Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Time Is Short

It is time alone that bridges every gap, time that closes every space. The only thing aside from time is love, which is able yet fragile, with a tendency toward the miraculous moment.

The wider the space spanned by time, the shorter time becomes. The pace at which we live matters not, for time was short from the outset and grows only shorter.

Time comes with knowledge, knowledge with time. In time we perceive and so are blessed according to whatever time is left us.

It is impossible to live fast, to catch up to things we did not do, though this is the inclination born in the moment of revelation. We must merely become according to the season, and fully so. This is wisdom.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sakit Kepala Lagi

Five or six days of headache now. Masuk angin, entered by the wind. Or maybe it's just the unusually oppressive humidity. Cloudy days, hot, airless.

I've decided I should get on a regular schedule by coming to the beach cafe every morning--the closest thing I can figure to the old Starbucks routine back in Portland. When I write I need to be purposeful--to go somewhere and stay somewhere with the express purpose of producing something. Otherwise I either procrastinate or end up doing chores for my wife.

It is 9 o'clock in the morning. I took my son by motorbike to Denpassar at 6:45, then came down here to the beach and ordered Kopi Bali. The tide is in and there are anchored boats bobbing just off the shore, and there are people swimming already. The cafe I am at is on the main promenade that stretches from one end of Sanur to the other. This is where the hotels are, standing side by side like whale watchers, and so this is where the American and European tourists stroll, or jog (God knows why). This is where you find old men in Speedoes, large women spilling from swimsuits made for smaller, more shapely occupants, yesterday's sunburns, poodles on leashes. And such like.

Well, the headache seems to have reached the point of incapacitation, and so I will head home, pulang, and write another day.

Monday, March 29, 2010


In Indonesia it makes a difference who you know.

I shall give as an example my visit to the Immigration Bureau this morning.

I was accompanied by an Indonesian gentleman whose sole business it is to lead Westerners by the hand through the hoops and hurdles of paperwork, signatures, and official stamps. Our mission was to obtain my Kitas, which is simply the permit to live in Indonesia for a year before having to run the obstacle course over again.

I was told that I should dress nicely, for a photo would be taken by the police, along with fingerprints, and that I should pretty much let my representative do the talking.

I put on my slacks, not worn nor ironed in the last few months, a short-sleeved batik shirt, my black loafers, and off we went on Ketut’s motor scooter, bound for Denpassar.

The weather this week has been extremely humid--dangerously humid, one might say--and so by the time we arrived at the Immigration office we were both looking pretty much as if we had been newly dipped in an irrigation ditch.

Dress nicely? For God’s sake, why?

Ketut took me by the arm (yes, literally) and led me into a long wide room that was quite reminiscent of an unemployment office back in the States. I was told to sit while my guide looked about for his “friend on the inside.” For matters such as these it is quite necessary to have a friend on the inside--unless one relishes the idea of waiting for perhaps two weeks for his name to be called.

A friend on the inside has no little window, calls no names, takes no numbers. Rather he crowds in beside the employee who does have the window and calls you forward to crowd out the man or woman who has been waiting a week or two to be called to that window. You sign fifteen times and that’s it.

Next comes the picture. This also entails a two week wait if you don’t have a personal guide. The picture is taken by a single policeman who is not at all sure what a camera is. This in and of itself is quite different from the usual practice of employment in Indonesia, wherein five people would generally be hired to do one job. Which I find quite admirable, actually. Why limit one job to one person only?

And then the fingerprints.

And then you are done, free to not to think about it for an entire year.

Which is what I’m started on as I type.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This Week In Bali

Several things happening at once this week--some at long last.

First off (keep fingers crossed) my retirement funds will finally be made available. I will say no more, lest I begin to boil again in this already boiling climate.

Secondly, I will sign my Kitas tomorrow. This is the official document saying that I am allowed to reside in Indonesia for the next year. When the next year rolls around one must pay his fee again and be approved again. But it's worth it.

Next, we will pay the rest of our year long contract for rent (still owing 28 million Rupiah). This is of course dependent upon the realization of #1.

And . . . well, I forgot what else.

Apparently I have been stricken by something the Indonesians like to call masuk angin, which roughly translated means entered by the wind. It happens when you get a common cold, but then the cold won't quite go away. It has gotten inside of you, like the wind, and must be coaxed out by various methods--magic oils, massages, foods, not to mention daily dosages of less mysterious things such as aspirin. The weather has been very humid of late and has conspired together with the infiltrating wind in compounding my persistent cough with a persistent headache.

They have also panas dalam (hot insides) and maag (indigestion), although I am not currently suffering from either of these maladies.

