Friday, November 30, 2018

For The Time Being

Well, it looks like I dodged a bullet this evening, at least for the time being. And who knows? -- The time being may be a fair description of the time I have left in life. 

After seeing two general surgeons over recent days, both of whom stated with certainty that part of my ear must be removed in order to remove the cancer, I finally saw an oncologist this evening at Bros Hospital. The oncologist, a delightful, young-middle-aged fellow who speaks English well, examined the ear and discussed the matter with me at some length, explaining that basal cell carcinomas are the slowest growing, least dangerous cancers of all cancers. He could certainly cut off part of my ear, he said, and provide plastic reconstruction (all for a fairly hefty fee), but allowed that it was questionable whether this was really necessary (especially with my age at 65 and in the presence of multiple sclerosis, which could dangerously complicate general anesthesia). There was the matter, also, of how I felt about it. Was it something that worried me unduly, or something that was causing significant discomfort (the answers to both being no). 

So, the long and short is that, for the time being, my ear has been spared. 

The small area of scaly skin on my cheek, he added, is pre-cancerous, very common with 'older' people, and although there is no treatment available for this in Indonesia, a cream called 5-FU is available in western countries, for which he provided a prescription and even wrote the prescription in the name of my ex-wife's boyfriend who is undergoing cancer treatment in Australia. A very accommodating fellow indeed, smart as a whip, as it seemed to me, and not looking for easy money for the hospital.

So I am happy. My ear is happy. Everybody is happy. For the time being. 

Battle Scar

Only four hours of sleep last night. Why? Well, obsessing about my cancerous ear and the looming removal of the same. More specifically, my friend, Christoph, had mentioned, on a positive note, that it might look like the battle badge of an old soldier, and that the ladies love stuff like that. Hey, right!, I said. I can say that it got shot off in the 'Nam whilst I was heroically saving my entire platoon. So this, really, is where the obsession came in, with trying to picture how I would get just part of my ear shot off. I kept trying to think of how this would happen, without the bullet going through my head as well. Of course, I could say that the bullet did enter the head but was stopped by the metal plate already in my head, but that tended to merely compound the lie and lead to another. So how would a bullet remove just part of one's ear, leaving the rest of the head uninjured? It would have to be an awfully lucky shot (or an unlucky one, depending upon the viewpoint you choose--that of the target or of the shooter). Then again, perhaps this could be a shrapnel injury. A grenade had exploded nearby and a single fragment had caught the ear. That sounded more likely. And in any case, collateral damage to the head could be hidden by the hair. With this much decided, I began to put together the background story--how had it happened, in what part of Vietnam, in which battle? Was I a Marine or a Regular Army soldier? Or part of a CIA team? Special Operations? A Green Beret? The more I thought about it, the more complicated it became, and the less able I was to sleep--such that at this point I'd most like to just be done with the ear altogether.  One adjusts to reality rather quickly but is kept in a nervous, unsettled state by things that are merely potential. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Do You hEar What I hEar?

The fates are closing in on my cancerous ear tonight. Having made a couple abortive attempts to contact a doctor at Siloam Hospital, she ended up contacting Bros Hospital instead (which is actually right close to my house), at which she managed to get an appointment for this evening. The doctor there agreed with the doctor at Kasih Ibu Hospital, which is to say that it was his determination that part of the ear must be cut off. I kind of tried to argue my way out of it, but neither he nor the ex-wife were taking my arguments seriously--which is probably reasonable, as the gist of my argument was pretty much that I am already old and might not live as long as my ear anyway. So, I will be off to another appointment tomorrow evening with an oncologist, who will also look at what seems to be a cancer on my right cheek as well. Cancer of the face. Just my luck. I'll probably end up as the man in the iron mask. 


Back in Portland, on a chilly winter's day, one will come in out of the cold and find that his glasses are immediately fogged over by the warm climate inside. Here in Bali, this is reversed. One exits an air-conditioned interior and immediately finds his glasses fogged by the hot air outside. 

In Portland, we rush into the mall, or wherever, to find relief from the chill. In Bali, we rush into the mall, or wherever, to find relief from the heat. 

It's all backwards, right? 

Nonetheless, the Xmas songs are jingling along over the music system in Starbucks, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and so on. All the classics. It strikes me that people here must wonder what these singers are on about. Most have never seen snow. Most are only vaguely aware at best of what Xmas is about. 

But oh well. They're mostly pleasant songs, whether you know what they're talking about or not (and, as far as that goes, most people don't speak English anyway). 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sad Dogs

A friend of mine here was lamenting on a Facebook post this morning the sad lot of the dog who lives in the apartment next to hers. All day long, and sometimes most of the night long, she says, the poor dog is  locked alone in the apartment and it is obviously driving him crazy, given the evidence of his constant howling and barking, which itself tends to drive the neighbors crazy as well. 

One sees this sort of thing so often here that, though sad, it is hardly surprising. There seems to be no middle ground with many folks between locking their dog in all day and letting it free to run all day. Why people who are not able to be home at all buy dogs in the first place, I cannot figure. Nor can I figure why people who live in these little apartments that have no yard would buy a dog to begin with. 

