Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Chance Meeting

Well here's an odd sort of coincidence. Or I don't know if it counts as coincidence, really … but on my brief trip to Starbucks this morning to pick up my latte (takeout only), I ran into my old buddy Hendra, whom I have not seen in perhaps a year. One would think this more likely to happen were there a lot of people in the mall, but in fact there were not. It was only me and Hendra. We chatted for a bit, tapped elbows in the new manner of greeting, and then headed back to our separate places of isolation. Other than this single trip, I am at home the rest of the day, chatting online, watching movies, reading, staring into space, napping, eating--y'all know the drill. Just this morning I have been watching a film biography of Jerry Lewis. It is interesting to see how highly valued he is by comedians such as Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Chevy Chase and so on, as well as film directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and others. I've always liked Lewis well enough (though I am aware that there are those who can't stand him), but this film documentary leaves me with the definite impression that I have generally underappreciated his multitudinous talents. Hey, now there's an idea for quarantine entertainment: Watch old Jerry Lewis movies!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Lock Down Bali Style

Seems that Bali is finally taking coronavirus seriously, even though there have been only 3 reported virus related deaths here, around 100 in all of Indonesia. Of course, the key word there may be 'reported'.

But western businesses in particular are closing down, or adjusting operating hours and conditions. Starbucks, for example, is now, and for the indefinite future, takeout only. I tried to get into the spirit of the thing this morning by ordering a delivery latte via Gojek, but it turns out that Gojek has also adjusted practices and is not serving any nearby Starbucks. Hardly any point in ordering it from faraway and having to pay that much more for delivery.

So I drove out myself to the Renon outlet (where I gathered this info in person), and brought my latte back home. This arrangement, as far as I can tell, will extend for the next month anyway on a see what happens then basis. Traffic is quite sparse, the mall quite deserted, except for the grocery store within.

All of the tourist attractions are, of course, closed till further notice. Western bars, clubs and restaurants closed. The major drawback of this short of shutdown in Bali is that the Mickey Mouse not-ready-for-prime-time internet services are pretty much worthless, unless one finds starting at the revolving circle of death entertaining.

In the meantime, for entertainment, despite the blistering and possibly as dangerous as coronavirus heat, I strolled over to the new building site, finding that the flooring is now complete and counters are being installed. The man on the site tells me that it will be one month more. I think one month at the very least. But it's okay. I'm in no hurry, and Louis, the owner, is stuck in Australia till God knows when.

Dead Bee

"Was you ever bit by a dead bee? You know, you got to be careful of dead bees if you're goin' around barefooted, 'cause if you step on them they can sting you just as bad as if they was alive, especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed."

So said Walter Brennan, playing Eddie in the 1944 Howard Hawks film loosely based on the Hemingway novel To Have and Have Not--a line not in the novel itself, but added by William Faulkner during his brief unhappy stint as a Hollywood screenwriter.

Never thought much about it, till last night, when I was stung by a dead bee. A wasp, actually. Worse than any old common bee. I had seen the thing earlier, lying there on the floor, but paid little attention to it. Something to be swept up in due time. But on the way to bed, barefoot, I stepped on the critter and Yup, I'll be damned if it didn't sting me (or bite me, as Walter put it). And damn did it hurt! Ever been bit by a wasp before? If not, don't bother. Not a happy experience at all.

There is a wasp hive just nearby in the parking bay, quite near my door, and I have noticed them buzzing around in considerable numbers for the last couple weeks, often enough floating through the open door. They are much smaller than western style wasps and they had not heretofore interfered with me. I do note that the dog was stung several times, but that's 'cause he was trying to eat them. A lot of lip smacking and tongue lapping when this happened, but he still didn't seem to mind all that much. For me, though, it felt like someone had stuck a steel pin right into the bottom of my foot. And the pain lasted perhaps 15 minutes.

