Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rules of the Road

Nyelip-nyelip. This is the word used here to describe the practice of darting in and out of traffic, a common and generally practical form of road trade for those who are driving motorbikes. We dart along the sides of larger vehicles, or in between larger vehicles, over the sidewalk and across the center lane when practicable, in order to make our way more quickly through the elephantine pace of traffic, much to the chagrin of those entombed in cars and trucks.

It all works out pretty well -- for the motorbike. But when the larger, heavier vehicles, such as SUVs, dumptrucks, even buses, seek to employ the same method -- well, it don't work out too well at all. In fact, it's downright dangerous. Just imagine the bus veering in and our of traffic, careening from this lane to that, bumping along the edge of the road, half in and half out of a ditch. Madness!

And then there is the driver of the full sized dumptruck who somehow believes that his vehicle can squeeze through the crowd by using the bike lane. What can one call this particular failure of perception? Other than simple stupidity.

Then again, that's a western notion. In Bali, it's simply called "normal".

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Waiting Game

Waiting for my friend, Mike, at JCO. Religiously late is Mike, but today he seems rather more extreme than usual. An hour late. Hmm, maybe he's not coming. I wouldn't know for sure, because my Blackberry is religiously broken. So, I've done an hour of EF work, and soon will be able to go home and do more, as the maid will have finished her exteme sweeping/mopping/dusting and general bustling by noon or so. She tells me this morning that it will cost Rp. 500000 to fix our 'mesin cuci' (washing machine), so it looks like she'll be doing the laundry by hand for some time to come.  The cost for repair is considerably more than I pay her for a month of work. Could hire one and a half more maids instead.

Mike has always been rather 'ish-ish'. For those of you who don't know what this means, I shall re-post an article below which I originally wrote for The Bali Times.


America has been called ‘the melting pot of the world,’ at least in olden time, for its invitation to people all over the globe to immigrate to its happy shores, but for me it can never hold a candle to the variety and variance of cultures and tongues one finds in the sunny environs of Bali. The trouble with America is that people soon become Americans, shedding the uniqueness of their heritage for a new skin, a gray flannel suit of conformity, such that the quirks and traits that made them foreign people soon no longer attain. I knew, for instance, many Indonesians in America, and yet knew not a single one until I came to Bali -- for they had all become Americans, you see? And no one loves America so well as expatriated Indonesians -- its anaemic culture, its disposition toward greed, its worship of money, its love of ‘things’ -- shoes, clothing, jewellery, cars. Charity, community, character -- all suffer under the stress of a rich yet reductive national ethos.

But enough of America bashing for the moment. What I want to say is that here in Bali the Brit stays British, the Aussie Australian, the Frenchman French and so on the wide world of immigrants over -- for in this far flung archipelago a nonnegotiable divide is encountered. The bule can hardly become an Indonesian, and so he must stay as he is, dragging along his cultural and linguistic peculiarities just as surely as his own skin. We don‘t put on airs, or join the PTA, or sit in the seats of government, or reside over Hindu processions. No, we remain perfectly foreign. We are neither consumed nor altered nor absorbed. Our essential frame of reference remains with the culture and character of our countries of origin, and we continue for the most part to speak in our native tongues and to employ our native idioms of language.

Which brings me to this concept of “ish” as employed by the peoples of some western countries to denote some peculiarly uncertain increment of time. It is a strange notion to the American, for we are precise sorts of people. For the American, eleven o’clock means 11 o’clock. Noon means noon. There is no “ish” about it. And yet for the Australian, for instance, and the Englishman and the Frenchman and the Italian, time is not so easily pinned down. It’s fluid, somewhat questionable, somewhat if-ish.

“Coffee at 9-ish,” my English friend says. What does this mean? Something like 9? Two or three minutes before or past nine? At some point during which the general atmosphere of the day seems to resemble 9?

I certainly don’t know, and so I arrive for coffee at 9. And of course my friend is not there. Nor is he there at 2 minutes after 9, or 5, or 10, or 20. I conclude therefore that the term 9-ish has nothing in essential to do with the actual fact of 9 o’clock. I note also that by 20 minutes past the hour I have already finished my cappuccino. Why were we meeting? For coffee, right?

It may or may not be marginally interesting at this point to note that the word “Ish” was one of the first words used to denote a member of the human race, and can be found, curiously enough, in various widely separated parts of the world -- from the Middle East to South America. Adam, in the Hebrew, was called Ish, and in his first words in the Torah he calls the newly created woman Isha. Clearly then, the term has been a longstanding one, and why it never caught on in America, I cannot say. Other well known ishes would include Ishrael, Ishlam, Chrishtianity, Ishmail, Ishstanbul, and Ish-Kabibble. As well as fishes, of course.

Shall we conclude therefore, given the modern use of the term “ish,” that there was something inexact, unreliable, unpredictable about man and the world and the cosmos from the outset? Or is it just the American expectation of precision that is fishy?

