Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I had not heard of so much as one incident of theft here in Bali until yesterday when someone stole my friend's bicycle. He had left it unlocked in front of his house, but this is not an uncommon practice. I will often leave the doors to my house unlocked so that friends can go in and out. I regularly leave my laptop on a table at the beach while I swim. I very rarely lock my helmet into the scooter seat, but just hook it onto the handle bar.

Of course one theft does not an epidemic make, but it is disturbing nonetheless. All it takes is one person without conscience I guess.

More disturbing than the theft itself, however, is the advice given thereafter by a neighbor here to the effect that all things should be locked and watched during the days preceding Ramadan, as, according to him anyway, Muslims will often steal and sell things in order to raise money to go home for the religious observance.

One needs hardly comment on the absurdity of cause and effect here.

In Bali I have never felt anything other than utterly safe and secure. Any person, man, woman, or child, can walk down the long, unlighted alleyway to the Circle K store without being accompanied by fear or suspicion. If you approach the group of young men, for instance, gathered around their motorbikes, they will simply greet you, move aside if need be, and maybe ask you where you are from, how long you will stay, and whether you like Bali.

Time and time again I have walked alone, anywhere, everywhere--in the alley, on the beach, on the front street or the side street, and have not once felt threatened or unsafe. When you pass someone--when someone passes you--you don't glace his way warily or walk faster, or hold on to your wallet or purse. On the contrary, you exchange a friendly greeting, maybe stop a moment to talk.

The isolated theft, therefore, seems all the more insulting, all the more out of place, and all the more unfortunate. We are not insensitive to such things, as is the case in America, nor do they seem just part of the way life is. The people of Bali have not yet come to that sad state of mind. And happily they yet have a long, long way to go.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Apa Yang Lain ....

What else?

I can say without qualification that I DO NOT miss rain. Rain type rain, I mean. It does of course rain here in Bali, occasionally, but this rain is warm and brief. It is a happy sort of rain that makes you laugh--like taking a quick shower with your clothes on, a la The Three Stooges, and then drying off within minutes when the sun returns. The rain in Oregon, on the other hand, is cold and constant and gray and depressing, and it drove us indoors for days at a time.

Living in Bali is a bit like camping. One spends the lion's share of his time outdoors. One cooks outdoors, eats outdoors, reads and writes outdoors, relaxes outdoors.

There is a flavor of the rustic in so many of our daily pursuits. One does not take water from the faucet for instance (unless one wants to contract some sort of bacterial illness). Rather, one gets his water from a five gallon jug, and when the jug is empty he refills it at the water warung down the street.

Laundry is hung from lines on the back patio after being washed and rinsed with soap and water on a board. We are cavemen here--cavemen from the 1950s--reliving the childhood of postwar America.

We buy gas in bottles, and the amazing thing is not so much that we buy it that way, but that they sell it so. The whole structure of the place is ready to explode and collapse, but it never does. Day by day people walk to the store or the market and carry home their purchases on the tops of their heads. At the market you buy not only your fresh chicken but your flies as well, and bring both home to be divided and properly dealt with before cooking.

We do not have ovens in Bali. Or at least most of us don't. We have bunson burners, hot plates, with propane tanks. We do not roast or bake, we fry or steam. Two or three ovens fired up at one and the same time might well cause a complete collapse of the power grid here (such as it is).

We have no cakes, no pies, except those that are bought in the grocery store (having been shipped from the bakery).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Missing You America, Please Write Soon

People here in Bali will often ask whether I miss America. My immediate answer to this question was for the longest time simply "No." But things that are new and different have a way of excusing themselves from the more sober sort of examination that comes with the passage of time, the growth of day to day familiarity. What seems at first endlesslesly curious and unique begins to be humdrum and commonplace. Such is the condition of the wandering spirit of man--it cannot forever tolerate sameness.

So do I now miss America? I have thought the thing over anew. And I can say that there are after all some things that I miss. One of them is competence.

Competence? It sounds a bit strange yes? But here is what I mean. I miss the orderliness of America, the reliability that is built into so many facets of everyday life. These are easily taken for granted. They are just there.

I'm talking, for instance, about mail that comes every day, not mail that comes maybe, not mail that comes if you're lucky. I'm talking about a legal system that is accessible, a legal system that can be used if need be by any person possessing a phone and a phone book. I'm talking about streets and highways with signs, with lights, with arrows, along with a shared knowledge of what these signs, lights, and arrows mean. I'm talking about a shared conception of rules for the road, where flow is determined by obediance, not by belligerance.

I miss the cup of Starbucks, the Grande cappuccino, made with real milk.

I miss the structure, the effortless seeming organization, the predictability of prices and places, the transit system, the freeway, the parking lot, the shopping mall; karmel korn, candied apples; the Fred Meyer store just down the block that has everything and more.

I miss the sheer abundance of America, the availability of everything. I miss Hollywood Video, and oh my God the Barnes and Noble Bookstore!

Can I live without it all? Most definitely so. But does it seem different now than it seemed before. Yes, it does indeed seem so.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Proverb of the Day

Looks like rain.

Is this politically incorrect? Is it culturally insensitive? Oh well, lighten up. All in the spirit of fun. The ideology that has no sense of humor is bound to wither and die, for humor is often the function through which we best understand ourselves and our beliefs.

I remember once hearing a joke about Jesus. Standing before an angry mob about the stone a woman caught in adultery, Jesus said "Let that person among you who is without sin cast the first stone."

Straightaway a good sized rock flew in.

"Mommmm!" Jesus said.

Now that has always seemed funny to me.

Another joke goes like this: Whose prayers does God hear best--those of the Christian, the Jew, or the Muslim. It is the Muslim, of course . . . they use loudspeakers.

It may be suggested that a lack of humor is always accompanied by an increase in intolerance, for the offense taken is not toward God--certainly not for His sake, for He has no need to be defended by poor creatures such as us. Rather the offense is the result of peevish self interest and a poverty of true self-esteem.