Saturday, March 6, 2010


For the past week I have been going daily to the beach in front of the Bali Hyatt, enjoying the sun and sea, sipping jambo juice, and reading books by titles such as How to Speak Indonesian Like a Native In One Week, Bahasa Indonesia Made (Extremely) Simple, and such like.

Today, however, the powers that be on the Bali Hyatt beach put an end to my seemingly harmless enjoyment of their strip of sand.

I was just getting settled in my chair (or rather, their chair) when a man in uniform approached. Thinking that he would perhaps ask if he could rub tanning lotion on my back for a couple thousand rupiah, so I looked away politely and minded my own business.

“Permisi, Bapak,”the man said, “Apa anda tamu di Hyatt?”

I told him that I did not understand.

Unfortunately, however, the man spoke some English.

“Are you a guest here at the Hyatt?” he repeated.

“Oh, no. Why? Do I look like one? Are you trying to find a certain guest in particular?”

This was a bit unkind, I suppose. But I already knew why he had come. I knew because of his little powder blue uniform and his sea blue cap and his Bali Hyatt badge, and because his face reminded me of my father in law’s when he is about to take control of some family matter that’s none of his business.

“This is for Bali Hyatt only,” he says.

“Pantai ini untuk tamu Bali Hyatt saja?”

“Yes,” he said, appearing immensely relived that I was speaking his language, and that I seemed to understand that I was being expelled.

“Waduh!” Bangsa Indonesian menjadi seperti Americans, ya?” (The Indonesians are becoming just like the Americans, yes? This was meant to be a scolding). “Only the rich can relax on the beach,” I continued in English. They own the very sand.”

“Sorry, sorry. Maaf, Pak--kursi ini--untuk tamu Bali Hyatt--tapi anda boleh duduk dalam pasir.“

Essentially he had said the chairs were his, but I was welcome to sit on the sand.

“Sounds delightful.”

“It is okay, ya. On the sand is free.”

Untuk siapa?” (for who?).

The man said that he understood, but proceeded to explain that this particular beach was not for everyone.

“Tapi Bapak, lihat saja--Look, so many chairs--and no one sitting in them. There are many, many empty chairs, but just one me.“

The man understood that there were many chairs. He understood that 75 percent of the chairs were empty. And yet here, as in America, a rule is a rule, ownership is ownership, the rich are rich and the poor are poor, and non-guests of the Bali Hyatt are not welcome in the Bali Hyatt chairs.

“Okay then, okay.” I rose from my chair, nursing what I hoped would appear to be an excruciatingly painful back. I loaded my pack laboriously.

“Just one thing though,” I said before leaving. “Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea who you‘re talking to?”

“Siapa, Bapak. Who?”

I left some time for the thing to sink in. My chair was empty now, safely reserved for the possibility of a guest, reserved for the rich and the fat, reserved for those who are too lazy to waddle down to the sand anyway, reserved for those who were busy eating, busy drinking, busy sending servants for more; reserved for those who had seen no more of Bali than the hotel swimming pool and sauna and the nice little yellow brick roads that weave oh so elegantly through the grounds.

“I’ll tell you who I am,” I said, “and don’t you forget it, my friend. I am nobody, see? Of no account. I am nobody at all.”

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