the revolution without me
by Mad Dog
The last revolution in the
United States was almost 225 years ago and I missed it. From what I
recall hearing in school, and the reviews I read of The Patriot,
it was a pretty good one as revolutions go.
Iíve been here four and a half out of my six months and
Iím trying to figure out what to do next. Iím not going to lay
my neurotic lack-of-decision-making process out here for all to see.
Trust me, itís not pretty. Letís just say that day to day,
minute to minute, it cycles through: stay here for another month
or two, go to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a while, head back to the
U.S. where I have a prospective petsitting gig in Portland for three
weeks and nothing else lined up, or, well, something else.
As usual, Iím not
wracking my brain, Iím waiting for divine inspiration, though at
the moment any inspiration would do nicely. Iíve tossed around the
pros and cons: it feels pretty good here/ thereís not a lot of
varied sensory input/thereís some semblance of community/
thereís no Balinese word for infrastructure, blah, blah, blah,
boring, boring, boring. But this week a new factor cropped up:
itís looking more and more like the government could topple
andówhat can I say?óIíve never been around that before.
The last revolution in the United States was almost 225 years ago
and I missed it. From what I recall hearing in school, and the
reviews I read of The Patriot, it was a pretty good one as
revolutions go. But unfortunately we donít do these things every
day. Or even every century. Itís a shame too, since thereís a
lot to be said for shaking things up once in a while. Sure itís a
big change having a president who has more money than experience and
more of Daddyís staff than brains, but thatís just not the same
thing. Hell, thatís not revolution or evolutionóitís
more like a recurring nightmare.
In the rest of the world
they take these things much more seriously. They fill the
streets in protest, they have general strikes that paralyze the
country, and they block the roads with trucks just to see if traffic
can really get any worse than usual.
Face it, as Americans weíre too civilized, too genteel, and
most of all, too jaded. We get excited over the president getting a
blow job, hanging chads in Florida, and our favorite soap opera
being interrupted by an annoying announcement about some devastating
earthquake in India. But we donít get too excited. Except maybe
over missing those three minutes of All My Children.
Sure, weíll spout off at
the dinner table and watch the family recoil in horror as the mashed
potato bits fly out of our mouth. Weíll even write a letter to the
editor and not bother to mail it. But take to the streets and
demonstrate? Hah! The U.S. hasnít seen a good demonstration since
Nixon resigned. God, I wish we had him to kick around some more.
Itís true there was
Seattle during the WTO conference, but that wasnít a purely
American protest. Besides, no one had any idea what the cause
wasónot those demonstrating nor those at home watching it because
they accidentally hit the wrong button on the remote. In an
interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, one activist who
was at a demonstration training campóďMom, instead of going to
computer camp this summer can I go to Camp
Its-a-Pro-Test?Ēócouldnít tell the reporter what she was
against, only that she was against ďsomethingĒ. So it was really
just a mass temper tantrum, and the best most of them could come up
with was, ďBecause. Thatís why.Ē
In the U.S. the only way
you can get this many students in the street at one time is to give
them free tickets to the taping of MTVís Spring Break. And tell
them Jennifer Lopez will be having sex with Daisy Fuentes on
the rest of the world they take these things much more seriously. In
fact, itís an important part of their life. They fill the streets
in protest, they have general strikes that paralyze the country, and
they block the roads with trucks just to see if traffic can really
get any worse than usual. Maybe itís not as ďcivilizedĒ, but
itís passionate. In the U.S. our passion is reserved for the
Thursday night TV line-up, small nation-sized bags of chips, and
spouses during the first year of marriage.
Hey, I might get the chance to be around when a government is
All week tens of thousands
of students have been taking to the streets of Jakarta protesting
because President Abdurrahman Wahid was allegedly involved in two
scandals, neither of which, unfortunately for him, involves sex.
