them it was up to them to decide and that I could eat anything and preferred to experience local cuisine – in fact, my illness made me very nervous, but one of the lessons I have learned traveling around the world is that one of the best ways to break the ice and put your local counterpart at ease is to express openness in sampling local culture and customs, and one of the simplest ways to do this is to express desire to try local foods with gusto, even when they don’t particularly appeal to you.

They talked amongst themselves and decided we would go to some famous restaurant that was quite popular at the time. We piled into 2 cars and drove out of the hotel and immediately turned left into the very next driveway which was the entrance to the restaurant!! I teased them about driving such a long distance – maybe 100 feet – to get to the restaurant – couldn’t we have just walked? My colleague from our agent’s office was also giving them a very hard time, laughing loudly about how ridiculously close the restaurant was to the hotel.

Well, they must have decided that I wasn’t ready for local cuisine because the restaurant was very Western in appearance, in a glitzy club-deco atmosphere kind of way. It was an open air place with roofs to keep any rain off but virtually no walls or windows, with views of the beach and ocean from 3 sides. One half of the restaurant was exclusively bar with plush seating and pulsing dance music. We sat in the restaurant section which was decidedly quieter, but still very crowded. I looked around and almost all of the patrons were tourists or expats. Huh. So much for local fare.

The menu was quite expansive and I chose the safest thing possible for my stomach. Soon we all had our food and began chit-chatting to get to know each other. The two women who worked locally in Bali were both married, one of them with kids the other none, and they were both Balinese, which meant they were strict Hindus. My agent it turns out lived in a large mountain side town about 3 hrs or so from Jakarta and was Christian. The quiet, but pleasant young man from the office in Surabaya was Muslim. One of the women joked that if we only had a Buddhist and a Jew at our table then our party would be complete. Everyone laughed and I thought how cool it was that in this dangerous world we live in two Christians, a couple of Hindus, and a Muslim could all hang out for dinner, laughing and joking – in freakin’ Bali of all places, where only a short time ago hundreds had lost their lives to Muslim fanatics who decided a few well placed bombs in tourist-heavy Bali would assure them a place in Heaven. It just proved that once you get beyond the gloom-and-doom headlines and hype from various sides of the aisle that most people – notice I said most, not all - around the world just want to live life. They want to do business, work, make a little money, hang out with their buddies. Maybe go out to dinner or have a big dinner at home with their families. It was a lot of fun to just hang out and talk to these nice people and nobody cared who the other person was, it didn’t matter that one of us was Muslim or Hindu or Christian or that some of us were ethnically different than the other (there are several ethnicities in Indonesia, not to mention I am just a typical Caucasian).

When dinner was over I told them I would walk the few feet back to the hotel but they insisted strongly that they drive me. Which didn’t make sense to me but I figured they were just trying to be nice hosts. I said goodbye to the two locals as they would not be traveling with us to the various factories I had to visit but just wanted to meet me in person as they handled our business. The next day it would be me, my agent, and the gentleman from Surabaya to visit all the factories. I fell asleep quickly and looked forward to the next day.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Desperate times.

The bus to Legian village wasn’t a bus at all. It was simply a driver in an SUV. There was only 1 other person in the car with me from the hotel. In about 10 minutes we were in the heart of Legian village and the car dropped us off in front of a surf shop.

The place was dead. I mean it was quiet, nothing was going on. Legian village runs right into Kuta and both places are the most heavily populated tourist areas on Bali. The streets of Legian village are packed door-to-door with gift shops selling all sorts of wares and handicrafts as well as t-shirts and sunglasses, pirated DVDs and software, clubs, restaurants and bars. It went on for blocks in both directions. Everything was open and shopkeepers roamed the streets trying to entice prospective buyers into their shops. There were a few tourists like myself walking around, but it was mostly empty and devoid of any foot traffic. Restaurants were completely empty except for 1-2 token tables. Bars of all sorts advertised special prices and all sorts of incentives for travelers to stop in for a drink, but to no avail. The gift and souvenir shops were quiet, their proprietors sitting on the sidewalk outside or walking up and down the street trying to get someone, anyone, to buy anything. It was an odd sight for what used to be a crowded tourist trap. The terrorist bombings and travel warnings had worked – no one was coming to Bali anymore.