The guy who lives in the house next to mine has found a different solution (though it is really no solution at all). He has two dogs and he keeps each  in its own small cage in the parking bay day and night. Naturally, they do a lot of howling and crying, especially when it is very hot or very rainy, and the rest of the time they just lie there and sleep. What kind of a life is that for a dog? I mean, come on, dogs are meant to run and chase cats and explore and play. Good grief. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The End is N-Ear

Time and circumstances are closing in on my cancerous ear this week. Louis is back in Bali from Australia for a couple weeks and is devoting herself to seeing that the ear is cut off. What else is an ex-wife good for? So, she has made an appointment out at Siloam Hospital, which we are to attend later today. In the meantime, the ear itself seems to be improving, with the outer wound shrinking and drying up; although, of course, the tumors within the skin are still palpable. So I don't know. I guess I'll just see what the doctor says later today and go from there. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Old Jim

Jim was a white haired old gentleman who attended the same church as I back in Portland, Oregon. I was a new Christian back then, in the early '90's, while Jim had been a Christian, more or less, forever. He was not the sort of person I would have talked to in my life beforehand, because he was old, and usually rather rumpled, and sometimes smelled strong, like mothballs or mold; but church has a way of bringing unlikely people together, of challenging barriers, of exchanging sour with sweet, arrogance with humility, reticence with readiness. 

Sometimes, the pastor would have us pray with whomever was sitting closest to us in the pew (with the caveat that you could not choose your own wife or child), and sometimes it would be Jim who was sitting closest to me. 

Prayer breaks down barriers, too. It makes all people equal. And it makes them a little bit more human than usual. 

After prayer one time, I struck up a conversation with Jim. I had always admired his full head of thick white hair, whereas I, at least 20 years younger than he, was already rapidly losing my own. So I complimented him on his hair, its ivory whiteness (with just the slightest yellow tinge) and how it seemed always so perfectly in place. 

"That's because I leave the soap in," Jim explained. 

"In … what, the dish? The bottle?"

"In my hair." 


On another occasion, Jim commented on a band-aid I was wearing on my finger. I had cut myself the night before while making dinner.

"I should probably get some medicine for it, so it won't get infected," I said. 

"You got a dog?" Jim asked. 

"A dog? Well … yes." 

 "Well, sir, this is what my dog told me. I had cut my finger, just  like you've done, and I was settin' out to put a bandage on the cut when my dog said, 'Hold on, Jim. Lemme see that cut.' So I showed the dog the cut and straightaway he set to licking it. Licked it till all the blood was washed off and it wasn't bleeding no more. 'That oughta fix it,' he said. And by God, it did. I've never since used any bandage or medicine for a wound, but just showed it to my dog and let him cure it with his tongue."

"Well, that'll sure save you the money for medicine or a doctor," I said. 

"Yup. Long as I got that dog."

I thought it was funny back then, a story to share with my younger friends. But I'm old now, just like Jim was then--and though I don't have enough hair on my head to paste in place with soap, I do regularly talk to the dog. And the dog talks to me. Moreover, I'm not shy about admitting to it. Both dogs and people have a lot more to offer than one might imagine at first sight. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Breath of Fresh Air

A consistent rain, starting during the night and continuing through this morning, has brought a sorely needed cooling to sun baked south Bali. Whew. 

It is very difficult to describe the murderous humidity of this season in Bali. It presses down from the sky, presses in through your skin, wraps itself around your bones and muscles and lungs and then squeezes like a boa constrictor. There is the feeling that the atmosphere, unable to bear itself any longer, must at any moment explode and vanish in a great cloud of steam. 

The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire; and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare (2 Peter, 3:10). 

Yeah. Kind of like that. 

So, it was with thankfulness and relief this morning that I headed out on my motorbike through a light sprinkle, the breath of a delicious breeze washing my brow and ruffling my shirt-sleeves. I entered Starbucks to the cheery sound of Jingle Bells on their music system, ordered the customary latte, and then took it to one of the tables outside to continue to bathe in the fresh, unburdened air. Festive! 

I find that the intensity of the pain in my neck and shoulder is also decreased. Is this something that is exacerbated by heat intolerance? It's a thought. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Believe it or Not

Today from the 'Believe it or Not' file: 

"In Tangerang village, open defecation still way of life" [Jakarta Post].

"For most people living in cities and big towns," the article begins, "defecation is a relatively simple matter, involving getting to a toilet, doing the business, and then flushing it away with running water." 

Not so for the folks in Tangerang Regency, where residents must wait in lines to visit the only communal toilet in the area. 

It should be pointed out at this juncture that Tangerang is not an obscure settlement on an isolated island. It is located on the western border of Jakarta, Indonesia's largest city.

The toilet facility itself was built 12 years ago and has been damaged. "The water tank is broken and someone stole the pump", the Post reports. Those who do not like to wait in line may "go to a cassava garden" (where fertilization of the cassavas takes place at the same instance, one presumes), or they may go to nearby Cisadane Creek, which is also a popular bathing spot. 

Women who live in the neighboring community also bring their family's laundry to this creek. One resident, Risna, commented that while her family actually does have a toilet and running water at home, she prefers to do her washing in the creek, as she has washed her clothes in the creek for decades. 

One assumes that the family does not wear a lot of white. Or not for very long, anyway. 

Despite knowing the waters to be polluted with human excreta, Risna brushed off any concerns, claiming that her skin had become immune. While acknowledging that locals still bath and openly defecate in the creek, she noted that some simply feel more comfortable going there, as it had been their common practice for years. 

"It's okay as long as we don't use the water for drinking," she explained. 

Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. Some people, protective of the 'purity' of their culture, use bows and arrows to shoot lone missionaries. Others just openly defecate. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Dubious Feast

I ended up with a decidedly less than festive Thanksgiving meal. Couldn't find any yams or sweet potatoes. Couldn't find any pumpkin pie. And there ain't no turkeys in these parts. So I had a hunk of chicken, a can of peas and carrots, and mashed potatoes. And an ice cream sandwich for dessert. My guest for dinner was the big fat brown dog, who did quite enjoy the chicken (which she said tasted just like turkey to her), but turned down the potatoes, complaining that they didn't even taste like potatoes. And she was right, for they were powdered potatoes. 