This night we will go down to Sindhu beach to relax and listen to a concert of some sort, which should be very nice indeed, and cool down by the ocean.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rules of the Road in Bali

The first and most important thing to remember is that in actual practice there are no rules for safe driving here in Bali, or for any other kind of driving. With this in mind, I will set forth a few points of general reference which may serve in the daily death match of vehicular interaction.

1. Pay no attention whatsoever to the road signs, for they are
A. Wrong. and so
B. Superfluous, and
C. May well distract your attention from what is imminent; i.e. the car and/or motorbike bearing down on your ass from behind or from either side.

2. Pay no attention to the traffic lights, for they are
A. So rare that drivers are inclined to forget what they mean, and
B. Are generally considered an annoyance, causing a reduction in speed, and so universally ignored,
C. Always remember that both Red and Green mean Go.

3. Never bother to use your turn signal. This reveals to other drivers that you intend to turn in one direction or the other, and so gives you away, allowing other drivers to race forward and cut you off.

4. Always make liberal use of your horn. It is a good exercise for otherwise inactive digits, keeps other drivers angry and on edge, and has a pleasing sound compared to Gamelan instruments.

5. One Way is not a restriction, it is merely a physical reality. You cannot go more than one way at one time, and so as long as you are going one way or the other, you're fine and safely within the bounds of natural law.

6. The rule of the road here in Bali is that one drives on the left. Therefore, do so if you find you really have to.

7. A sidewalk is not a path for pedestrians but an extension of the road.
A. Trees are to be avoided if at all possible.
B. Pedestrians have feet, let them run.
C. School children are particularly expendable.

8. Do stop for the policemen who have machine guns. The ones who are just waving their arms may be completely ignored.

9. When dropping your child at school, teach him the art of "bailing out," not just getting out. This practice ultimately makes life safer for both you and the child.

10. Never, never leave more than 1/4 inch between your front bumper and another vehicle's rear. It's just not done.

Happy motoring, all! Be safe!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Having worked at the same medical institution for some 20 years and then retired in January 2010, I am still, as of March 24th, waiting for the funds from my retirement plan to be deposited in my bank account. This, for all appearances, takes an additional 20 years.

They would prefer, perhaps, not to let go of my money just now. There is much paperwork to be done, much proof to be collected regarding just who I am and where I worked and why I wish at this time to have my savings. Extensive communications must take place between my former place of employment, the mutual funds account in which I have placed the money, and the bank from which the money will be withdrawn when and if it actually becomes available to me.

In short, this is ridiculous, irritating, frustrating, infuriating, and all together a load of bloody crap.

In the meantime I find myself as poor as an Indonesian in the poorer quarters of Indonesia. Duncan Donuts for breakfast, dinner at the public market, and a reduction in the consumption of luxuries such as coffee and cigarettes.

Come on folks . . . it's over . . . now LET GO MY MONEY!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Jalan Pasar is the street we live on--Market Street--aptly named given that this particular neighborhood grows like an antler from the source, the community market, wherein the local people ply their goods, from produce to livestock, from fruits to chickens, from bottled sodas to dried bananas, rice cakes, candies, peanuts, onions, melons large and small, spilled out in abundance from booth to booth and crowding the path that winds through the square.

Yesterday we bought and carried our lunch home--three plates of chicken, rice, corn cakes, and tempe, costing us a grand total of 4 dollars US.

This is the day market, but at night you will find the place altogether transformed. The booths containing raw victuals have now been replaced by tables of prepared food, and surrounding these, stemming outward like spokes, are racks of clothing, table tops full of sandals, purses, panties and bras, paintings, plastic toys, decks of cards, CDs and DVDs, women’s shoes, boots, mittens (for motorbike riding, mind you), plates and bowls and pottery work. Featured also in the night market are two or three television sets with the sound turned up as high as it will go (though I cannot tell you why).

As can be imagined, the morning market differs from the night market in as far as morning brings necessity while night brings relaxation and entertainment. In the morning people buy, at night they look. In the morning they haggle, at night they chat. It is business in the morning, society at night.

It is not good for the bule, the white man, to go alone to the pasar, for it is well known to every local person that every bule has banyak uang (lots of money), more than he knows what to do with, and is just bound to be a sucker, ready to pay 10 to 15 times the usual price. It does not matter to him, for money grows in his wallet like weeds in a garden, and no matter how much he pulls out, more of the green stuff pops up in its place, an endless bounty. Money means nothing to the bule, for he comes from the gold paved streets of America and Europe, where the deer and the antelope play, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

There is not a person here, as far as I’ve been able to discover, who does not want to go to America. Little do they know how very far the dream exceeds the reality.

