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......

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