I couldn't help but apologize. It's just not like Thanksgiving, I said. 

Well, she observed, there's no place like home for the holidays. 

'cause no matter how far away you roam, 
if you want to be happy in a million ways, 
for the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.

Child Marriage

More off-beat news from Indonesia, this from today's issue of the Jakarta Post: 

In West Java, Child Marriage Turns Fatal. 

"A teenage girl from West Java," the article tells us, "has died after allegedly being a victim of domestic abuse in what appears to be a court approved child marriage." 

The girl was 15. Her husband 16. The girl died from "multiple head injuries and wounds all over her body".

The husband was held in police custody for 24 hours, but has been released due to "lack of evidence".

Research done by Gadjah Mada University in 2011 showed that 44 percent of child brides are subject to frequent abuse in their marriage. In 2012, a national survey showed that 220,000 girls had been married at least once in West Java. 

In this case, the parents of the children decided to marry them off out of concern that they might commit pre-marital sex, which is deemed sinful in Islam.  

This sin, therefore, was avoided. Unfortunately, the solution seems to have led to murder. Which I'm pretty sure is also a sin. 

Thanks to My Ear

Thanksgiving morning. Just spending some quality time together with my ear, from which, it seems, I will soon be parted. The plan now is to arrange the "amputation" in the next couple weeks, to be done at Siloam Hospital in Kuta, which I like better than Kasih Ibu in Denpasar because it seems cleaner, more modern, and more professional. 

My ear and I have had a long history together, having been inseparable for nearly 65 years now. It has heard many things in its lifetime and done its best to relay all it has received to me. It has never made its own judgements, but merely conveyed information through sound, to be sorted out with widely varying degrees of faithfulness in my brain, for the ear itself has never been tainted by its own wants or expectations. I have received, through the properties of the ear, sounds both sweet and bitter, lovely and unlovely. And of late I have heard a lot of ringing, which is not the fault of the ear itself but of an inappropriate neurological process. 

Of course, the removal of a portion of the flesh of my ear will have no affect on my hearing (or I wouldn't think so, anyway). Still, I can't help but think that the ear henceforth hearing things will not be the same ear as it was before and therefore may not hear in the same manner. Will it not feel a bit shy in the future? Will it tend to turn away and let its brother, the left ear, do all the hearing? Will it feel self-conscious and unworthy? 

Ah well, we shall see. I am, in any case, appreciating its presence, albeit a cancerous one, while it is yet present--giving thanks for this ear which has, in general, done me good. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Going into Thanksgiving week, I can't help but notice that there is something missing. A number of somethings, actually. It's supposed to be cold and rainy, for instance. The fridge and cupboards are supposed to be filling up with wonderful things, like turkey and potatoes and sweet potatoes and yams and string beans and olives and cranberries and bread crumbs and wine and pie fillings. The carton of milk, box of frosted flakes and half loaf of bread in my fridge are seeming less than festive, as is the sun beating down outside and the futile beating of the blades of the fan within. Nonetheless, I'm thinking of putting together at least a faux Thanksgiving dinner for myself--a half of chicken, a sweet potato, maybe a can of carrots and peas. Heck, I may even be able to find a slice of punkin pie somewhere, and then maybe find something seasonal on YouTube for entertainment. It's a Wonderful Life?

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Corpse in the Trash Bin

Just reading through the Indonesian language newspaper Kompas and I find tucked into the second section an article entitled Mayat Dalam Tong Sampah. 

Corpse in the Trash Bin. 

It sounds somehow particularly ghastly in Indonesian, doesn't it? I don't know why. The smaller print below the headline tells us that while the police are not yet sure of what happened, residents in the area suspect that the victim was murdered. A pretty good guess, as it seems to me, as one naturally suspects that one about to die of natural causes would not be inclined to climb into a garbage can just beforehand--especially head first, that being the condition of the corpse as described in the body of the article. 

The garbage can itself was closed with a lid and the lid was taped fast with black duct tape. The corpse was initially discovered by a scavenger, who may have thought, one imagines, that such careful securing of the lid (we all know how strong duct tape is) might suggest something of uncommon value within. 

We are told that a similar incident occurred in the same general area about a year before, the only difference being that the duct tape in the former case was blue. And that the victim in the former case was female, whereas the victim in the case at hand was male. Otherwise, the police did not know whether the cases were related. There has been no further report over the ensuing year concerning what may have happened with the female in the garbage bin. And probably never will be. 

A psychologist from Jakarta states, for the readers' edification, that 80-90 percent of the murders in Indonesia are committed by people who know the victim through day-to-day interactions, the motive for murder most often being money, romance (gone wrong, one assumes) or revenge. This is different outside the country, she says, where people are often killed by perfect strangers and for more diverse reasons--including, she adds rather oddly, "ritual killings" and "faith killings". 

Well, if nothing else, it seems clear that folks outside of Indonesia exercise a greater inventiveness when it comes to murder--a diversity in motive, which might make things seem a bit less trite. But perhaps there is some small comfort in knowing, here at home, that the perpetrator was not a total stranger, but was once your friend or neighbor.  


