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A Boy and Three Beasts


My son the college boy has returned to Academe, and only I am left to tell the tale of his summer vacation. In brief, he was deported from Sumatra, attacked by a monkey in the Javanese rain forest, and bitten by a blind dog in Bali. Kids today have much more eventful summers than we had back in the Eisenhower administration.

Shucks, the monkey attack wasn't much. The monkey rushed Dave, and Dave kicked at the monkey, but neither really wanted a fight, so both were careful to avoid contact -- the monkey because Dave is about nine times his size, and Dave because you never know what monkeys are liable to do; they aren't even human. If I'd been a little quicker, I would have got the whole thing on videotape.

It was a week later that Dave, innocently taking an evening stroll on a beach in Bali, again ran afoul of the animal kingdom.

Malcolm Bosse writes in "Stranger at the Gate," a fine novel about Indonesia, that Balinese dogs are the ugliest, meanest, most worthless dogs God ever made. You can see how a just God might put evil dogs on an otherwise paradisiacal Bali, just to even things up.

But Dave hadn't read that far yet, so he was unprepared when he misjudged the hotel property line and stepped into someone's yard. Silent fangs struck deep into his knee. Dave's knee is pretty bony, like my knee, and yours, too, I imagine, but the fangs found a soft spot.

Then the fangs' delivery system, which turned out to be a dog, backed off and began to bark, eventually rousing its owner. "Are you all right?" he called to Dave.

"Your dog bit me," said Dave.

"Oh, don't worry about that," said the owner, reassuringly. "He's bitten lots of people." And none of them got rabies, was what he meant, I guess.

Anyway, added the owner, the dog is blind. Now, was the point of this to enlist sympathy for a disabled dog, or admiration for a genius dog that had developed a canine sonar to guide its fangs?

Fortunately, sea-water surrounds Bali, so we were able to keep Dave's wound clean. And the owner was right; the beast was vicious, but not rabid, for Dave seemed only customarily foam-flecked this week as we dispatched him back to college.

As for the deportation, I can't figure out if it was Indonesia's fault or my fault; but at least Dave, the monkey, the dog and the dog's owner are blameless.

We tried to enter Indonesia at Medan, on the island of Sumatra. The plan was to visit a national park and orangutan-rehabilitation center. But the only orangutan we were allowed to see was the one on one of the smaller Indonesian banknotes, worth about a quarter. The border-control officer scanned Dave's passport and pounced upon its expiration date, next January, five months and nine days distant. So what? Indonesian tourist visas are good for only 60 days. Dave would be long gone before the passport's expiration.

But Indonesia has a law requiring six months' validity on the passports of entering tourists. Dave was 22 days short. I now know that other countries have the same requirement, but they don't enforce it, which is why most tourists don't know about it. I've been in about 40 countries, and had never heard of it.

Whatever purpose the law may serve for the state of Indonesia, it serves as a cash cow for the border bureaucrats. We were informed that Dave was in technical violation and that he would ** be deported -- unless we paid a $150 fine.

Oh, now I get it. . . .

I grumbled, but agreed to pay the "fine." But I made a big #F mistake. I jotted down the extortionist's name. Realizing that he could be called to account, he announced that he would not accept a "fine" after all. A hard-faced guy in a uniform was produced to march Dave onto the plane for Kuala Lumpur. These guys were meaner than monkeys and sneakier than Balinese dogs.

You can't let your kid be expelled while the rest of the family goes off on holiday. So we all ended up being deported to Malaysia, which hadn't been on our itinerary at all.

We lost our orangutan tour and three days of prepaid bookings in Indonesia. But we had a great time in Malaysia. We got Dave a long-life passport, and we visited a rubber plantation and a bat cave with a Hindu temple inside. The food was good, too.

Anyway, that was Dave's summer vacation. Next time, I told him, read the fine print (not that I had read it). And don't mess with monkeys, dogs or border guards.

Hal Piper edits The Sun's Opinion * Commentary page.

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