Quite a lot has been written about that line. It may be the most interesting thing about the film, not to mention the novel. Although I'm not sure why. Was you ever bit by a dead bee? It is somehow a thoughtworthy question, metaphorically anyway. And now I know how it feels in fact as well!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Gummy Me

Had an enormous nail in my back tire this morning, likely inflicted somewhere between the pharmacy and my apartment. For a time, I couldn't find the problem. All I knew is that the bike was making a rather loud tok-tok-tok sound, like something was caught in the wheel. Stopped the bike, but couldn't find anything in either wheel.  So I tok-tok-toked down to the nearest bengkel, luckily not far away, and finally found the nail, that being the cause of the sound, after I pulled in there. Got it fixed for Rupiah 25.000. Not bad, I guess. About 2 dollars USD.

Getting some coffee now, and doing some more grocery shopping later. Yesterday I managed to come home from the shopping trip somehow with mostly cake and chocolate bars. Need to get some actual food. The trouble is, I still have no bottom teeth, so it's a bit difficult to find gum-able foods that will be nutritious. I can eat bananas, mashed potatoes, soups. Otherwise?

I also need to call the dentist today and set up an appointment so that we can continue with the implantation of some new teeth. The coronavirus, however, is shutting down so many businesses that I fear the dentist appointment may be problematic.

Having said the above, I just received a message from the dentist saying that the lab will be closed for indefinite period of time. For it looks like I will be gumming into the indefinite future. You know, Louis warned me that this was a bad time to have teeth pulled. Turns out she was right. As usual.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Impending Move

Soon I will be moving out of my little place into another little place--albeit not as soon as initially planned due to problems with the builders, the delay due to the Nyepi holiday, and now the delay due to the coronavirus measures.

When I came here to Kampung Kumpul last year at about this time, I didn't like it at first. I was used to living in a house, for one thing. And I was also very sick last year at this time (and remained so for months). Not surprising that one wouldn't like anything, including his living quarters. Having felt relatively well, however, since August or so, I've come to like the place and the people who live here (for the most part). I've settled in, as I always do anywhere, and I suppose I will settle in to the new place as well. Nonetheless, I was appreciating this secluded little neighborhood during the Nyepi day silence--the unpaved rocky road, the fields all along the verge, the little family of cows living in the field, the silence, not only on Nyepi but throughout the year, in this out of the way little cul-de-sac. The new neighborhood, once the dwellings are finished, will be much more densely populated. Moreover, my new place is not within an enclosed setting, as is Villa Kampung Kumpul. But on the other hand, it is a little bigger, it is brand new, and everything (one expects) will function properly. And it is less expensive (given that the owner is my dear ex-wife).

Hunting and Gathering

Out of the house today, but I find that Starbucks will not open till 11 am (it's 10 now). But they got the wifi powered up, so here I am. The main thing is that I really need to get something to eat, so I'm hoping that the grocery in the mall will be open. I note that there is a fairly normal amount of traffic on the streets, and I reckon that it will only be the western-name businesses that are closed or delayed--establishments such as Starbucks.

I tried to watch a fairly entertaining movie last night, called The Banker, about two black entrepreneurs back in the 60s who must use a white front man in order to do real estate investing in Mississippi. Sadly, I could not see the final portion of the movie because the internet pauses were just too long, frequent, and annoying--which itself, of course, is because everyone is at home using the wifi due to coronavirus restrictions.

Yeah, maybe I can finish it today.

But the main thing is that I'm starving. Left in the apartment at this moment are a few eggs, a couple slices of bread and a little bit of instant oatmeal. Got to get my hands on something. The dog is looking sideways at me and keeping his distance.

I wrote in Facebook this morning how ironic it is to see all the vids and blurbs trying to turn coronavirus into some kind of catalyst for the adoption of plain old Christian values. 'Let's love one another, folks. Let's care for our neighbors. Let's come out on the other side with a new community.' Well, hallelujah. Praise God. Or should I say COVID-19. Oh well, whatever it takes.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Nyepi Redux

Turns out that the governor of Bali has ordered the extension of Nyepi through an additional day, which means that I am once again stuck in the house for the day. Oh well, at least they turned the internet back on and we are allowed to have lights. Didn't see this comin though. All I have in the fridge is one potato and a bag of dog food.