Over many decades, a “hands off nature” policy has turned the forest floor of western America into thick, dry, dead tinder, resulting in the accumulation of plenty of fuel for fires to persist and grow, becoming hot enough to overtake the tall, living trees. What the Native Americans did was to set fire to the slash as they returned every autumn to their winter quarters. This would allow fires to scour the floor but not grow hot enough to overtake the more resistent trunks of the living trees. The white settlers, of course, thought this practice simply “savage”, failing to understand the ecological wisdom gained through centuries of interaction with nature. The long absence of “maintenance” has left us with a daunting, and likely unsolvable problem. “Raking” would hardly be an answer, contrary to what our president tells us. Nonetheless, we ought to give him a chance and send him out there with a rake. He can check in every three years or so. Moreover, he may as well take his wife with him, for her valuable experience with gardening in high heels. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018


We seem to be meandering back to the beginning where my ear cancer is concerned. There had been some talk about seeking treatment in Jakarta, but that has kind of fizzled. There was a suggestion as well that I seek treatment with a well-publicized cancer specialist in Singapore, but I've rejected that option as being far outside my budget. Also, for me, my ear, as fond of it as I am, just does not rate such royal concern. So I am leaning (or re-leaning) toward the place that is closest and probably cheapest, that being the less than beautiful Kasih Ibu Hospital, given that I've already met with the doctor there and I'm already on the hospital record there. 

In the meantime, however, I'm having difficulty with taking the whole ear thing very seriously given that MS is causing me a whole lot more trouble in the form of relentless daily pain in my right  neck, shoulder, and arm (whereas the ear barely hurts at all). I can't even picture just now traveling even as far as nearby Kasih Ibu as long as this pain persists, for motorbike transport becomes especially uncomfortable. MS seems to be having a particularly active period, with my feet having gone more numb than usual and a weird tingling yesterday throughout my left leg and right up to my ass region. What's an ear compared to this? I'd kind of rather have the entire right side of my body removed. Now that might be something best left to a specialist in Singapore! 

It's a funny thought that if I felt better, I'd be more likely to get my ear cut off. I guess that when one is not feeling well to begin with, he feels especially unwilling to make himself feel even worse. But "If only I felt better, I'd cut off my ear" sounds weird, doesn't it? What a wonderful day it will be when I finally feel good enough to cut off my ear. 

But that's kind of the feeling I'm having. I don't want to deal with just one more thing. "I'll think about it tomorrow," as Scarlett O'Hara said. The happy news is that basal cell carcinomas are only very slowly progressive, and generally do not spread outside the originally involved area. 

The sad news is what has become "happy" news these days. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Another sudden blizzard of the flying brown bugs just now. They seem to hatch right out from the height of the stifling humidity, as if the air itself had become so dense, so full, so pregnant with heat that it burst into teeming insect form. Wings litter the patio floor, swirl in the dog's water bowl, scatter on the countertop, inspiring the emergence of ant armies from their hiding spots. And the lizards scurry busily from ceiling to wall to floor--all you can eat tonight!

I wonder if trout would like these bugs. I remember how my father used to watch the lake surface and the bushes near the shore, looking to see what sorts of bugs had hatched--mosquitos or black gnats or flying ants or blue uprights--and if the fish were feeding, he'd pull in the line and tie on a similar looking fly from his tackle box. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. Sometimes the fish would just keep feeding on the hatch and ignore the fly my father had tied on the line--not to be fooled by fakes made of fluff and thread. 

"Wise little devils," he'd mutter, chewing his pipe stem. "Clever little sons-a-bitches."

Friday, November 16, 2018


Hit from behind this morning, second time in two weeks. No problem on my end, but the guy who hit me also hit the street and got a fair-sized scrape on his arm. Also broke a couple bits off his bike. There often seems a failure to note what is happening in the traffic ahead, especially in the stop and go traffic on Yeh Aya where you have heavily traveled streets feeding in. 

This came after a rough night last night. I felt for all the world like I had just taken a shot of Avonex--same flu-like myalgias from head to toe. Well, it wasn't as bad as Avonex, but still more than enough to keep one awake. Last time I looked at the clock, it was 2:30 in the morning. Finally went to sleep at some point and then dreamed that all my teeth were falling out (and woke up to find that in fact most of them long since had!). 

This is a recurrent dream for me. The psychologists say it has to do with fear of aging, of becoming less productive--losing your ability to 'fully bite into life'. Kind of a no-brainer, actually. 

So, I seem to be in an active period with MS (the disease being active, not me). My feet have gone more numb than usual and muscular pain in my neck and shoulder is more severe. Time to swallow some prednisone, I guess. Also back on the baclofen, which is helpful. 

I've run out of my frankincense, which I was using, along with hand lotion and wishful thinking, to treat my skin cancer, but Louis is now talking with a medical professional friend in Jakarta and seems to want me to go there for an operation to remove the cancer. Sounds like fun, right? 

The Cleaners

Interesting PBS documentary, The Cleaners. These are the 10s of thousands of social media platform employees who delete inappropriate material. And "inappropriate" is a very mild word for what they see--beheadings, cruelty, rape, child abuse, torture, murder. One that I found particularly chilling was a beheading with a kitchen knife.
And then you have the folks who try to rescue things before they are deleted, working against the social platform standards. Scenes from the Syrian civil war, for instance, of the bodies of children mutilated in a bombing. For them, politically, these are things that need to be seen.
Additionally, you have government representatives who relentlessly lobby the platform CEOs to suppress 'negative' (ie, truthful) material on issues in their countries. And they do eventually get their way.
In any case, it's certainly not a job I could do. Imagine watching this sort of real-life horror day after day, being immersed in the very worst side of life. How can they sleep at night? How can they forget what they've seen?
The film also points up the public appetite for outrage, and how platforms like Facebook gravitate toward the extreme--because it is lucrative. Because it inspires the involvement of more subscribers. Is it any wonder that civility has so swiftly died out?
One can't help but conclude that while the internet was ideally an amazing and useful tool, people have in fact proven themselves not at all up to dealing with the technology in a healthy manner.
"There is real evil in the world," one cleaner said. "In my job, I watch it every day."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Traffic Law

We are told today in a front page Jakarta Post article that "Lawlessness (is the) main cause of deadly road accidents in Indonesia. 