Ah, but we all want to escape, and to find the greener grass, the pot of gold, somewhere over the rainbow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

MS Update From My Little Corner of the World

Gosh, so long since I've had anything to say about MS. Maybe because it's been so long since MS had much to do with me. I guess I've finally found the cure, folks. Retire, move to Bali, get mega doses of natural vitamin D from the ever present sunshine. Just say I quit. Just say No. Tune in, turn on, drop out. It's all in yer head anyway, right?

Seriously though, I have walked every day, swam every day, arisen early every morning and gone to bed late every night without undue fatigue or spasticity or tingling or numbness or aches or pains. Even the cobwebs in my head have cleared at least to some extent. I used to get lost in the same city I had lived in for 56 years, in fact in my own neighborhood--now I find my way though the surroundings are completely foreign.

Vitamin D, my friends. If you can't get the natural stuff from the Bali sun, buy a sunlamp and turn it on HIGH.

Maybe diet helps too. Rice, chicken, sambil, mango, guava, etc., etc. And milk from a box, which does not need to be refrigerated. (I don't know what it really is). Lots of menthol, sucked most often through cigarettes. Lots of Bintang (the local beer).

So forget the Avonex, forget the Copaxone. Do not inject other than to inject yourself into the Indian Ocean. At least once a day. Understand that time is short. Always has been, always will be, and is now more so than ever.

Don't worry, be happy.

No baclofen for the last month, no Provigil, no NuVigil, no vicodin, no gabapentin, no Paxil, not even a freaking Tylenol.

Sweat it out, literally. Drink lots of water (though bottled only--you don't wanna drink the stuff they call water here).

Who by worry has ever added a single minute to his life?

Make yourself as busy as possible at doing nothing. Soon you will have no time whatsoever to spare.

The Streets

This morning the garbage truck came, accompanied by a pack of dogs. The garbage truck is a pickup truck which conveys the raw trash who knows where. Or perhaps the attendants sprinkle the stuff along the way, like the sandman sprinkling sleep during the night.

The recycling service follows. This is a man with a wheelbarrow.

People who live in Bali, who are born in Bali and never leave Bali can only know the world as a very hot place, by day and by night, a place that smells sometimes of incense, sometimes of rancid little piles of trash, of standing water in the street gone toxic amid the flowing stream of exhaust from motor bikes which have never in their lives known a visit to the DEQ, for there is of course no DEQ; nor sanitation service other than the local ditch, no street sweepers other than the elderly ibu caring for her warung, or the daughter, or the man who carries his careworn broom like a briefcase from storefront to storefront, pitching in for a coin, 200 Rupiah, both nothing and everything.

The front pocket of my son's backpack bulges with such coins, which he uses to buy milk and chicken and rice at school.

In the back alleyways, from the sagging mouths of the hovels, baking in natural brick ovens topped by tin rooves come children, hands outstretched. You cannot always say yes. You cannot often say it. You give a little girl what's left of the bottle of Fanta you were drinking and off she runs, clutching the prize as if it were a home run ball in the stands of a baseball stadium as she seeks to outdistance the inevitable pack of thirsty compatriots.

In the pasar, the street market, people crowd in shoulder to shoulder, bargaining for the best, bargaining to beat both the seller and the buyer to the deal of the century--fruits, vegetables, chicken parts, wings and legs and feet; fresh cooked bakso, ayam goreng, mie goreng, and rice, rice, rice, rice--yellow, white, brown, orange; rice with curry, rice with hot chilis, rice with soy and rice with eggs.

In the meantime all the hundreds of little trays are dutifully carried to the gods by beautiful young girls. These trays, this food, this aromatic incense is placed before the house entrance or upon the temple platform; at the corner of the road or at the feet of the idol; and morning and evening the air itself is thickened and sweetened as if with syrup, for the breath of evil also ever lurks, in the empty mouth, the shrunken stomach, the destitute corner, in the palm of want--and so we add perfume, this sweet smell, well pleasing to the gods.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quiet Day

The 16th of March here in Bali is a holiday known as Nyeppi Day, which in English is translated to Quiet Day. I have italicized the word holiday above as a way of indicating that there is something questionable about the term, in my mind anyway, as applied in the generally shared sense of what is meant to be conveyed, i.e. a holiday (see Webster’s).

In short, and bluntly stated, Nyeppi has got to be one of the stupidest holidays created by man.

The night before Nyeppi there is a parade, a procession of decorated floats (rather like the Rose Festival back in Oregon), along with fireworks, great crowds of celebrants, horns-a-honking and dogs-a-barking, and other familiar components of the festival and fair.

Pretty typical up to that point.

