Visits

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Something

There was something about a certain man that almost everyone could see, some quite quickly, some by-and-by. Animals saw this something immediately, especially dogs. They would come to the man, befriend the man, follow the man, sit with the man. They would enter the man’s house and sleep at his feet because they belonged, and because the man belonged. Some people, upon seeing, felt pressed to touch, driven by an urgent must. I must take his hand before it’s too late. For what? This they knew, and yet knew not. There were others who would shrink away, strangely repelled, though there was nothing at all fearsome about the man. What was fearful was that certain something about the man who had something about him that almost everyone could see. Some were filled with a kindred love, instant, pure; some with pity; some with denial; some with the sort of hope that needed nothing more than hope. And regarding the man himself? No, there was nothing special, nothing heroic, nothing particularly notable about the man - except for that something, which itself had only arrived with the dusk, lit by the setting sun alone. That is the time when shadows are long, and when what is far away seems most near. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Friends

Down at JCO, I noticed that an Indonesian fellow, maybe in his mid-30's, was kind of glancing my way while I was reading my book, and then after a time he came over to my table. Just wanted to say hi and introduce himself.

"Where do you stay here?" he asked.

"Tinggal di Renon. Sudah tiga tahun di rumah itu, dan enam tahun di Bali."

"Oh! You speak Indonesia!"

"Well, somewhat."

So the remainder of our conversation was conducted in Indonesian. Six years in Bali! Originally from what country. Are you here alone? Do you have a wife? Where is your wife from, bule or local? Where is she now? Do you have a baby? Oh, already 17! Where is he now? And so on.

A little boy joins us. This is his younger son, who, shyly, will not tell me his name. He is five years old. And there is a second son, 12 years old, who soon joins us as well, as does their mother.

We talked about our families, school, cars versus motorbikes (turns out we both prefer the motorbike), and the dangerous little kids who race about without helmets. Just common talk. But I've said it before and I'll say it again - this would not be common in America. You do not just walk up to someone's table and say "Hi, how are ya?", unless you like being told to fuck off.

The only exception I ever saw in America was in the deep South. Seems kinda strange, when you consider that southerners have a bit of a bad rep. But where simple friendliness is concerned, you can't hardly beat 'em. You don't just go into a store and buy something, for instance. You jaw for a while. You don't sit down in a Waffle House and expect to eat in silence. No, by the time you leave, you'll probably know everyone in the place. They call it southern hospitality - and it's the closest thing we have in America to the way people are in Indonesia.

And this is what I love about Indonesia. A simple willingness among people to be friendly, to chat a bit, not to look the other way and pretend that you do not exist. On the street, in the warung, at the laundry, on the beach, chances are that you are gonna meet a fellow human being, a friend.

Chiop Chop Pung

Haven't been to Matahari Terbit in a long time. And I just remembered there's a good reason for that. It's too crowded, the air smells of gasoline and every five minutes someone tries to sell you a trip to Lembongan. Of course, it's much better up the coast a piece. Should have turned left rather than right. Curiously, a Chinese woman passing by while I typed this smacked me on the side of my head and said "Chiop chop pung." She was smiling, so I guess it was funny.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Dream

After returning from my morning coffee today, and then doing a few household chores, I sat down to write a bit, but soon found that the big fat brown dog who visits the house almost every day had laid down to sleep next to my chair, and the more she slept, the more tired I felt as well. So I thought I'd lie down for just a few minutes, and awoke about 4 hours later. 

During that unintentional nap, I had a long, vivid dream. It seems that it was my son's birthday and we were all at my uncle's house, including my parents. My parents, as well as my aunt and uncle, passed on some years ago, but, as often happens, they were perfectly alive in the dream. My son was sort of an unwilling participant in his own birthday celebration. He seemed annoyed by the whole thing, and like he would rather not have been there. 

At one point early on in the dream he was explaining to me that I had never truly communicated with him. I kept trying to discover more exactly what he meant by this, but he seemed comfortable enough with stating that I just didn't get it and never would. 

