Visits

Saturday, February 29, 2020

KITAS

Here I am once again in the annual KITAS (foreign resident permit) season, and as always it is a pain in the ass. Every year, numerous redundant and generally unnecessary documents must be collected and sent through my agent to imigrasi in Jakarta. And of course a hefty fee must be paid. Moreover, my motorbike permit also needs to be renewed, and this year the plates will need to be changed as well. Sigh. All of this takes time and money and does not know the meaning of the word 'streamlined'. It is, in short, a lot of bureaucratic red tape meant to employ as many people as possible (which it does succeed in doing quite nicely).

The Laptop Returns

My laptop has finally returned, and as with all total crashes of Windows, much must be done to return things to their former state. For example, all of my photos had disappeared, but when I plugged my cellphone into the laptop, they all reappeared. Go figure. All of the usual apps must be restored and re-tweaked. I still haven't figured out how to get the sound back, which, as I recall, was an old problem with Windows from the beginning. I have taken the step of turning on the sound equalizer, but it is still quiet compared to before. I need sound for the hearing impaired! Can't figure out what I did to increase the sound before. If anyone knows how to do this, please tell me.  

Friday, February 28, 2020

Exploring

Feeling like doing a bit of exploring this morning, I ventured out to the new Starbucks DT at the far reaches of Jalan Teuku Umar (far, anyway, as an unwell old man reckons distance), discovering upon fortuitous arrival there (given the general insanity of motorists on that main artery through Denpasar) that DT stands for 'drivethrough'. But of course there was indoor seating as well in an environment notable for its excellent air-conditioning and uncomfortable chairs, although they certainly looked good from the standing position. I ordered a grande latte, which I quaffed with rare alacrity, and then headed back into the stream of insanity in the opposite direction toward home. 

Bumping and swerving on my way, I suddenly realized that I had neglected to make use of the promosi of the day--two tall coffees for the price of one. Although one grande is enough for me these days, or enough in any case for my eternally damaged stomach, a thrifty man can hardly pass up a 2 for 1 deal, and I therefore stopped at the Plaza Renon Starbucks (my preferred store) to claim my two coffees. 

As I have friends among the baristas here, I was given a grande in place or a tall, and then for the second tall, another grande. 

I'm feeling sick now. 

A man sitting nearby is coughing and sneezing and I can't help but think of coronavirus. 

At the same time, however, I cannot help but be entertained by two young women, surely teens, as they pose turn by turn for photos out on the veranda. The one is wearing a black top, the hem of which ends just above her navel, and a beige miniskirt with the hem just below her ... well, you know. Her friend is wearing a casual white summer dress, and both are wearing mammoth black army boots, shined to a glow even in the bright daylight. They clunk together to this or that table and pose standing, sitting, legs crossed, legs uncrossed, smiling directly at the lens or gazing aside at nothing in particular. They say 'wait' and arrange their hair, or decide to shift one hip rather than the other. They examine the results, then move to another table, another background, another canvas, though it is an open question whether any setting in the world can match their beauty, especially if the perfect pose is struck. And there is certainly nothing in nature in any case that can vie with those magnificent black army boots!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Assisted Recollection

I called my son's mother this morning to ask if she could reinstall some bits of my erased memory about his birth and babyhood. I'm so glad I did, for she knew the time and the place, remembered everything. 

For example, while she was in labor in the delivery room, another woman was undergoing a complicated birthing of triplets, and that woman died in childbirth. I was coming up in the elevator after getting some snacks, she reminded me, heard some doctors talking about the death of this woman in the delivery suite, and was in a panic because I thought they were talking about my wife. Lordy, this event had totally disappeared from my brain! 

For example, my son had a cut on his forehead when he was born and he had a birthmark that looked like the starship Enterprise. 

For example, when I was tickling him in his cradle, he peed on my head. 

For example, I had become ill just after his birth and could not sit with her in the hospital and she was very angry that I had chosen such an inconvenient time to be ill. 

So many things. My God, we were so young. I was still in college! We didn't know anything about children or babies at the time except that we both found them vaguely annoying. 

We had wanted a daughter, she reminded me, and I had already chosen/invented a name--Roanne--and had even written a poem about my daughter to be. She still misses Roanne, she said. Lol. But that's okay, so do I. She would have been such a sweet, blonde-haired girl. 


They visited the grave yesterday, she and her husband, and laid flowers and chatted with my resting son. They visit the grave once a month, and she was happy to report that he has some new neighbors nearby, though by this I was not surprised, for cemeteries are forever welcoming new tenants.