At midnight however (and this is where it gets dumb) everyone must go into his house, turn off the lights, turn off any electrical amusements (TV, radio, X-Box. laptop, et. al.) and proceed to be perfectly quiet for the next 24 hours. You are not to talk, laugh, imbibe strong spirits, or otherwise amuse yourself in any way. Rather, you are to meditate. It’s a bit like making a New Years resolution, and then really thinking about it for the next 24 hours.

The first 8 or so hours are not so bad, considering that most folks will spend these in slumber any way. Any other nighttime activity, procreation for instance (or any euphemism thereof) is strictly disallowed. But sleep is good, and perfectly legal.

It is the next 12 hours or so, those between waking and the following midnight, that become pretty much unbearable--unless, I suppose, one is already sick with the flu or otherwise incapacitated or has not yet read War and Peace or Gone with the Wind and wants to do so in one day. Both of them, I mean.

Now you may say, Just ignore it then, do what you want, let those who find significance in the thing partake of the thing.

Ah, but here’s the catch--Special police have been employed to patrol the streets, enforce the silence. Lots of them. Do you have a light on? They will come to your door. They watch for the telltale flicker of a television set, they hear the whisper of music, the clicking of keys on the laptop, the clink of champagne glasses.

No one is to be on the street. No one is to be outside his own door. And this is no game, no not at all--for these deputized enforcers of quiet have the authority to at the very least enter your house in order to nullify an offending appliance, and at the most to cart you away to the banjir (the jail). Disturbing the peace would, I suppose, be the charge.

Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive, but come on! How shall we meditate on what is good when what is good comes by the senses--hearing, seeing, tasting, touching? I can tell you that when no lights are allowed--not even street lights--the stars above stand out like diamonds on velvet. But I must tell you also that if one cannot go outside his own door he will miss what is miraculous, made available this one night by the absence of earthy light, because of the very conditions that have made the miraculous visible in the first place.

When is the last time you have seen darkness; when the natural light of the galaxy? When is the last time you’ve heard the scuttering of a lizards little claws on the wall, or the ruffling of a night bird’s wings, or the whisper that a single leaf makes in the breeze? So many things are there that are born of silence, and yet you will not hear them still, despite the opportunity the Nyeppi Day affords, because hearing, seeing, touching, tasting is disallowed.

As far as I can see, the very best thing one can do is to break the rules, because only in this way can he appreciate what is otherwise masked by sound and movement and light--all the elements that make up the busy-ness of life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I had a dog. His name was Smokey. We had to leave him when we came to Bali. I remember him now, how he would run in circles when someone came home, his own dance of joy, his expression of love. He was 3 years old and never got over peeing on the floor when he became too excited.

We tried to find an owner for Smokey before we left, but could not. He was a big dog, a Labrador, with enormous paws and strong wide shoulders, and he laughed and played and ran like the wind.

We took him to the Oregon Humane Society the day before we left for Bali. The people there said that they place 99 percent of their dogs, and if there is a dog that they cannot place, they send him to an alternative home until someone will come and see him and love him and buy him.

I remember pushing Smokey from behind while the woman there in the Humane Society pulled him by the leash in the front.

Don’t do it, he said, don’t do it, don’t make me, I want you, I love you.

And I said It’s okay, you’ll see, it’s okay.

Smokey was my friend. He was the best dog ever. When I was sick, when I was hurt, he was with me, and if I was cold he would sleep with his back against me. He was warm, and heavy, and so very present.

Smokey had a brother, a Chihuahua named Coco. It was easy to place Coco because he was small and cute and stupid while Smokey was large and rambunctious and devoted. He used to play so very carefully with Coco, letting the little dog bite his ears and nose. Sometimes he would hold Coco down with his forearm and put the little dog’s head inside his mouth. One time he picked Coco up by the back of his little dog shirt and carried him around the house from room to room.

He loved that damn stupid little dog.

And he loved my wife’s ex-husband, Albert, because Albert would walk him two and three times a day, and they would wrestle sometimes, and Albert would buy him large bones from the butcher shop as well.

Smokey never barked at people he knew except to say Hello my friend.

When my wife returned to Oregon for a time, I kept asking her to find out about Smokey. She said she had tried but could get nowhere. She said Just believe the best, that he is happy, maybe living on a farm with lots of land for running, with other dogs as friends, and maybe sheep, maybe cows, maybe horses, and children.

And so I called Albert instead. I asked him to find out about Smokey.

Smokey loved children. He always wanted to be part of whatever game they would play. He ran behind them, tried to take part as best as he understood how, and even when they shooed him and said Go away, Smokey would persist, because he loved to have fun, and he loved the way children themselves were like puppies. This anyway is what I believe.

