Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, January 2000)

Old World Rage: "You're supposed to love me! Take this, WHACK"


Bali has survived the New Year ragers who stormed the island’s party spots—Uluwatu, Canggu, Seminyak—and is now moving into an era of rage reassessment.
Healthy big targets like the nepotism of the Soeharto family, the municipal planter boxes that line the island’s avenues and the world’s tallest Garuda statue cum 180,000 cubic concrete metre "Culture Park" are being replaced, in this era of reform, by rage against social injustices, environmental abuse and Australian abolitionists. But what is rage in Bali, where the spin-doctoring of tourists sissy-fits has long been regarded as an art form? Does the phrase "run amuck" really come from Malay? Read on:

2 December, 1999
In the International Herald Tribune a letter appears from Man of the Millennium, East Timor’s freedom fighter Hose Ramos Horta. The Nobel laureate has spent the last 24 years in exile in a controlled rage against the military atrocities being perpetuated in his country. "Almost every family has been shattered" he writes, "I lost three brothers and a sister."
"Indonesian forces are the primary culprits for East Timor’s suffering in the last 24 years, but many in the west share the responsibilityfor their silence, indifference and even active complicity with the illegal Indonesian occupation.
But despite the anger they feel, the East Timorese who fought so bravely for freedom must now summon their best humanity and bury the past, forgive their worst enemies and build a new nation that deserves the sacrifices of so many."
Ramos-Horta has channeled his rage, the rage he must certainly have felt this week when he returned to his hometown to find everything gone— he has channeled his rage into charity not revenge. He has lost no time, as Foreign Minister designate, proffering an olive branch to Jakarta. Indonesian president Gus Dur, wasted no time accepting the offer and, in keeping with the fast-track policy of Indonesia’s Reform Era Government, the leaders of the breakaway "Xanana Republic" were soon ensconced in the presidential suite of the Regent Hotel in Jakarta reaping the harvest of channeled rage. In Indonesian terms the country’s speedy about face was tantamount to an apology.
In Bali, speedy ‘about faces’ often confuse foreigners: How could the doe-eyed chauffeur become a land proxy demon overnight? How can people ready to kill (when feeling falsely-accused) look non-plussed and out of apologies whew confronted with hard evidence. Is there life after Legian rag-trade let downs? Who shot the sheriff and the weasel goes pop? ASIA IS FULL OF MYSTERIES (my millennium mantra).
The words ’plin-plan’ in the Indonesian language roughly translate as the English "flip-flop." The phrase describes the Javanese undecisiveness and habit of squirming out of trouble, rather than confronting it, made world-famous during Soeharto’s final six months in power in 1987-88. The word "amuck" in the English language is borrowed from the Malay "amok," which has had quite on airing in Balinese papers lately.
Like most foreign observers, on the one day of social unrest on the fabled isle I refused to believe that the Balinese had anything to do with the rioting, until I heard that trees had been felled. There is a peculiar quirk in the Balinese’ nature-loving nature way you see: trees, particularly beloved courtyard shade trees, that the Balinese often collect the brunt of any unchecked rage.

December 10th, 1999
Bali, indeed all of Indonesia, now has a new television station called SWARA, or "voice" The station features real live members of parliament conducting sessions of the lower house. The honorable house members, muzzled for 35 years by the reign of terror, are now raging against the corrupt bankers, the trigger-happy generals and their coalition partners. One member of Parliament, Mr. Permadi, tonight raged against the irrepressible Mary Robinson, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights who is about to summon some top Indonesian Generals to the Hague for questioning about East Timor. "We should be like our brave brother Khadafi" raged Permadi, the self styled libertarian, "and not allow our men to be sent to a foreign court." None of Permadi’s fellow parliamentarians raised an eyebrow upon registering this ingenious line of debate, but I started raging, against the television, against SWARA and against Permadi. To no avail. "A foreigner chained to a tree just softens the blow" goes on old Balinese saying.
The Balinese are often outrageous, in their dress, their procession planning, their sense of humour, but rarely outraged enough by an act of environmental vandalism, like the destruction of Turtle Island, or the frothings of politicians, like the example above. Freedom is slavery. War is Peace.
They were outraged by being (seemingly) duped, once again, by Jakarta, the millennium’s pariah, during the recent presidential elections; the island had voted overwhelming (89%) for Megawati in the national election, and the Balinese are now acutely aware of their "Tourism Primadona" status and the leverage it has in a democratic meritocracy. Megawati’s election as vice president calmed the rage in Bali but rage persists in the far flung provinces of Aceh and Ambon.

Jakarta, 15th December 1999
I stand in front of the Regent of Jakarta, my back to the East Timorese entourage, raging against the scatter Buddhas (like scatter cushions) that have appeared at the entrance to hotel the glamorous new Four Seasons Appartments. Security think I am mad. In fact, I am mad because raging against kitsch in the new millennium won’t get you anywhereyou have to love your enemy, like the Buddha taught us, even if the enemy is ugliness itself, and plant trees, and dredge harbours faster than the developers can fill them in. Be like Ramos-Horta and Bishop Bello, stare down outrage with wildly-suppressed rage.
The Balinese say tourists have "short stomachs" (anger emanates from the stomach according to Balinese belief): certainly the Balinese ability to blink endearingly through tirades of verbal abuse, and tease the westerner with feats of rage-patience, has driven more than one ex-pat. completely around the bend. "Walk softly and don’t carry a big stick" was the old colonial adage.
"The price for peace is eternal vigilance" scream the new-age New-Balinese real estate barons.
"Cool it, baby: life’s a bitch and then you die" is the modern Balinese’ way of looking at life—wholesome, pragmatic, and practical.

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