‘WE CANNOT BE AFRAID ALL THE TIME’

In Features /

By Astrid Poei

Music blared and drinks flowed freely on bustling Jalan Legian, a busy strip that runs through the Balinese city of Kuta.

Like a mirror, the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar faced each other. Each touted its own bar specials. Each competed for more customers. On Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002, close to midnight on the busiest night of the week, the area was packed, when a car full of explosives detonated.

Regarded as one of the worst terrorist attacks in history, yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of the Bali bombings that obliterated the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar, killing 202 Indonesians and Australians, and injuring more than 300 people from 23 different countries.

On Sept. 9, 2004, in my hotel room in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, my television set remained glued to CNN. Another bomb blast killed six people at the Australian embassy in the country’s capital of Jakarta.

Later, the death toll would be raised to 12 after DNA testing identified body parts. Earlier that week, I had met a fellow Canadian from British Columbia at the foot of Borobudur, a hilltop Buddhist monument in Yogyakarta, the tourist capital of the island of Java.

She was also headed to Kuta, Bali. That night, we had planned to go to the rebuilt Paddy’s Bar, but because of the blast in Jakarta, we decided to go to the Swiss Restaurant instead.

After dinner, I approached the owner’s table noticeably marked by a “reserved” sign and I introduced myself with my business card. She in turn handed me hers. “Ni Made Suci-Zurcher, owner,” it reads. “Why did you come to Bali?” asks Suci.

Growing up in Canada, my parents hardly spoke about Indonesia. We ate at McDonald’s and mainly spoke English in the house. My parents were afraid that if I grew up speaking Indonesian, I would be teased for having the same accent they had when they first arrived in Canada from Jakarta in the 1970s.

So when I went back to the country of their birth to work on my language skills, I tried to learn more about the culture my parents tried so hard to hide from me. Although they left Indonesia for better opportunities, perhaps there have been both benefits and costs.

“My parents think I’m too bule,” I say jokingly to Suci, using a word meant to describe foreigners-a word locals used to describe me because I looked more Chinese and spoke the official language, Bahasa Indonesia, with a funny accent.

Suci laughs and offers me a seat at her table. She signals the waitress to bring us some drinks. I look at the pictures that adorn the wall behind her. Catering to older European tourists, Suci, along with her husband Jon Zurcher, the consular for the Swiss and Austrian embassies in Bali, opened the Swiss Restaurant in 1977. F

rom their first rupiah (national currency of Indonesia) to when their restaurant sat on lonely Legian Kaja-Kuta-the walls behind her depict an area unrecognizable to the Canadian visitor today, who would say that Kuta, with its cluttered structures and neon lights, is just about as charming as Wasaga Beach on May 24 weekend. But things have changed since the 2002 bombings, says Suci in broken English.

“After the bomb it was quiet,” says Suci, 45, who lives half a kilometre from the site. “Then came SARS, the Iraq War. Sitting here, how to pay people? They need to survive too. Now it start pick up a little bit and now they come again.”

She lights a cigarette. “When the bomb hit it made a sound like wow.’ I never see so many people from all different culture running together with the luggage like this,” she says, carrying an invisible suitcase.

“My house went like this,” she says, tilting her hands on an angle. “My house. It’s a wooden house. So scary. I don’t know how to express. It was sad and scary like war.”

Smoke from Suci’s cigarette trails across the table. “My husband went out on his bicycle and came home crying. I said, ‘What happened?’ He said he found a Swiss lady with her I.D. burned to her body. We never have these things, we always live in peace,” says Suci, her voice cracking. “Balineseans are peaceful, if they’re fill up stomach and happy with food, they’re happy.”

Suci said as workers sifted through the bodies and body parts just metres from her home, she refused to go outside. “I didn’t go out for two weeks,” she recalls. “My friend saw a hand with a ring stuck in a tree.”

Since the bombing in 2002, Suci has focused on happier times. Even with decreased business, her staff of 20 that had stuck with her through the good times, made it through the bad.

“Finally this year is good, everybody happy,” she says of paradise changed not paradise lost. “It’s lucky that it was only hundreds. One more hour and it would have been thousands.”

Tonight, she and her husband celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary at the restaurant with their eight-year-old son Gianni. I ask if she is afraid for her son of more bombings.

“Now there are travel warnings. It’s quite a distance. People don’t know the distance between Jakarta and Bali,” says Suci, who watched Jakarta bombing coverage from her television set the whole morning. “I think many people love Indonesia. You can’t put in one bucket all the many cultures. It’s such a big country.”

Three days after drinks at Suci’s restaurant, I returned to Jakarta for a week. On my last day, my aunt instructs her driver who can’t speak English to take me to my great aunt Grandma Kwie’s house for lunch. Grandma Kwie says she wants to go for lunch at Plaza Indonesia, a large mall, instead.

“Aren’t you afraid?” I ask, remembering last week’s embassy bombing. Grandma Kwie hobbles on her cane and squeezes my chin.

“We cannot be afraid all the time,” says the 73-year-old with a smile. After lunch, the driver brings Grandma Kwie back to her small house in North Jakarta. She waves goodbye and I think about the lifetime I have gained in a lunchtime. I am sad that I have to leave so soon.

On the way back to my aunt’s house in South Jakarta, we get stuck in front of the Shangri-La Hotel. Throngs of people, some Indonesian and some bule and some clad in only complimentary white bathrobes, spill and scatter onto the busy street jamming the flow of traffic.

Some motorists abandon their cars and run with the hotel guests. In my best Indonesian, I ask the driver what’s the matter.

“Ada apa?” “Bomb,” he says in perfect English. Traffic is stopped. The driver hangs out the window and honks his horn. I look at a woman clinging to the back of a motorcycle that passes right outside my window. Her purse flails behind her.

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