Monday, February 28, 2011

Mau Ke Mana?

Whenever an Indonesian sits down to eat, he will announce "makan" to everyone who is nearby ("eat") in a gesture of offering his own food for all. This is a bit confusing the first few times you hear it, as they really seem to be asking you to share their food. Of course they're not really. It's a custom. Nonetheless, should one accept the offer, the person eating would be constrained to actually share. In a like manner, whenever an Indonesia person is about to go somewhere, he will announce that he is about to do so, almost as if asking permission. An answer is also expected, for the sense is that he may not depart until given leave. "Pulang dulu," he will say (or something similar) -- I'm going home now. At that point you must say "See you later," or "be careful," or give some other form of acknowledgement. The person simply will not leave until he receives the acknowledgement. If you yourself are walking somewhere, or preparing to go somewhere on your bike or in your car, you will invariably be asked "Mau ke mana?" -- Where are you going? If you are coming back from somewhere, they will ask "Dari mana?" -- Where have you been? To a Westerner it seems almost nosy; but, again, it is a custom. And, again, you must answer, or appear quite rude.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mister Richard

People here in Indonesia commonly misuse the word "mister." They want to use it in the sense that they themselves use the word "Bapak," which is a respectful way of addressing a male. So while it would be common for them to say "Bapak Richard," it is of course weird to say "Mister Richard." There is a politeness and respect in this culture that just doesn't really exist in America anymore. When I was young, for instance, we would pretty commonly use the term "Sir" if addressing someone older or someone in authority, but even this is uncommon these days. Nonetheless, Indonesian people are just very reticent to use first names unless they know someone intimately. In the case of women, it is either Ibu or Mbak (for a married or older woman, or a single or younger woman respectively). So I am either Bapak or Tuan (the latter being used only for a foreigner), but almost never Richard.

Friday, February 18, 2011

And The Beat Goes On

It seems at present quite certain that we will soon move to one or the other of two houses. Certainty, however, is most certainly a matter of general uncertainty on the island of Bali.

The first of these two abodes is one we had looked at from the outset of our search. Located in Biaung, 15 minutes north of Sanur, it is larger than our present home and also has a yard and patios. This goes for 2000 USD a year (as compared to the 4000 we would be paying otherwise). The catch on this one is that the landlord’s daughter may or may not decide to move to Bali from Java. This we will know (as is said anyway) by the end of this month.

The second house is also located in Biaung, actually on the same street, and it is smaller, with only one bathroom, but goes for 1500 a year. The catch here is that the man who is living in the house doesn’t want to move, nor does he want to pay rent. He has been told (as is said) that he must vacate by June 1st.

So there you have it.

The beat goes on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Happy Marriage

On the laptop this morning an ad popped up which read "Find a Muslim Husband," and pictured a happy, hopeful looking young woman in traditional garb. Hmm. I should have thought that finding a Muslim husband would be more a matter of ill fortune, to be avoided if at all possible.

Okay, so that's not very nice of me, but it is the impression we are left with after any kind of exposure to news of wife abuse and religious control freaks. So many rules, so few perks (or so it seems to the Westerner). Perhaps we are just not hearing the whole story. After all, why shouldn't a woman be compelled to walk behind her husband at all times? It simply shows due respect, right? Or why should a woman have the same rights as a man? Why shouldn't the man alone have the the right to divorce? He is the man, right? What does a woman's marriage have to do with the woman? It's all about the man. Right? Or why should the woman have any legal recourse if beaten or abused? She is just a woman, right?


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just One Cup of Coffee, Please

The poorer a people are, the more greedy they become. A scarcity of money adds all the more to the value of the same. Greed is good, right? Well, greed is at least necessary in conditions of continual poverty. Every penny counts.

I had become accostumed for a time to visiting a particular restaurant on the beach, where I would order a cappuccino and take my laptop along to do some writing. Just as I had been accostumed to doing back in Portland, I would nurse down my cup of coffee while I worked on a story. It's a relaxing sort of situation for me and always seemed much preferable to an over-quiet room or my own desk at home. John Cheever once said that he would dress everyday as if for work, drive to an office he had rented, and then write there, as this gave the pursuit a greater sense of purpose, becoming something that was habitual, just like a job, and not open to the hundreds of altnernative options one might otherwise entertain.

