Bali Bombing

by Belle Waring on October 2, 2005

Almost three years to the day after the last bomb attack in Bali, suicide bombers have struck again. (This is a good article about the aftermath.) Our family just got back from Bali last week. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and also to the Balinese people more generally: they are all victims of these cowardly attacks. Bali’s economy, so dependent on tourism, was only now beginning to make a full recovery from the 2002 bombing; everyone I spoke to said that things were better, but not back up to pre-bombing levels. This second blow may cripple Bali for a long time. Hotels and expensive clubs like Ku De Ta have armed guards who check vehicles, but nothing can make a beachfront seafood restaurant, or a cafe on a heavily trafficked street, safe against a suicide bomber. What will happen to these families?

The owners of one café stood outside forlornly. Oka and Yudi, two young Balinese friends, opened the Lumba-Lumba (Dolphin) Café seven years ago. They borrowed heavily from the bank and things initially went well. Then came the 2002 bombs, which slashed by half the number of visitors to the island. In the past year, business had started to pick up. Until Saturday night.

“There was a bang, and now the customers are not coming again,” said Yudi. “I’m scared that the same thing is going to happen to Bali. And this time maybe it won’t recover.”

In the kitchen, the cooks sat idle. “I don’t know what we’ll do,” said Oka. “We still have most of our loan to pay back. I just want Bali to be normal again, with lots of people around. I can’t believe that the terrorists have come here twice.”

Bali is the most tempting target in Indonesia from the Islamist terrorist point of view: chock full of infidel tourists, and with a population that is overwhelmingly Hindu, so there’s no need to feel a twinge about slaughtering your fellow Indonesians. These strikes were well planned to hit two very different styles of tourism, ensuring that every potential visitor to Bali will feel personally threatened. Kuta Square is bustling, full of restaurants and clubs and stores selling fake luxury goods, full of Australian families and teenagers like these. Jimbaran beach, now lined with luxury hotels, is more upscale, low-key, a place where you choose your own live seafood and have it grilled up on the spot.

Can this malevolent genie ever be put back into the bottle? Do they load those kids up with drugs before sending them off in the vests, like Assassins of old? (The vests must be heavy, with the ball bearings; do your feet sink into the sand in a presentiment of death?) What went through their minds when they saw the tables by the beach, heard the music from all the strolling musicians? When they walked past sunburned children looking into the windows of surf shops and on into Raja’s, with all its tables full? What if this sound were the last you would ever hear before the white bang: people laughing, music, the clatter of dishes, the roar of the sea? Fuck these bastards.

Rather than link to a charity I am going to ask something more improbable. I want you all to seriously think about going to Bali the next time you have a vacation. That will help Bali more than anything else. Terror attacks are terrifying; that is the point. They are not, in the grand scheme of things, a serious threat to your personal safety when compared with the risks you undertake driving a car (especially driving a car in SE Asia). It will be very cheap, because few people will want to go, but it is no more dangerous now than it was two weeks ago (admittedly, perhaps it was more dangerous then than it appeared). Bali is beautiful; it has spectacular beaches, quiescent volcanoes, ancient temples. Balinese food is delicious. Now, if you have never been, you will smirk a little at this next point, because I am about to tell you that Balinese people are unusually friendly and gracious. People often say that about the people of impoverished tourist destinations, and I often think, sure they’re friendly; you’re carrying around someone’s yearly wage in your pocket. Nonetheless, Balinese people are unusually friendly and gracious; Balinese culture is unique and fascinating; Balinese artisans and artists are rightly famed. Go see a village procession and listen to the gamelan orchestra. Watch someone throw carefully constructed spirit offerings down outside her shop, with studied casualness; these are for malign spirits whom she wants neither to aknowledge nor slight. Go surfing. Hang out in Ubud. Go to Bali. I’m going on a girls trip with my kids and an Indonesian friend and her baby in February; I made plans to do it Saturday night right before we got an SMS to turn the TV on and see the destruction; I’m still going. See you there.



Seth Edenbaum 10.02.05 at 10:15 pm

“Ku De Ta”?
A friend of mine had been to the place that was bombed the first time, and he left bothered by the racial divide, and the fact that they were not letting locals in the door.
This says nothing about your other comments: there are no utopias, but economic necessity is just that.