Man’s Best Friend.

Thought I would take a little stroll this evening. Ya Tuhan. By the time I got back, I was about to drown in my own sweat. Moreover, as soon as I turned back toward home, the dog took off like a shot. Tahu kan di mana dia? Ya, sudah tidur di depan pintu kost. Malas! Man's best friend, hmph.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Oblivion




They all go away so suddenly, even though there was still so much to say. On your birthday, son, I think of you and all who are gone, knowing at the same time that I am the one who is lost. For you and your silent kind have taken these many parts of me with you. The phone does not ring. The message does not chime. So many words have died, unspoken, and my tongue is the tomb, my heart a stony cavern of senseless echoes. Every word is eternally ready, every love letter is at my fingers. You are all a painful fullness in my chest, deflating day by day, refilling with rest, with me again at the instant I open my eyes. I miss you. I miss all the dead languages of the world, for this life cannot be translated, comprehended without them. All of the parts have fallen out of the program and left a blank, nonnegotiable screen. Useless. It does not speak, it does not chime, it does not ring. It knows only one word: oblivion. 

Damnable

Well, here i am again without a laptop again, thanks again to the deadly interventions of Windows 10. The problem for quite some time had been with Windows blocking my VPN. I had discovered that this problem could be temporarily undone by restoring Windows to an earlier date and then reinstalling the VPN. Should have let it be, I guess. Its not that I really even need a VPN, its just that I paid for the thing and figure I really ought to be able to use it. Anyway, the latest attempt to perform the old recovery trick resulted instead in the death of the laptop, which now does not load Windows at all but goes straight to a screen that says Your System Must Recovered (or something like that. Naturally, none of the recovery options works, nor do the online suggestioss for ways to escape this damnable screen.

So here I am poking away at the iPad screen with one finger, an input method which is, needless to say, considerably slower than the use of ten, and moreover is having a painful effect on my already painful right shoulder and arm. Therefore, y’all won’t be hearing much from me until I either get one laptop fixed or buy another. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Home Physician

The Indonesian pembantu (maid) is like a physician for houses. She watches over their general health, diagnoses and addresses problems, applies dressings or therapy or surgery as needed. Each is an individual patient for which she provides the proper care. 

By way of example: There has been a problem for some time now with the water in my kitchen sink, in that the water from that faucet, which used to flow normally, now only trickles, making it very difficult to wash dishes or perform other kitchen tasks. 

I discovered some time ago however--or rather, Pak Aan, the general maintenance man discovered--that if one turns on the water in the bathroom and then also turns on the water in the kitchen, both flow normally. (Local maintenance men, by the way, are also a wonder. How, after all, had it occurred to him to turn on the faucet in the bathroom to increase the flow in the kitchen?) 

So I thought this morning, You know, I ought to wait for the maid to arrive so that I can show her this trick, given the stack of dishes in the sink that she was going to have to face. So wait I did, and at last, the Pembantu, Nengah, showed up with her little boy, Ajus. She stood patiently while I explained the matter, carefully demonstrating the strange mechanics of the dual sinks, and when I had finished said simply, 'Yes, I know.' 

Astounding. Clearly, the housecare professional knows her patients well, and knows their quirks, their needs and the solutions before the patients themselves know. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Birth

I was watching another episode of the old Dick Van Dyke show yesterday (going through them one after another). This particular episode concerned a flashback recollection of the birth of 'Rob's' son, Richy, and brought back some memories of my own. Curiously, or perhaps not so curiously, given the memory erasing effects of MS, I remember very little about the birth of my own son (about two hundred years ago). I did remember however, on watching the show, how unlikely the event seemed at the time. I mean, clearly my wife was pregnant, and yet she had been pregnant for a long time (about nine months, in fact), and it was difficult to imagine something actually coming of it. Day after day she continued to be pregnant, no more, no less. She was just a bit fat is all. Well, really fat. But we ourselves were only children (23 years old) and knew nothing but one another. It had always been just us. Had I really caused another life inside of her? Had she really been carrying a whole 'nuther human being all this time? No, it seemed unlikely. After all, we knew nothing about births or babies or parenthood. How had this happened, after all?  

Well, things change very quickly, don't they, and we were about to be thrust into a whole new life. Three new lives, actually, for my son would be no more new to the world than we would be to the concept of 'my son'. 