News flash, right? 

"Every year", reads the first paragraph, "at least one million new cars and at least 6 million new motorcycles hit the roads in Indonesia with the drivers having the freedom to break traffic regulations." 

That's kind of like news to me. I did not know we were free to break traffic regulations. I thought the trouble was that there is no enforcement of traffic regulations. Small point, as I guess it amounts to the same thing. 

The article explains that motorcyclists driving without helmets, driving in the wrong direction, and driving when they are not old enough to drive, as well as car drivers exceeding the speed limit and so on account for 105,000 traffic accidents a year--an average of 287 accidents per day--and 25,589 traffic related deaths, injuring a further 22,939. 

These statistics inspired the government to launch a recent traffic law enforcement operation that lasted two weeks and was dubbed "Operation Zebra". The operation showed that "the more the law is enforced, the lower the number of traffic accidents." 

Welcome to the 21st century! Who knew that the enforcement of traffic laws would decrease the number of traffic accidents? Luar biasa!

During the course of the two week trial period, it was found that far fewer traffic accidents, injuries and deaths occurred. So, if you were driving during that time, you were, statistically, safer than usual. 

At all other times, one should probably, as far as possible, avoid driving at all. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Still Hot

5 pm here in Bali and 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity factored in. Just been sitting in front of the fan all afternoon watching YouTube. The big fat brown dog has also been sacked out here all day in my son's old room. I've noticed that there is no salad making stuff left in the fridge, so will need to run out to the store once the sun goes down. Or maybe I'll just pop down to the warung and get some chicken and rice. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Christoph for coffee this morning--two people with MS living in the same neighborhood on an island where people have never heard of MS. How weird is that? We seem to have a very similar approach in regard to the disease and our attitude toward the disease.  A very nice chat with a very kind seeming man. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Stranger

7 pm in Renon, and still nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sitting naked and drippy in the backyard, waiting for that rare, delicious breath of breeze to brush across my skin. Heaven. 

Having nothing else to do, I happened to read an old movie review on Facebook, and this in turn led me to a review of another movie--I don't know why or how. Just the way Facebook works, I guess. 

This was an article from a few years ago regarding the banning of the movie Noah in Indonesia. A ridiculous response to a rather ridiculous, fanciful treatment of the Biblical story (which also, of course, appears in the Koran). But what surprised me about this article is that it was written by a certain Richard Boughton. Hey, I thought, that's me. But then again, it could not have been me, for this article seemed keenly intelligent, critically perspicacious, and did not sound like me at all. 

I noted, however, comments attached to the article from several of my friends here in Bali, and I realized that this must indeed have been me. 

I have no recollection of the thing. I cannot think now why I would have even been interested in the subject. And yet it was clear that at the time of the writing, I, or whomever I was then, was acutely engaged. 

I have met this night a stranger, and the stranger is me. 

Neon Rainbow

I remember that it began to snow in the morning before the first bell rang. Every student rushed to the long cold window to watch the big soggy flakes fall past and flutter down to the grass at street level. It was early in the season, early in December, and the snowflakes were too wet to stick. They kissed the grass briefly, then dissolved, as suddenly as dreams upon waking fly away. Nonetheless, we had our hopes. Each of us had his and her hopes and watched together for that one vigorous, high-spirited, cold-hearted flake to take hold, to linger, to join with another of like-minded ideal and thus become the first weave of a thick white bell muffling traffic stopping school terminating carpet of snow.

But there was more than this. 

We had all just come in from the cold, ears nipped by the chill and still tingling, noses pink and probably running, tennis shoes squeaking and stocking caps steaming, and there seemed something newly minted about us, fresh-baked, an unusual glimmer, a glaze.  Someone had turned on a transistor radio, allowed before the sounding of the bell, and the song playing was Neon Rainbow, by the Box Tops. 

All the people going places
Smiling with electric faces
What they find the glow erases
What they lose the glow replaces, 
And life is love ... 

And moreover, and most of all, and most importantly there was the red-haired girl, singing along to that song, my favorite song--and Ah! Hers too! Surely we were meant for each other, surely we were meant to marry someday (but how to speak? How to say such a thing?) What flurry of snow, I wondered then, could match the flurry of freckles on her face? What greater future than to count them all?

I fell in love, for the first time, that very day.

And later it rained. 

But I've never forgotten what might have been. Through all the years that have drifted down and melted away, there remains that uniquely minted moment, frozen in time, honest, true, irreproachable. 

As pure as driven snow. 

Monday, November 12, 2018


Very, very hot nowadays--30C at 11 o'clock this morning, 36 with humidity factored in. 36C is the same as 96.7F. The forecast calls for rain later on today. 

Under these circumstances, one barely wants to move. Nonetheless, I had to go down to the post office in Sanur to pay my electricity and water bills. Riding the motorbike in the sun, head tamped down under the helmet like the top of a hot bottle of fizzy pop, makes for a decidedly less than pleasant experience. By the time I got out of the thing, my hair was completely wet, sweat dripping across my shoulders and down my back  as if I had just stepped out of the shower.

In short, this is not my favorite season in Bali. 

And actually, it seems to bother me more than it used to. Perhaps this is some of the good old MS heat intolerance kicking in. Or perhaps it's just the extra stress on my system on top of already not feeling very well. 