A Very Silent Silent Day Indeed

Wow, they really did turn off the internet this year on Nyepi day. In the past, they have always threatened to do so, but this year have actually done it. How perfectly villainous of them.
So much for my Nyepi day plans. As with previous years, I had intended to watch movies online and otherwise play around on Facebook, chat on Whatsapp, write in my blog. Popcorn and other snack ready to go for my movie viewing pleasure.
What now?
Gawat!, as we say here. Grave, serious, terrible.
So let’s see. I have two possible books I could read. One I’ve been working on for many months--Kronik Burung Pegas, by Haruki Murakami. The other is something I bought the other day--The Borrowed, by Chan Ho-Kei--and I have no idea yet whether it is worth reading.
But the fact is, however, that I cannot read for any long periods of time. My reading vision is just not that good anymore, even with my glasses. And the reading position tends to exacerbate the pain in my shoulders and neck.
Soooo ….
Hmm. Well, I am writing this on basic Word, which does not require internet for document preparation anyway. Though it will be interesting to see whether or not I can retrieve it tomorrow and transfer it to an online platform.
So that’s one thing I can do. I’ve done this much of that one thing already, and it is only 8:11 am. Only 14 hours to go, more or less, before I’m likely able to sleep.
Ummm … wow … Gawat.
When I woke up this morning, the dog was not here. Usually (as in every other day of the year) he is waiting on the porch for me to open the door and let him in. It did not surprise me, however, that he was not on the porch, as it occurs to me, in a vague sort of way, that dogs always disappear on Nyepi. One will occasionally hear them, afar off in the distance somewhere, a single bark, a solitary woof, but one does not see them.
Where have they gone on Silent Day?
My theory, formed at this moment in the mind muffling realm of nothing-else-to-do, is that the dogs exist just the same as ever, in this the same world as usual, but in a co-existing dimension. Here there are no people, no motorbikes, no cars, to human threats of any kind. Here they are free to roam wherever they wish, in and out of human abodes, invisible to the occupants. Food may disappear from one’s table. That doughnut you were sure you had has mysteriously vanished. The human world is fully available to the dog, unfettered, un-shuttered. The roads are merely flat riverbeds, for the cars and bikes are making them noisome in another dimension altogether. And here dogs speak. They converse and they debate about all the unseen things of the world, things that human beings will never behold and never know. This, in their world, is not a day of silence. It is a day of lively communal companionship.
My theory, however, is shattered when I find the dog on the cushioned sofa out on the back patio near the pool. He is not supposed to be there, so where else would I have found him. He looks up, startled. “Wha?” he exclaims. “Where am I? What time is it? How is it that I’ve forgotten to wait on your porch? Why is everything so silent? Have I gone deaf?”
No, dog. It’s Nyepi Day. You forgot to wake up.
With nothing else to do, I ended up talking to the Polish guy who lives with his girlfriend in one of the large rooms at the rear of the villa. That’s actually kind of nice, isn’t it--for as long as he has been here, a couple months, I guess, we have not said other than ‘hi’ to one another. Why? Because we will have otherwise been in our rooms, surfing the internet, communicating with our chosen contacts on social media platforms, watching movies. Turns out that he is quite a pleasant, talkative fellow. He has been to Bali on and off for the last 20 years, staying a month or more at a time, and has also lived in China and Thailand. His plan is to reside in Bali eventually. His English is very good, his accent nearly non-existent, and he also speaks some Chinese and Thai. Many stories to share, right here in the real world, offline.
Isn’t it interesting how the small world we each live in is shut off, shut out by the anonymous universe of the internet? Usually I would be chatting with my ‘friends’ in Jakarta, or my friends in Sumatra, or Borneo, or Kalimantan--none of whom I have ever met--even as the people who live mere yards from me walk by my door with a quick hello or a simple nod or wave, coming from their own worlds, headed out to their own worlds, returning later to the same old worlds. The electronic worlds. The digital worlds. The worlds entered into through a glowing screen. Keep that smart phone charged. Otherwise everything dear will vanish. And what then?
Well, for me, it’s a haircut. This is not a very complicated task, but it does consume some time. I just use an electric razor, meant to be a beard trimmer, really, and shave my head with that. It does a clean job, going down almost to the skin, leaving a shadow of hair. Rapi, my friends call it. Clean, neat. Once it grows out, it begins to look a bit scrubby, so I shave it again. And this actually consumed more time than I thought it would, given that the razor ran out of battery power halfway through and had to be charged before resuming the job. I used that little block of downtime to chat with my next door neighbor, a Frenchman who will be here for an indefinite period of time, and a man well-liked by the dog, for he orders good food from Gojek--pizza, pasta, hamburgers--and always shares.