After that, I cannot remember how she got to the hospital, or the events that led to her going there. I don't remember who took her, or to which hospital she was taken. I do have a vague memory of pacing in the waiting room, extremely nervous, extremely upset, extremely fearful--not for the baby to be born, but for the condition of my wife, whom, as I could hear coming from the nearby delivery suite, was not cottoning at all well to childbirth. Strangely, as it seems now, I felt that I must apologize to the attending doctors who were the targets of curses and accusations the like of which I had never heard from her lips.  

And I remember first seeing him in the little hospital cart by my wife's bedside, as if he had arrived in the world on a catering trolley. And I remember saying, "He looks just like a little Arab", for his skin appeared quite brown for a white person. Do they all come out brown and then fade in the lamplight? 

"His hands are so big," she said, "just like yours. I'm sure he will be a pianist." 

His hands did not look big to me. 

As my son's birthday is coming up very quickly--a birthday he will not see--I am wanting to call his mother to wish him a happy birthday, given that I cannot extend the wish to him. And I want to ask her as well just what happened, what she remembers. And recommend that she watch the Dick Van Dyke episode for a laugh, despite our loss.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Common Ground

I was chatting last night with my friend in Borneo and we got on the subject of religion. She is a Muslim (converted from Hindu) and I a Christian. But we very quickly landed on common ground, for where religion is concerned, we are both most disturbed by the damage being done to authentic faith by extremist factions whose adherents know only of violence, division, hatreds, exclusions, bigotries, and phobias, and nothing of the selfless love that binds and heals and shuns all arrogance.  

I was struck by the similarities she described in what both Islam and Christianity are suffering at the hands of these loud, misguided miscreants who are laying claim nonetheless to the word of God, perverting and disfiguring what is good and pure, full of charity and grace, making faith hateful, a thing to be shunned and ridiculed. 

What shall we do then? Reject what is good because of the evil inflicted upon it? Of course not. God is not changed by those who would change God, for he is the same yesterday and today and forever, and his word will stand forever, just as the scriptures say. Again and again, throughout the centuries, the truth has been under assault, and yet prevails--for those who will hear with meekness, and strive ever more toward the compassion which they have sought and indeed by which they have been sought, will certainly find the way. And we, and all, shall be known by our fruits.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, of figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 
--Matthew 7:15-20

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Lost in the 50s

The photo below showed up this morning on my 'Facebook Memories', first posted six years ago. I don't remember posting it. I don't remember how I happened to have it in the first place (perhaps my cousin sent it?). I don't remember sitting for the photo, I don't remember where it was taken--surely either Oregon or California. I don't remember, and I can barely guess, how old I was. Three? 

And yet … I do remember. I gaze at the picture and I remember in my deepest parts, and my heart is stirred with love, with gratitude, with comfort, with wistfulness, a sort or homesickness. 

These precious hours
We know can't survive
But love's all that matters
While the past is alive ….

--Lost in the 50s Tonight

Suddenly Galungan

Once again, Galungan, the twice a year Balinese holiday, has snuck up me and suddenly pounced. I should have known it was coming. I do remember having a couple of Galungan posts on Facebook, but I kind of just spaced out on it (as usual). 

The point is, many places are closed on Galungan (and the day after, apparently), including the post office, where I went this morning to pay my electric bill. 

Oh dear. Hopefully my electricity will last until Friday. I don't mind being in the dark (I am always, metaphorically, in the dark anyway). It would also be good practice for Nyepi, the 'day of silence', which is coming up in March. But I could not tolerate being without a fan or air-conditioning. 

Oh dear. Shall have to hope for the best. And perhaps lay out some offerings for the AC unit.

Face Blind

There's a man sitting by me at Starbucks who may or may not be my next door neighbor. I'm not certain. I only see him every day. 

Yeah. 

This is one of the weirder among the weird symptoms associated with MS, though not experienced by all who have the disease. There's a thousand choices open to the damaged brain, and this just happens to be among those that my brain has chosen. 

It is called Face Blindness among other things, including 'annoying' and 'embarrassing'. It is often merely a delayed recognition, a time lapse between seeing a person one knows and actually realizing that one knows the person, but sometimes is a total loss, dispelled only by the intervention of the unknown person himself. In other words, he may speak to you and need to remind you of who he is and how you know him. 

So anyway, my plan is to make a definite note of what the possible neighbor is wearing (black tee-shirt, camouflage shorts, tennis shoes) and then spy on him later back at the villa in order to establish positive identification. 

For what it's worth. 