So anyway, once I finish my coffee, I'm looking forward to going back home and standing in a cold shower. As cold as I can get it, anyway--for in this kind of heat, even the shower water comes out warm. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Jeeze, I went to bed at about 8:30 last night and actually slept through the whole night. Well, I did wake up once, thought it was time to get up, but found that it was only 1 am, so smoked a cigarette and straightaway went back to sleep. Don't know why I'm so tired lately, with these dark bags under my eyes, especially after sleeping for like 10 hours. 

I've found that frankincense oil actually seems to have a positive effect on the skin problem on my cheek (though whether that is also a cancer, I don't know). However, it doesn't seem to be having any effect on the skin cancer on my ear (aside from stinging really bad). Louis is pressing me to just go to the hospital and have the thing cut off, and I suppose that's what I'll do eventually, as this is likely a better plan, ultimately, than my present regimen of skin lotion and procrastination. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Return of the Running Man

Restless leg syndrome makes an unwelcome reappearance over the last few nights. Weird how that happens. I had no problem with this symptom for quite some time, and now it's back, who knows why? 

And it's not just restless legs. It's restless feet, calves, knees, thighs, hips, torso, and arms. Sort of flopping around like a fish out of water. Anyone who has had this knows how it feels and knows that it' hard to explain. It's sort of like your body is trying to crawl out of its own skin. 

So I keep getting up, pacing around the house, smoking a cigarette, having a cup of cocoa--whatever. One feels kind of calmed down when he goes to lie down again, but then the jumps gradually jump back to action. So you lie down and think Okay, I gotta go to sleep FAST! Which is not actually the best method of falling asleep. 

There used to be this old joke in the Three Stooges short films. Moe would slap Larry or Curly and say "Hey, wake up and go back to sleep!" Easier said than done, right? 

Given all this nightly wrestling with oneself, one feels decidedly unrested when morning arrives. I can't help but note the dark circles under my eyes. I look like a damn racoon. With glasses. 

So I'm tanking up on coffee, and telling them to add an extra shot. It's gonna be a long day, with no rest in sight. 

*Postscript: Widhi, the barista, just asked me if I am feeling all right. I guess I must look even worse than I thought!

Friday, November 9, 2018

To Live

Just finishing Yu Hua's novel, To Live. This was Hua's first novel (1983) and inaugurates his continuing exploration of life among the poor in China in the years before, during, and after the Maoist revolution (see also Brothers and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant).  Though the narratives are set in a period ripe with political ideologies, the subject is simply the people, their struggle to survive, to raise families, to feed their children, to endure through storms of violence and deprivation--to live. Inspiring both laughter and tears, this novel is a masterpiece of storytelling and provides an intimate acquaintance with a culture that is both very different and yet much the same as our own, for we are all equally subject to these essential markers of human existence: desire, love, hardship, family, joy, sorrow, death, hope.

There is also a film version of this novel, and it, too, is quite good (probably because Hua supervised the writing). A few things were changed or added in the film, but the changes work out rather nicely. (The film received the Cannes Best Actor Award and the BAFTA award for best foreign language film). The film was made in China, but is available with English subtitles.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Frankinsense, Hold The Myrrh

A package came to the house a couple days ago addressed to my ex-wife, sent from a company called "Essential Oils". I figured it was some kind of skin care oil, or maybe cooking oil, or maybe both. It turns out that it is Frankincense oil. Frankincense is known in the natural medicine world for its curative effects on skin cancer. It is also known Biblically as an oil used to anoint the dead for burial. 

Regardless of whether or not it is good for cancer or for a corpse, it sure does smell good! It smells like Christmas and has made for a merry addition to the Christmas decorations and music at my usual Starbucks.

On the other hand, it stings like hell! 'Just put a small drop on the cancerous spot,' she instructed. Yuow! One drop'll do it, that's for sure. I figure that something that stings this bad must be doing something. Whether that means it's curing the cancer or just burning a hole through my ear remains to be seen. 

In the end, it's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Black Moon

It occurs to me this evening that I would do well to become more familiar with the Balinese calendar of "special" days so that I might be better prepared to anticipate oncoming traffic jams. I was thinking this, anyway, while I was stuck in one of these jams and had nothing better to think about. 

"Special" days and "ceremonies" go hand in hand, you see. Whatever is being observed on the particular day comes with its own particular ceremony, and the point of most of these seems to be to bring traffic to a standstill.

I encountered one such standstill this evening. The road I would usually take to Sanur was blocked off halfway there. Traffic was detoured to a series of narrow lanes, by which the bulging, steaming stream of cars and motorbikes finally oozed back onto the main highway to join the bulging, steaming stream already crawling down that highway. Inch by inch. 

And then it started raining. 

It was dark by the time I got to Sanur. 

Sepertinya hari ini hari khusus di Bali, I said when I entered the Starbucks. Seems like this is a special day in Bali.

"Yes, it is," the barista said. "Many ceremonies today." 

"What's it about?"

"Oh, it's … uh … how do you say … Black moon." 

"Black moon?" 

"Ya, you know, full moon and black moon."

"No moon." 

"Ya! No moon."

Huh. So they got the full moon ceremony and the no moon ceremony. I wonder if they have a half moon ceremony as well. I suppose I can find the answer to that question either by watching the sky or watching the traffic. 

My Cup of Tea

I've decided that pressing warm teabags to the skin of my ear will cure the cancer there. 

I have no idea why. 

In the meantime, I'm over at my coffee spot watching the midterm results on YouTube. Sort of like the Macy's parade or an NFL game without the entertainment or excitement. 