I believe that dogs must surely go to heaven, although I have heard some people say it’s not so. And yet I believe that if God is love, He must love dogs very well indeed. I believe because I must, and must because I believe. I believe that Smokey is waiting even now, and loves me still, and with the unquestioning devotion that only a dog can muster.

I dreamed of him after moving away. I dreamed of him often, and then the dreams stopped. I dreamed of Smokey running to me, jumping up to my chest (my heart) as he so often had, happy, happy, so large, so strong, so very present. There never was a better friend.

And so I wait now as Smokey waits, to embrace again, and wrestle, and play, and then sleep in warmth and comfort and safety when the day wanes to night and the night to slumber, and neither man nor dog wake to tears again.

Bali Breeze

There is an actual wind today on the Bali Hyatt Beach, something I have only rarely seen in the past 37 days. The wind is warm, but carries along the impression of having a cooling effect, especially if you have just come out of the water, which itself is warm as well. At low tide the water is no more than knee deep as far out as you can walk without reaching the faraway white trim of the breakers. The sandy ocean floor ends quickly and you find yourself treading through a forest of seaweed, a thing that I personally find unpleasant.

So you sit in the shade instead, and maybe read a book, maybe write, maybe fall asleep and dream other dreams, for dreams never die as long as you live, they just get farther away. You sleep, you dream, you rest, you awake, and finally one day you reach the distant white that dances atop the deep of the Indian sea.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Bali’s particular version of litter on the beach is the young men who hang about in the shade trying to sell chicken--and I am not talking about the sort that is commonly fried, baked, or barbecued.

No, this chicken is of the human variety, most generally of the female gender--those local young girls, daughters of men, who find themselves without money, a home, a job, a guardian; quite without pity or choice, continually up for bargain like cheaply made baubles and trinkets in the market. They receive no pay, even for their price, but the opportunity only to eat, to be clothed, and to continue through one day to the next according to the magnanimity of the pimp.

The going price, more or or less, is 500,000 rupiah, about 50 US dollars. This includes the room (so-called), the beer, a massage, a bath, a condom, as many hours as are required, and pretty much anything else within the limits of human depravity.

Five hundred thousand rupiah, as I have said, is asked; but of course it is only the rare man who will end up paying this price. It is a point from which to begin--the very highest point at that. Everything here is got by bargain--shirts, hats, sunglasses, paintings, watches, women, men. The pimp starts high, forever hoping for the jackpot--a callow Westerner--and the customer starts out very low indeed. And I say it again, very low indeed.

In broken English the pimp paints his paradisaical fresco--a cliché, a joke, a lie, a dream--while the customer, already containing at least two or three drinks--continually checks his wallet, careful to show that he is a man to be reckoned with, and no fool.

One hundred thousand rupiah sounds like a lot of money, but of course it is all relative. It is nothing to the John, much to the pimp, and without pertinence to the prostitute herself. It is, in exchange, about 11 US dollars.

I am told that one is taken by taxi or motor bike up the road a piece and onto the winding back lanes. Where light is dim, where wild dogs wander, where children cry and squalor thrives, the man is let out to a large open room. The driver winks, money is exchanged, and the nervous yet anticipating purchaser finds himself facing perhaps thirty, perhaps fifty, perhaps seventy women--young, old, thin, fat, pretty, homely--the well endowed and the unendowed--the experienced, the jaded, the fearful, the hopeless--all the little girls now trapped within the value of their flesh.

What bargain has been worked this night, what price, what deal, what swindle made for this father’s daughter, for this mother’s treasure, for this young woman’s heart and soul?

The next day another man will visit the beach. There he will find the same trash--unbothered, irremovable, as permanent as the sea itself--and despite the whiteness of the sand, the long sighing of the breakers, the majestic rise of the inland hills, the play of a child’s laughter on the breeze, he will do his business, make his killing, and reap the life of another human being--never seeing, never hearing, never imagining that paradise, rightly judged, had been available all along and quite without cost--free for the asking, albeit with this one caveat attached: He must seek in truth, ask with honor, and embrace with the sort of thankful compassion that should be the common currency of all men.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tropics on Ice

What is it about the tropics and alcohol that goes together. Is it the searing heat, the humid nights, the persistent thirst, a boredom with water, the thin brown girls, the restless advance and retreat of the tide, the effusion of sweat, the languid hours that bathe upon the breeze? Or what? Is it a rest, a way to relax, a reason to sit, or something at least to do while sitting. Is it all the waiting that goes on for nothing, no reason or need Exactly what?

Or is it just me? Is it me?