As next time I see him, in some future day, he will likely be wearing something else and will have shed his identity once again, or rather, my brain will have done so. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sick Days

For the past few years I have watched my nation crumble on YouTube news broadcasts. I have watched and waited for a turning point, a turning back, a rescue, a restoration, and yet the march to ruin has proceeded unimpeded. At last, it has all become too oppressive, too discouraging, and all too predictable. Therefore, I have gone to watching old TV shows, harkening back to childhood days when I had stayed home sick from school. My mother would have situated me on the couch with blanket and pillow, a hot water bottle or an icepack, depending upon the symptoms of want. She would bring me hot drinks or cold drinks, Jell-O, toast maybe, or crackers, applesauce, a banana, and there would be medicine on the table, cough syrup, aspirin, fruity animal shaped vitamins, a thermometer, perhaps a steaming air-humidifier, the distinct though otherwise indescribable scent of Vicks Vaporub constituting the atmosphere in the old front room, and she would turn on the TV to take my mind off my misery. There would be Ossie and Harriett, Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, the Dick Van Dyke Show, and these to me were all sweet balm, welcome comfort, taking me away in laughter or rocking me gently to sleep. I return to such consolation now, a steady convalescence, the assurance of recovery, in the same old way, but also in a new way, for I understand now many things I did not understand as a child, I hear now what was once hidden between the lines, accessible only through experience. I laugh out loud, knowing not only the intention of the script but also the quaintness of bygone times. And in this my mirth is complete. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Deja Vu

Just about one year ago, right about mid-February, I developed a sore throat which led eventually to six months of illness, one thing and another. 

Now, as if in observance of an anniversary, I have again developed a sore throat. I sure hope this is not the start of another long term relationship with illness. I went out and bought antibiotics on my own, but these seem to have been ineffective. There is exudate in my throat, which of course indicates the presence of infection. 

Blah. I was getting used to feeling more or less healthy. Now I'm fearing another endless round of doctors and misdiagnoses and ineffective or inappropriate medications.

Unlike last year, this problem would seem to be of a more common nature and not a weird stomach problem causing sore throat and so on, as happened last year. Of course, the stomach problem still persists, but is generally under control with medicine and a bland diet. Given the exudate, however, and the fever, I would say that this is a throat/respiratory infection.

Hate to have to go to the doctor, because doctors here are more or less a lost cause. Nonetheless, one feels one has to when ones own attempts at self-treatment are not working. 

But maybe I'll be okay. I'm feeling lucky lately. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hillsong

For the last few Sundays, I have wanted to go to church, but have not yet made it. Lazy. Always some reason. 

But the reason I have thought of this is that a new church has opened just across the street from the Starbucks I always go to. Well, it's not a church, actually, but a service held in a new hotel. Hmm … come to think of it, it is a church, given that church is a gathering of believers rather than a building. 

Anyway, it is a Hillsong church. I've never been to one of those and I thought it might be fun at least to watch. I imagine there is a lot of singing, and perhaps the annoying electric guitars and drums. I believe it is a charismatic church, right? I don't know. As I say, I've never been to one. I just know that a lot of popular music comes out of Hillsong. 

Church here in Bali has been generally a bust. We (Louis and I) used to go to a little church in Sanur (again located in a hotel). But it turned out to be more of a bule club than a church. Not my cup of tea. 

I have been also to a church, also in a hotel, out the Bypass on the way to Kuta, but this one was pastored by a fellow from New York who seemed to me full of it (and full of himself). More new age hype than gospel. 

And then there are the Indonesian churches, where multiple people are given multiple microphones into which they shriek in various registers. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Never give an Indonesian a microphone. It's hard enough to understand what they are saying without the deafening amplification. 

Perhaps one day I will actually make it there. At least here in Bali they don't burn or lock down churches as happens in Sumatra and Java and elsewhere in Indonesia. I guess I ought to show some appreciation for this more liberal culture by actually attending.

Wildflower


Saturday, February 15, 2020

House

I received an email this morning from my daughter featuring a photo of my old family house in Portland with the caption, "Look what they painted". Opening the photo, I found that the house, which had always sported a brown, natural wood finish from peak to garage, now features a bright orange garage with purplish doodling of some sort on the side and green trimming around the door. 

My first thought was, "Oh my God, my Dad is turning in his grave!" My father, you see, was a basic colors sort of guy, and this looked like a throwback to the psychedelic 60s. 