Each day they demonstrate in front of the House of Representatives,
making their views known, trying to effect positive social change,
and putting off starting that term paper on ďThe Long-term Effects
of PlayStation on My Grade Point Average.Ē
In the U.S. the only way you can get this many students in the
street at one time is to give them free tickets to the taping of
MTVís Spring Break. And tell them Jennifer Lopez will be having
sex with Daisy Fuentes on stage. With a donkey. Hey, you usually
have to go to Tijuana to see something that good.
For my parentsí sake, I
do need to mention that Jakarta, where all this action is taking
place, is 600 miles away and across the Bali Strait. While itís
true Bali is a province of Indonesia, itís had precious little
political demonstrating in the past. In fact, one popular guidebook
describes a student demonstration in Denpasar when Suharto was
ousted as ďmore like a street party.Ē
Not long ago, in Kuta, a
guy actually asked me if I needed transport while I was climbing out
of a car and hadnít even closed the door yet. If theyíre
nothing, theyíre an optimistic bunch.
canít guarantee weíre immune here, but itís not likely to be a
problem. For one thing, Bali is predominantly Hindu and people are
much less hot-headed. For another, it survives on tourism, and face
it, political uprisings arenít good for tourism. Well, not unless
you want to attract a bunch of people like me, and I donít think
Iím what most tourist boards consider their prime target market.
But it definitely has an effectótamu are few and far
between right now. Much of this is natural since it is, after all,
February, and thatís hardly prime traveling season. Plus itís
the rainy season, though so far itís been a pretty light one.
(Excuse me while I continue typing with my dfcfuwindm gdnigy...I
mean, my fingers crossed.)
Sitting on the steps at Tinoís, a market on Jalan Raya,
I talk to the drivers who hang around asking every non-Balinese who
walks by if they want ďtransportĒ while making steering motions
with their hands, even the drivers who have motorbikes and not cars.
Theyíre persistent. Some days they ask me if I want transport
while I have my motorcycle helmet in one hand and the key in the
other. Not long ago, in Kuta, a guy actually asked me if I needed
transport while I was climbing out of a car and hadnít even closed
the door yet. If theyíre nothing, theyíre an optimistic bunch.
But theyíre not very optimistic at the moment. Business has been
slower than usual and they blame the U.S. government. After all,
theyíre the ones who keep issuing those pesky travel warnings. You
know, the ones that say, ďThe Department of State urges American
citizens to defer nonessential travel to Indonesia.Ē
So I check the newspaper
every few days to keep an eye on the situation. And watch the news
on TV wondering what the hell theyíre saying.
Several drivers have asked me why they donít disclude Bali when
they issue these. I tried to explain that as far as our government
is concerned, Indonesia is Indonesia. I told one that Iíd see if I
could get them to change it to say ďIndonesia with the exception
of Bali.Ē Now every time I see him he asks me if Iíve heard back
yet. At first I told him Madeleine Albrightís handphone was always
busy. Then I told him Colin Powell took over and I didnít have his
phone number. When he pressed me I said a friend was trying to get
it for me. Iím running out of excuses. Iím dangerously close to
having to tell him a gecko ate my e-mail.
I can understand how people
get the wrong impression about whatís going on here. After all,
there are problems in Timor, Aceh, and Jakarta to name just a few.
The fact that Indonesia is made up of 13,670 islands and the trouble
spots are at least 600 miles away from me isnít made clear on the
nightly news. Not that I expect Peter Jennings to use my location as
a basis for describing Indonesian unrest, though it certainly would
put my parentsí minds at ease if he would. It might also put a
stop to the biweekly e-mails they send asking if itís really a
good idea for me to be here. And while Iím at it, will I remind
them of my real name, which son I am, and whether the Christmas
presents I sent them are really lost in the mail or, as in past
years, am I just making it up.
So I check the newspaper
every few days to keep an eye on the situation. And watch the news
on TV wondering what the hell theyíre saying. I really hate to
base a decision about what Iím going to do with my life on a
governmentís political unrest, but it could be worse. I could flip
a soon-to-be-devalued coin.
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These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them while waiting for the revolution to start.