And the Balinese have better reputations that Austrailians.


Eric 10.03.05 at 12:10 am

Most of your points are also valid for lots of other places in Indonesia, even though they might not have been hit directly. After the 2002 bommings, tourism throughout Indonesia suffered badly (although those places were thousands of kilometers away). So spread out from Pulau Weh to Pulau Biak and from Kuta to Bunaken!


Tom Womack 10.03.05 at 3:50 am

I booked the Bali leg of my round-the-world trip about ten minutes before the bomb reports started coming in. I have not cancelled.


Belle Waring 10.03.05 at 5:10 am

seth: while Paddy’s or the Sari club might have applied a more stringent bouncer-rule to local would-be attendees than to drunken Aussies, it’s not true that they flatly didn’t let them in; the Indonesian friend I’m going to Bali with (she’s Achenese, but was a college student in Bali) was supposed to be meeting friends there that night, and used to go all the time. Of course, she’s a stunningly attractive practitioner of Balinese classical dance, so that might have swayed them a little.

tom, if you want to email me for advice on where to get the tastiest babi guling (roast suckling pig) or whatever, go ahead, but maybe you’re an old Bali hand…mmmm, babi guling. either way, have a great time.


Belle Waring 10.03.05 at 8:33 am

eric: true. take a trip to sumatra! to lombok! to sulawesi! to irian jaya! I totally want to go to irian jaya, but in addition to being super-expensive, there are meagre amenities. (cheap meagre amenities don’t phase me). on the upside: you can visit stone-age tribes where people often wear nothing more than a convenient gourd! I am very interested to go. perhaps I live in the last generation of first-world travellers who can visit stone-age people moderately untouched by the modern world. this could either be a great reason to go, or a great reason not ever to go. naked truthfulness, though, I am curious. the most interesting experience travelling I ever had was with Hmong people in NW VietNam, with whom I could not communicate at all. I helped them gather firewood, and learned (via demonstration) about spinning cloth from hemp, then indigo dying it. I would sound more high toned if I didn’t bother to tell you that I learned a lot about smoking opium, but there it is. actually, the opium smoking, second-to-oldest son was a wastrel, and widely regarded to be so by his family. (the oldest son was off serving in the army). old people in the village smoked hash, as befit their status, and younger, more responsible people were too busy making a living to get high all the time.


John Quiggin 10.03.05 at 4:40 pm

According to the Australian Financial Review (subscription only unfortunately), the news for the tourist industry in Bali so far is pretty good, considering. Some cancellations but not many, and no mass exodus among those who are already there.

A lot of people are starting to regard terror attacks in the way you suggest, as a hazard comparable to car crashes.


Slayton I. Mustgo 10.03.05 at 5:04 pm

Regarding seemingly friendly people in impoverished nations: one of the things I most appreciated about Bali is that is wasn’t impoverished – Not wealthy perhaps, but most construction was solid brick or concrete (no shanties), food seemed plentiful, health care looked reasonably good, beggars were mostly from Java (according to a Javanese youth I met), etc. So, not so much liberal guilt, easier to meet the people as equals.
I would go in a heartbeat.


Seth Edenbaum 10.03.05 at 9:44 pm

I still want to know where “Ku De Ta” comes from.
Is it local dialect?


Belle Waring 10.03.05 at 10:52 pm

no, seth, it’s just a joke about coup d’etat, I think…wait, maybe it’s also a pun in bahasa; I’ll ask someone.


Fergal 10.05.05 at 8:35 am

Hmm, just noticed this post. A very good one, Belle. (A couple of friends investigated cancelling their trip to Bali, but, reasoning like you, have decided to go anyway.) But your comment — and, by extension, the plight of the Balinese — doesn’t appear to have stirred CTers’ juices: only nine weak responses before this one. So, for what it may be worth, let me just echo your “fuck the bastards” sentiment.


Seth Edenbaum 10.06.05 at 12:08 am

I’ll just assume the worst
(as if I didn’t already)


Mira 10.07.05 at 11:44 am

If we are afraid of going anywhere because there’s a terrorist attack, we let them win. Isn’t what the terrorists looking for — so people have fear of them? Nothing is safe in this world, but you have the to just keep going with precaution and a lot of common sense.

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