What I noticed most though, other than this bright new eyesore, was the weather--gray, gloomy, wet, dark. Took me right back to old Portland town, damp years of endless gloom. How accustomed I have become now to sunshine every day, interrupted by only brief fits of warm rain. They say that people who grow up in the tropics have trouble, if they happen to move to a western country, with sunlight deprivation, causing depression, lethargy, and so on. I get that. Merely looking at the photo was depressing to me! 

Anyway, as it turned out, I was missing the whole point of the picture my daughter had sent. I had written back, mentioning that my father would be having a fit if he knew, to which she replied, "Never mind that! The picture on the wall is a giraffe!" 

I looked again, wearing my reading glasses this time. Sure enough, there is a large purple giraffe on the orange garage wall. This is significant because my second wife, my daughter's mother, always called me a giraffe, because, she said, I was tall and slow and gentle.

Well now, that is a coincidence! Apparently my spirit lives on in that gloomy old hillside house--or at least on the side of the garage. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentines Day (the real deal)

I was chatting off and on with my insomniac friend last night via WhatsApp. She has not been feeling well lately. Stubborn flu. Nonetheless, at about 10 pm, she decided to clean house. 

"Sleep!" I said. 

"No. I must clean the house." 

"The house will be there tomorrow. Sleep now, clean tomorrow." 

"No. The house won't let me sleep if it's not clean." 

Hmm, that's strange. My house doesn't seem to give a damn. Or maybe it's just me who doesn't.

Anyway, she calls rather than texts at around 1130. I am in bed. All the lights except for the light in the kitchen are out. 

"Oh. Daddy sleeping." 

Yes, she calls me Daddy. Which is actually kind of nice, in an odd way. It's been a long time since anyone called me Daddy. Hmmm. My own son called me Dad, it's true, and never called me anything other than Dad, even as an adult. Three of my four stepchildren called me Bud, or Richard if they happened to be angry at me. The fourth, from yet another mother, has always called me Dad. But we seldom talk anymore. They are all busy with their own lives. And one of them is no longer with us. 

"No, I'm not sleeping," I croak, turning on my stomach so that I can lean on my elbows. "Just resting." 

"No, Daddy, sleep," she says. "Goodnight."
.
But of course I'm awake now. So I get up and stir up a cup of instant ginger hot drink (because I also have a bit of the flu), and then go outside to smoke a cigarette. The dog is asleep on the doorstep. He has no problem with sleeping. The temperature is still, absurdly, 30C. Somewhere around a million frogs are singing in the shallow water of the rice paddy across the road. 

When I head back to bed at around 1:00, I note that the date has changed. It is February 14th. Valentines Day. So I send a quick message to my friend in Borneo. Hey, Happy Valentines Day, Sweetie. I love you.

Within seconds, she responds. 

"Hah! Daddy salah (wrong). This is Thursday, February 13th." 

"No." 

"Yes." 

"Check your phone." 

Silence. 

In the morning, I find a electronic card, sent at about 4 am. 

Love never sleeps, I guess. Or rarely anyway. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Just in Time for Valentines Day

Another 'Hello Talk' (language app) story. 

Yesterday morning, a young woman contacted me wanting (she said) to learn English. Our ensuing conversation, however, conducted throughout in Indonesian, concerned her relationship with her boyfriend, her views on marriage, which she feels is not only unnecessary but distinctly inadvisable, and her general views on Indonesian men and women. 

The young woman is 17. 

The goal of the Indonesian woman, she told me, is to be very beautiful and very thin (both of which, she mentioned, she herself is). The woman then marries a successful, wealthy man and becomes the jewel on his finger (after he buys it for her, that is). In the mall, she asks for whatever she wants, and gets it. At home she is fussy, garrulous, quarrelsome (though still very thin and very beautiful). For this reason, she does not mind that her man seeks a more agreeable woman on the side, because the important thing is the money. The man may even be gross and short of temper. It's okay. Again, the important thing is money. 

It is the goal of men as well, she tells me, to seek the very beautiful, very thin woman. Oh, and also the light-skinned woman. This is for status. The important thing is status. If a man is wealthy and successful, he will of course have a worthy woman (beautiful, thin, and light skinned). She is for show, a sort of badge or credential. There are plenty of other sorts to be had on the side, and that's fine as long as he keeps things in their proper order. Number 1 is number 1, and number 2 is not. 

Well, eventually, the girl tells me she is cutting out of school and heading to the mall with her boyfriend, and signs off. 

Nonetheless, I receive several message during the day. The messages say "Hi." 

"Hi." 

"Hi."

"Hi." 

