Friday, October 20, 2006

"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.

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