There was another young man in the dream (it seemed that both my son and this other fellow were in their late teens), and my son and he were getting along famously, which made me very happy. They were in their own world, doing their own thing. 

There were presents for my son, especially from my father, with which he was unimpressed and disinterested. 

And then it began to snow outside. There was perhaps an inch of snow on the ground and my son was running about and sliding on the snow. 

Snow in late April, I kept saying! It's unheard of! 

At some point there was a conversation with my mother. I was telling her how completely I disliked my uncle, how I would never forgive him for his attitude regarding my brother, who had died of cancer, and my mother started crying and kept saying that I must forgive, I must forgive. 

In the front yard many people had gathered for the party and had brought presents which they placed on a table. They seemed to be acquaintences of my aunt and uncle. I did not know them. One older man came over to talk to me. He had suffered a head injury, he explained, and could not think straight anymore. Also, he had lost his left eye. There was a hole where the eye had been, and he stuck his finger in the hole to show me that there was no eye. 

Well, I understand, I said. I can't think straight either. 

At last, we were about to go home. It had been a two day party, and both I and my son were feeling kind of pissed off because no one told us we were going to be there for two days. 

And then I woke up. 

Tamu

Bought some bubur this morning at a little spot in Denpasar. Great! I could live on bubur. Bubur is a sort of rice porridge, with chicken, or pork, or seafood - whatever you like - along with spices and kerupuk (a thin cracker that becomes soft in the porridge). But anyway, when I went to pay the two young men running the place, there was a fat woman standing there too. I smiled at her, but she did not return my smile. Very unusual for an Indonesian. As I walked back to my bike, I could hear her scolding the two young men. "If it's a bule, you ask for more money!"

This is quite common. Every penny counts, and the locals figure that we foreigners have more pennies than they. It seems to them, I think, not unfair, but only fair. I wish that their conceit was correct - that I, as a bule,  must be rich. Unfortunately, it's not. Every penny counts to me too. 

Tamu is what the Balinese call us - literally a "guest". Doesn't matter if you actually live here, you're still a tamu. The more generally used word among Indonesians is Bule, which means, simply, foreigner, although it has its various connotations, which can be either positive or negative. A young woman, for instance, might say that she wants to find a Bule for a husband. On the other hand, it can be an insult, like Bule gila!, or crazy foreigner. There are restaurants with Bule prices and there are restaurants with local prices. There are those like the one I visited this morning that will charge the local one price and the foreigner another. 

Now, I could have gone back and disputed the matter with this woman at the bubur stand. I could have told her that I understood every word she said and that her attitude was unfair and prejudicial and that it was not a good thing to teach dishonesty to the young men working at the stand. But the thing is, we who are from the West have been generally taught not to disrespect women for any reason -- unless it's our wife :). (Just kidding). Now, had my wife been present, the poor woman would have gotten both barrels. It has certainly happened before. One time, a parking attendant asked me for 5000 rupiah rather than the usual 2000. Suffice it to say that he was sorry once my wife got wind of it. 

But the fact is, we are guests here, forever - we foreigners, I mean - and there are any number of reminders almost every day - whether they come in the form of undeserved deference, the different rules that apply, the different costs that are exacted, or what have you. We are a minority, we are strangers, we are guests, we are bules.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Say Cheese

My wife was just saying that I looked nice in my driver's license photo because I was smiling. The reason I was smiling is because the officer kept saying "sheen" and motioning with his hand.
"Sheen?"
"Yes, sheen down please."
What sheen? Am I shining? How can I turn down my sheen?
I move my chair backward.
"No, sheen."
I move my chair forward.
"No, no. Back. Look at camera. Sheen down."
I look at the camera and frown.
"No, no. Smiling now. And sheen dow-u-an."
"Maaf, Pak. Saya tidak mengerti. Apa itu, 'sheen'."
"Da-goo."
"Oh! Dagu! Chin! Chin down!"
"Ahhhh!"
And snap goes the photo machine. 

