After The Crisis: Indonesia in 1998, Part 5 – Ubud, Indonesia

After The Crisis: Indonesia in 1998, Part 5
Ubud, Indonesia

Back in Bali for a few days, I went to the Kuta post office and placed a stack of postcards, 8,000 rupiah worth of stamps attached to each, on the counter. The clerk took one look, sniffed and said, “Not enough.” She whipped out an official rate form and told me I’d need 10,000 rupiah because they were larger than standard-sized postcards. But, I protested, I sent postcards just like this for 8,000 rupiah in Jakarta. “Then post them in Jakarta,” she said, walking away in a huff. I grabbed my postcards and walked away in a huff, too.

I spent my last full day in Indonesia in Ubud, about an hour from Kuta. Smaller, more relaxed and more upscale than Kuta, Ubud sits in the middle of rice paddies and is a pretty city graced with gardens and traditional Balinese architecture. The town’s long been a magnet for foreign artists, and its gallery-lined streets, yuppie cafés and New-Age shops reminded me of an Asian Sedona or Santa Fe.

When I saw Ubud’s post office, I dug my postcards out of my backpack and decided to have one more go at mailing them. The clerk saw the 8,000 rupiah on them, shook his head, told me they weren’t standard-sized and pointed to an official rate form posted on the wall. Drumming my fingers on the counter, I waited for him to say “10,000 rupiah” and was startled to hear “15,000 rupiah” instead.

I sputtered a “But…but.” And sighed. Then I laughed. “The Crisis,” I said to myself. The clerk gave me a funny look and turned his attention to a Dutch tourist who was struggling to squeeze about 10 stamps into the upper-right-hand corner of a postcard.

I gathered up my postcards and decided to take them home with me. At that moment, I could think of no better souvenir of Indonesia.

As it turns out, I had another souvenir. That afternoon, feeling feverish and tired, I cut short my day in Ubud and returned to Kuta. My last night in Indonesia was an unpleasant one. I had a high fever, piercing headache, stomach cramps and aching muscles, and I was afraid I had malaria. Though I’d taken my malaria pills regularly and drenched myself with bug repellant at dusk, blood-sucking time for malarial mosquitoes, I knew the pills weren’t foolproof, that they only suppressed malaria’s symptoms and wouldn’t prevent me from contracting the disease.

I flew home the next day and staggered to the hospital, where blood tests showed I didn’t have malaria. Instead, I had a similar condition called dengue fever. Like malaria, it’s a mosquito-borne disease, but the dengue mosquitoes bite during the day. There’s no prophylactic or treatment for dengue; I simply had to ride it out. Which I did for about a week, lying in my apartment writhing in pain, feeling like my pounding head would explode and my churning abdomen would pop open and my burning body would spontaneously combust and my aching shoulder muscles would collapse under the weight of my skin. In the midst of this agony, I recalled every mosquito bite I’d gotten in Indonesia and decided that, given the average time between bite and symptoms, I could blame my raging dengue on a Yogyakarta mosquito.

So the scourge of my trip to Indonesia had nothing to do with the country’s well-publicized political and economic problems. And when people ask me about the wisdom of traveling to a country they assume is scary and violent, I tell them as far as I’m concerned, Indonesia’s real menace doesn’t riot, loot or kill. The real menace, I say, buzzes.

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