Later on in the evening, she contacts me again. 

"Hi." 

Hi, I type. 

"I'm breaking up with my boyfriend." 

"Oh?"

"Ya." 

"Why." 

"I don't like him anymore." 

"Ah, okay. Sorry to hear that." 

A period of silence follows, perhaps half an hour, and then she texts me again. 

"Hey, Mister …"

"Yes?"

"I think you are very handsome in your photo." 

"Oh? Well, thank you. It's not something that I often hear." 

"Hey … Can I be your girlfriend?" 

"Lol. You're just a kid." 

"No I'm not. I'm an adult. Anyway, I like men who are more mature. Thirty, forty, even 50!" 

"Well, I'm more than mature, that's for certain. I'm ancient." 

"It's okay lah."

"Plus, you wouldn't like me, because I'm not successful and wealthy."

"Nah, it's okay lah."

"Moreover, we are on two different islands." 

"Ya? Why do we have to be on the same island? It's not a problem. The main thing is that you're handsome." 

Hmmm. How did the main thing go from success and wealth to mere good looks? 

"Yeah," I write, "but also I prefer fat, homely women, not thin and beautiful ones like you." 

"Oh … Oke. Well then, can you introduce me to a friend?"

"Hmm. Bule or Indonesian?"

"Bule. But I can't speak English."

I consider mentioning that the purpose of the Hello Talk site is to learn English, or another language, but decide not to bother. 

"It's okay. Lah," I tell her. "But the thing is, all the bule men I know here are crazy. Sakit jiwa."

At this point she disappears for a time, and then perhaps two hours later she is back. 

"Hey, Mister, I don't want sakit jiwa." 

"Yeah, I don't blame you." 

"Just you then."

Hah! Sloppy seconds. Story of my life. 

"Ok, let me get this straight. I don't have to be rich or successful or even on the same island, right?" 

"Ya, it's ok."

"All right then. Let me think about it." 

Satisfied by this, she signs off for the night. Or perhaps surfs about for more suitable candidates in the meantime. 

The thing is, though, she has all the stereotypes, all the clich├ęs just right--for I have heard this story a hundred times: the wealthy, successful man, the slender, beautiful woman, the expectations of the male and the female, the secondary plots and flings, the vacuous desire for meaningless things, the endless search in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. Everyone knows this story, and everyone believes it. It is the way things are.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Under Construction

There's a roof now on my house-to-be. It is a very high roof, for some reason, although the ceiling will not be nearly as high as the roof. I asked Louis why the roof is so high, whether there was some structural or architectural point to this. She said, "I don't know -- because it's expensive?" This did not exactly answer my question. Anyway, with a roof, the house begins to look actually like a house. Within the structure, the water pipes are being installed, and the electrical outlets. The internal organs, you might say. Still difficult to imagine the finished product, but it's interesting to watch. 

The entire street, which used to be a field, is transformed, wall by wall, door by door, roof by roof. What was an open area, flat and grassy and full of flowers, becomes now a crowded little neighborhood, each dwelling rubbing shoulders with the next. I hear that a worker fell off one of the roofs yesterday and had to have stitches. 

The workers are all from Java and Sumba, which is usual in Bali. Balinese do not do heavy work. Some of the workers bring their wives and all of them live during the building period in the dwellings they are building. I'm told that my bathroom-to-be is presently serving as a little house for a young couple.  

Some sort of argument (or discussion, anyway) ensues between Louis and the contractors, so I distance myself, stroll along the dirt road, and decide to play a bit of baseball using my cane as a bat and a rock as the ball. It's something I used to do quite often in younger years, but now it seems that I cannot hit the rock to save my life. I toss the rock in the air, take a mighty swing, and miss every time. Finally, I lose my balance in the effort and nearly fall. I note that a couple of the workers are laughing. A young man and a very old man. The old man is wearing a little Muslim cap and sporting a smile nearly devoid of teeth. Rather like mine. I smile, too, and laugh. 

"Pak," I say to the younger man, "mau coba?" (Do you want to try?)

He declines, but the old man eagerly steps forward and reaches for my bat (or rather my cane).  He tosses a rock in the air, takes a swing, and knocks the thing out of the ballpark! 

"Mantap!" I exclaim. Great! 

The old man looks for another rock, smashes this one into the stands as well. 

So we get to chatting. He is from Java, from Banyuwangi, and declares so with immense pride, flashing a delightful smile consisting of two yellow teeth. "Buys-ball!" he says. "I know buys-ball!" 