Sims

Well, that's done! Got my SIM (driver's license), car and motorbike, five years each. Definitely NOT going to miss going to the central Denpasar police station for the next five years. I couldn't really remember how to get there, so I used Waze, which worked out quite well on the trip there. It wasn't the route I would have chosen, but Waze has a better mind than mine, so it chose the shortest route time-wise, doing its best to avoid traffic jams (the impossible dream, in Bali). Took about 25 minutes from home to the station (although I have to add 10 more spent in trying to find the parking lot. You can't go in the front entrance. The dudes there have machineguns. Anyway, once the trip and the parking was done, the actual task proceeded lickity-split. In and out.


Driving back home was another matter. For some reason, Waze decided that the best route home was a journey through pretty much most of Denpasar, featuring visits to the greatest traffic jams. Go figure.

But anyway, whew! And as an extra plus, I was actually stopped by the police on the way home. What a treat it was to employ my new ID cards. It filled me with a strange sort of joy, which the officer, one of the more cranky members of the force, seemed to think a bit odd.

Hey, Pak! Baru dapat pagi ini! Lihat! Hebat ya!

Now, here's the way things work in Indonesia, especially where foreign residents are concerned. The government and its various agencies invent a perfect knot of red tape and then employ people to try to figure out how to undo the knot, which gives rise to the entrepreneurial spirit of private parties who will then contract with the individual foreigner, collect X-amount of money, and then give Y of X to officer Z, such that the knot of red tape is dispensed with altogether. In other words, money talks.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Musician

I had kind of forgotten about a fairly new place down the street from my house - a collection of various food booths featuring all the classic Indonesian dishes - lalapan, bakso, mie goreng, nasi campur, babi guling, ayam betutu, and so on - but I suddenly remembered the place on my way home from Sanur this evening, probably because my stomach was rumbling from hunger. I've not been eating much at all lately - trying to lose weight, you know, and convinced that the loss would also help my back pain. But the thought of a nice plate of ayam lalapan was just too much to resist.

Now, these places are totally Indo places, open only at night and frequented only by locals. The entry of a bule - a foreigner - elicits an instant, keen interest - as if one has accidentally walked onto a stage during the course of a play. Everybody waits to see what this new character will do.

Finding the lalapan booth, I had a seat and was immediately joined by a middle-aged fellow who spoke some English. He was kind enough to order for me and make sure everything was satisfactory, although, by-and-by, he learned that I spoke Indonesian anyway. 

So we had an interesting conversation. It seems that he had lived for a time in Florida and worked as a guitar player in a salsa band. However, he suffered a stroke of some kind that left him unable to use his left arm and damaged his brain to some extent. Sound familiar? Well, it sure did to me, with my bum right arm and my own hazy brain. 

Sometimes I forget many things, he said. Just simple things. Like, I forget to lock the door when I leave the house. Or close the door. Or I park my motorbike somewhere, and then--

And then you can't find it again, right?

Right!

So we had some things in common. 

I can't walk well, and I can't use my arm, and I can't think quite right, but I do my best. I try to do whatever I can. 

Yup. 

I had a wife, he explained, but I lost her. She left me. Now we are divorced. She lives in Jakarta. 

Sorry, I say. Was it because of your health?

I don't know. And a child too. A boy. Five years old. That is very hard. Sometimes I feel depressed. 

I guess life is like that. It's the same everywhere, for every people, in every country. Sometimes we feel depressed. Sometimes we are challenged by difficulties we did not imagine or ask for. Sometimes it's good to talk, even to a stranger, for he may soon become no longer a stranger. 

Finishing my lalapan while my new friend went to help at another booth, I paid my bill and passed by his table. We clasped hands. I put my free hand on his shoulder. 

Semoga semuanya akan bertambah baik, Bapak. Tuhan berkatimu. 

I hope things will be better for you. God bless you. 

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!

Lol.  

