Thursday, July 18, 2019

Preserving the Age-Old Legacy of American Ignorance

Classic Trumpers made the news this morning as they eagerly awaited attendance at a North Carolina rally (yes, yet another rally). When asked how they felt about Trump's recent statement about 'the squad', the four female congress members of ethnic decent who vocally support impeachment, they answered in concert: 'Yes, I agree with the President. They should go back to their own countries. This is despite the fact that it has been clearly pointed out that all of these women are US citizens, that three of them were born in the US, and the fourth, while having been born abroad, has been here longer than Melania Trump.


Of course, what Trump means, and what his brainless followers are really saying, is that no brown person is really a citizen of this country, and they certainly have no right to criticize and stir up trouble that may actually lead to positive change in American society.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Language Sharing

Off and on for some years now, I've downloaded a 'language sharing site' where, ideally, people can come to learn a foreign language or become more fluent in that language, while sharing their own with a counterpart with the same desires. The trouble with the site is that most people join and then say nothing, or they might say 'Hi', and then that's the last you hear from them. 

Once in awhile, though, you actually hook up with someone who wants to chat and learn. So it was that I happened to meet Manda just recently, a young woman who lives in central Kalimantan. She's a pleasant, forthcoming mother of two and is actually doing fairly well in English already. When she doesn't understand something, she asks a specific question. When I am incorrect, she politely corrects me. She is also quite bright, interested in politics and religion and social patterns. It's a good way for both of us to become more fluent and to enjoy doing so. 

One thing one almost always learns in these connections is how very much the same we all are. Same concerns, same hopes and desires. As Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lillies of the Fields

I happened to watch the old film Lillies of the Fields last night. Showed up on my YouTube feed for whatever reason. I remember enjoying the movie when I saw it many years ago, but it was interesting to watch it again from the perspective of present day ideas and peculiarities. 

Lillies of the Fields stars Sidney Poitier, one of America's first popular black Hollywood stars, but it is not in any way about race. That's the interesting part. It seems that nowadays if a movie features a black actor in the starring role, it must be about race or racism or racial tensions. It must have an ax to grind. 

Bur Poitier's character, Homer Smith, has no ax to grind. He is a drifter, a jack-of-all-trades, a man like any other man, and is the man whose car radiator happens to boil over, which happens to send him down a lonely country road to the doorstep of a nunnery. Providentially, it just so happens that the Mother Superior at the nunnery had been praying for someone to show up and help with what she sees as God's plan for the nunnery--the building of a chapel. She has no money to pay for this, only her faith that it will come about. 

I suppose that contemporary critics would find much to criticize about the story. Just the fact that race is not made the central issue would bother them--as if all black people are first and foremost about race, and only secondarily human beings. We are so accustomed now to obligatory racial awareness that we automatically anticipate it. When Homer walks into the local diner, we automatically think Oh, here we go--they're going to refuse to serve him. He will be stared at and shunned. But no, all that happens is that he orders a breakfast. 

Lillies of the Fields is a story about faith, about character, about pride and charity, about personal growth. Homer could be any color, the nuns could be any color. The important thing is that they are all human beings. 


We had a fairly good shake here in Bali this morning--things falling off the shelves, room rocking back and forth. Takut the dog was tottering around like a drunk, 'what the hell?' look on  his face. I haven't heard yet how it rated on the Richter scale, but it was actually a bit scary. Not long afterwards, one could hear the sound of ambulance sirens. I sure wouldn't have wanted to be driving a motorbike at the time! 

Monday, July 15, 2019


I seem to have grown old over the last year, and especially the last six months. Most notably over this long period of illness, which yet persists. I look in the mirror and see new vertical wrinkles on my forehead crisscrossing with the old horizontal ones. Looks like a map of the canals of Mars. Dark racoon-like circles beneath my eyes. I go for a coffee in the morning, which, actually, has turned to tea or some other substitute given my stomach's newfound inability to tolerate coffee, chat a moment with the Barista, and then say, 'I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name.' 'That's okay,' she says, 'you're pretty old.' At a later point in the day, I am explaining the problem I'm having with my stomach to another young woman and she says, 'That's okay. You're pretty old.' I seem to have crossed a dividing line between seasoned and elderly. And I suspect there's no going back. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


My little buddy Viana returned yesterday evening from a month long stay in Kerangasem and upon seeing me came running from the end of the street, eyes asparkle, smile like a bright crescent moon.


