A big, happy family who cares about Bali
Posted November 7, 2005on:
The Jakarta Post, November 07, 2005
Australians, especially those whose lives were directly affected by the Bali bombing in 2002, were outraged by media reports just over a month ago that convicted bomber Ali Imron was spotted having coffee with a police officer at a Starbucks outlet in Jakarta.
The incident prompted the Australian government to lodge a protest with the Indonesian government and furor ensued in the Australian media.
Australia and the United States continue to maintain travel advisories, warning their citizens against visiting Indonesia in the light of the bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Sept. 9, 2004.
However, no matter what happens, Bali remains in the hearts of many international tourists.
More than 200 foreigners – mostly from Australia, others from Asia, Europe and America – had a barbecue party recently at Hotel Bali Garden in Kuta. They are all members of a virtual family baliforum.com, and all love Bali.
Each of them, including their children, wore a nametag so that they could mingle more easily.
“We will have fun tonight,” said Melina Caruso, the event co-ordinator. “What’s more, the hotel gave us a special price for dinner at only Rp 50,000 per person.” The dinner included traditional Balinese dishes like roast pork and satay, and other Indonesian dishes, as well as oriental and western cuisine.”
It was the second meeting of the baliforum.com members, who decided to get together in person, instead of meeting in the chat room.
About 3,000 people who have been to Bali have become active members of the forum and share ideas and information on various issues related to Bali in the chat room. One of them, who planned to visit Bali, asked where he could find good pirated VCD’s on the resort island. In a short time, he received more than a dozen responses, including information about good hotels, souvenir shops and places to hang out.
“We share information and ideas in the forum with other foreigners. It’s fun,” said Bluey, an Australian.
Bluey has travelled to Bali more than a dozen times. The Bali tragedy and the bomb blast in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta did not discourage him from coming to Bali.
“I have no doubts about coming to Bali. Every visit is always fun and I always tell my friends about it in the forum,” he said.
Bluey’s friend, Garry Taylor, has been to Bali many times too, almost as frequently as Bluey. Although Garry was concerned about the travel warning, it did not stop him from coming to Bali. He said with pride that he had visited Bali during three important phases of his life: when he was single, after he got married and now, after he had a family.
Both Garry and Bluey agreed that terror attacks could occur anywhere. The bombing did not make them uneasy because the big family in the forum, who care about Bali, shares reliable information about the island.
Linda Stevens from Melbourne concurred. “We are a big family who love Bali and always share information wherever we are.”
English student Tom Low, who was finishing his final assignment on sustainable tourism, was upset by a media report that mentioned Bali as an unpromising tourist destination due to security reasons. In the forum Tom gave a long analysis on Bali.
“He countered the report by saying that there is no place that is really safe and Bali remains a comfortable tourist destination,” Kadek Agoes Mulyadi, from Karangasem, Bali, the creator of baliforum.com.
Agoes, a computer programmer, set up the website baliparadise.com which contains information on Bali’s geography, culture and traditions. Many showed interest in the website and it later became a communication media for users.
“Members help members. Some can show you a place in Bali which I don’t know myself,” said Agoes, who used to be a disc jockey at a hotel in Bali.
Agoes and his wife, Melina Caruso, an Australian who has been living in Bali for more than 10 years now, developed the forum into baliforum.com. There have been more than 10,000 postings on the forum since March 2002, with 3,061 members from all walks of life, like doctors, business people and artists and from various countries including America, Belgium, the Netherlands and Singapore.
The forum has become a place where members can share information and ideas about Bali.
“There is only one requirement for those who want to join us – not to talk about politics, religion and sex. Because on those subjects, people feel they are always right,” said Agoes, adding that the members support the rule to maintain the positive mood of the forum.
The members were in Bali not just for a holiday. They also took part in charity drives and contributed donations in many ways, such as through the sale of souvenirs and auctions, as was done on the night of the barbecue.
The active donors are grouped in the bali Forum and News (BFN) Project.
Melina said she was surprised at the gap in quality of life of locals in the tourist sector and those in the more remote areas. “Most of it (the money) is grabbed by Kuta, while there are many poor villages in Bali,” she said. She also expressed concern over the number of school drop – outs and the lack of attention given to them.
One of the poor villages in Bali is Ngis Tista in Manggis, Karangasem, where Agoes comes from. In this village, which is located 45 minutes north of tourist area Candi Dasa, many children drop out of school due to financial problems while many of the students do not have enough money to buy books, shoes or other necessities.
The forum also plans to improve health facilities for needy children. They invite doctors, nurses, paramedics, both members and non-members, to visit poor villages and lend a hand.
“Leaving aside the villages, even in Denpasar there are hospitals in a poor condition,” said Agoes, who received poor quality medical services when he took his child for an operation.
Dingo Joe, a forum member who is the co-ordinator for Australia, said that all problems facing Bali that are shared in the forum, including the terror attack, have not affected their love for Bali.
“Even my child who is only 15 years old wants to live in Bali and hopes to become a hotel manager there,” he said with a chuckle.