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

Massage

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.
Yes?
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

Leftovers

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Weirdness

Weirdness. Just after my wife left for Europe this afternoon, I was reading something on the computer screen when suddenly I noticed that the letters had run off somewhere and even the trusty icons were wavering. I noted next clusters of geometrically shaped bright lights at the peripheries of both eyes. A rather strange thing to be looking with your eyes at the bright lights in your eyes. I vaguely remember having the same thing happen in the past, perhaps two years ago, associated at that time with whatever weirdness was going on with MS at that time - headache, ear ringing? - I don't rightly remember. Anyway, I closed my eyes and laid down for a time, and now my vision, such as it is at baseline (which is certainly nothing to shout about), has mostly returned. Praise God and methylprednisolone. Funny thing is that what worried me most of all was that my wife, who is already upset about my health problems, was going to be even more upset if I ended up f'n blind!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Monsoon

It seems that we're having a monsoon year here in Southeast Asia. That's what my wife tells me, anyway; and this would tend to explain the long life of the rainy season this year. 

When we first moved to Bali, in February 2010, we found the entire year to be quite dry and almost always sunny. Knowing nothing about what is "normal" for the weather here, I took this to be a usual pattern. During the ensuing years, this conceit was dampened somewhat. 

Nonetheless, this year it started raining in September, and it's still raining now, in April. Of course, by "rain", I don't mean to suggest that it is anything like what we have in my home town, Portland, Oregon. During the wet season here, the rain is generally shortlived and furious, then turns back into a mixture of sun and clouds. Somedays, even during monsoon, it doesn't rain at all. Some days it rains only at night. Sometimes, it rains off and on throughout the day (as happened today). 

In any case, it is never cold. People who were born and raised here think it is cold, but it is not. I have never once seen it colder than 25 degrees centigrade, which translates to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. More often it is 30-33, or 85-95 Fahrenheit. Add in the humidity factor, and you get a number in the range of 800 or so. 

But I'm not complaining. I'm still just drying out from 55 years in Portland. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Galungan

Having passed beyond Nyepi (Silent Day), we are now approaching Galungan in Bali. This is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and extends for about a week to Kuningan. During Galungan, deceased relatives visit their ancestral homes, and families make them welcome with offerings, such as those depending from the long bamboo poles set up along the streets (photo). On Kuningan, the spirits again depart. Typically, there will be a number of ceremonies devoted to the observance of each day during this period--which, to those of us who do not celebrate Galungan/Kuningan, translates to a likelihood of finding the local warung or grocery store or other business closed (although, on the other hand, certain tourist restaurants have special Galungan dinners featuring staff in ceremonial costume). Just before Galungan, one can see many of these long bamboo poles being transferred by motorbike to whatever street upon which they will be erected, which means, essentially, that the driver is steering with one hand while holding a lance in the other. It is a bit like bringing the Christmas Tree home, although one generally does not see this task performed on a motorbike. 





Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Accidental Thief

There are a lot of Honda Vario motorbikes in Bali. A lot of them are white. I myself have a white Honda Vario. Therefore, it is not too surprising that I, upon returning to the parking lot from Starbucks this morning, tried to force my key into the wrong white Honda Vario. 

During this time, a young man was standing by the motorbike next to this particular Honda Vario, arranging things inside the saddle while continually glancing with some interest in my direction. Working at the ignition slot, I soon notice something unusual about the bike. It is clean. And this was my first clue that it was not, in fact, my bike.

Oh! Hey, this is not my bike! I checked the licence plate. Definitely not my bike. 

Ya, the young man said. Dat my fren bike.

Lol.  

So, are you gonna just stand there and watch me steal your friend's bike? That's the first thing I'm wondering. Are you going to wait till I actually mount the thing and try to drive away before sounding the alarm? 

In any case, I found my own bike a couple bikes away. The dirty one. 

Ah, here we go. That one is clean, I say. Mine is dirty. 

Ya, Pak. Yours needs da bath. 

