Monday, April 24, 2017

Tonight's Beach Walk

I'm truly enjoying my nighttime walks. It's really the only time of day cool enough to do this, unless you walk very early in the morning. But I don't do mornings. Hard to believe now that I used to get up at 5 am to go to work five days a week. I guess one does what he has to do when he has to do it. Helps to be young, too. 

At the beach, in the evening, there's a bit of a breeze and the temperature is at a comfortable level, say 28C (which would be about 82F). But when it's dark and there's no sun beating down, 82 somehow seems different than 82 in the daytime. 

There's a footpath that runs the entire length of the beachfront in Sanur. You can start at one end or the other or in the middle - whatever suits your fancy at the time. Long stretches of the path are deserted and pitch black, as most of the warungs and the little tokos have closed for the day - which is another plus in walking at night, as no one is out there begging you to come into their shop - Just looking-looking, mister, yes, you come?

Occasionally, however, you do come across someone trying to sell young girls - more likely to happen at night than in the daytime. After all, why else is a guy walking around in the night if not in search of a young girl? Right? 

I am always surprised when I'm approached by an adult woman selling young girls. Aren't they supposed to be protecting the girls? But I guess one does what she has to do when she has to do it. And it helps to be young. 

Mister, you looking for woman? I have woman - young woman - only seventeen.

Oh, no, no thank you, Ibu. I'm just walking. My doctor says exerise is good for me. 

Ah, young woman good for you too.

No, no thanks, just walking. Trying to move on, but the woman has hold of my elbow. Besides, I'm sure my wife wouldn't be happy with me. 

Oh, Pak, we no tell your wife. It's our secret!


Oh well. This does not happen often. In fact, it happens less often now than it did six years ago. The beach has been built up so quickly with ritzy hotels and expensive restaurants, and prostitution just doesn't fit the new image. 

Along the way, you will find some warungs still open - naked lightbulbs glowing, a smattering of diners at tables on the sand, the open kitchen sending savory smoke swirling in the breeze while the orange flame leaps from the open grill - ayam bakar, ikan bakar, udang, babi - and, of course, nasi goreng. Fried rice. Absolutely every place has fried rice. 

Anyway, walking is something simple one can do for oneself. It occurred to me that it would help my back pain, to get the muscles moving - and I think it has. And I'm not talking about vigorous walking. I must leave that to my wife. Just strolling for a distance, using one's muscles, working out the stiffness. 

I try to do the simple things that I can do. I walk. I look for various medicines that might help symptomatically. And I sit in the sun as long as I can stand it. I had been thinking that this would require putting on my swimsuit and going to the beach - but then I realized today that, by God, the sun is shining right there in my backyard. So I took off all my clothing and smeared on some tanning lotion and just sat in a lawnchair under the full force of the sun. Natural vitamin D, right? And there's always a cold shower available after you can't stand the heat any longer. Cold is the only kind of shower we have here, and you really don't need any other kind. Ever. 

Friday, April 21, 2017


After going to the dentist yesterday to request nondental medication, she prescribed two muscle relaxers, diazepam, and the more potent Xanax. Coba dua-duanya, dia bilang, lihat apa akan paling efektif. What I discovered later on is that if you want to render someone unconscious, including oneself, Xanax is the ticket. I took two 1 mg tablets at around noon, felt a bit spacy, laid down, and the next thing I knew, it was 4 o’clock in the morning. Nor did I know that I hadn’t gone to bed at the usual time, until I wandered out and found both front and back door open, the fan still running, and evidence that the big fat dog had visited at some point and left hotdog wrapper in the front room. I tried to put this all together in my head for some time, got tired, and therefore went back to sleep until about 8 in the morning.
Before all this, however – between the time I saw the dentist and the time I came home – I visited a local apotek on Jalan Tamblingan, which the doctor had recommended as cheaper than Kimia Pharmacy. Helps to know people who know. After purchasing the medications there, the pharmacist suggested that I might benefit from a massage. My initial response was no, no thanks, but then I thought again – given the pain in my back, and stiffness in my muscles, why not? A large, middle-aged Balinese woman stood at ready, with hands that looked like they could subdue the most frozen of muscles, hands that looked like they could turn bricks to clay. So yeah, why not?
And the funny thing is, these hands, though possessing the gristly bulk of hamhocks, rubbed and smoothed and kneaded like drifting gossamer clouds, caressing away the stiffness as if it had merely been a top layer of soil.
Now, as I’ve said before, Americans are not used to the way massages are done in Indonesia. In America, you go in, disrobe, cover your private parts with the substantial towel provided for that purpose, and the masseuse carefully maintains that cover throughout the massage. I cannot help but notice, however, that, here, no towel has been provided. Or sarung. Or fig leaf.
So I take off my shirt, lie down on my stomach, ready to go.
Umm, the woman says.
Bisa buka celana, Pak?
I undo my belt, unbutton the pants and lie down again.
At which point the woman with the massive grip pulls off my shorts, leaves my underwear, but folds down the back to expose my ass.
Oh well. I guess, for a masseuse, one ass is basically the same as another.
And so she goes to work; and, as I’ve said, it is quite pleasant. Not painful and possibly life-threatening like the last massage I had, but just constant and soft and firm and confident.
After half an hour on the back, she is ready for the front.
She begins with my feet, moves to my calves, and then begins to caress the inner parts of my thighs. And then something untoward, something unspeakable begins to happen. Every time she runs her hand along my upper thigh, her fingers make accidental contact with my testicles and penis. Not that she is aiming for these parts, not at all – but just because they’re there. Worse yet, those parts begin to become aroused. Unmistakably so. Oh my God, shrieks my puritanical blood. How utterly inappropriate. How humiliating. What must this poor woman think.
I try to think of baseball, mathematics, the death of my grandfather, nuclear war – all to no avail.
Maaf, Ibu, I mutter into the towel that thankfully covers my face. Saya jadi keras tanpa sengaja. Memalukan. Maaf.
Ohhh, tidak, she answers. Jangan kuatir. Nggak apa-apa. Berarti bapak bisa beranak lagi. Itu aja.
In other words, it’s no big deal. So to speak. And where stiffness is concerned, this particular sort need not be considered a problem.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Foreign Relations