I hadn’t taken more than 5 steps when a gentleman introduced himself as “Billy” and physically tried to pull me into his shop, which was rather distressing. It is one thing to be accosted by hawkers and shop owners in the street trying to convince you to come into their stores, it is another to have a complete stranger pulling on your arm. Annoyed, I shook him off and glared at him. I felt bad for these people who were desperately trying to make a living now that the tourists were all gone, but grabbing people and pulling on them does not make a person view favorably on your establishment or business practices. It just pisses people off.

As I walked I was surrounded by shop owners who walked with me in step. “Change money, sir? Buy a souvenir? We have t-shirts, watches, DVDs! Looking for handicrafts?” It was impossible to discern who was talking to me about what nor where their shop was located. These were desperate people. I firmly shook my head and went straight to the pharmacy to pick up more medicine. I left the throng of followers outside and got my medicine and proceeded to walk down the street. Again, every store and every person tried desperately to convince me to shop in their store. I did eventually buy some T-shirts from a fellow who was friendlier and politer than most. If I had the money, I would have bought something from every single store I saw as it was obvious these people had gone a long time without any business and they were quite desperate. At the shop I bought the T-shirts from I asked the proprietor what it used to be like.

“Before the terrorist bombings you could barely walk down this street. Cars, motorcycles, and taxicabs filled the streets with traffic and the sidewalks were so packed with tourists you could barely move. Business was good and even though many of us sell similar items all were able to make a decent living. New restaurants, clubs, and shops were opening all the time. Now they are all gone. The newer places have already closed their doors, those planning to open have all changed their minds. Those of us who have managed to hang on are getting more desperate by the month. Nobody comes to Bali anymore. Everyone is afraid.”

It should be noted that Bali is a very unique part of Indonesia. While Indonesia as a whole is a secular Muslim country, Bali is completely different from the rest of Indonesia. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Muslims make up a severe minority of the population in Bali. Over 90% of the population is Balinese-Hindu with less than 5% Muslim. The remaining population is mostly Buddhist or Christian. This makes the Balinese culture quite unique and different from the vast majority of Indonesians. They have little in common with their fellow Indonesian-Muslim citizens and strongly oppose the current Islamification that is rising in mainstream Indonesian politics and society. They fiercely oppose terrorism and make great pains to point out that the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks were not from Bali but had traveled from other parts of Indonesia to carry out the attacks. They hate the terrorists even more than we do, as the terrorists have succeeded in derailing the tourist economy which is the biggest money earner on Bali. Their entire economy is based on tourism and the terrorists destroyed that. Begin a conversation about terrorism and you will quickly be treated to a profanity laden tirade about how the terrorists ruined Bali and the various painful punishments that should be inflicted on them. As a unique side effect, the terrorist attacks have firmly placed the people of Bali against Jemaah Islamiyah, the fundamentalist Islamic organization believed to be linked to Al Qaeda and the Bali bombings. Just another proving point that terrorism’s worst victims are their own people and countries.

Further down the street I reached the spot of the 2002 terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people. There is a memorial constructed where the building used to be with the inscribed names of all the dead and which country they were from. Across the street was an empty lot of rubble, all that remains of one of the businesses that was destroyed by the bombing. A tiny handful of tourists and locals was standing in front of the memorial reading the names of the dead. It was a sobering reminder of the terror inflicted on this once peaceful and beautiful island.

I took some pictures and then slowly walked back to where the hotel’s car had dropped me off. By this time I was feeling very weak and dizzy again and was looking forward to getting back to the hotel. Again, it was a struggle to walk back without being hassled by every shop or restaurant I passed on the street. I felt bad for them as they were only trying to stay in business and they seemed so desperate for anyone to buy anything. The driver picked me up and I went back to the hotel to rest.