Well, it does. But on the other hand, this may be something to remember it by in the future. Mine needs the bath. The others are clean. 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Scream

So the little girl who lives in the house behind our house has learned to scream. This has become her main mode of communicating with her parents and with her sibling (the boy who despises bathing). She screams when she's excited, screams when she's happy, screams when she's angry, screams when she brushes her teeth or gets up in the morning or goes to bed at night. Like the puppy who finds the squeaker inside the squeaker toy, this girl has found her screamer, and boy is she gonna use it. One hopes, for her future husband's sake, that she will eventually unfind her screamer. For my own sake, I hope she will do so in the much shorter term.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hope Beyond Illness

For the MS folks out there, this is from Shulamit Lando, whose book, Hope Beyond Illness, I reviewed some time back.

"I have some news I want to share with you!
I am so excited to let you know that I am launching HOPE BEYOND ILLNESS – A Guide to Living WELL with a Chronic Condition again but now in its revised and expanded 2nd edition and is now INTERACTIVE - You read, you watch videos and you listen to audios of me and other experts explaining and teaching the tips I share there to better deal with the cards you're dealt. This reading experience is so much more dynamic and fun!"

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Beyond-Illness-Chronic-Condition-ebook/dp/B06XGL8FPP/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr

Silence, More or Less

All quiet on Nyepi Day. Well, almost. Several people online have mentioned the presence of operatic roosters in various neighborhoods, and this would include mine. It's just one rooster, mind you, but a very vocal one, just behind the house that is just behind mine. Up to this moment, the neighborhood dogs have had nothing whatsoever to say, although one has now decided to give a long, rather repetitive speech, noting, I suspect, that silence makes for a captive audience. I just don't know why he has to say the same thing over and over again. Typical politician. I do not doubt, however, that this dog is being truthful (which is more than I can say for many of our human representatives). Biznet seems to have lied about ... well, about Biznet. It had been announced that there would be no internet service on Nyepi, but the fact is that it's actually working better than usual. Maybe they couldn't figure out how to turn themselves off. (Where's the off switch, Ketut? Holy cow, where IS the off switch, Nyoman?). Anyway, I'm rather enjoying this Nyepi Day, so far. The thing that would make it even better is that if a person (me, for instance) could go outside and walk around - just kind of bask in the silence, the stillness, the motion of nature. After all, silence in my house is the norm. The loudest thing in my house is the kids in the house behind my house.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nyepi Eve

Just headed into Nyepi Day on Bali, which begins, for all practical purposes, when I go to bed tonight. After lights out, there will be no more lights until 6 am the day after tomorrow. No lights, no noise, no going out of the house. I do hear definitely, as well, that our internet provider will be out of service ... so, no internet. 

Tonight there will be a number of Ogoh-Ogoh parades. These are floats generally in the form of grotesque evil spirits which are paraded through each village with the goal of driving out the "real" evil spirits, thus cleansing the upcoming day of silence. 


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nyepi

Well, we're coming up again on Nyepi Day in Bali. I think I write something similar to this every year. It is not a day that I look forward to, any more than I look forward to cabin fever. It's a day that I get through. That said, I hear that there are people who actually come to Bali especially for Nyepi, the day of silence and meditation.  

Nyepi is a Balinese "Day of Silence" that is commemorated every Isakawarsa (Saka new year) according to the Balinese calendar. It is a Hindu celebration mainly celebrated in Bali, Indonesia. Nyepi, a public holiday in Indonesia, is a day of silence, fasting and meditation for the Balinese. The day following Nyepi is also celebrated as New Year's Day.[1][2] On this day, the youth of Bali practice the ceremony of Omed-omedan or 'The Kissing Ritual' to celebrate the new year. The same day celebrated in India as ugadi.

Observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection, and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The main restrictions are no electricity in the form of lights, televisions, computers, machinery and so on; no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; and, for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali's usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes. The only people to be seen outdoors are the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.

Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from the restrictions. Although they are free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day. The only exceptions granted are for emergency vehicles responding to life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth.

