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.

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