I was supposed to meet our agent in Indonesia along with representatives from our freight company for dinner that night, but being sick I really did not feel up to it. I tried to call them, but no one picked up the phone and they were not replying to my messages. So I just hunkered down in my hotel room and waited for the inevitable call for dinner.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

First day in Bali

The plane landed smoothly at the international airport in Bali, a somewhat small airport surrounded by blue skies and beautiful ocean waves. The international terminal was an interesting mix of modern airport construction and traditional Balinese architecture. As we walked into the building we passed a gorgeous Balinese statue above a goldfish pond. It was obvious that the Balinese took tourism seriously and had taken steps to make the airport experience a pleasant one while simultaneously introducing visitors to Balinese life and culture.

The airport was pleasantly air conditioned, although the Balinese don’t particularly like cold temperatures, so it wasn’t the perfectly frigid air of Kuala Lumpur, but still much better than India. Everyone, including security, was pleasant and smiling, even the ones that did not speak much English did their best to communicate, always with warm smiles. While this tends to be a part of the Balinese culture – they are very friendly – I am sure it also was a result of a tourist-heavy economy. It wouldn’t surprise me if they also received professional customer service training by the airport authority or local government – something that some of our airport workers in the West need to go through!

The baggage claim area was small, clean, and orderly. Most of the luggage was already coming off the flight. I had to run to the bathroom – again! – but was happy to find clean, modern restroom facilities on a par with the airports back home in the U.S. (Sheesh, is this a travelogue or a critique of restrooms? – ed.) When I came out and went back to the luggage carousel, all the luggage was off the plane. I waited until only a handful of people were left. Still no luggage.

A couple of German ladies were talking to an ever smiling airport worker who was trying to inform them in English that their luggage had not made it. Needless to say, they were reasonably upset, probably having traveled thousands of miles to enjoy the beaches and sun of Bali only to find their luggage didn’t make it. All the while the airport staff were smiling, speaking calmly in soft tones, while guiding the passengers to the lost baggage claim desk. Again, simple customer service techniques that some of our airports back home could probably use.

As the two German ladies were led away, I began to get nervous about my own luggage. Sure enough, a pleasant looking airport worker with a smile asked me which flight I had arrived on and asked to see my luggage receipt. In the nicest way possible he explained that possibly my luggage too had been lost. He asked me for a detailed description of my luggage and showed me to a pile of unclaimed luggage from the flight, but I didn’t see it. I was beginning to really get depressed about this whole trip, first I get sick in India and now my luggage is missing. I felt terrible, although much better than the 12+ hours ago when I was at the Delhi airport, I hadn’t eaten in more than 24 hrs, was dehydrated, and felt like my legs were going to collapse at anytime. Luckily all the medicine prescribed by the doctor was in my carryon, although I was a bit distressed about clothing, as I had not showered in more than 36 hrs and was still wearing the same clothes after having sweated in the heat of Gurgaon and Delhi, India. I wearily began to walk towards the lost baggage claim desk, head down and dragging my carry on. At this point, I just wanted to get to my hotel and collapse, luggage be damned.

Just as I was about to reach the desk, I heard loud cries of “…sir, sir…wait…” I stopped and turned around to be greeted by the same kind gentleman running full sprint towards me………with a familiar looking green and black suitcase pulled behind him!! Sure enough, it was my luggage, he had found it in a pile of luggage that had been separated from another flight and was on another carousel. I thanked him profusely, a huge smile on my own face now as I finally realized that maybe things weren’t so bad.

Customs and immigration were a breeze and I walked outside to immediately be confronted by a smiling young man who asked if I was staying at The Oberoi hotel. Sure enough, my name was on his list and he quickly showed me to his car. The parking lot was small, but orderly and clean. There were plenty of people and cars at the airport, but just the usual hustle and bustle and none of the chaos as experienced in India. When I got in the car he handed me a hot towel refreshment and a cold bottle of water. I took the opportunity to down some more medicine and we were on our way.

Traditional Balinese music came from the car speakers, no vocals, just pleasant sounding percussions and flute-like instruments. It didn’t sound like anything I had heard before, but was somewhat peaceful and relaxing, sort of like the tumbling of water through a fast moving creek. Not quite loud, not quite soft, just constantly flowing and somewhat in the background.