1:04 pm: I note that I have neglected to buy any food for dinner other than a packet of powdered mushroom soup. Bon appetite.
Now I see him, or most of him--it takes me a moment of scan him from one side to the other, because I’m high on drugs (I know enough to know that) and because he’s holy-shit vast mountain of a man: blue-black skin, boulder shoulders, a broad range of chest, a scrub of thick dark hair. His suit clings to him with a sort of desperation, unequal to the task but trying its damnedest.
I just finished The Woman in the Window, a debut novel by one A.J. Finn.
I am not in general a big fan of mystery/suspense novels, chiefly because I usually still don’t understand what happened, or how, upon finishing the read. The mystery remains largely cloaked in mystery. Same thing with movies. Used to frustrate my wife to no end. Did you not watch the movie!
Nonetheless, The Woman in the Window is a supremely engaging novel, clever, suspenseful, intelligent, and very finely written indeed. As interesting as the murder mystery itself--or even more so--is the mystery of the narrator’s trauma induced agorophobia, her blurred mental state resulting from the mix of mental illness, wine, and prescription drugs. What is real, indeed? Which things are merely products of her confusion, her fear, her helpless isolation--the ghosts, very real in their own way, of the trauma that destroyed both her previous life and the lives of her loved ones?
Anna Fox, formerly an accomplished child psychologist, now reduced to a fearful woman shrinking into the darkness behind curtains, peering out only through the lens of a Nikon, captures one’s sympathy with her sharply intelligent appraisal both of her new world and of the outside world she peeks into. Nonetheless, reality, the world, relentlessly penetrates the shields we fashion and must be dealt with in whatever state it finds us. That is the challenge that charges the suspense in Finn’s novel. Who is ever up to facing the horrors of the world? And yet what other choice is there than to face them when they fall upon us?
“Unputdownable”, is Stephen King’s book jacket summary.
And it is.
Especially for the lover of mystery and suspense, I highly recommend The Woman in the Window. (And, btw, I did understand what happened in the end).
2:37 pm: Went outside the villa for a minute, transgressing the rules, as people are supposed to stay inside their abodes. Saw not a single person out there. Watched a spider make his silent way up the face of the white wall. Unusually evident ants skitter about on the pavement, carrying away bits of an apple wedge from a grassy offering tray. I hear the warbling voice of a Bali Starling. And then the endless complaints of chickens. Always chickens. The breeze has a voice of its own. You can’t hear it, but it’s there. Today it’s there.
So much for a decidedly less than delicious dinner of powdered cream of mushroom soup and a boiled egg. I will say for the soup, however, that the dog loved his portion. Only a few hours left to endure now. I can sleep through the rest (with the help of a couple of Tylenol PM tablets). I would like the stay awake long enough though to see the stars tonight--fantastic in the absence of any man made lights whatsoever. It is quite silent here at the present time. For a while earlier someone was playing an acoustic guitar and singing, but now he has stopped. Who knows, maybe the pecalang caught him (the pecalang being the Balinese community police tasked to enforce silence and cessation of activity on Nyepi. Personally, at any rate, I’m glad he stopped.
6:06 pm: The dog has deputized himself as a pecalang. Two young men were passing by outside the main villa door and he threw a bloody fit. This is a dog, mind you, who almost never barks. But by this act of trespass he was outraged. Having terrified these miscreants, he has now posted himself by the front door, where he will likely spend the remainder of the night. Well done, Deputy Dog.
Darkness has fallen and the candles are lit. Or rather, the candle. I have only a small room and no more than one candle is needed. It waves on wax.
I do note that the other people here have their lights on, albeit their curtains are closed. But hey, by this time in the day I figure if you’re gonna do Nyepi, willing or not, you might as well do Nyepi. So I am refusing to turn on the lights. Although there is, of course, light coming from the screen on which I am typing, which is just as forbidden as an electric light bulb. Oh well. It’s the thought that counts. If our little apartment complex were not enclosed, we would not be able to use the lights (or they would not). But since they cannot be seen from outside the enclosure, I guess no one will mind. Last year, I am told, the people here got busted by the pecelang, not because of the light, but because they were having a little dinner party and being too noisy. I note as well that the guard dog is fairly freaked out, because it is as dark out there as his own fur. He is, in fact, quite invisible, and can be located only by following his bark.
A half a dragon fruit to end the day and then a viewing of the star-speckled Nyepi night sky. I made it. Tomorrow is another day. Merry Nyepi to all, and to all a goodnight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Nyepi Eve

