Monday, November 29, 2010

Travel Warning!

This week the US government has issued a travel warning for US-Americans traveling to Indonesia. Oops. Too late. I was already there when I read the travel warning. I was on the island of Bali in the beach resort of Kuta, the site of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and injured 240 more.

I read of the latest travel warning on the third day of our five-day stay on the island. Should I venture outside our hotel compound? Bali has returned to relative normalcy in the last eight years. The streets of Kuta are not only flooded with water; there are also lots of tourists, mostly Aussies, around even as the rainy season sets in.

Tourism is more than just important to the 3.6 million people who live on the island; it’s a drug they’ve become dependent on. Over half of Bali’s population is entirely hooked. There are not just twenty men offering you a ride in their “taksi” but 200, not fifty souvenir shops selling exactly the same trinkets but 500, not 100 girls offering foot reflexology massage but 1000. It’s impossible that all of these people are able to make a living from tourism, especially when the island is under a constant threat of terrorist attacks. One has to ask what the future holds for Bali’s population as they become more and more dependent on tourists for their daily rice.

What’s worse, they’ve taught this behavior to the monkeys. The Monkey Forests of Bali are a textbook example of the classic Tourist Trap. Who doesn’t like cute, playful monkeys? As long as you understand exactly what the Monkey Forests are, I guess it’s fine to go there. I didn’t know what to expect.

When you arrive and pay your entrance fee, you are assigned a mandatory guide.

“Can’t we just walk around by ourselves?”

“You must have guide. Not safe.”

“Oh come on.”


So we entered the area with our guide. Not twenty seconds later a king monkey attacked me when I made the mistake of putting my right hand in my pocket. He jumped up onto my shorts and pulled himself around me, jabbing and biting anything that might contain food. Finally, our guide batted him off with her umbrella.

“Not put hand in pocket,” she said—laughing.

“Tell tourist this before tourist put hand in pocket,” I said.

“Ha ha. You funny.”

“Not joke.” I looked down at my clothes covered in monkey tracks. There was a hole torn in my t-shirt.

“King monkey. Very strong. Mean. You want to feed?” She pointed at the container with the food that we could purchase for a small price.

“Nah,” I said. “So, do the monkeys forage for food themselves or do you feed them?”

You feed them,” she said.

“This is the only food they get?”


“Ah-hah.” I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. These animals were vicious and desperate to get the food in that container because they were HUNGRY. We kept walking. The next spectacle was enormous bats. I could only assume that they were also a sort of circus show. The whole thing made me so sad for these animals.

After about ten minutes of walking around, our guide hurried us around the temple and down another path.

“Down here,” she said. “My shop.”


“Yes, my shop. Souvenir,” she said.

At that point we turned a corner and a woman, who turned out to be our guide’s sister, greeted us: “Drink? Singha beer?”

“I don’t drink beer.”

“Come in. Shopping.” She was pointing to her shop.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to buy souvenirs.”

“For luck,” she said. “For luck.”

This is what everyone says when they want you to buy something. “For luck.” Whose luck? Mine or theirs? It’s like in the Middle East when the salesperson tries to convince you to buy something because you’re his first customer of the day, and not buying something will cause him to have bad business all day. One shopowner said this to me at around three o’clock in the afternoon one time. Obviously, he’d already had a fairly poor day.

As an obsessed traveler it’s hard for me to come to terms with my role as a tourist. It’s something I struggle with every time I travel to a developing country and see how desperate the people get when there aren't enough tourists to go around. It will probably be quite a while before I head back to Southeast Asia. The trips for 2011 are mostly in Canada and Europe.

Right now I’m home for a few days. Yay :)

I must be off (to wash clothes),

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writers Abroad Anthology

While I'm off riding about on bumpy roads in Asia, have a look at the new Writers Abroad Anthology. My short story "Hunger," the story of a troubled young man from Hackney (near London) who thinks his life might work in Germany.

I'll be back from my travels on November 30 with lots of photos and stories.

I must be off,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog Carnival -- Language and Place

The first edition of the language and place blog carnival is now online!