The roads in Bali are well paved but narrow. There aren’t many multi-lane, wide paved streets, which is just fine as it keeps up appearances of that “quaint, resort town” look, even though roughly 3 million + live on the island of Bali, with more than a million (so I was told, correct me if I am wrong) in the principal city of Denpasar. Traffic was busy and I noticed that everyone either drove a motorcycle or an SUV. Rarely did I see any sedans. Even though traffic was busy, I rarely heard a horn, except for the taxicabs. We passed gleaming shopping malls obviously built for the tourists, touting the latest fashion from the top brand names and stores, all in English. We also passed a lot of surf shops, as surfing is a big sport in Bali, there were a number of international surfers on the plane picking up their surfboards from the luggage carousel.

What I found really interesting were the number of “farms” and rice paddies seemingly scattered intermittently among the shops and businesses as we traveled to the hotel. It was odd yet I found it made the city appear more….I don’t know, real. It’s hard to explain.

We passed through several traffic circles and the centers were usually constructed of large, beautiful Balinese fountains and sculptures. I wanted to take pictures, but we were traveling too fast. Needless to say, the exquisite detail and design took my breath away. And these were just traffic circles.

Soon we made it outside of Denpasar where the roads became narrower and the surroundings decidedly surburban, if not village like. Small, traditional Balinese homes dotted the roadside with the occasional restaurant or gift shop crammed in-between. Traffic became less congested and foreigners walked the street in sandals and shorts. Finally we turned around a number of curvy roads, passing numerous restaurants only to stop in front of a guard gate to a long driveway with a large Balinese sculpture off to the side that was just amazing. It looked like it could have been standing there for a hundred years but was probably only a few years old. When the driver rolled down his window to check in with security, I could smell the ocean and hear the waves. It was a pleasant sound.

Since the terrorist bombings in Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people and injured 209 (mostly tourists) and in 2005 that killed 23 people and injured more than 100, security at hotels and other tourist hot-spots has increased dramatically. The hotel I was staying at was located on the beach in Seminyak, far from the crowded tourist traps of Kuta and Sanur. Even though Seminyak has its fair share of tourists, it pales in comparison to the more populous areas of Kuta, Legian, and Sanur. Even more, the hotel I stayed at was pretty far off the beaten track, located on a less trafficked beach in a residential area far from the shops and noise of Legian village. The hotel was also a resort with rooms spread out over many acres of beachfront land with small thatched “villages” for rooms, making it an unattractive target for terrorists looking for mass casualty. Regardless, immediately after the 2002 bombing, the hotel management quickly hired additional full time security and installed a guard shack at the main entrance manned by 2 guards 24 hrs a day. All vehicles at the entrance must stop at the gate where the guards will thoroughly check the inside and outside of the car, including mirrors to check for explosives, etc underneath the car. They question each driver to verify they have business at the hotel and are issued a security pass. The pass must be returned to the guards before exiting. Logs are kept of each vehicle that enters, including license plate number, number of passengers, time of entry and exit, etc. While it certainly wasn’t Fort Knox, it did put one at ease knowing that not just anyone could get in, although I am sure a determined terrorist could find a way to get in. It just wouldn’t be as easy as it was before 2002, which is the whole point of deterrence.

We made our way down the long driveway to the main “entrance” which was simply a stone pathway past traditional Balinese buildings with thatched roofs that housed the gift shop and office staff which bordered numerous Balinese statues and fish ponds. The ocean was much louder and as I climbed the steps into the “lobby” I could see way. The lobby was basically a giant open air room with high ceilings that bordered the beach. Waves crashed on a beautiful white sandy beach less than 50 feet away. It was very warm, in the high 80’s, but with the breeze from the ocean and the pleasant atmosphere it just didn’t seem that hot. I was quickly checked in and then shown to my “room” which was very far away. I was taken away not only by the beauty of the hotel and the beach but also with how incredibly large the complex was. It took a good 5 minutes of fast walking to reach my “room” which was basically a traditional Balinese hut with thatched roof – and air conditioning of course. Hands down the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in, period, and again thank goodness my company was footing the bill.