So, as pointed out in the article, everyone in Bali must observe Nyepi whether they like it or not, whether they are Hindu or not, and so on. For me, this means stocking up and videos and snacks (and candles) before the day strikes. I do hear, however, that this year the Internet will be turned off as well, which will mean no videos, since my laptop has no disk drive (I watch online these days). So I may just end up hibernating like a bear. 

As usual, my wife is out of Bali on this day. Curious that. Coincidence? I think that, in the last six years, she has only been here for one Nyepi. But that's okay. She doesn't do well with silence and meditation. Or sitting still. Best for all that she will be in Java till the day after. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vyt

Had the pleasure yesterday of meeting for coffee with my old friend and neighbor, Vyt Karazija. Originally from Lithuania, Vyt spent most of his life as an Australian and has lived in Bali for about 7 years. I knew him online before he moved here to Renon, to the house next door to mine, and got to know him much better during the two years we were neighbors. We would disagree about many things, especially religion, but always with civility and a sense of humor. He is a uniquely intelligent man, which is something I respect, as well as sharp witted and funny as hell. Vyt saved my bacon several times in those two years, most notably when I locked myself into the bathroom and when I locked myself out of the house. On the one occasion, he was able to free me, while on the other, he was able to assist in getting me back into the house. So, as I think I've said here before, I will need to be very careful about which doors I close behind me now that Vyt is on the other side of Denpasar.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Exercise

I am currently revisiting the idea that exercise might be helpful for the wacky muscles in my neck and shoulder. I tried this before, and the trouble with it is that it hurts. Bad. And yet, I keep thinking that these muscles, which apparently due to nerve destruction have stopped functioning normally, need to be strengthened and retrained so that they can re exert control over my skeleton and joints in the area. Make sense?  Well, who knows. There is that old saying, "No pain, no gain". Then again, there is the common wisdom that tells us that if it hurts, stop doing it! Anyway, I'll try to stick with it for a few days and dry to gauge whether anything other than pain is resulting. I am really just so tired of this problem, which has persisted more than 7 months now. I keep thinking that there must be something proactive that I can do in order to aid the thing in resolving. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Puppy

Heard a puppy making a godawful fuss just up the street this morning, crying and yelping and squealing. Went to investigate and found that the poor little guy had gotten his fat little self stuck half inside and half outside the driveway gate. Couldn't go forward, couldn't go backward. There must be some kind of general life lesson in this, I reckon. Anyway, I unstuck the poor guy by gently pushing one shoulder first, then the other back through the gate. Now he knows. I'll expect to see him at my door before long.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rain

Always quite the experience to get stuck in the rain here in Bali, and not that difficult to accomplish, either. The thing is, it can look like rain for hours on end, even days on end, such that one gets lolled into this sense of the storm being forever deferred, forever impending. The clouds raise great purple fists but seem only to play at sluggish shadow boxing, buffeting one another, but leaving we small creatures below free of harm. The humidity builds and builds, until the air seems pressed to the point of boiling - and then, at last, the clenched fists connect and the tense veneer between earth and sky dissolves in a sudden flood of waters. This is usually arranged by the gods to occur during the time period which will find me on my motorbike between dry point A and dry point B. Every motorbike driver here carries a quite useless rain proof smock in the seat compartment - useless because by the time you pull over, dismount, and open the seat, you have already taken the equivalent of several showers. One may as well bring along a bar of soap rather than the smock, being of more reasonable use for bathing, or for laundering ones clothing. Of course, as soon as you get to your destination, the rain abruptly ceases, again by order of the gods. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

KL

Just back from Kuala Lumpur. My third trip there, and always a beautiful city. Just a short jaunt to renew my visa as a foreign resident in Indonesia - a bureaucratic goose chase designed to put money in some folks pockets and extract it from mine. But anyway, a good enough reason for a short vacation in this cosmopolitan city of architectural wonders.







Sunday, March 12, 2017

Invasion of the Brain Snatchers, Part 2

Well, I'll be damned if I didn't do it again. Having come to understand that the 10th of March had been significant only in my own mind - that my wife had never said she was coming home on the 10th, and had never intended to do so - the 11th of March proceeded straightaway to burrow into my concept of reality, quite as much without justification or source as had the 10th. 

