Oh, Why Did I Eat the Ribs?

A Surreal Culinary Nightmare at 30,000 Feet

It was just after the final security checkpoint at Ngurah Rai International Airport when the cold sweat kicked in on a warm, humid September evening.

Two weeks of stunning Indonesian sunsets along the west coast of Bali were coming to an end. A fortnight of elaborate adventures — boat trips in the Indian Ocean, excursions into the rice paddies of Ubud, hikes down the steep cliffs of Uluwatu — had reached a natural close. But the frigid beads of sweat breaking from my tanned pate set off an instantaneous alarm; my immune system was failing, and there was nothing I could do without triggering the alarms of the already suspicious Southeast Asian airport security.

Trying to ignore the signals from my body that something was very, very wrong, while attempting to keep my composure in front of the armed guards and airline staff, I calmly walked out of the waiting hall, onto the tarmac, and boarded Korean Air Flight 634 to Seoul. And while I wasn’t quite certain, there was definitely a clear warning sign from my curdling guts, a raging distress call from my rumbling bowels, that the next seven hours might be a bit painful.

I just never expected it would be the ribs that would get the best of me…

The Bringer of War

Just hours before arriving at the airport for the red-eye to Korea, I was toasting Bintang beers on the final night of an elaborate Bali vacation.

Spending the first ten days with just my girlfriend, a guitar, and the crashing waves of the ocean, the last few evenings were spent in the confines of a private two-room villa, jointly rented with a dear friend and his lady.

As a parting gesture, the four of us convened at Naughty Nuri’s, a well-known spot on the island, famous for its American-style baby-back ribs. Pork is at a premium in the mostly-Muslim Indonesia. Actually, aside from Bali, which is historically and predominantly Hindu, pork is rarely found on the Indonesian archipelago and its 13,000 islands. The four of us used the opportunity to feast on juicy, tender swine.

But, what started out as a celebratory meal, with racks-upon-racks of barbecue-smothered ribs, and traditional sides of coleslaw and potato wedges, would ultimately take a serious turn for the worse. It had to be the ribs that caused the reaction in the airport; I had no other choice but to take my seat on the plane without raising red flags in a country where foreign lives come and go – cheaply.

Fortunately for me, I was seated along the aisle.

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The rest of this nauseated narrative can be found in SN9: Fat Tuesday, hitting bookstores on February 28th!

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