I felt dirty and sweaty and tired and quickly took a nice long bath in the huge marble bathtub where I promptly fell asleep. I woke up a little while later only to put the “do not disturb” sign outside my door before crawling into bed. It was about 4pm.

I slept soundly and did not wake up again until the next afternoon. My eyes were heavy and my head groggy as I realized that I had been asleep for nearly 24 hrs. I opened the drapes and blinked in the sunlight and there were several messages taped to the door from management concerned that I had placed my room under “do not disturb” status for such a long period of time – was everything alright? Did I need anything? I quickly called them and told them I was just tired from traveling and needed the sleep, I did not mention that I was sick.

I got up and was immediately dizzy and light headed. I staggered to the bathroom where they had a scale and checked my weight. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m not sure what I weighed before I left India, but according to the scale I had lost somewhere between 6-8 lbs in less than 3 days. I hadn’t eaten in nearly 3 days and had nothing to drink but water and 1 Coke. I slowly got dressed as I did not have any energy and my mind seemed to be working slowly. I realized that no matter how my stomach felt I better get something into my stomach. I also needed some more medicine and so I grabbed my camera and left my room.

I grabbed some dry toast (you don’t want grease, or butter, or anything else when you have a stomach infection) and ate it slowly. I also drank a lot of water. The hotel staff looked at me strangely, I am sure they rarely got requests for plates of dry toast with only water to drink. The “restaurant” is literally on the beach and I noticed 2 security guards at both ends of the beach standing watch. It was a public beach, but security would keep beach hawkers at a long arm’s length reach away as well as look for anything or anyone suspicious. I sat there for a long time, just eating slowly and soaking in the atmosphere, just listening to and watching the ocean. I finally felt good enough to take the shuttle bus to Legian Village, which was the closest area to buy anything. There were plenty of nice restaurants around the hotel, but other than the restaurants it was strictly residential. So I went out to the main entrance to wait for the bus to Legian.

To be continued…..

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Welcome to Paradise…….

I don’t remember a thing from the plane ride to Kuala Lumpur except waking up often shivering in my thin airline blanket. The stewardess had to wake me up to let me know we had landed. The plane was already emptying. Bleary eyed, aching, and weak from not having eaten in nearly 24 hrs, I stumbled from the plane and into the airport. Just stepping into the airport was like a breath of fresh air. The airport in Kuala Lumpur is fairly new, I believe it opened in the last 5 years or so, although I could be wrong. I had never paid attention to the airports I had been to in the past, but when you just spent your last week in third world hell, having utilized transportation infrastructure from several decades ago, and then suddenly step into the modern world, you sit up and notice. As tired and sick as I was, I walked around with wide eyes, just soaking in the delicious, cool, 72 degree air conditioned interior. No crowds here. No noise. It seemed absurdly quiet having just come from Delhi airport. Everyone walked around calmly and seemed to know where they were going. The airport was spotlessly clean and just gleamed from all corners. It seemed massive and enormous after India and I just sat down for a minute and closed my eyes, soaking it all in. I felt better just being there.

I went to the restroom and had to peel the contact lenses from my red eyes, as I had been too sick to bother to remove them. They had been in my eyes for more than 24 hrs, which is a really bad thing for daily contact lens users. I spent a long time in the bathroom, thanks again to my stomach, but I did not seem to have a fever and the shivering and chills were mostly gone, although my body ached everywhere. Even though I had not eaten in more than 24 hrs I was not hungry and did not feel like eating anything. I did get a Coke and some water to keep me from getting dehydrated.

I laid down on a bench and closed my eyes, but the pain would not go away. I had about 1 ½ hrs before my plane left. Finally I got up to walk around because lying or sitting down just hurt too much. As I was walking, I saw a small shop that gave reflexology massages for travelers. Having experienced them before, I knew that they did wonders for your legs and feet and thought anything was better than just sitting in agony. I paid for a 45 minute massage. Boy, was I glad I did. By the time they were done, all the pain in my body was gone. I still felt awful, still weak and dizzy, but the body aches and pain were gone. It was money well spent.

I went back out to wait for the flight and they were finally allowing us into the inside waiting area. Kuala Lumpur is a bit different, even though you are already in the airport, they have a secondary waiting area before you enter the plane. You must go through a security check before entering the secondary waiting area. So everyone sits on benches and chairs outside the actual “gate” waiting for security to let them in.

