In my recent trip to Bali, I have learnt that Indonesia is not what I use to think it is.
The holiday is well planned. I was sick of my job and the pretentious people around me, and that I was taking care of the house because my parents were away doing the Hajj.
And I left 48 hours after my parents landed in Singapore.
For a first timer in Bali, no doubt, it was a sense-opener. I had a lot of input from the magical island, the sights, the sounds, the smell, the taste and also the feelings I have not felt for a long time.
But what amazes me the most is the friendliness of the people. I use to think that these people are just friendly to me because they either want to sell something or they need something from me. But when I was climbing up and down the ancient stair, taking lots of photos in Gunung Kawi in TampakSiring, there is old lady who was selling memorabilia and drinks in one of the stops. She initially offered us to sell cold drinks when we were on the way down to see the temple but we told her that we will be back after the trip. A very typical excuse given by most tourist when they were touted for things that they don’t need, or might not need yet.
So, as we were climbing our way up to our vehicle, Mother Nature dry us up like an old well, and coincidently, we stop right at the stall where I promised this old lady that we will be back. So, I guess why not stop for a while for a bottle of cold fresh mineral water. As she served us our drinks, she offered us to sit on this patio and surprisingly, as me and my partner sat comfortably on it, she sat on the ground beside me. Her face has this sense of panic and sadness. And the usual conversation begins. She asks me where I was from and how similar I look to the Indonesians, and how friendly I was. And then she went on to comment on my sarong that I was wearing. (It was custom to be covered enough when you visit temples and important places in Bali) Apparently, she realised that I was wearing a high quality expensive sarong (I was) that I bought in Solo, Java recently. She was admiring and touching it and she was happy that I was wearing it. The sarong was adorning the Central Javanese Royal Palace prints it must have look very amazing to her. Apparently, she also realised that I have tore some parts of it as I was climbing the stairs. She insists that I must sew it back as soon as possible so that the poor textile would not be too damaged. I was agreeing with her the whole time about fixing the batik back. But what is more amazing is that she has appreciated my sarong very much and has separated the sarong as a valuable item to her that it might as well have life of its own. She was very concern about the tore on my sarong and insists that I fix it so that the sarong would not be left alone to thrown away. Not that it matters much to her but it seem it is.
But that is not all that happened. While we were talking about my beautiful sarong, she was also lamenting about the tourists in her area. It seems that this year, not many tourists are visiting Bali. She said that if she was to compare last year and now, she definitely have not earn even half of what she earn last year. She was very worried, maybe for her existence and probably her family’s existence too because if you don’t earn the money, you would just be hungry the whole time. I am sure she has her shelter covered but I can feel for her. Her earnings are dropping and there is not much she can do.
And in the middle of our little conversation, a vivacious Black lady passes by and she stops and asks me in Bahasa Indonesia, if I was local. I was pleasantly surprised and I replied that I was from Singapore and she commented that I had a very nice sarong on. I was shocked, but was more pleased because the sarong I was wearing was getting a lot of attention. And so I asked her where is she from and apparently, she was from Suriname, but she has been living in Central Java for 10 over years and that she used to be a television host and now she and her husband is retiring in Central Java. (No wonder she can remain vivacious and smiley the whole time). She also commented how easily I blend with the locals. Well, it was not hard considering that I had brown skin like them and that my grandparents are from Java. I was very pleasantly surprised by the little break I had on the patio. When she left to continue with her discovery trail, the shop lady turned and commented to me how friendly she was and that Indonesia has made and kept her friendly. I was again surprised by this remark and she goes on that most tourist that she have seen always have a long face when they walk pass. Not even a smile even when she tried to be friendly or tries to sell cold drinks to them.
And while finishing up my drinks, I was glad that I made contact with her, bought from her and made conversation with her. I realised that in this few minutes I was there, we managed to break the shallow tourist talk, but I also get an impression of how this simple lady was thinking and her worries and qualms about her existence. It really felt that I have somehow connected to this lady.
Before I left, I paid her for the drinks and said our goodbyes and left. And she didn’t even try to sell or push me into buying the souvenirs in her shop.