Therefore, I awoke early this morning, alone again in the house, and wondered instantly what could have happened. Something was seriously amiss. Panic crept up.

So I sent a message to my wife. No answer. I called her number. No answer.

Perhaps she had stayed over in a hotel upon arriving in Bali. Or perhaps she and her friends had stayed out very late and were now catching a bite to eat. Or, of course, the plane may have crashed. Or the taxi. Or her friends. 

While turning these things over in my head, I somehow missed a return call from my wife. Where was I when the phone rang? I don't know. I was busy thinking. 

So I return her return call. 

Where are you? 

In my hotel room. Just got up. 

Your hotel room? 

Yes. 

But why would you stay in a hotel? 

Where else would I stay? 

Now, I'm just about to suggest that perhaps her own house would have been appropriate, the one where we live in Bali, twenty minutes or so from the airport, when a little light goes on in my head. Let's call it consciousness. 

Umm ... (I don't know how to ask this question without appearing ridiculous). Are you in Sydney?

Well, of course she is in Sydney. That is why she is not here in the house. The reason she is not in Bali is that she is in Sydney. And the reason she didn't come home on the 11th is that she never said she was coming home on the 11th. She has no plane tickets for the 11th. My brain said she was coming home on the 11th. My brain made up its own mind about that. Just as it had with the 10th. 

What the hell?

Fake news. Alternate facts. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Dark Man

I remember how my mother, after she got Alzheimer's, used to write her name over and over. Vernabel. Vernabel Boughton. Verne Boughton. She had a notebook in the drawer of her bedside table, and she had filled pages in that notebook with her name. That was at the beginning, before she forgot altogether how to write. She must have felt herself slipping away, must have thought that practice, that documentation might solidify her existence. Later on, when she could still speak, she changed my name to Preston, who was her brother. I became, in her mind, either Preston, or just some guy who worked in the house, like a medical assistant. She had no idea who Richard was. And ultimately, I gave up trying to explain it to her. Later on, she would talk about a man behind the curtain, just at the other side of the bedroom. He was tall and dark and she was afraid of him. Come to think of it, so was I.

Invasion of the Brain Snatchers

Here's what happens. Somewhere along the way, a foreign, unfounded conviction drops into your mind, and, like a dot of food coloring in a glass of water, instantly changes the character of the whole. What you know has suddenly become founded on a falsehood which, nonetheless, has come to color everything that you know.

For example, it had entered my mind, having fallen from somewhere in the dark reaches of the universe, that my wife was coming home from Australia on the 10th of March. Where this conviction had come from, I do not now know; nor did I question the notion, once it had infiltrated, even for a moment - for it had instantly become fact, just as the clear water instantly becomes colored.

It was with some consternation, therefore, that I awoke at around 4:30 in the morning and found myself alone in bed.Had she missed the plane? Had the plane crashed? Had her taxi crashed? Had she run off with a boyfriend?

So I sent a message.

Where are you?

A few moments pass.

I am in Sydney.

Which was actually where she was supposed to be. Because no one ever said anything about the 10th. No one but me, that is.

Similarly, in a reverse sort of way, I had wanted to know earlier what time I was to pick her up at the airport. She was, after all, coming home on the 10th (NOT), but she hadn't bothered to tell me what time - which seemed a bit inconsiderate.

My friends are picking me up, she said. We talked about this before.

No recollection of that.

You said 'Good', because you wouldn't have to drive out to the airport late at night.
Some things drop in. Some fall out. What's left?

Fake news.




Friday, March 10, 2017

Just a Little Piece of Something

I had been talking to a black girl at the bar, who called herself Yellow, but whose real name was Cat, supposedly, or Kat, or maybe Katrina, and yet I found myself now at a table of Filipinos (and Filipinas), because it was Asian Night at this particular nightclub (although Cat, the black girl, was always there).