This afternoon she shows up at my door with two friends, Feby and 'Whats-her-name'. Each of the girls is wearing mittens and a jacket with the hood pulled over the head, like little Eskimos. 

"Jeeze, are you guys cold?" I ask incredulously, considering the balmy temperature of about 28C (82F).

"Noooo," they sing out in unison. "Hot!" 

"So why are you wearing jackets and mittens?" 


Hmm. Okay.

"If no coat, masuk angin," Viana explains. 

Ah yes, the dreaded masuk angin, 'entered by the wind'. The cause of pretty much any illness suffered in Bali. 

"Also," she adds, "Don't want skin be black."

Of course--the second great dread of Bali--that one's skin will become too dark. The lighter the better, and the reason many Indonesian women use whitening cream. As far as I can understand, the reasoning behind this is that it's a class thing. Dark skin marks you as lower class, a field laborer. Apparently they have not yet heard that black is beautiful.

"So, where are you girls off to?"

They are off to buy ice cream, Viana says, and then all three sit down together on my doorstep. A strange place to look for ice cream, I'm thinking. But of course I know what they're up to. 

"How much is ice cream?" I ask. 

"Lima ribu." 

"Wow, that's not much at all!" It's less than 50 cents. 

Smiles. Silence. Whats-her-name is poking Viana and whispering something.

"Lima ribu. Let's see … that's fifteen altogether, right?"

Nods of confident affirmation. 

"You guys have that much?"

"Tidak ada," Viana mutters sadly. 

"So how are you going to buy ice cream?"

Rapt attention. Raised eyebrows. They're waiting for me to unravel the puzzle. 

"How about if I give you the money?" 

"Yes!" They're up, they're ready, they're clapping their mittened little hands. "Thank you, Meester! Thank you!" And they're off into the sweltering south Bali afternoon, all bundled against the blizzard of heat. Oh, I know they're mercenary little brats, but so was my own little daughter, once upon a long time ago. 

I'll take love and gratitude wherever I can get it these days.  

The Return of the Bocah Nakal

It seems that the bocah nakal weren't using the villa wifi after all, as they are present in the parking bay just the same as ever, regardless of the password change. You see now, this is the unfairness set in motion when someone begins to make false accusations which have arisen entirely from his own presumptions and prejudices. He creates a convincing narrative which nonetheless ultimately collapses around its own paranoid core.

I suspect that these boys have chosen the villa parking bay as a cozy sort of personal clubhouse, its most alluring feature being no doubt that it is out of the sun--and believe me, finding a spot in the tropics that is out of the sun is a pretty difficult thing to do. 

One remembers being a boy himself by watching the neighborhood boys. As I watch, I remember lost things, things long since engulfed in the obscuring tide of time. I remember how my friends and I would choose out places that seemed somehow inviting and make them our own nooks, far from the madding crowd, so to speak--away from parents, away from the prying, uncertain world, away from rules and supervision. Our choice became whatever we might choose. It was the platoon HQ, it was the marshal's office, a time machine, a box canyon, a frontier post. I remember a spot in Oakland, California, an old brick fireplace in a little dip of the land in my great uncle's sprawling back yard. This was central headquarters of our international spy agency, the place to which we spies reported when we returned from our far flung foreign missions to the neighboring block. And again, I remember the unused driveway and garage of a neighborhood residence, a submerged sort of area that once served as a bay for loads of coal back when folks still used coal to heat their homes. Here we could hide from boys we did not want to play with, or from bullies known to be on the loose in the neighborhood, from the world's ears and eyes and unreasonable expectations. We could talk for  hours, play the most ridiculous sort of games, agree on extravagant plans of conquest, or discuss the intriguing and often inaccurate particulars of female anatomy. We could search the pages of the latest forbidden bodice ripper and read the best paragraphs over and over again, and then hide the scandalous volume under the cover of the coal chute before leaving. Whether in the city or the forest or at the seashore, we found such a place. There were countless such hideouts in our own seemingly countless years of youth. 

I suppose that present-day boys don't pretend so much as we did back then. Now their cellphones do the pretending for them, and they enter a pretend world that has been fashioned for them. Nonetheless, I think the basic pattern is the same. Home away from home means the very same thing now as it did when I was a boy.