For I have a history, you see--hardly a stranger to the spirits. My cup of tea was vodka, vodka in the morning coffee, vodka to get me through the day, vodka after dinner to cleanse the palate, vodka with a cold to kill the germs--vodka to face the latest trouble, vodka to kill the latest pain, vodka for heartache, vodka for joy, and vodka . . . well, vodka just for vodka’s sake.

For some ten years I drank, then I did not. Then I started again (divorce being the convenient reason), then stopped again (married again). To what am I addicted? Alcohol or women? And which of the two satisfies best?

But of course this is different. Any practiced drunk would say so. There is the sun the day, the night still and hot, the rarity of the cooling breeze and the time in between one breath and the next. We surrender to the grace of the surging sea, to the womb of the tropics, to the fragrance of what we cannot touch or see.

Drink, drink, drink up and be merry. Meat for the belly and the belly for meat, and then something to wash it all down.

Off To The Races

Vick, in his younger years, was a race car driver. He toured England, France, and Italy, racing all day in one city, driving all night in tandem with a partner to the next track, and then moving on to the next and the next, kind of like a cowboy in a rodeo circuit, or the next closest thing existing in Britain anyway.

Vick had told me about this occupation some time previous to our early morning dash against the clock to the Denpassar airport, but one does not fully appreciate a thing until it is made real through first hand experience.

A quarter to six in the morning it was. We were to have left our room by 5, but Vick was running late. Forty-five minutes behind schedule.

My son and I, nervous over the delay, had walked up the path from our room to the road side, and were sitting on the curb strip waiting. Preceding then the speed of sound ,a silver car flashed past. It looked very much like Vick’s car. It was Vick’s car. Soon we heard a screeching of tires, and then the car came blasting back in our direction.

“Okay then, mates, hop in, look smart.”

You will appreciate from this dialogue that Victor is British. From Manchester to be precise.

We tumbled in with our carry-ons.

“Hit the bloody snooze button” Vick says, flooring the accelerator as soon as our feet were inside, more or less. “But no worries, hang tight, we’ll get you there.”

Ninety-nine point nine percent of the roads in Bali are not made for racing, or even very well for driving in the manner most commonly known in the West. The road we were traveling was not one of those constituting that rare one percent. Not at all. This road, like the 98 others, was the width of perhaps 1-½ Western style lanes, and snaked rather than cut through the Sanur shopping district, making certain to pass close to each barung along the way, regardless of what side of the street it was on.

In what must surely have been record time, we were out of Sanur and headed down the Bypass; which is the main road on the Bali coast, and, as Vick had once commented, bypasses nothing whatsoever.

Other cars on the road seemed to stand still in time as our silver bullet shot by. It was as if all the world had gone to slow motion this early morning and we were the only ones that had been left behind--or rather ahead, as it were.

The counterpoint concert of gas and brake and clutch and shift was truly impressive, beautiful in its own way (if not for the interruption of terror). I had heard before of the G force experienced in supersonic flight, but had never before experienced the phenomenon in my body, bones, muscles, blood. To the left we all lean, then hard to the right, rubbing elbows, occasionally knocking heads. Vick is one with the automobile, operating, rather like Luke Skywalker, according to the force. This was not a machine, but an extension, a song, a woman (and Sasha and myself rather like floppy hats or loose knapsacks).

“This last part’s a bloody maze,” Vick says. “Hang tight mates!”

Here Vick referred to the final road that led to the departures terminal. The road had been laid in consecutive L shapes, a crazy zigzag covering about five times the amount of ground that would otherwise have been required of a straight line to the terminal. The reason behind this is a first cousin to the reason for everything else done in Bali, mechanically, legally, culturally. We, as Westerns, can hardly hope to grasp it (though of course we do not judge).

Vick negotiated the maze with a precision of sudden jerks of the steering wheel, punchings of the brake, torso lurching accelerations. I was glad I had not yet eaten, for I found myself with no appetite whatsoever. I felt what pea soup must feel in a blender. The curb strips, the tree branches, the other cars, the occasional startled pedestrian all seemed to lean steeply toward us, caught in some strange magnetism to silver, an inexplicable death wish.

Ah, but Vick is not a killer--not even, despite appearances, a reckless driver. Vick is, most consummately, a veteran of the circuit, an expert in his field (though retired)--a race car driver par excellence, and quite likely the only man in Bali who could have gotten to Denpassar on time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Live and Learn

One might say that Indonesia is one of the last unspoiled countries--as far as cigarette smoking goes anyway. One smokes on the street, smokes in the barung (small local cafe), smokes in the restaurant, smokes inside the Duncan Donut shop, the McDonalds, the KFC, smokes in the mall, smokes in the barber shop--and most importantly, most indispensably, smokes at the bar.