Malaysia is an interesting country. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, with many different religions. While ethnic Malays are the majority and control most of the government, the population has large ethnic Chinese and Indian populations. Hence, you have Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians living side by side in relative peace and prosperity. While there are rising Islamic tendencies being reported by the media, for the most part Malaysia, particularly the big cities, is a working secular, multicultural society. At the security check at my gate, the guy in charge was clearly Indian. The 4 women manning the x-ray machines were obviously Muslim, complete with Muslim head coverings. 1 Chinese guy and 1 Chinese woman manned the handheld metal detectors. 2 other armed security guards, who appeared to be Malay, guarded the gate entrance.

When it came time for boarding there was none of the chaos that I had experienced in India. Everyone waited their turn calmly and quietly. Again, thanks to my company, I was flying in Business Class and allowed to board first. I quickly sat down before my weak legs gave out and again wrapped myself up for the flight to Bali. I was feeling a bit better after the reflexology treatment and so I didn’t fall asleep right away.

An American and his wife, clearly Indian, sat down across from me and when they mentioned Bangalore, India, I perked up.

“Did you say you just came from Bangalore? I just came from Delhi!” I asked him.

“Yes, my company moved me to India about 6 months ago for a 3 year temporary assignment. We were so excited to go, as my wife immigrated to the U.S. when she was only 7 years old and had not been back since. Boy, what a mistake!” he replied.

Turns out his wife was an American citizen and didn’t really consider herself Indian, having been in America for so long and having grown up there. He worked for some hi-tech company and when the job opportunity came up to work in India he and his wife thought “wouldn’t it be great to go back to India and live for awhile, give the kids a chance to learn about their mother’s native culture and country” and also his wife felt that it would be a chance for her to reconnect with her roots.

“Boy were we wrong. We have been there for 6 months and we hate it. And we still have 2 ½ years to go!” So much for enjoying India.

“Everywhere is so dirty and crowded, nothing works right and nothing is on time. Trash is everywhere, everyone litters. And because my husband is “white” everyone rips us off. They see a white face and they mark up everything.” Complained his wife. So much for reconnecting with her roots. “I don’t remember much of India when I was a child, but had I known it would be this bad I would never have wanted to come back.”

We traded notes on India and while some of their observations matched those of my own, clearly the things I had seen were much worse than what they viewed through their ex-pat softened eyes. While I generally agreed with some of their assessments of Indian life – the crowds, the pollution, the trash, everything running late or not working right – I had a hard time believing their life was so difficult living in multinational corporate sponsored ex-pat housing with private international school and a live-in maid. Still, one comment stuck with me.

“When we stepped off the plane into the Kuala Lumpur airport, it was like a breath of fresh air. We just felt better. We had never really paid much attention to airports before.”

I could understand perfectly.

Conversation finally ended and I settled back to sleep. Soon I woke up as we began our descent into Bali. Beautiful blue ocean waves formed white caps as we came closer to ground. Forests and perfectly formed beaches could be seen everywhere. Perhaps I would enjoy my business trip to Bali………

To be continued.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The worst day

I had gotten up in the middle of the night with some stomach issues, but no pain, I figured it must be a minor problem otherwise I would be feeling some discomfort, but other than having to run to the bathroom now and again I felt fine. I tossed it off to something I ate the day before and tried to forget about it. I went ahead and ate a normal breakfast and checked out of the hotel.

Today we were headed to Gurgaon, which is a fast growing city that practically runs into Delhi. Gurgaon was probably the cleanest and nicest area I traveled to while in India, although that isn’t saying much considering where I had been. Sam explained that even 5 years ago Gurgaon was nothing compared to what it was now. Massive construction and development of new office buildings and multitudes of shopping malls and movie theaters had made Gurgaon the hot destination of choice for families and others escaping expensive, crowded, and confined Delhi. Wide, paved, multi-lane roads and highways were under construction everywhere we went. Tall, artistic skyscrapers that all looked brand new glistened in the summer sun. We saw familiar multinational names on some of the buildings such as IBM and Nestle. There were also a number of huge buildings that bore names I had never heard of. Sam explained that the companies that owned those buildings were the huge Indian service companies that ran the famous call centers for everything from customer service to tech support. He said inside the buildings are floors and floors of cubicles manned by English speaking support staff who work different shifts to cover the 24/7 tech support and customer support lines for a variety of American corporations. He said these were some of the fastest growing companies in the Indian economy.

