Friday, January 18, 2008

January 14, 2008

We’re back, intact and stronger than ever after two weeks of rest in beautiful Bali. Of course the trip was enlightening in many ways. No matter how much we try, we just can’t get away from that whole enlightenment thing here in Southeast Asia.

My brother Greg was told a couple of years ago while visiting Thailand that white people all look alike. And it’s true, you know. White people really do all look the same. That’s one thing I learned.

Well, maybe not all of us, but I see what all the talk is about. Listen. Sarah and I have been in Indonesia for close to five months. Most of that time has been in Makassar, Sulawesi. Makassar is a port city, a working town. There’s really not much of a tourism industry here, and therefore, not many westerners. So, other than our co-workers, white people are a rare site here. We get stared at a lot. Likewise, during this time we’ve slowly gotten accustomed to distinguishing the differences between some of the many ethnicities that make up Sulawesi.

Now Kuta, Bali is only about an hour’s flight southeast from Makassar. But the difference between the two cities is worlds apart. Australians, Europeans and Americans love Kuta and southern Bali. Honkies and surf shops are everywhere. Suddenly there were Starbucks, Polo, CK Casual, mini-marts, and Chi-Chi’s all around me. It was a bit of an adjustment. Jarring, kind of. Sometimes I felt like I was only in Florida. (We did, however, finally get some Mexican food there – the first time in more than four months.)

Our first morning in Bali while sipping my Starbucks coffee, I kept thinking I saw people I recognized. Then I’d look closer and realize, nah, I don’t know them after all. Then Sarah and I turned it into a game. Look, there’s so-and-so… or Hey, is that…? Man, we cracked ourselves up. Then it hit me: I haven’t seen such a concentrated gathering of white folk in long time. At first glace, we look basically the same.

It’s true. We Americans think we’re all so unique and different and free. But stop your flag waving just a minute and hear me out. We (like all ethnicities) all fall into a few categories of body-types and facial structures. And hairstyles… don’t even get me started. There really aren’t that many stylish and unique styles. It takes truly creative people to look different… if not a bit crazy.

Then there are the things we really think set us apart: piercings and tattoos. Oh boy. Looking from the outside in… those are some of the most generic of the “style” lot. You got the black extreme blade-flame on the dudes deltoids and biceps. You got the dragonfly or butterfly on the chicks stomachs or shoulders. You got the extreme eyebrow piercing, the extreme emo-rocker lip piercing, the extreme-chic modified beauty mark lip piercing. Not that these look bad all the time. Sometimes they’re done well. I’m just saying they’re not as unique and radical as we fool ourselves into believing.

Mixed in to this, there were your basic doofusses with their hats on backwards and wearing tank tops (or worse, no shirt at all), Harley wannabes, the jocks looking to beat up some freshman when they get back to the West, sluts trying to score a local surf instructor, the shopaholic, the gloomy bored teenager, the families always walking around eating ice cream, the shrewd businessman or woman in $400 sunglasses who can’t relax, the lonely divorcee looking for love, and the frumpy or fuddy-duddy dresser.

That’s pretty much the vast majority of white people who travel in the tropics. I’m sure someone thought they knew me from somewhere too. Hey, isn’t that the tortured artist barista I didn’t tip who was rude to me?

I got so confused. I was in a sea of clones. It was like a 21st century version of that Twilight Zone where people of the future chose which face and body they wanted and everyone looked the same. We realized, shopping bags in hand, it takes more that just buying stuff to make someone unique after all.

After two days, there was nothing left for us to do but travel north away from it all.

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