Monday, 9 June 2014

Islanesia part II

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller.

The more time you spend in one place the more layers of life and dimensions you uncover. You barely scratch a surface as a tourist or at best: end up in distilled mock-ups, heritage prosthesis of a "local culture" carefully designed to give you condensed and usually sad version of the real experience. Seeing more gradients requires sacrifice. Whether it is a real danger, lack of comfort or sometimes losing your wits, it is a long term investment and if you're patient enough reward will be worth the effort.

Bali seems like a different country - for many tourists heading to Kuta it is. For more sensitive, culture-oriented (or just Ubud oriented) it's a romantic totem of long forgotten history, Indonesia without Islam which seems sometimes like an alien implant not fully accepted by local immune system, loud and omnipresent conqueror that dominated gentle beliefs of ancient people. Mosques in other parts of the country are like Gothic cathedrals in Europe - rich and shiny guardians of religious matrix, towering over other buildings which seem only temporary shelters for workers creating their glory. Bali has this charm of Hindu and Buddhist tradition you can see in Thailand. What happened to this legendary Muslim tolerance of 10th century, open minded religious philosophers implanting seeds of ethics and science instead of regulations and moral constrains?

Amazing mental feature you can find in Indonesian mentality almost everywhere is horror vacui. Emptiness scares people here. If you look at art, every inch of a canvas is covered with paint and every sculpture with intricate patterns. Silence must be filled with music (preferably maximum volume and high-pitch, especially in the night bus as silence then is the most disturbing), sound of a motorbike engine or karaoke session; if there is a space between vehicles on the road in the heaviest traffic, it must be filled even with crazy and dangerous maneuvers. Horns, screaming, singing - all to deter demons of silence lurking in the nothingness (has Heidegger's flagship philosophical and linguistic experiment "Being and Nothingness" ever been translated to Indonesian I wonder? Is it even possible?:)) Entire universe must be filled with demons and ghosts of course - there is no empty space, even "on the other side". Maybe that's why strong, structured religion is necessary to deal with animistic, traditional beliefs?

But there comes a paradox (well, for a European logic-driven brain). Religious identity is compulsory in Indonesia, you can't (officially) be an atheist. Many do it only for the sake of fulfilling national duty, complying with rules though - practicing is an entirely different aspect and is not really controlled. This holistic or rather selective approach goes much further and deeper-more important than individual happiness is adhering to social norms, even if not understood. In education - do what you are told and follow instructions- style is predominant. There is no room for improvisation or initiative. Many Indonesians can't deal with solving problems and they seem completely helpless caught by circumstances not covered in the "user guide book". But strong middle class work hard and produce goods rest of the developed world just consumes. Labor force is cheap - there is more staff in every shop or restaurant than customers, but it only means quantity of customer service, not quality unfortunately. We Europeans are like global aristocracy, descendants of sophisticated Greek homoioi living in a noble dream of free society founded on army of slaves, infinitely obsessed with self-awareness and self-development, torn between TV series and shopping malls. Just consuming but surprisingly never having enough time, always rushing. What is that make us so busy? People here do everything themselves, trinket, re-do or recycle all possible products but seems they have time to just sit around all day long... Another paradox worth modern Marx.

Smoking is a primary medicine for boredom but also way of social bonding and drug of choice due to affordability and egalitarian character of addiction. Almost all men smoke. It's the only national sport and totem of masculinity in this stubbornly patriarchal society.

This is of course just a part of a never ending story. Sulawesi differs from Java and Bali like all other south-east Asian countries from each other. How all this variety coexists, find national balance I have no idea... History shows it's a melting pot, dormant volcano ready to explode without warning but this constant danger is a beauty, hot chick playing with your senses and lust. Traveling around Indonesia is like opening boxes inside boxes, infinite Russian dolls, discovering entire micro-universes within one big bubble-universe.