So I would go down to the beach and sit at my table and order my coffee, and this seemed both familiar and also condusive to a good couple hours of work. However, I began to understand at some point that the management at this particular restaurant would much prefer me to order more than one cup of coffee. "Just coffee?" they would say. Nothing else? Maybe breakfast? How about a pastry?" I realized by and by that as far as they were concerned, I was not doing my part. They had much to offer, for a much greater price, and I ought to be ordering much more than a cup of coffee--especially considering the inexhaustible riches I possess as an American.

And so it became uncomfortable. Given that money was so much needed, I could not justify my presence for a single cup of coffee; and given that I have no money to speak of (despite nonnegotiable beliefs to the contrary), I could not justify spending funds I did not have just to try to make myself more comfortable.

Therefore, I no longer go to that restaurant.

In America we have Starbucks. People go to Starbucks every day for a single cup of coffee. They sit as long as they like with their single cup of coffee and are never begged nor badgered into ordering more. This, of course, is because Starbucks, in their great bounty, does not need to scrape and scrabble for nickels and dimes. For the restaurant or warung on the beach, however, the competition is stiff, for there is another next door, and next door to that, and so on all the way from Sindhu to Kuta. To order no more than a single cup of coffee seems to them unkind, even careless.

They need the money. It is a personal thing for each and every employee, from waitress to cook to cashier. They are not being paid by the regional office--no, their money is coming straight from the individual customer. If the customer is from America, or from Europe, or from Japan, he must surely have money, and the very reason he is here in Bali can only be in order to share his wealth. He is therefore a rude, incalcitrant, unfeeling man who will order but one cappuccino and believe he has done well.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Disewa 3

Well, as my grampa, whom I never met, used to say, "Never count your chickens before they're hatched." Or at least I suspect he used to say so. And this appears to be the byword as far as rentals in Bali are concerned. In other words, we may not have found a house afterall. First the owner said Yeah, it's for rent, and you can move in by the end of February. Then she called back the next day and said it was for rent but also for sale, and wouldn't we like to buy it? (Fat chance). At that time she said that we could tour the house on Saturday. However, the next day she called and said the house could not be toured until the 16th. Now WTF is going on? It's really so typical. Perhaps they found out somehow that I am a bule, and so decided the house was for sale. Who knows. But the long and short is that we are still up in the air and still looking. Damn!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Disewa 2

Good news, potentially ... we may have found a house. This is in Biaung, some 15 minutes away from where we are right now in Sanur. It is a larger house for half the price, and is in a much quieter area. So we're keeping our fingers crossed. Another plus is that it is right down the street from our friends, Victor and Iluh. In the meantime, anyone wanting to donate money to the poor, unemployed, and retired fund (PURF), may feel free to do so.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Ok, so the standards are different here in Indonesia. As far as house rentals go, I mean. You're not going to find something that's been cleaned top to bottom or deodorized or newly painted or swept or mopped. No. Most places are going to appear pretty grimy, not altogether inviting. This is not something that my wife--an Indonesian--accepts. So will we ever find a place to move to? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Sunshine Cure, 1

There is so much that leads up to every little thing in life. No one thing stands wholly apart from the rest. It is never so simple as that. The line is continuous, like the line you see on a heart monitor, and although the spikes and the dips, the peaks and the valleys seem to stand out--and do stand out in their own way--they remain part of the same line, and their meaning lies within the context of the entire line.

Where do we begin, therefore, when we set out to talk about a single event? We like the notion of suddenness in life, whether the subject be negative or positive. I was just sitting here doing nothing, we say, when suddenly the heavens opened and blessings descended upon me. I had given up on love, I was no longer even looking, when suddenly this woman, this man, appeared. I was minding my own business, just the same as ever, when suddenly my heart stopped, when suddenly the cancer appeared, when suddenly the aneurysm exploded in my brain.

I will say therefore, knowing the same to be essentially untrue, that I awoke one morning in the spring of 2007 to find that suddenly my left foot had died. I had done nothing to cause my foot’s demise, or so it seemed to me at the time. I had not so much as stubbed a toe or stepped on glass or twisted an ankle, or even clipped a nail in the recent past. Why then had my foot died?

This I wondered as I sat on the edge of my bed. My side of the bed, that is. My wife was yet sleeping on her own side. Had my foot had some unfortunate adventure of its own whilst I slept. Had the dead foot itself now awakened me? But how can the dead wake the living? Lazarus in reverse? From the grave my foot said Come forth?