Raining big time this morning, as it has done the last few mornings, and I'm beginning to wonder how I will wash and dry my laundry. Happens every year. I guess it gets done somehow. 

I'm also taking money every day from the ATM in case the teabags don't work and I have to have my ear chopped off. This is one of the more irritating, and inconvenient things about 'the system' in Indonesia. Foreign residents cannot have an Indonesian bank account, which means that I must withdraw from my American bank account at one of the few ATMs that will accept the American card, and the amount one can withdraw per day is only 3 million rupiah. We also cannot have a credit card. 

Another irritating thing is that foreign residents cannot buy a car or a motorbike. They must have an Indonesian citizen do it for them. This rule, ostensibly, is meant to keep the amount of traffic on the roads down; but I think that issue might be better addressed by making sure that the local drivers have a license and a registration for a car or bike, which often enough they do not. Improving/widening the roads and creating new roads might also be useful. Just sayin. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Ear. The Ear.

I sat around the house all morning fixating on my ear, or rather on the cancer in my ear. I got the lab report back yesterday and, sure enough, this is identified as basal cell carcinoma, and, sure enough, the doctor still wants to lop off part of my ear. 

The more I try to get used to that idea, the more unable I am to do so. I like my ear. I mean, it's nothing special as ears ago, but it's mine. I'm already sitting here thinking of ways I could cover up my absent ear with my hair, or maybe wear a stocking cap all the time. I'm wondering if there will be enough of the ear left to support my eyeglasses. 

I spent quite a while looking up alternative medicines (black cumin seed?) and variously researching the subject of basal cell cancers. 

I had actually planned to go to the hospital this morning and track down the doctor I saw last week so that I could ask some questions, but then it started pouring down rain and so I decided this must be a sign that I should stay home. When the sky cleared up, I decided "Well, it's too late to go now". 

And then I start stressing about the money I would need to spend (I am told that the operative treatment would be more than 10 million rupiah). 

So there are three things keeping me in my easy chair at home. 

1) I'm lazy. 
2) I'm cheap.
3) I'm scared. 

A perfect recipe for paralysis. 

I see on internet research that these cancers grow very slowly. Well … I'm 65 in January. Wouldn't it be better to enjoy my ear while I have the time, cancer or not, than cut the thing off and then die fairly soon anyway? 

And then there is my real problem to think of--namely, MS. I mean, the pains of MS bother me every day far more than my ear bothers me. I mean … why am I stressing out over an ear, for God's sake!

Well, of course it's because this is cancer. Cancer comes with a fearful and ugly reputation in general, and in my family in particular. Mother, father, and brother, all dead, and no amount of slicing or excising or chemical warfare or radiation therapy did any of them the least bit of good. I mean, how do I know that cutting into the ear won't simply spread the cancer? 


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Boy on the Ledge

I was chatting today with my landlord, who had come by to check out a leak in the roof, which had made itself rather wetly evident last night during our first heavy rain of the season, when we together noted the sound of a child crying somewhere out in front of the house. 

Going out to the porch, we noted a child standing on the second story ledge of the house across the street, crying pitiably. We asked him what was wrong, but he just kept crying. We asked him what he was doing out on the ledge, but he just kept crying. More people wandered down the street to see for themselves. 

"Boy, what are you doing out there? Go back in!" 

But the boy was frozen in place, crying. 

Well, as it turns out, the boy had been asleep when his family left the house. Upon waking and finding himself alone, he decided, for some reason, to escape from the window on the second story. Had he been locked in the room? Was he unable to reach the doorknob? Nobody knows. 

Anyway, when the boy could not be coaxed to return to the window and reenter the house, or do anything, really, other than cry, a trio of young workers from the house under renovation up the street showed up with a ladder, which was just tall enough to allow one of the men to stand on the upper rung and let the boy climb onto his shoulders. 

The boy stopped crying after that, and I later saw him running up and down the street with this brother and sister, who had returned home from wherever they had gone. 

All's well that ends well. 


Lab results from my (fairly) recent visit to Kasih Ibu Hospital show, as I am told today, a "tooma". I'm waiting to see the results for myself via email, as I can probably make more sense out of them than just the word "tooma". Didn't work 20 years at a medical center for nuthin. But in any case, this is kinda cramping my style. I've got better things to do, even if they're not very important things, than to have a tooma. 

Orang Tua

Headed home from a walk last night, I happened to pass the Pos Kambling. This is the office of what I guess you'd call the 'neighborhood association'. I've met these guys briefly in the past--just recently, in fact, when they came by the house selling tickets for a prize drawing (which, I suppose, is a way of gathering money for various neighborhood improvements). 

Well, as I passed the place, I heard one of the men say "There goes that bule." 

"Which bule?" his companion asked. 

"Orange tua," the first explained. The old one. 

There goes the old white man. 

Hah! I beg your pardon! Since when am I old?

That question was answered a bit later on by the mirror in my bedroom. Since quite a long time ago, the mirror said. 

Well I'll be damned, said I to myself. You are an old white man. 

Isn't it strange? I don't think of myself as old. I don't picture myself as old--despite my daily aches and pains and my inability to walk very far or even in a straight line any more, or to remember what happened yesterday or even two hours ago. Most of the people I socialize with day to day are quite young; and, in fact, older people seem to me … well, old. Not that they are unpleasant. Not at all. It's more like they seem imposing, or somehow unapproachable. I don't seem to fit in to their circles. The funny thing is that most of those whom I am referring to as 'old' are actually younger than I! 