As we chat, I notice two of the workers, baked nearly black by days of labor under the beating sun, carrying brownish towels down to the nearby drainage ditch, where they bathe in the brown water, then emerge, glistening, and don the same clothing they had just taken off. 

These are among the poorest of people I've ever seen; and also, I think, the happiest.   

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Oscars

I was glad to see Parasite win Best Picture at the Academy awards. It is an unusual movie, a terrifically funny story that turns seriously bitter at about the two-thirds mark. It is unusual also in that it is the first foreign language film (South Korean) to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This film along with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were my favorites to win, followed closely by Little Women. I was glad as well to see the boring, tedious, unrealistic, vacuous 1917 lose. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Linguistics

I was watching a news show this morning wherein a linguistics professor was critiquing the speaking style of Donald Trump. It is clear that Trump has at his disposal, the professor explained, but a very limited vocabulary, and this is one reason he will tend to fall back on certain words and phrases, such as "Believe me", or "a very terrible person", or "a nasty woman." It is as if his language development was arrested at around the 5th grade level. He was simply not able to, or never saw any use in developing a wider vocabulary. 

You may have had the experience in younger years, as I have, of engaging in a discussion or debate with another person of like age and, upon employing a more advanced word, having that person retort "Oh, big word!" As if you had just forfeited the argument by employing a more sophisticated language. Trump is that little boy, or that little girl, who chose disdain rather than edification. Ignorance, in fact, becomes a matter of pride, as we saw with the deplorables who proudly embraced the term 'deplorable', or indeed as we saw with Trump's recent rejection of the teachings of Jesus at the White House prayer breakfast. Jesus, you see, was a snowflake through and through, with big, fancy ideas like 'love your enemy' and 'feed the poor' and 'shelter those in need'. 

Beyond linguistics, however, there is the psychological view. Has anyone noticed, for instance, how sing-song his voice has become? I mean, I watch him go through these stream of consciousness interior monologues in this childish sort of tone and pitch, speaking, it seems, with an imaginary friend who agrees with him without fail. The man seems so clearly disturbed, sort of off on his own planet. It's downright weird, even pitiful. And I wonder how people can fail to see this. And how responsible leaders and representatives can fail to act. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

For quite some time, I resisted buying Where the Crawdads Sing. I resisted for two reasons: 1) The clunky title, and 2) The effusive blurbs on the book cover, very often a sign that the reader is about to be bitterly disappointed. "A rare achievement" (The Times), "Unforgettable" (Daily Mail), "Painfully beautiful" (New York Times Book Review. 

There is indeed something distinctly painful about this novel. It is painfully boring, painfully inept, painfully commonplace. From about the halfway mark, I had to force myself forward. And it was painful.

Here we have the story of Kya Clark, otherwise known as 'Marsh Girl', who grows up with an alcoholic father and a tyrannized mother and X number of brothers and sisters (I'm not sure of the number and I don't care, and neither, apparently, did the author). Family life, however, does not last long, for soon mother disappears, as does father, more gradually, along with the X number of siblings. Kya is left alone to make her way in the wild marshland of the North Caroline coast. She proceeds through childhood to young adulthood, munching on mussels and clams and hominy grits and turns into a beautiful young woman who has never been sick a day in her life (curiously enough, given the rough conditions and sparce diet).

Her main goal in life, other than becoming an expert on the marsh and all its flora and critters, seems to be to meet and marry this or that young man. She falls in love first with Tate and then with Chase, and is ultimately rejected by both, after they've gotten what they came for, because she just dont fit into lafe in the reel werl. Each of these love affairs is liberally salted with all the proper cliches as each winds its sluggish way to an end. The author herself, Delia Owens, is a wildlife scientist, and I suppose this is what happens when a wildlife scientist tries to write a love story. 

At some point, one suspects, somewhere between the rough and the final drafts of her manuscript, someone must have mentioned to the author that her story had no point, and she therefore inserted a murder mystery into the novel. That's how it feels, anyway. It's just suddenly there, and we are reminded of its presence every 50 pages or so. After the love stories run out of steam, the novel morphs to courtroom drama, for Kya herself has been accused of committing the inserted murder. The trial chugs along, rather like a case from the old Matlock television series, and at last, thankfully, the novel gasps its last breath. 