Maybe you have slept on your own arm in the past, and awakened to find the thing quite absent. You pick up the arm with your living hand from the other side, marvel at the sensation of having lifted the arm of someone else altogether. But of course you know it is your own arm, as familiar and well beloved as any other part of your body; and you also know that this is a temporary anomaly, for it is something that happens, and has happened before, and will no doubt happen again in the future.

You marvel, as I say, at the sensation of death in a member of your body, and yet remain comforted by the full confidence that the feeling in your arm will soon return. You are 99 percent certain of the thing. The only thing that is interesting, really--the only thing that is marvelous about the thing--is that one percent which lies in doubt.

I wonder if this might be the seed from which Mark Twain’s well known story of the Golden Arm arose.

Once 'pon a time, Twain says, dey wuz a monsus mean man, en he live 'way out in de prairie all 'lone by hisself, 'cep'n he had a wife. En bimeby she died, en he tuck en toted her way out dah in de prairie en buried her. Well, she had a golden arm -- all solid gold, fum de shoulder down. He wuz pow'ful mean -- pow'ful; en dat night he couldn't sleep, caze he want dat golden arm so bad.

There is no doubt that we want that golden arm back--the precious one, the one of value, the one that lies temporarily dead on the bed sheets.

Who took my golden arm!

And so we wiggle the fingers, difficult at first, but sure enough sensation begins to return. Using then the good arm and hand, we shake the slowly awakening, temporarily foreign appendage. Feeling crawls up from wrist to forearm, forearm to elbow, elbow to shoulder, and by and by the old arm returns, able straightaway to do all the old arm things it had done before.

But this, in my case, was a foot, not an arm, and feet are not generally known, or commonly known anyway, to fall asleep at night. One does not sleep on his foot. How would he? Rather, if one wakes to find his foot missing, it seems clear that something rather more unusual has occurred.

Paresthesia--a loss of sensation or a sense of tingling in the skin of some part of the body--is a symptom found in a number of disparate problems. Hyperventilation syndrome, for instance (or the panic attack), may temporarily result in a lack of feeling in the hands or the feet. But you breathe into a paper sack and it passes, right?

Of a more serious, intransient nature is chronic paresthesia--a problem with the functioning of neurons. Peripheral vascular disease, or narrowing of the arteries, results in an inability of the blood to supply sufficient nutrients to the nerve cells in the extremities, which causes in turn--what else--a numbness and tingling in the feet and hands.

Ah, but the possibilities go on, marching to ever more obscure tunes. Allow me to hum a few.

There are the inflammatory diseases, for instance--rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. There is clinical anxiety, excessive mental distress, bone disease, poor posture, whiplash, frostbite, Lyme disease, transient ischemic attack, lupus erythematosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, Fabry disease, herpes zoster, sphingolipidosis, alcoholism, hyperglycemia, hypothyroidism mercury poisoning, rabies, sarcoidosis, decompression syndrome. Oh, and menopause.

My occupation for the last twenty odd years had been as a Health Information Specialist for a large medical center in Portland, Oregon, where I, and notably my foot, had lived the 53 years to this point without experiencing a serious health problem--in fact without suffering so much as a broken bone. I was aware, therefore, of all of the maladies mentioned above--as well as many more which surely could have nothing whatsoever to do with feet, sensation, or the lack of sensation. I felt no pressing need, for instance, of a paper sack to breathe into. I had no pain in the chest, no headache, no shortness of breath. And of course there were some things that could be fairly certainly ruled out according to odds that were simply too long. Menopause, for instance.

What I did note however, as the minutes passed, and as I cataloged and interrogated the various conditions which might have been and yet could not be applicable, was that my right foot had now begun to reduplicate the troubles in the left.

What? Is this happening? It can’t be! But it is.

First the big toe, then all the toes, then the forefoot, the heel, the ankle. It felt for all the world as if an invisible stocking, thick, tight, had been pulled over each foot in turn, cutting off circulation, smothering all familiar sensation. I sat there staring at the things--my feet--so suddenly mindless, foreign, seemingly detached--two lumps sitting side by side on the carpet, just below the bed skirt, as if they were no more part of me than a pair of buckskin slippers yet unworn.

And my wife slept along on her side of the bed, and the dog at the foot, curled snout to tail, snoring.

On the one hand, I’m thinking Hey, you guys are missing the most amazing thing here.

And on the other, I’m finally beginning to panic a bit.