I see older folks as having some kind of automatic authority or position that is above and beyond my own. More often, I feel more like a stupid kid just like any other stupid kid. More stupid yet, actually, for having allowed myself to get old! 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Only in Indo

Yes, folks, it's a Pimp Pop--the favorite beverage of pimps! 

Still Sweating After All These Hours

Even though I stayed nearly four hours at the mall in Renon, upon returning home I found that the electric was STILL off.  Sat around for a about 10 minutes treading sweat, then took a shower, which was pleasant for as long as I was in the shower, got out, gave up, and drove down to Sanur to seek another spot with functioning electric and AC. So here I am at the Sanur Starbucks, listening to White Christmas, the Sinatra version, while I charge my electronic devices (laptop, phone and iPad). Given that there is only one outlet, I guess this will take a while. My phone says that it is 30C, which is about 87F (but let's don't forget the humidity!). 

Listrik Mati Lagi

Most people living in America would probably have a hard time picturing losing their electricity on a regular basis, in the absence of a severe storm, that is, or as a result of failing to pay the electricity bill. But here in Bali this happens regularly. It was out for a while yesterday, and it has gone off again this morning. Given the extreme heat and humidity of the present season, it's kind of like being left sitting in a brick oven--no AC, no fans, no breeze. Zip. This can persist anywhere from a short time to pretty much all day, so I've done the only reasonable thing for a stubbornly non-acclimated westerner and escaped to the air-conditioned environs of the nearby mall. Sometimes this will happen at the hands of the government in anticipation of a shortage or a strain on the system, and sometimes it will just happen. Perhaps some nearby house or roadwork has severed a line in the neighborhood. Oh well--the joys and challenges of 'roughing it'. Same thing happens with the running water--suddenly, there is none. I don't know which is more bothersome--although I suppose that both things happening at the same time would be the worst situation. One can't drink the tap water here anyway, but it's kind of nice to have available for bathing. Or washing dishes. Or washing clothes. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

What You Doh't Know Can't Hurt You

Can a cancer unreported be considered a cancer in fact? 

I dunno. I'm inclined to think not. 

I went on Monday to the hospital here in Denpasar, had a couple little chunks snipped out of my ear for biopsy, but today is Saturday and I've still received no lab report. Therefore, it is as if I never went and it was never done; except, of course, for the fact that 2.4 million rupiah has been extracted from my bank account. But 2.4 million seems a reasonable price to pay for a report of good health, which is what I take no report at all to be. 

Forever the optimist!  

Just Words

Do words matter? How far do they go once uttered? Does anyone really hear them or take them to heart? And if they don't go over well, can't you take them back the next hour, or the next day? 

Well, here's what they heard in Indonesia, as reported in the front section of the Jakarta Post: Trump Threatens to Shoot Migrants.

This is what we heard in America, and this is what folks on the far side of the world heard. Now our president seeks to deny what he said, to tell us that we did not hear what we heard. I did not say 'shoot', he objects. And that's right, he did not. What he said is that rocks that are thrown will be responded to as if they were bullets from rifles. 

In other words, which are really the same words: Trump threatens to shoot migrants. 

This was what was heard by a people accustomed to venerating America and to idolizing Americans. I know many Indonesians who immigrated to America. I know many more who only dream of doing so. I know many who would consider that being born in America is the same as being born under a special blessing of God. 

I know a bright young Indonesian, full of energy and hope, who until recently was bound for a future in America.  He has decided to go to Dubai instead, where, as he reckons, he is less likely to be shot. Or rather, 'responded to' by a bullet. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Grudge

On Halloween Eve, as a way of being 'festive', or of acknowledging the day, I made the mistake (again) of watching the movie The Grudge (again). Scares the piss out of me every time. I guess this is one of the hazards of having a very poor memory. One has a general impression about the nature of a movie he has seen several times in the past, but no recollection of the specifics. Spine tingling scenes tingle just as powerfully as they did the first time. 

Curiously, on Halloween night, after watching the flick, I had no trouble sleeping at all. I suffered no paranoid delusions that the slithering, gurgling ghost in the movie was crawling about the rooms in my house. A delayed reaction had occurred, for some reason. Nonetheless, last night the ghost was extremely active in my mind, which preferred to replay scenes from the movie instead of falling asleep. And then when I slept, I dreamed of the ghost! 

You know, there's nothing worse than a ghost that cannot be eradicated. As the story goes, anyone entering the house where this double murder and subsequent suicide depicted in the movie occurred is 'infected' forever after by the ghosts that haunt that house. You cannot hide from them. There is nowhere to run. You cannot 'kill' the ghosts. You have now become their focus and they will pursue you till death. Yours, that is.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


I've begun lately to re-read a book about the last years of Mark Twain (Mark Twain, Man in White, by Michael Shelden). a very entertaining account of the man, his work, and the social climate of the era in which he lived. An early passage in the book concerns Twain's first appearance in the white attire that would later become iconic. Twain first wore this suit of clothes when he attended a meeting of congressional members on copyright law in the Library of Congress, in the dead of December. It sounds funny to us now, but in those days this sort of thing was just not done. One did not wear white in December. It was scandalous! Well, he got the attention of the members of congress, which was his intention, and he got the attention of the press as well, with which he was delighted.  He also got the attention of his eldest daughter, who was mortified. From that time on, Twain adopted the attire as a sort of uniform. It became part of the image overall--Mark Twain, the man in white. He was the original countercultural rebel. 

Another incident depicted in the book concerns Twain's visit to a popular restaurant in New York. Again in his white suit, as he entered the dining hall, everyone stopped, put down their silverware, stood, and applauded the man! How nice it must have been to have had such beloved figures among us, men who would inspire an instantaneous outpouring of affection. Who could match it in our time?