It includes 24 contributors, and is hosted by blueprintreview editor Dorothee Lang in virtual notes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Free Burma! End Fascism! Burn Guy Fawkes!

I’ve been a little stressed lately—problems at work, problems with the tenants, etc.—so I was really looking forward to a relaxing, quiet weekend in London. Thanks to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, however, the weekend was not meant to be quiet. Bonfire night is traditionally November 5 to celebrate the foiled Catholic attempt on the Protestant King’s life, but the Britons of today extend the festivities to last all weekend. Even after four centuries, the British can’t get enough of this party.

The fireworks started as the sun set. Closing the window so I could hear the TV, I saw an enormous bonfire dangerously close to one of the sycamore trees that line the quay where we live.

“There’s a fire really close to our building down there,” I said.

“Don’t be such a sissy,” said Xavier the Georgian oil tycoon.

“Fair enough. So, do you want to watch Gok’s How to Look Good Naked or the X-Factor?”


“And I’m a sissy?”

“Point taken,” said Xavier, a big Gok fan, but who isn’t? Gok’s good for the world. Gok for Prime Minister! Gok for Prime Minister!

In the reflection of the next highrise I watched a fireworks display for a few minutes and then made dinner. With the windows closed it was possible to hear the TV if we turned it up really loud. Imagine Gok Wan teaching a pretty but plump woman how to look good naked in a war zone.

The following morning Xavier the Georgian oil tycoon and I set off on one of our famous London walks. As usual we had no idea where we were going: just seeing what we could see. Xavier thought a walk might relax me (see first sentence above). If you’ve ever been in London on a sunny day in November, you’ll know that there are calmer places on earth to be.

If you’re looking for a peaceful place to explore at the weekend in London, head for financial district. It’s a ghost town, but a few coffee shops will still be open. The architecture is interesting, and you won’t be elbow to elbow on a busy street. After that head for the Thames Path on the St. Paul’s Cathedral side, where there are fewer tourists.

This was sort of relaxing. We had soup. This was also relaxing. We walked up to Trafalgar Square by way of Covent Garden (the opposite of relaxing). By the time we got to the main square of London, it was apparent that a demonstration was gathering steam.

“Free free! Burma Burma!”

I snapped a few pictures of the protesters and walked along in front of them for a while. As we reached Cockspur Street, an Asian guy with a megaphone turned to me and asked, “Excuse me. Where is Pall Mell?”

“Do you mean Pall Mall?”

“Oh, yes, hahahaha, Pall Mall.”

I pointed in the direction of the road that takes you directly to Buckingham Palace. “It’s down there.”

“Oh, of course. Thank you very much.” And he led around 200 Burmese demonstrators in the direction I’d pointed to.

I swung around to Xavier. “Xav, do you know where Pall Mall is?”

“Of course not.”

“Neither do I.”

Größere Kartenansicht

OK, I sent them to The Mall instead of Pall Mall, but no one's perfect . . . except Gok. I hope they saw the Queen. And if they didn't, I hope they're not mad at me. I'm the kind of guy who likes to be helpful even when I don't know what I'm talking about. Some people find this adorable. They really do.

Suspecting that I had sent them the wrong way and that they would soon realize this, we ducked inside a gallery until “Free free! Burma Burma!” trailed off toward the palace. When we felt it was safe to come out, we headed toward Westminster where we could catch the Jubilee line home. It was at first a most relaxing walk. I took a dozen pictures of fall foliage (which you can see on my facebook page). You might think this is boring, but I call it relaxing.

As we reached Whitehall street, another parade of demonstrators was making its way toward the Houses of Parliament. This angry, passionate demonstration—over a thousand strong—was against neo-nazism, fascism and islamaphobia. Most of the protesters appeared to be members of neighourhoods trying to get their communities back.

“Our street, our houses, our neighbourhoods!”

People screaming and singing, whistles squealing, a hundred megaphones. The world is not relaxing these days. There is a time for everything; maybe now is not the time to be relaxed?

I must be off,