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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Thief and A Lesson in Travelling

My husband often expresses his dissappointment on not taking time to travel and see the world when he was still in his 20s. "Imagine lovebug," he said, "Imagine if I can learn and experience what I've learn now when I was younger. There will be so many things I could achieve and there will be so many foolishness I could prevent." To which I always replied, "All in good time, baby. All in good time."

There are so many travel quotes that stated you need to travel to understand life, to learn all about life, and to live the life itself. There is a catch though, one that is seldom mentioned in those quotes: you need to be ready for it. Unfortunately, not many people realize this. People read travel articles, save up some money, and just 'travel away'. But what defines travelling? Is it the distance, or is it just a different area outside your comfort zone? Why do we travel anyway, to see the world and learn about life or to simply say 'I've been there, done that' and have scar tissue (and tons of photos) to show our achievement?

To me, travel is about acceptance; acceptance that no human is alike and that the world is chock full with differences, yet at the same time accepting that all human is the same and learning to see similarities while putting blind eyes on blatant differences like skin color and such. Just driving and exploring different districts in Los Angeles already constitute travel for me, with so many different cultures and lifestyle and human antics in each district. All you need is an open mind to see something new and interesting, and willingness to respect other people regardless of the differences while honoring them as equal.

When I first read Allan Quatermain's series, I was shocked to read how poorly Allan treated his African subordinates, and how low he thought of them in terms of education and civilization. Of course, the series was written in the 1800s, way before civil right movements exist. Yet this sentiment is apparently still alive and well. A western man apparently lost his dog in Bali and rant about it in Facebook. He believes that the dog was stolen in order to be killed for offerings by the Balinese, and then (rhetorically) questioned how brutal Balinese Hindu and Javanese Muslim that go at length to steal such obvious pet. Regardless on how many countries he may visited or how long he had stayed in Bali, this man is a prime example on how travel does not necessary change someone, nor will it teach you things. His friend that said it must hard for them, the educated, to see such barbarism is another good example where travelling will only be a waste to some people. Some of us apparently still living in the 1800s.

Allow me, as a Balinese, to explain. A thief first and foremost will always be a thief. It is a profession that has no boundary of race, religion, or anything. The only similarity on each theft is greed. By claiming the brutality of the local with certain race and religion on stealing his pet, the man forgets that all theft is profit oriented. I lost an engagement ring once during a US-Indonesia Fedex delivery, even though it was sent with a heartwarming letter inside. Does that mean all Indonesian have no heart because of the theft? Of course not, because the Indonesia Fedex manager went all the way to help me find it. We saw a crackhead drug user abusing a cashier and trying to get some money from her at Home Depot today. Does that mean all Americans are crackheads and abusives? No, because he does not represent all Americans, or even all people of Los Angeles. This shows that what we see during our travel (or even our life in that matter) depends on what we wanted to see or what we believe we will see. The man choose to believe the locals are that barbaric, and that is all he could see despite the fact that a thief is a thief and will have no discretion on what to steal as long as it can be turn into money.

The Balinese Hindu do kill animals for sacrifices, as well as a lot of other tribes and indigenous people around the world. Our 'barbaric' way connects us, the true people of the land, with the spirits of our land. This idea is difficult to understand for people who had been cut off from their own land for so many generations, due to the advancement of science (the-know-it-all) or the strict religion ("only *fill out a certain God's name here* will save us!"). My husband, who was charmed by the beauty and surrealness of Indonesia, keep reminding me that even though it was so fitting in Indonesia, my spirit stories and beliefs can easily make me labeled as weird or lunatic here. Yet the land continue to grow and live, all the tiny microbes and the soil and the plants and the animals, all the sun rays and rain drops and breezes of wind, they all live harmoniously with or without us human noticing it. This is what we, indigeneous people, believe. The animals are sacrificed not because we love to see blood, but because it is necessary to maintain the relationship with the land. The sacrificed animals will also have a chance to be reborn into something of a higher degree. What other option do they have? Roaming till they die of disease or malnutrition or got run over by vehicles?

You don't even have to understand it. You just have to accept it, accept that there are people with different belief than yours. The live sacrifices might seemed barbaric to some, but to us (or me, personally) what's barbaric is when you spend the same amount of money for a can of cat food instead of buying a can of tuna for a homeless man. What's barbaric is when a dog could have an organic all baked and super healthy treats while some kids have to make do with 99 cent trans-fat loaded microwaveable burrito. This examples are not to incite debates, but if you do want to debate it please remember that my view of barbarism is as valid as yours, and if you say mine is not valid then neither do yours. 

There are places and things here in US and even back home in Indonesia that I don't understand or feel like contrary to what I believe, but that doesn't give me a right to just barge in there and judge or even take action against these people. After all, I am not one of them and I might not know the details of their rituals, the meaning and symbolism of their belief. This caution, this respect, this willingness to (try to) understand are what differentiate us with the old world travelers, or even to the faux-traveler who was just in it for the show; and therefore, travel is not for everyone but it is greatly recommended if one can do it properly.

The road went on forever, and the moment you set your foot outside there will be no turning back. Are you ready to embrace life and the world and all the things in it? It might only be a short journey to a neighboring city, but what an adventure it would be if we can see things the way other people see them and realize what an amazingly big and beautiful world we live in! Drop all your pretense and prejudice, open your heart and soul, be excited. It is time to travel. Your adventure awaits!

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