Yesterday evening, I decided to take a stroll down at Sindhu Beach. This is really the first beach in Sanur proper, if you're coming in from the east, and it was surely one of the first developed beaches, being close to the Sindhu traditional market in the older part of town. I used to go to this beach nearly every day to swim and lie in the sun. Funny how those activities fade away. The truth is, I very rarely visit the beach at all anymore. I always wondered about people who lived at the beach but said they never went to the beach. How can it be? Well, it can. It may be partly because prices are high in the beachfront cafe. One can find a cheaper, larger cup of coffee in the town. It may also be because the beachfront has become so built up over the last six years. The beach itself often seems obstructed by restaurants and hotels. Of course, it may also be that I've grown lazy. At the beach, you have to park and walk to your cafe. In town, you park in the lot and walk in the door. 

In any case, it was nighttime when I parked my motorbike and walked the beachfront path up to the Grand Bali Hotel - the first built in Sanur, if I have my facts straight. What strikes me about this stretch of beach, as with most in Sanur, is that there is almost no one to be seen. The restaurants are deserted, tables and chairs lounging alone under soft lights, hosting no one, gazing woodenly on the sleepy tide as it whispers ever so softly on the sand. There is no surf in Sanur to speak of, none of the crashing waves of Kuta and Seminyak, for Sanur and its beaches lie on a bay. For this reason, it is my favorite swimming spot. The big waves require too much effort, slapping you about till you're dizzy. Here at Sanur, you just wade it and lie back and drift about, barely having to move your limbs to stay afloat. 

As I walked past these empty establishments, I thought how very expensive it must be just to have them there on this prime oceanfront property. And one has to wonder about the freshness of the food for those who do stop in to eat. 

But of course the good news is that this absense of human life makes for a wonderfully peaceful stroll. It feels almost as if you are on a deserted island (which is filled, for some reason, with deserted restaurants). A boat bobs at the shore here and there and the breeze sighs in the tangled limbs of the trees, and far out to sea a constant light crawls along the horizon, as steady as a star, moving east. 

On the way back, I pass a couple of the more popular places. Ah, so this is where the people are - strangely alarming in their evening gowns and collared shirts and white trousers. Is Gatsby having a party tonight? Staff members bustle about in their equally stuffy clothing. It's a carefully tailored picture, right out of a brochure, with hanging lanterns and candlelight and clinking wine and brandy glasses. Yes, someone is spending money after all. 

My beach stroll had suddenly been infected by opulence. It was time to go to the bar in town. 

It has been a long time since I consumed any alcohol, mostly because it tends to give me a splitting headache nowadays - even with half a glass. But I thought I'd make an exception this night. I stopped at a bar that used to be called Angel's, but now has been bought and renamed The Place 2 Be. Unspired, but the the beer is the same. Also, unspired. The main beer here in Bali is called Bintang. I believe you can also get Corona these days, at the double the price of Bintang, more or less. And Corona is hardly the king of  beers, is it. Which should give you an idea of what the more cheaply available Bintang tastes like. 

