Thursday, January 03, 2008

May Old Acquaintance Be Forgot.

It seems that New Year's Eve will be shambling along tomorrow night in a fug of alcoholic kisses and hearty slaps on the back accompanied, of course, by a cardboard voluntary of horns. So it looks like I do actually have time to squeeze in another column before 2008 hoves into view like a rusty old clipper full of yesterday's tea.

I guess I've might have peaked too soon (story of my life) by looking back over 2007 in last week's column. Maybe, however, I can offer a few more brief words of kindly encouragement as many of you look forward to drinking your own wait in Vodka Martinis tomorrow evening and then resolve to give up booze the following day. Apparently the Babylonian New Year celebrations used to last for 11 days although I don't think I've got the time or stamina for such revelry.

Instead, I will no doubt be enjoying New Year's Day with a few Panadols and a monosyllabic grunt at the first, "Hello Mr," of 2008 to be gratuitously lobbed in my direction like a misfiring December the 31st firecracker.

Januaries, in general, were depressing affairs in my youth. The fun holidays were over and there was only the freezing weather to look forward to until spring poked his head through the clouds. At least it's warm in Indonesia the year-round although come February I may be having to head off to work in a rubber dinghy as I did in 2007.

I think though, that I should throw my weight behind the country’s 2008 visit Indonesia year and it's grammatically contentious slogan, "Celebrating 100 Years of Nation's Awakening," which is currently being corrected at the cost of many thousands of dollars... ho-hum.

Our beloved red-and-white republic can certainly improve on the 5 million odd visitors who made it here last year. And let's face it, tourism is a far more egalitarian method of distributing money throughout a country such as this than other forms of investment. At least those tourist dollars go straight to the lowest echelons of the citizenry as opposed to being creamed off by central government and local bureaucrats as is the case with oil or mining for example.

The tourist infrastructure outside Bali really isn't that great however and certainly won't be improving massively in the one-day left before the 100 Yearses of Nations Awakenings Celebrationings begin in earnest. With this in mind, maybe the tourist board should try making a virtue out of a vice. The poor facilities of the country's far-flung tourist pleasure spots could be marketed as a challenge for the new generation of Amazing Race watching, skydiving, extreme sporting psychos currently running around the planet with their all-weather iPods.

One can imagine the tourist campaign:
-Been rafting over the Niagara Falls? Scaled Everest? Been sand yachting in Oman? Well come to Indonesia and experience the challenge of a lifetime trying to down a plate of spaghetti Bolognese that resembles rubber bands in cat sick as the sun set spectacularly over the faecal sump of the toilet block. Spend a few hours relaxing in a damp room full of cockroaches and mosquitoes before embarking on a torchlit night Safari into the ecological wonderland of your attached Mandi . Yes come to the Republic of Indonesia, a real challenge for real travelers (service charge not included).

But I'm being facetious here though (surprise surprise). In fact, I rather like the rural charms of outback Indonesia and would hate it if idylls such as Bunaken or Lake Toba became as overdeveloped as Legian is. Going loco is all part of the experience and it just wouldn't be the same if these places were dotted with Circle K's. The locals would probably disagree with me here though as increased tourist development and revenues are their potential ticket out of a life of grinding poverty.

There must be a middle ground though. Sustainable tourism and all that? Alas sustainability is not a word that (yet) has much currency in this country but we can all live in hope; it’s New Year after all.

Enjoy your celebrations then one and all, wherever you may be. Above all take heart if you're holidaying somewhere out in the wilds of this great country. There will always be a gritty coffee and banana pancake in the morning to ease that hangover on January the first.