The weird thing here is to be a nonsmoker. It is unusual. It is presumed that something must be wrong with the person who does not smoke. And certainly any objection to those who do smoke would not be well received.

God I love this country.

And here's the kicker: Indonesia has one of the lowest rates of lung cancer in the world, along with Greece,, and Turkey, and Japan, and Morocco, and other Countries with high smoking populations.

Go figure. Well, I've addressed this before, no point in doing so again.

Got my first traffic ticket here today, having failed to understand that both red and green mean Go. Fifty thousand rupiah, the equivalent of 11 dollars or so. Damn!

Here the policemen must pay 25 million rupiah just to be policemen. This money needs to be replaced over time, and this is most easily accomplished by skipping the ticket and pocketing the fine, which itself is pretty much open to negotiation. They start out at 100,000, you see, hoping to receive at least 20,000 when all is said and done.

You learn as you live, you live as you learn.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


For the past week I have been going daily to the beach in front of the Bali Hyatt, enjoying the sun and sea, sipping jambo juice, and reading books by titles such as How to Speak Indonesian Like a Native In One Week, Bahasa Indonesia Made (Extremely) Simple, and such like.

Today, however, the powers that be on the Bali Hyatt beach put an end to my seemingly harmless enjoyment of their strip of sand.

I was just getting settled in my chair (or rather, their chair) when a man in uniform approached. Thinking that he would perhaps ask if he could rub tanning lotion on my back for a couple thousand rupiah, so I looked away politely and minded my own business.

“Permisi, Bapak,”the man said, “Apa anda tamu di Hyatt?”

I told him that I did not understand.

Unfortunately, however, the man spoke some English.

“Are you a guest here at the Hyatt?” he repeated.

“Oh, no. Why? Do I look like one? Are you trying to find a certain guest in particular?”

This was a bit unkind, I suppose. But I already knew why he had come. I knew because of his little powder blue uniform and his sea blue cap and his Bali Hyatt badge, and because his face reminded me of my father in law’s when he is about to take control of some family matter that’s none of his business.

“This is for Bali Hyatt only,” he says.

“Pantai ini untuk tamu Bali Hyatt saja?”

“Yes,” he said, appearing immensely relived that I was speaking his language, and that I seemed to understand that I was being expelled.

“Waduh!” Bangsa Indonesian menjadi seperti Americans, ya?” (The Indonesians are becoming just like the Americans, yes? This was meant to be a scolding). “Only the rich can relax on the beach,” I continued in English. They own the very sand.”

“Sorry, sorry. Maaf, Pak--kursi ini--untuk tamu Bali Hyatt--tapi anda boleh duduk dalam pasir.“

Essentially he had said the chairs were his, but I was welcome to sit on the sand.

“Sounds delightful.”

“It is okay, ya. On the sand is free.”

Untuk siapa?” (for who?).

The man said that he understood, but proceeded to explain that this particular beach was not for everyone.

“Tapi Bapak, lihat saja--Look, so many chairs--and no one sitting in them. There are many, many empty chairs, but just one me.“

The man understood that there were many chairs. He understood that 75 percent of the chairs were empty. And yet here, as in America, a rule is a rule, ownership is ownership, the rich are rich and the poor are poor, and non-guests of the Bali Hyatt are not welcome in the Bali Hyatt chairs.

“Okay then, okay.” I rose from my chair, nursing what I hoped would appear to be an excruciatingly painful back. I loaded my pack laboriously.

“Just one thing though,” I said before leaving. “Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea who you‘re talking to?”

“Siapa, Bapak. Who?”

I left some time for the thing to sink in. My chair was empty now, safely reserved for the possibility of a guest, reserved for the rich and the fat, reserved for those who are too lazy to waddle down to the sand anyway, reserved for those who were busy eating, busy drinking, busy sending servants for more; reserved for those who had seen no more of Bali than the hotel swimming pool and sauna and the nice little yellow brick roads that weave oh so elegantly through the grounds.

“I’ll tell you who I am,” I said, “and don’t you forget it, my friend. I am nobody, see? Of no account. I am nobody at all.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Red Tape

Sometimes we tend to think (or at least I tend to think) that red tape is an American invention--that jumping through various bureaucratic hoops and mazes is part of the expertise of the American way.

Not so, folks, When it comes to red tape, hoops, mazes, duplicates and triplicates, jungles of rules and regulations, we Americans are mere children.

Just try to do something simple here in the far East, such as fly from Bali to Singapore--a mere three hour trip. You may as well be trying to satisfy every law in Hebrew scripture. You may as well be seeking a ticket to Mars.

