Thursday, June 12, 2003

The Roots of Mutiny

A brief sojourn to Makassar brought back memories of other places I have visited before in the past. Upon landing at the airport in Makassar, I was immediately captivated by the clear blue skies. It is a small airport - one where you can alight from the plane and walk the tarmac into the terminal. I suddenly recall another similar airport, which I have almost forgotten about - Pune in India. I had made a short flight from New Delhi to Pune to visit a customer. I later found out that Pune was one of the places where Mahatma Gandhi had spent some time being imprisoned before. It is a quiet retirement place nowadays.

As I approached Makassar town center in a taxi, I am reminded of Georgetown, Penang. I had spent a year of my working live in Penang and have lots of pleasant memories of my days there. Makassar is like Penang, filled with many Chinese shops and there's a sea-front with open air eating stalls not unlike Gurney Drive. There's an old Dutch fort near the harbour called Fort Rotterdam, which is quite well-preserved. It at once reminded me of Fort Cornwallis in Georgetown. And like Penang, there's even a place called Tanjung Bunga! (spelt Tanjung Bungah in Penang).

Sitting there at the lobby lounge of Hotel Imperial Aryaduta (formerly called Sedona Hotel), and looking out at the calm blue waters with schooners and boats majestic in the sunset, I remembered Cebu, Philippines. Cebu is a resort island a short flight away from Manila and I once spent a couple of idyllic days there. Like Makassar, it has stunning azure skies with tranquil seas dotted with green small islets. That in turn triggered memories of another beautiful place in the Philippines: Subic Bay - the abandoned US naval base. I had loved the peace and isolation of the place when I visited it 7 years ago. The waters of the bay were translucent and I could see fish swimming in them. In such places, one begins to understand why the sailors mutinied on the Bounty. The allure and charm of tropical paradises with blue seas, green islands and friendly natives can be quite hypnotic and irresistable.

But there wasn't enough time for me in Makassar to contemplate a return to a life of noble savagery. I had dinner with the customers, worked on my slides and spent the next day in presentations and discussions with them. I returned to Jakarta this evening: Back to that grim, gritty and sweaty world - that fume-choked metropolis of mysteries called Jakarta.

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