As we made our way through the neighborhoods I also noticed a lot of brand new hotels and shopping malls. While still distinctly India – nothing could make you forget that – Gurgaon bore the closest resemblance to an industrialized major western city that I had seen so far. But once you got off the main roads and ventured further into the areas surrounding the major developments, it was just like being back in Jaipur or Jodhpur, although a bit cleaner and I don’t remember any large animals wandering the busy roads.

We took care of our first factory visit and about 1 hour into the visit I felt something go in my stomach – like my stomach had been holding a medicine ball clenched in its upper regions and decided to drop it. Luckily this was a fairly new building and the manager’s office had its own bathroom, so everything was fairly new and clean. Again, no pain, but some minor discomfort. Once again I dismissed it as a temporary problem, but popped an Imodium just to be safe.

We made our way to the next factory which was far away from the first, a good hour and a half plus, so we decided to grab lunch first. Sam decided to take us to a restaurant at the nearby Hilton, which was a gorgeous hotel, but I didn’t have much of an appetite and was worried about my stomach. Still, I didn’t want to be an impolite guest, so I ate lunch anyways and halfway through I got the medicine ball feeling again, so you know what that meant.

We made our way to the next factory and this place was a disaster compared to the other factories we had been too. We were warned that they were in the middle of a very busy production period, trying to complete a number of projects before a deadline, so the place was just chaotic. The poor guy showing us around looked like he hadn’t slept in days and seemed to be bothered just by us being there, but hey, we had scheduled the appointment 2 months in advance and then reconfirmed only 1 week before I arrived, so he had ample time to change the appointment if he wanted to. Once again I started having stomach problems and this time it hurt.

By the time we left I was feeling very tired and started to experience some serious pain. I finally concluded that perhaps I was developing a serious problem, but at least it was my last day in India and we didn’t have anymore factories to visit. That night I was taking a flight to Indonesia to spend another week auditing factories there.

We got back to Delhi and I finally got the chance to see Sam’s office where he worked, but I was getting light headed and dizzy and feeling sicker so I didn’t really enjoy it or really remember what it was like. I had to sit in on a wrap-up meeting with a number of his staff and was getting progressively worse throughout the meeting. The room was beginning to spin and every time I stood up I got dizzy and felt like I was going to fall over. They must have sensed something was wrong because they wrapped up the meeting quickly. I had a good 2+ hrs before I had to be at the airport. They wanted to take me to dinner or a cafĂ© or something, but I knew I wouldn’t make it. So I asked them if I could just chill in their lobby. They said no problem but shouldn’t they keep me company? I thanked them for their kindness and told them to go back to work, I would be fine.

I don’t remember much after that. I leaned back into their sofa, my whole body in pain now, and was out in seconds. I was woken later by Sam, who was shaking my shoulder. My body must have fallen over onto the sofa in some awkward position because I was now lying down and my neck was sore. Sam had fear in his eyes.

“Are you ok?”

I told him I was fine, but I must not have looked it and surely didn’t feel like it. I can only imagine what I looked like, but it was dark out which meant I had been asleep for some time and my clothes were drenched in sweat, even though his office had AC and was kept nice and cool. My heart was beating so fast and hard it felt like it was going to pop out of my chest and I knew instinctively that I had a fever and possible had something very wrong with me, maybe an infection.

I assured Sam I was fine and tried to stand up, but almost fell over. I went to the bathroom and sure enough I looked just awful. My hair was sticking to my face from all the sweat and I just looked like death warmed over. I went to the bathroom, again, and splashed some water on my face. I put on my best “I’m fine” smile and walked out.

Sam was not convinced. He grabbed my arm and pushed me outside where a car was waiting. “We’re going to the doctor.” I was in no mood to complain.

