Catch 22

Trip Start Jan 31, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Friday, April 25, 2008

Pineapple, pineapple, pineapple?!
Massage, massage, massage?!
Necklace, necklace, necklace????!!
Laundry, laundry, laundry?!

"Tidak terima kasih.... no thank you."

That became a mantra over the seven days we spent in Gili Meno. The hawkers walking the beach on a daily basis so frequently between the hours of 10 - 3pm that they knew us by name, nationality and where we were staying. Of course. We would shake our heads saying 'no thank you' or 'not right now' or 'PISS OFF I'M TRYING TO READ MY BOOK IN PEACE BY THIS BEAUTIFUL BEACH'. Okay - not really. But I thought it, I really did.

Spoodle and his friends would just shake their heads at the hawkers, having even written a song about their persistence. When I finally allowed one of the ladies to wash my clothes, Kim (aka Spoodle) nearly choked on his own tongue when she asked me for a hundred thousand rupiah. An unheard of amount for laundry. Being one day before we were leaving I felt a bit jaded by all this "rip off the tourists" business and I just slumped in my seat grumpily. I held out a fifty thousand rupiah bill to her and said I wasn't giving her anymore than that while trying to smile politely and muttering to Kim that it was more money than I'd spent on laundry in all of S.E. Asia. (I would have done my own but I had no idea where to find the fresh water and washing your clothes in the sea water you have been bathing in for a week is really quite pointless.)

I understand why they do it. Greed is not a foreign concept to any 'Westerner'; however, it gets a bit disheartening when you aren't sure if someone is talking to you/being your friend because they genuinely like you or because they want to take you for all you're worth. Having this discussion with Kim and his friends they all agreed that they don't even bother going to "the center" of Meno anymore because everyone assumes they want to sell them something. They said they let the guests find them instead.

That being said, I can't imagine staying on either Gili Air or Trawangan. Gili Meno was the smallest and quietest of all three Lombok Islands and the hawkers there, though persistent, weren't aggressive. On the other islands, you were lucky to get out of their line of vision with your soul intact. I have heard it all, so much so that I could make a career out of hawking.

"Hello, how are you? What's your name? Where are you from? I have beautiful pearls for cheap price! Morning price, open sale. Lucky lucky! Just for you, because you my friend. How much you want to give me? I won't give you Japanese tourist price (that one killed me), I'll give you local price! Only for you. Only today. I need more to get back to Lombok." And on and on and on and on.

I tried, valiently, to take all of this with a smile but I can't stand the dishonesty. All the lying and weasling really starts to wear you down by the end of it. It isn't fun anymore. Especially when you have pre-teens coming up to you with necklaces begging you to buy some so they can afford books for school when you know, for a fact, that this particular child does not attend school.

What I find discouraging is that tourism on these islands/in these places is breeding a culture based on money and greed and dishonesty. All of these children are growing up with a figure sum in their minds and they will encounter nothing but disappointment day after day when they don't reach that amount. They will be taught how to lie to the tourists, how to charge outrageous prices for something that is worth an eighth of that and they will never feel one ounce of guilt because perhaps they think we owe it to them.

I told Kim and his friends that I didn't travel to Indonesia looking for a "cheap holiday". I came here looking to experience the culture, the food, the people, the music. I came to educate myself on a different lifestyle and to experience something I'd only seen or read about in books. And yet I've had a hard time finding it for having to wade through the wreckage tourism (aka the ability for me to be here at all) has created of any authentic culture left.

That's the problem, they told me. For every one person on this island who doesn't want things to change, who wants to maintain the lifestyle they grew up knowing, nine people are begging the government to build more bungalows and attract more tourists in hopes of bringing in more money. Money, money, money. It's sad and inevitable.

I taught Kim the meaning of the expression 'Catch 22' because that's how I feel it is here. If you didn't allow any tourism, there would be little to no economy but when you completely destroys the culture and the people. Down here you really are 'fucked if you do and fucked if you don't'. I can only pray that next time I come back I will not find that Indonesia has completely turned into Khao San Rd.

Tidak terima kasih.
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