In any case, I sat between an Englishman and an Iranian, as well as girls from Solo and Bandung, who smooshed their way into the spaces between the the spaces between the Englishman, the Iranian, and I, conspicuously holding up whiskey tumblers that were tragically empty except for the icecubes clinking in the bottom, and beguiling us by turn in broken English with tales of inordinate interest in our countries of origin followed by melancholy descriptions of personal loneliness and loss, which might be ever so successfully mitigated, one suspected, by the purchase of a whiskey to go with their ice. I wonder, is that why she kept lifting her glass for a toast, without mention of what was being toasted?

Now don't get me wrong. These are nice enough girls, and have, after all, taken the trouble to learn more of English than most locals know - and aside from that, they are paid some humble amount to do just what they were doing - bring in customers, help them stay longer, help them buy more beer, and, sure, even the highly priced whiskey. It all goes into the same pot, and the proceeds are divied up later. 

In any case, the girls soon discovered that I have no money and I actually live here and speak Indonesian and am married to an Indonesian, which must have struck them as rather dreary, as they soon moved off to another table. 

Which gave me the chance to have an uninterrupted, non-clinking conversation with the Iranian gentleman beside me. He is 65, and he is here with his family on vacation - wife, son and daughter. It seemed to him, as it does to me, that he was 30 years old just yesterday, and yet here he is, inexplicably aged. Nonetheless, he was enjoying himself and his family vacation. They would be here, he said, for a month. It was small talk, really, a discussion of commonality, with nary a mention of Iran or America other than to state their involvement in our origins. The details of the plane trip seemed more pertinent. 

In the end, having reached my two beer limit, we clasped hands and held them clasped for some time, punctuating parting words. And it occurred to me at that moment, that if anyone, anywhere for any reason has a problem, let them come to Bali and meet for a chat and a beer. The foreign part of foreign relations will soon fade away. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017


The hand that saved has become a burden and cannot save itself. Love has buried itself in the wrinkles, unremembered, too real. These lines oppress the free spirit. One wants to love and be loved. One wants passion, for the years are numbered, which is something these wrinkles already know. The number is small, the wrinkles are deep. They have sliced the flesh and reached the heart. Passion is what made them. And what is left?

Nathan and Me

Brought my laptop with case out to Starbucks this morning on the motorbike. On the way, on Yeh Aya, I saw an accident. Girl was sitting in the street holding her shoulder, looked to be in a fair amount of pain. Of course, dozens of bikers had stopped in order to move her bike out of the streeet. But I thought to myself, wow, what if I got in an accident with this laptop on my back. No more laptop, right? Perhaps taking the car would be wiser, though in that case, there would be no parking spot. Hmm. It's a quandary. I guess the solutiion is to avoid getting in a wreck.
Back in old Portland town, there was a period of time when I went to Starbucks with my laptop nearly every day. I suppose this was between 2004 and 2006. I would write poetry and short stories. The stories were mostly about a character named Nathan. Nathan was a drunk whose life had fallen apart and all he had left, really, was the bottle, one-night stands and his faithful dog, Frank. Only one of these stories was ever published. A long story called First Things First. Of course, I didn't try very hard to get any of them published. For one thing, my first wife, who had always been a trustworthy reader, said that they they rotten and depressing and that Nate's alcohol abuse was tedious. I guess they served more as a personal catharsis. an honest discussion with myself. By the time I had stopped writing those stories, I had stopped drinking altogether. Nathan was dead. But I still have a soft spot for him, as one does with all drunk, dead people. As one does for all lost souls. Poor Nate. Rest in Peace.

China Rich Girlfriend

The Crazy Rich Asians are up to their hijinks again in Kevin Kwan's sequel to that novel, China Rich Girlfriend - a story of untold riches and the curious burdens associated with the same. We have all heard that great wealth comes with its own penalties and pains, and Kwan lays these out with a fluency and perspecacity that I have rarely seen on the subject. In some sense, the rich person becomes a prisoner of his own riches and all the things entailed in their possession as it pertains to relasionship, position, expectations, family, love, class, tradition, and a stiff, suffocating form of propriety that is seemingly as inescapable as the wheel in a hamster's cage. What you do does not so much determine how much money you have as how much money you have determines what you do and who you are and must be.

Kwan delves into wealth here with a sort of affection for detail and specificity that may seem to border on the tedious to some readers - especially to male readers, I think. For me, however, this lends an inexpendable sense of real experience to the narrative, a sort of inside knowledge, from which one may learn and better evaluate the conceits and motivations of the characters.

It is a world of almost surreal excess which is ultimately so artificial that it sucks common meaning from the essential things that more common men know and understand - love, kindness, the immeasurable value of life itself.

Filled with irony, humor, sarcasm, intrigue, China Rich Girlfriend struck me as the perfect follow up novel for Crazy Rich Asians. It is a good, long, intelligent peek into a world that most of us will never know.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Love in its purest form is the single-minded devotion to the happiness of someone else, anyone else, everyone else.
Happy Easter.