No, you cannot just go to the ticket office and say you want a roundtrip ticket from Denpassar to Singapore. What foolishness to think it so! Not, not at all. You must first go through a series of intermediaries--lets call them travel lawyers for the sake of essential accuracy. These people will study your situation, gather documents, prepare the documents, take your money, and then send you to the next person in line. These are the people on the departure end of the line. Next you must make arrangements with the people on the arrival end.

The people on the arrival end will gather documents, prepare these for you, study the situation, meet you in Singapore, take your money, and then put you back in a taxi to the airport.

Before even beginning, you must have your documents prepared and stamped by the departure lawyers in order that they can be stamped in Singapore by the arrival lawyers. You must have your picture taken at a private studio, have multiple copies made in three or four sizes. You must pay in rupiah for your tickets, along with tax, then you must pay in Singapore with Singapore dollars for your visa, and on returning to Bali you must pay again, in American money this time, for the privilege of returning.

You must pay for your bags to be carried, for Western people are hardly allowed to carry their own bags. It would seem an insult, and quite a selfish thing in addition.

It is a one day trip. You leave in the morning, you return in the evening. A simple thing indeed--which has somehow cost you several billions of rupiah. One comes home a poor man, an orang miskin, but I can well imagine in advance that one will be very happy to be home again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Three Hour Tour

When I lived in Portland, Oregon I used to get lost on a regular basis--not in strange places, not en route to new destinations, but from one familiar place to another--the grocery store, Starbucks, Sasha’s school, the post office, and such-like.

Now imagine how things are here in Bali, with roads that have no names, streets that twist crazily about, tangled together like paperclips or strings of Christmas lights; where traffic signals are practically non-existent, and where no one stops anyway for the ones that do exist.

Imagine the trouble I have with picking out landmarks among terrain features that are strange to begin with. Ah, there’s a tall palm tree--I will remember that. But then how to separate this particular palm tree from the hundred palm trees on either side? Okay then, there’s a Hindu prayer room. Yes, and there another, and another, and another, all seemingly one and the same.
The best hub of location I have found so far is the Golden Arches (yes, no one escapes Ronald McDonald, no matter how far he runs). It is a light shining in the darkness, a beacon, a lighthouse. I circle and flit about this light on my scooter as if I were a moth, not minding the smoldering of my wings.

I set out for home again, immediately go astray, sucked in by the swirling black hole of asphalt, but then suddenly spy the golden beacon once again. Ah Salvation! The food is not good, but the light is irresistible.

Necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also the mother of competence, as far as scooter riding goes--for the best way to learn to ride a scooter is to get lost on a scooter. There are only three options. You either ride the thing, learning in the process; push the thing home (which you have to idea how to find anyway); or you, and your scooter die under the midday sun like a cowboy and his horse lost in Death Valley.

So it happened yesterday that I took the longest trip ever just to buy my son a hamburger. Goddamn American food! Learn to eat rice, will ya? Three hours it was--and still I have no idea where I went, although I suppose it is possible that I have now seen the entire island of Bali.

Now sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip . . . .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reiki Master III

I do believe that we are all led throughout life from sickness to health, from question to answer, from corruption to perfection, from being lost to being found. Is it not true that from the earliest time we yearn to somehow return somewhere, or then again to arrive somewhere? Is it not true that the more we gain in consciousness, the farther away we find ourselves?

Slip-slidin’ away, as Paul Simon put it. You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-slidin’ away.

We come to understand that we are not in stasis, but on a journey. We sense that the journey has a destination. Since the actual destination is lost in the fog of all that we do not know, we most often provide our own definitions. Perhaps, one may decide, the point is success on worldly terms. Perhaps the point is , money, comfort, leisure. Whomever has the most toys wins. Maybe this is all about family, or love, or survival of the fittest. Maybe even it is about nothing at all (Sartre, Camus). Maybe it is all vanity, maybe it is senseless (Solomon).

What guide can we have along the way? And if we go astray, what can pull us back, reset the compass, turn the rudder?

How about disease? Is it possible for disease itself to be a cure? We find ourselves in the grasp of illness and wish instantly to be released--but what if disease is sometimes The Power’s idea of health?

Is disease necessarily the bane, or is it sometimes the blessing?

We choose according to the patterns of the world those things that we understand, and yet find ourselves chosen nonetheless, not by permission, not by desire; unasked, unbidden, unwilling, and yet fully apprehended.

Even as we seek magic--the touch of the Reiki Master, the good man’s prayer, the laying on of hands, injected medications, miraculous pharmaceuticals, devastating doses of intravenous chemicals--the true magic that brought the disease remains fiercely contained in the same.

Look then, learn, listen, feel, struggle and grow, surrender, love, persist, and prevail. It is your faith that has made you whole.