Friday, December 16, 2005

Bali or Bust

Growing up in New York most of my life, I was severely affected by the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, both in 1991 when it first occurred, and again in 2001- the latter's fruition obliterating both towers into smoldering rubble.

But I've resisted the urge to dwell on how "9/11 affected me." I find it solipsistic and rather aggravating when people drone on about how they "knew someone who knew someone," or the fact that everyone, regardless of their involvement in the incident, wants to capitalize on the grief and pity involved. The poet Ai captured the essence of this malign spirit of needing to be a part of the grief for selfish reasons. Her poem about 9/11 dealt with a women who lost her brother years ago, but fell in with a crowd of mourners who had all lost loved one's in the devastation. This woman, for whatever psychologically self-serving purposes, attached her brother's death with the 9/11 incident, and found support amongst the myriad mourners.

This is to simply illustrate the self-aggrandizing people indulge in when it comes to horrific events, such as 9/11, or wars, natural disasters and the like.

Living in Saipan, deep in the Pacific Ocean for the last three years, I find little to complain about; especially in regards to personal safety against atrocity or natural disaster. My first brush with disaster came last Christmas holiday, when my girlfriend Jennifer and I planned a trip to Bali, Indonesia as a chance to explore more of Asia and to break the monotony that comes with small island living.

We flew out on a relatively uneventful flight, with little complication or intrigue. Landing in Denpasar, Bali, we quietly found a cab and sacked out in our small hotel in the heart of Bali's tourist and commerce district, Kuta.

Evidently missing the memo telling us not to eat ice or fruit juices, we were in the throws of 'Bali Belly' or in medical terms, Shigella, by 8am the next morning. Spending little time outside the toilet, we largely missed the ubiquitous news and media coverage of the largest natural disaster in terms of loss of lives in the past 100 years. Not hours after we touched down in Indonesia, the infamous tsunami struck just 500 miles west of us in the Aceh province, on Sumatra.

Little did we know, our families and friends were having minor conniptions trying to get in touch with us. Memory being vague, our families didn't remember just where in Indonesia we were traveling to, so the fear of our untimely death to a tsunami was foremost in their mind.

Luckily the next day in an Internet cafe, we were able to assuage their fears and check in, letting them know we were hundreds of miles from the affected area.

Though, this event actually threw me. We were not very far away from where 35,000 to 70,000 people were feared dead. My thoughts and feelings of 9/11 paled in comparison to this canastrophic loss of life.

While the news of more and more dead in Aceh flooded the Indonesian news on Bali, we somehow managed to enjoy ourselves, spending time hiking, swimming, and observing the almost spiritual aura that rests like a cloud over all of Bali's on goings. The synergy between people of all races and national origins seemed magical. The interaction between everyone was respectful and inspiring.

Fast forward to this Christmas Holiday. We plan another trip to Bali, this time longer and flush with antibiotics to quell any nasty bugs that my try to ruin our trip. There are no known reports of natural disasters going to rip through the region. Seismologists are monitoring the whole of the Indian ocean for the least blip of an earthquake. I have no fears in the world something natural, but after October's renewed bombings, Bali's Zen-like atmosphere is now one of tension and dismay.

Compare the two events: the 2004 tsunami killed upwards of 60,000 people in less than one day. This past bombing killed 25. Yet the fear created by the latter is enough to drive thousands of tourists from traveling to the region. This is unfortunate when the local economy depends heavily and in some cases exclusively on foreign tourism.

Immediately following the October bombing, Australia-the largest single contingency of tourists to Bali-issued a warning against traveling to the region. The U.S. State department announced that further bombings on the predominantly Hindu island are imminent, and terrorists will be looking for 'American targets."

Keeping all this in mind, I boldly and possibly foolishly go through with our plans to travel to the island again. I cannot imagine completely changing my plan for a vague threat of a repeat performance by terrorists linked to Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah. On an island just over 3 million inhabitants, I am reluctant to think I am a target. Furthermore, the sheer odds of being involved in another bombing plot seem preposterously low.

Yet, I have my doubts. The insidious effect of terrorism is to instill the feeling that the New York Lottery wants you to feel also: "It could happen to you." While unrealistic, the seed of fear is planted in your psyche, to grow into a fecund plant, growing quickly and voraciously.

It is ironic to think that an event like this past bombing, which in terms of human loss is insignificant when compared to the previous year's tsunami, could still cause this much fear in travelers. What this very succinctly does, is illustrate the effectiveness terrorism has on creating fear, xenophobia, and mistrust of others.

Like the many people who write about their trauma in 9/11, whether significant or insignificant, I must agree with a very basic principal: to not let my life be changed because of fear of terrorism. It is with a very self-conscious mind that I say I will continue my trip, so I do not let terrorists dictate what I can and cannot do. And while that may sound frivolous, self-aggrandizing, or even insipid, I must say it because I have found, after all these challenges to our world and our life, that this may be the only way to live.


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At 2:53 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger harry said...

happy christmas!

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