In any case, my friend shows up at 9:30 -- ish having meant, in this case, for this day, 30 minutes past the hour. Why did he not say 9:30 to begin with? Why say 9 if you mean 9:30? Ah, but there is that all important, intangible “ish” attached.

“Well hey, Mike-ish. Run into some trouble along the way?“

“No trouble. Why?“

“You’re a bit tardy-ish, that’s all.“

“Not at all. I said 9-ish, did I not?”

“But as you can see, my cappuccino is rather gone-ish.”

“Ah well, have another. It’s still early-ish, ish-n’t it?”

It is agreed then. Next time around I will plan to arrive for coffee late-ish.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stone Age Realities

Primitive conditions keep me from getting much done today. I find that my internet allowance has run out this morning. You buy it here through an ATM, or by visiting the provider. No such a thing as automatic monthly refill and charge. So I go down to JCO instead to use their free wifi. Trouble is, it doesn’t work. Which is often enough the case. So now I’m headed for the ATM to try to understand the screen instructions in Indonesian. One has to be careful here, as he could end up buying nothing at all. Or sending money to some anonymous number, I suppose. The long and short is that I have already wasted three hours working time on trying to get internet time. One also ends up buying a JCO coffee for no particular reason and then gulping it down as he stresses over the work hours he is missing. Ah, Indonesia, thy primitive charms.

As an aside, I went to the corner “bengkel” this morning to get my motorbike washed. No such luck. His water is not working. Actually, this is no real surprise, for neither is ours. He did change my headlamp, however, which has been carefully designed to burn out every three months to the day. This is why the common Indonesian avoids using his headlights in any but the darkest conditions. It’s freakin’ 15,000 Rupiah, man -- about a dollar-fifty -- so, motorist beware!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Beetles

A storm of flying beetles last night, like raindrops, only as quickly as they hit the ground, or the porch or the table or the top of your head, they unlike rain, start to crawl. This happens every now and again. Why the bugs suddenly decide to take flight en masse, I don't know. It seems to  happen always at night, this flurry of small round insects, and whether they have a purpose or simply grow tired, each eventually regains the earth and begins to explore its new envionrment. They climb the walls, seek porch lights, and crawl under doors to climb the walls and seek the lights within. And to terrify boys such as my son.

I'm sure they must eat something. Happily, they do not appear to feed on flesh. Perhaps they eat curtains, or wood, or other bugs. In any case, they have no great objection to being expelled from the house with a broom. Trouble is, when you open the door to sweep them out, more of their compatriots fly in. This makes a bit of a job, and so is irritating at least at this level, as one may have preferred to watch a movie or read a book.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

GI Joe

Watching the new GI Joe 3D movie last Friday night in a theater packed with Indonesians, many of whom would have been Muslims, struck me in some way as a curious experience. It's an All-American movie, of course, packed chock-full with All-American gung-ho ideas, and yet the audience seemed to connect quite comfortably with the ideologies and the characters. There's the power of Hollywood for you. In fact, despite religion, and despite official high-level distaste for American decadence and bravado, the common Indonesians love us. They love our violence, our guns, our technology, our irreverence, our opulence, our fantasy and our beautiful male and female stars. They identify with and honor the mythos without being a natural part of it. It is clear from all that crosses the big screen that Americans are strong and courageous, justified, predestined - a chosen race embued with with every coveted characteristic. Ah, to be an American!

The Hollywood movie may very well be the victorious politic of the future. They represent, for their largeness, for their color and sound, for their special effects and cliffhanger thrills, a fullness of practically irresitible propaganda that no single person or speech or policy could ever match.

Indonesians love everything American - and everything that think, insist, is American. Money, possessions, bright lights and glitter, rap music, rebellion, profanity, vulgarity, power, affluence, sex and adultery, diamonds, big cars, automatic weapons, nuclear missiles, and women with soap-white skin.

"I love America," they tell me. "I want to go there someday. Everything is clean there, and big, and easy, and everyone has so much money."

Nor are they deterred by my poor example -- for their dream, like the Hollywood movie, is bigger by far than life.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Puppy Love

We find ourselves with another puppy. This seems to happen on the average twice a year or so. In this case, we know where the dog comes from and to whom it belongs. It is his owners who seem to have forgotten. Having left our village a couple days ago for Kuningan celebrations, they have not yet returned, and so the puppy, using his own brain in what seems a more astute manner, has made itself at home at our house, just across the street from that of its absent owners.  He's a cute little fellow  -- milk white, except for various grey smudges of dust, and smart as a whip. He has not been long at all in the world, is still learning to focus with his eyes and walk a consistently straight line, but he picks up on things fast -- like where the food is kept, which room has the most stuff that looks like it could be used as a toy, the sounds of voices and who they are attached to, and so on. He even makes a fine attempt to stand on his hind legs for bits of chicken or cookies. What the owners thought the dog was going to do (or eat) whilst they were gone, I do not know. He started out with crying, loudly and at great length, until he discovered that he could squeeze himself under their fence, and now has not complained since. He is happy, as are we all (or at least should be) with friends and simple sustenance.