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Stickman Readers' Submissions December 15th, 2003

Delightful SE Asia – Java & Bali

Kaliurang, Central Java

Leisurely I stroll through Kaliurang, some kind of a hill station village in Central Java, Indonesia. This place gets mostly domestic tourists so I am a rare white-skinned creature. When I sit down in a tea shack, people treat me very respectfully, they obviously feel honoured by my tea order. I want to check if there are still enough free pictures on the film; but I refrain from opening the camera case with the expensive equipment in this place where many curious eyes are watching me.

He Clinic Bangkok

The locally grown tea is refreshing and good as usual; you just have to remove the leaves soon and add a little freshly squeezed lemon juice. Smiles go back and forth, but nobody dares to start conversation.

I pay and walk on. People are friendly here. Heck, when I think about how foreigners are received in my own country – no, Central Java is a hospitable place. And scenic too, with some giant volcano lurking behind every second palm tree. I feel light and easy, until I notice that….,y camera bag is gone.

Shock: My camera bag is gone. Did I forget it in the tea stall? All those lenses are (were?) worth more than 1500 USD. But that's not even the point: Without a camera, the holiday is useless. I am a picture buff. You know, I don't really need to s e e my pictures, and I definitely do not need to s h o w the snapshots to anybody. But I definitely want to t a k e pictures. Wait for the perfect light or cloud, expose, compose, compare,… Loosing that bag, I would not only lose more than 1500 USD and a few rolls of pictures already taken – in Indonesia without my SLR, life would be senseless.

Slowly I turn around and walk back to the tea shop. I know I did have the camera case back there. I figure that in the middle of all the smiles I forgot the camera case in that shop. These friendly people, did they already grab my equipment, share tele lens and polarisation filter among family members? How would they treat me when I come back? I am not a fighter, but demanding back my Nikon lenses the situation might go from bad to worse.

Some people out there are too honest to be true. In front of the tea stall, there is the whole family – standing – smiling – holding: the camera bag ready for me.

Cibodas, West Java

In a nasi goreng stall, I meet an interesting Javanese couple. He might be 25 and says he is handcrafting shadow play puppets for performers and souvenir shops. His English is very good. He says he rarely meets westerners, but he listens to the BBC World Service a lot. BBC World Service? I mention East Timor, which is a hot issue back then. "Yes, East Timor", he goes. "Human rights", he goes. "A difficult topic…", he goes. His eyes say: Could we talk about anything else, please? Ok ok. His girlfriend, sweet 20 years old, she only smiles.

The couple spends a weekend holiday in the lovely cool hill resort of Cibodas. They both seem to be quite western style, they could as well be a Bangkok or Amsterdam couple. But they hail from Bandung, western Java's big city. He complains to me: "Difficult here, they ask if we are married." His silent sweet girlfriend smiles. He continues: "But we are not yet married. So we cannot get a hotel room for the two of us." Girlfriend frowns. "So now we have to stay in this youth hostel over there, with a different dormitory for her and me." Girlfriend frowns more.

Quite open and straightforward, aren't they? But – this sounds like an easy one. I ask him: "Why don't you just t e l l them you are married. Then you can take that double room you need?"

He understands my question, but he doesn't answer right away. He ponders my suggestion. His eyes wander off. He thinks something. Lieing to get his way, a new idea to him? Girlfriend stops smiling / frowning. Did they never have this idea, just lieing about their marital status to get the double room with king size bed and then have a great time there? Some people out there are too innocent to be true: "No, I never had the idea of falsely telling them we are married. Just didn't think about it."

South-North Highway, Bali

Another bright and beautiful morning on the breathtaking island of Bali, Indonesia. Aboard the usual fake rental Honda 125 cc, I do pothole research on Bali's central south-north highway. But there are no potholes: This Balinese highway is immaculately manicured to the needs of a hundred super deluxe aircon busses a day, carrying tour groups from glittering Nusa Dua and Sanur resorts to temples and volcanoes across the isle. I zoom along the smooth and beautiful road until out of nothing, the motorcycle burps, farts, then stops.

Now what is this? I don't know anything about motorcycles, but I can tell you one thing: I just had new gas three kilometres ago. In other places, I'd stop a local and ask for help. Here I feel shy: Bali is so overrun by tourists, I feel there is a complete alienation between locals and visitors. In Bali I never had one of those delightful east-west encounters that spice up all my trips to Java, Cambodia, Southern Vietnam or Thailand's Isaan region. On Bali, we are just too many westerners there, and with too little respect for local customs, looking down on the villagers from the thrones of our super deluxe air-con buses… While I ponder these sad thoughts, pitying myself, standing on the road besides my useless motorbike, I meet the eyes of another motorbike rider. A local. He saw me standing there, and now he stops: "Hello", he goes. "Selamat pagi", I reply. My greeting in official Bahasa Indonesia makes him smile (I know he'd smile more about local Bali lingo).

The man is about 30. Does he want to help the helpless westerner or is he going to play some scam? I am an easy catch there, in the middle of nowhere. He examines the Honda. I tell him I just had new gas. "Maybe gas no good", he says, turns a screw – and 3 liters of gas spill into the grass… "Me go, buy new gas, good gas", he says and wants to roar off. I stop him and give him local rupiah money about 2 dollars worth. After ten minutes, he is back with some plastic bottles – and about one dollar change for me. I don't need that. To be honest, I have no idea what else he did, he worked a little bit on the machine. But after ten minutes, my fake Honda 125 cc roared happily and was willing to carry on! "Oh, terimah kasih", I thank him. "You come my house, drink tea?" he asks.

So I follow his motorcycle for some more minutes on the highway, then we turn right into the jungle where I didn't even see a path. After five minutes of bumping over some kind of foot path, we arrive in his parent's house. Ever so hospitable, he does not only prepare tea and bring bananas, he also turns on the TV for us, and blaringly loud. We sit on a plastic couch with kitsch flower deco. Against the TV noise, I find out this guy works in Kuta. In Kuta! That is the disco mile with attached beach in the south of Bali, where ever increasing plane loads of westerners work very hard to break every single custom and rule that unique Bali society ha or had. Later, after my visit, on October 12th 2002, Kuta was bombed by terrorists, 200 people dead. I am very surprised that this guy, who serves 100s of drugged, bored misbehaving holiday makers every day, that in his rare free time, en route to his beloved family, he stops to help just another westerner! I tell him how much I do appreciate his helpfulness.

But some people out there are too good to be true. My man shrugs: "You people. I people. Must help."

Stickman says:

Just fabulous stories – I bet these were some of the best times of your life.