I only had about 1 hour to get to the airport and the airport was a good 30 minutes away and we still needed to see a doctor. Luckily, we caught him leaving his office and he let us in so he could take a look at me. Sure enough, I had a fever, accelerated heart rate, mild dehydration, and the doctor diagnosed me with a stomach infection. He prescribed 3 different medicines for me and I took all 3 immediately.

By this time I was feeling even worse and at one point we were contemplating delaying my flight into Indonesia by a day to see if I felt better in the morning. But on second thought, I just wanted to get the heck out of Dodge and just felt like maybe I would feel better if I got into some new surroundings. I was sick of the excessive heat, crowded streets, bad air, crazy traffic, and incessant noise of India, not to mention the overall level of dirtiness and that impression that things just didn’t work right here. So I told Sam I would make it to Indonesia and if I had any problems I would call him.

They threw me into the car and told the driver to haul ass, but “be careful”. I don’t know how you haul ass and be careful at the same time, and I think this driver only heard the first part. He took off with screeching tires and immediately I had both hands on the door handle trying keep my body from careening around the inside of the car. He ignored stoplights, drove through gas stations and parking lots, and I swear we narrowly avoided instant death by mere millimeters several times. Pedestrians and bicyclists leaped out of the way as he honked and screeched his way through traffic. Anybody who didn’t get out of his way was subject to flashing lights, incessant horn honking, and tailgating where our bumpers were literally 1-2 inches apart while going 40-50 miles an hour. He turned 1 lane city streets into 2 lane freeways. How we never got stopped I will never know. Nor will I understand how we got to the airport in once piece. He turned a 30+ minute drive into about 15 minutes.

The international terminal was complete chaos. Traffic didn’t move. We only got as far as 4 cars deep from the curb. Like airports here, there was no stopping allowed except to drop off passengers, but there were simply too many people trying to get onto too many flights in an airport that was never designed to handle so much. We just stopped and got out and I wobbled my way between cars until I got to the curb. At the curb it was just a giant wall of people that hardly moved. You had to go through one of several entrances manned by guards with machine guns who were checking to see if you had a valid ticket. The reason for the crowds was too many people and not enough entrances, but especially because just inside they would scan your luggage through an x-ray machine. It took forever. I was so weak I could barely stand and kept sitting on my luggage waiting to get in.

Finally I managed to get in and get my luggage scanned and then I had to find Malaysian Airlines. Lines were strung all over the place, there simply weren’t enough counters for all the flights leaving. I finally staggered to a gigantic mass of people who had gathered near the Malaysian Airlines counters, realizing that this was the line. It was agonizingly slow. All the joints in my body were stiffening up and I was in severe pain. I had taken another pain pill but it wasn’t helping. I don’t remember much besides the waiting, but somehow I made it through security. It had taken me almost 2 hrs just to check in and get through security and I realized now why American Airlines had advised all the passengers on my arriving flight to check in at least 3 hrs before departure, they knew that Delhi airport was a mess.

Thankfully my company pays for business class, which allowed me pre-boarding rights and a good thing too. There was no place to sit, all the seats in the waiting area were full, people were sitting or lying on the floor and there was a throng of people pushing and pulling with each other at the gate entrance to the plane. A very cross gate agent was standing in front of the gate with her arms folded, just glaring at the people. Keep in mind, not a single announcement had been made about boarding. People line up all the time before boarding announcements, but I had never seen this many people do it and calling them a line would have given them too much credit. Not that I could entirely blame them – like I said, there was no place to sit anywhere, so where else were they going to stand? I just wished they could have been a bit quieter and not so unruly. When the gate agent announced pre-boarding for first class and business passengers, the mob rushed forward. One gate agent had to physically hold the people back while the other tried to pull the first class and business passengers through. I came around the side weakly holding my business class boarding pass in the air so the agent could see. She saw me and pushed her way through the mob to form a path for me to walk in.

When I got onto the plane I just curled up in my blanket and closed my eyes, wishing for sleep. I had to change planes in Kuala Lumpur before heading to Indonesia. I just hoped for a quick trip.