Immensely forgettable. Astonishingly banal. This novel has a bit of everything, other than those things serious readers actually want to read. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Iconic


Portrait of an iconic moment in history. Our children and our grandchildren will see this in the history books and it will be for them worth a thousand words. It will sum up this brief Trump era, this ugly anomaly, this unfortunate hiccough in progress, and put the period to it. There can have been no better answer to Trump and Trumpism than Pelosi's stern repugnance and summary shredding of the lies, the arrogance, the lawlessness of this imposter in the highest office of our nation.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Schiff

I suppose that if there is one good thing that came out of this entire impeachment non-trial it is Adam Schiff's powerful closing remarks, which will surely be long remembered and honored in the future, when we finally crawl out of the latrine Donald Trump has made of our government. Schiff sought to plead, in the name of truth and right, with Republican senators, employing common sense, common morality, common decency in a fruitless effort to pull them back from the Trump abyss. And although he failed to convince, he will have succeeded in assigning inescapable and everlasting shame in the future on these men and women who turned their backs on the core values of democracy and preferred to acquit despite the proven guilt of the president. Hopefully, the very first price they will pay will be the loss of their seats in the Congress. 




Tuesday, February 4, 2020

First Walk

I took Takut the dog this morning for what was probably his first walk ever on a leash. Most dogs here just run loose, and so does Takut usually, but I wanted to walk him over to his new neighborhood and thought I had better use a leash, as the route is narrow streets and alleys all the way and the narrow streets and alleys are fairly busy with habitually careless motorists. 

He had no problem with the leash, which surprised me a bit. Often dogs will want to tug and pull when first fastened to a leash, but Takut walked along beside me quite politely, really. 

About halfway to the new place, however, we ran into trouble with a pack of dogs. I had feared as much from the beginning. These dogs, four or five of them, live in a roadside area where a few rough, open dwellings host various farmers, as far as I can tell, and the dogs are quite territorial. Of course, they rushed to the road immediately upon spotting Takut. Not that Takut was impressed. In fact, he was set to fight the whole bunch of them. Nonetheless, I figured the better part of valor would be to turn around and retreat. Which is where a leash comes in handy. So retreat we did (though I am fairly sure that I heard Takut mutter 'coward' under his breath several times). 




Sunday, February 2, 2020

Beat the Drum Slowly

On the main road, which is partly paved, a young girl wobbles by on a bicycle that is far too large for her, standing on the peddles, thin brown legs pumping in slow motion. Her white smile pierces the sunlit morning between us. A black dog stands in the middle, not sure who to avoid--the girl on the bike or the man on the motorbike. A street seller chugs along in the opposite direction, beating a rubber washing tub, lugging ten more on his back. Thump, thump, thump … beat the drum slowly. Far away in a matter of minutes, I stop at the Minit Mart for cigarettes and check my phone and note that she has still not sent a message. Four lanes of traffic roar with the demands of morning. The world forges ahead, somewhat without me, unable to pause, and I join it, because there is no other option, flashing along the left sides of the cars and trucks, trying to keep up with a life that has already gotten away. Then beat the drum slowly, play the Fife lowly, Play the dead march as you carry me along.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Bule Ka We

A good friend of mine, a Balinese woman who currently lives and works in Borneo, told me yesterday that I am bule ka we, which in the lingo means 'a fake bule'. 

To tell the truth, I find this oddly flattering. 

What is a real, or typical bule in the Indonesian mind? Well, a bule is a foreigner, specifically a white westerner. Generally speaking, he has a lot of money, lives in an elite villa, doesn't speak the local language, and is basically clueless about navigating the society. He is strange and therefore often referred to as bule gila (crazy). He frequents western restaurants and clubs and will pay absurd prices for whatever he wants or needs, because he doesn't know that the price is absurd (or doesn't care). If he is a single male, he will eventually end up with a very pretty local girl who will empty his bank account (or make an heroic effort to do so). The bule hires assistance for every common task in life because he doesn't know what the hell he's doing. He is arrogant and is dismissive of locals in general because it is his belief that they don't know what the hell they are doing. The bule is, for want of a better word, stupid. Nonetheless, he is automatically attractive to local women because he is tall, has light skin, has money, and is able to make what native women consider to be the most handsome babies in the world. He is able, as well, to confer status

On the other hand, I am poor (by bule standards). I live in a small room in an apartment complex. I find villas oppressive and somehow insulting. I speak the language. I understand and perform all the common tasks of life without assistance. I avoid bule restaurants and I despise elite clubs and communities. I don't drink Bintang beer or any other alcohol. I have a motorbike, not a car. I have lived here nine years. 

I am bule ka we. And I'm fine with that.