Really, there was no ‘official’ sort of ‘Asian Night’. Things just turned out that way. Everyone knew that Thursday night was Asian Night, and Tuesday Night was black night. But, again, Cat was there almost every night.

The last thing I remembered about Cat was that she had spilled three drinks, one after another. She had asked me to buy her one. It turned out to be three. Is that why I had ended up at the Filipino table? Because Cat had become too expensive? I had known her for quite a long time – as time goes in the bar scene, anyway. Let’s say three months or so. But that’s about all. I really didn’t know anything else about her. Except that she seemed hilariously sad, and sometimes painfully angry.

Sometimes Cat would call me up at my apartment in the middle of the day. Who knows why? She would say Hi. What you doin? And I could hear a washing machine running in the background and sometimes a baby crying. She would say Are you coming out tonight? Which made it sound almost like a date, but it was never a date, never like that. We just met up if we happened to both be there, and we would sit together at the bar, just because. The only thing we had in common was a preference for vodka. And we were both divorced. Several times over. But neither of us cared about that anymore. Not in public, anyway. We never sat around and talked about someone else’s old times and past hurts. We didn’t really talk at all.

So, it’s not like she’d be angry if I ended up with the Filipinos.  Or rather, the Filipinas.

Come to think of it, I had danced with one of the girls. That was it. A petite girl with very nice white teeth and long black hair and high heels that somehow failed to make her any taller, which was fine by me. Her name was . . .


Well, never mind. It didn’t seem to matter. What I wanted, having found myself at the Filipino table with whats-her-name, two other girls and two other guys, was to get her phone number. She seemed like a really nice girl. 

Firelight

Last night, I had myself a little campfire in the back yard. I found it distinctly pleasant. It may not have seemed so to the neighbors, whose vented stone wall borders the back of our yard, but hey, we listen to their kids screaming most of the day, and the adults singing (after a fashion), and showering, and vomiting while showering (a curious, inexplicable and less than pleasant habit), so I reckon they can put up with a little smoke sneaking through their vents. Well, maybe more than a little.

There's nothing so cozy as a campfire, the dancing of the flames, the swirling smoke as it interprets the mood of the breeze, the breath of the night, the scent of energy as it transforms its object. I can sit back in my lawn chair (thanks to Vyt Karazija) and just rest in the winking of the firelight, close my eyes, disappear, appear elsewhere, worlds and decades away, still in my boots, wet to my waist, a hot, black coffee at my side and my fishing basket on the table, bearing a catch of worthy brook trout and rainbow and kokanee, tomorrow's breakfast. I can close my eyes and see the slow waltz of the flames from behind my eyelids and hear the lapping of the lake on its shore as the wind picks up, exciting the smoke, sharpening every scent. I hear the metallic clunk of a pan somewhere across the water, soft voices, soft laughter, the dipping of oars in still, dark water as someone else comes home. A lantern lit on the shore, moving among the rocks where the boat will land. The fire dies down. The deep of night descends. A chill touches the tips of the grasses in the meadow, and deer emerge silently from their secret places at the verge of the boundless forest.

The Daily Dose

Rough day for motorbikes. Everyone seems to be wearing a target, such that driving is sort of a dark comedy of near misses. Or hits, in one case. Saw what looked to be a pretty serious accident on my way to Kimia pharmacy. Two bikes, one guy lying on the road, moving but not getting up. About 300 bystanders, of course, 200 of whom helped moved the bikes of the street.
After a coffee at Starbucks, I returned to my bike to face the fairly common struggle of trying to pry it from its parking spot. It looked like a pretty good spot when I left it, but these people have a special talent for turning a parking lot into a wrecking yard The parking attendant, a particularly scrawny little guy, came to help me extract the bike, but between the two of us - I with a very sore shoulder and back, he with his pretzel-like arms, had a rather challenging time trying to lift several 250 pound Hondas.
Sometimes a coffee is hardly worth the trouble, as now, back home, my neck and shoulder hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.