We're headed tonight into Nyepi, the day of silence wherein everyone must stay in his home, refrain from using electricity or fire of any kind, and be silent. This starts officially at 6 am tomorrow morning and the silence extends to 6 am the following day.

First, however, the Ogoh-Ogoh haunt the land, represented by grotesque figures symbolizing evil, the forces of malice and dissention and destruction. I have heard, however, that there will be no Ogoh-Ogoh parades tonight, in observance of the ever tightening restrictions on public gatherings, given the emergent situation with coronavirus. So apparently it is okay to swim in a crowd of people at the immigration office, but not to attend a parade. But oh well … the Ogoh-Ogoh are probably carriers of the virus anyway. In fact, the symbolize such things.

The good news is that they are this night defeated by the forces of good, for Nyepi itself celebrates this victory over every kind of chaos and catastrophe.

So people will indeed stay inside tomorrow--or at least within the confines of their hotels or villas--and they will be for the most part silent. Silent because they are using earphones, or have the sound turned very low on the television or the laptop, and the windows curtained to hide the telltale transgression. And a lot of candles will be in use as well. I myself have one ready to go.

Imigrasi Visit

Endured the dreaded Imigrasi visit yesterday, this year more dreaded than usual given the coronavirus situation. And here was an event fine-tuned to everything you're not supposed to do. A thick, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd consisting mostly of people from western countries, many of them new arrivals. No masks, by and large. People practically sitting on each others laps as they waited an hour and more for their interview and photo-taking event. Everyone using the same pen to sign their electronic documents. Government standard stupidity. And yet there's no choice. If you don't got your permit, you don't stay in the country. And as far as I could tell, no air-conditioning. Oh well, at least they didn't do the fingerprinting this year. Although they have added a new fee to the permit, and a pretty hefty one at that. Something about record of domicile. It's a fairly nifty tactic really, considering that many foreign residents tend to change residence from here to there on the island. Cha-ching!  

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sepi di Bali

Suddenly this morning people in Bali seem to be taking coronavirus seriously. The mall is practically deserted but for the employees. The streets are deserted compared to usual. Hey, maybe this is the best place to avoid the virus, given that everyone else is locked down at home!

Or perhaps they are just observing the threat on Sunday, since many people don't have to work on Sunday. People in Bali--the Balinese, I mean; the Indonesians--don't have the benefit of a government willing to support their absence from work, a medical system willing to even see patients without up-front payment, a cushion in their personal funds. It's work or die, whether their demise be from the virus or from starvation.

With Nyepi (the day of silence) coming up in just a few days on Wednesday, this will provide an extended period of isolation. Just happened to fall at an especially appropriate time this year.

Nonetheless, virus or no, I must appear at the immigration office tomorrow to put the final touches on my yearly foreign resident permit--have my photo taken, my fingerprints lifted once again. They change a little bit year by year, Imigrasi explains (yeah, right). I would expect the immigration office to be shoulder to shoulder as usual, filled with a lot of bored and frustrated bules, many of whom look rather ill to begin with. Sigh. Gotta be done though. I hear that those with expired visas are now being compelled to leave the country immediately. I got under the wire just in time. And where the hell would I go if compelled to leave? And on what money? Lol. 

But oh well, we'll get past this. Not the virus. The immigration hassle.

Just a Thought

Doesn't it seem a bit strange that we tolerate death and destruction wrought by the wars we so readily engage in, yet find death by disease to be so unacceptable? How is it that we apply such energy to combating the impersonal virus, yet so little to our own inclination to harm our fellow human beings?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Various Complaints

Various functions are not functioning well in the last few days--which means that my general status is normal, only worse.

My brain, for instance. Every Saturday, the maid comes to my place to clean, and I regularly leave before she gets there and simply leave the door unlocked so that she can enter. Well, this morning I had arrived at Starbucks, gotten my coffee, began to sip when I received a message on my phone.

Om pintu kamarnya dikunci … saya gat bisa masuk.

Well, of course she can't get in, because I had locked the door, not remembering it was Saturday, not remembering she was coming, even though I had left the house early expressly because she was coming.

It's not the first time this has almost happened. No, I have in the past caught myself in the act of inappropriately locking the door, and I have also found myself a couple blocks away and then remembering to go back and unlock the door. But this is the first time I had gotten all the way to Starbucks and had to be called back to the house.

So that means a trip back home to open the door, and a return to Starbucks, and a second payment of the parking fee. Cognitive dysfunction is not only annoying. It can be costly as well.

Additionally, the pain in my shoulder and neck has re-arisen over the last few days, such that it has become quite uncomfortable indeed and actually kept me awake last night. I took a methylprednisolone this morning and will see if that helps (although it's pretty sure not to help my stomach and its daily troubles with acid reflux).

Moreover, the volcanic inner burning sensation that I have on a daily basis has gotten much worse and, for some reason, rather resistant to the medication that had been helpful up to this point. I'm taking two capsules a day rather than the usual one. I was certain yesterday evening that I must have a fever. I had gone to Sanur for just a bit of grocery shopping and found myself feeling on the verge of exploding. Took my temperature when I got home and found it to be perfectly normal.

Should I feel relieved by this or more concerned? Hmm, good question. I suppose that in these days of rampant coronavirus, relief would be appropriate. Still …

Friday, March 20, 2020

Crossing the River

I had a dream last night where I was taking a long trip, and along the way a little boy joined me. He was a delightful little boy, good humored, full of life. All along the way he was my companion. Finally, we came to a wide river, which we crossed together, but I knew instantly that he should not have crossed, that he did not belong on this side, that he had to go home and that I had to go on alone. And so I sent him on his way with the best instructions I could possibly give. It was nightfall. I felt guilty for not having compelled the boy to leave me earlier. I gave him my phone number, I described the route he should take to his own side of the river. I knew I would not be coming back again, that the river would separate our association forever. I was sad to see him go, but knew that he could no long follow me, or rather, that I could no longer bring him along.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


I was chatting yesterday with a woman from Sumatra, and she said "I guess most American's don't marry anymore, is that right?"

Hmm. No, it's not right.

Similarly, I remember talking to another woman who expressed the view that Americans have many extramarital affairs. She had seen it on TV and in the movies.

Well, there you have it. TV and the movies. People in faraway countries have no other way of imagining America than as portrayed in popular fiction.

Ironically, I would guess that there are more affairs among Indonesian men and women than there are among Americans, for several reasons. One is that sex outside of marriage, for women anyway, is still taboo in this society, in an official sort of way, at least. Therefore, they are certainly not open about intimate unmarried relationships lest they be rejected by their neighbors (who are probably doing the same), or worse yet arrested.

Additionally, sex 'on the side' is not only common but expected and condoned for married men--and I mean condoned by all, both men and women. It is the way things are. It is the way men are.

Birth control is not commonly used by single women in Indonesia, especially effective birth control, because of the stigma attached, as well as the cost. The doctor knows you are doing it. The pharmacy knows you are doing it. And you know, culturally, that you are not supposed to be doing it. The woman's affected image of purity is therefore often enough demolished by the sudden arrival of an unplanned child.

I knew a young barista in Starbucks who suddenly quit the job. "Hey, what happened to So-and So?" I asked. The whispered explanation was that she was pregnant. "Oh! That guy who works at the Papaya store?" Yes. Shhh. Not so loud, was the reply.

This takes us back about 50 years in American society, doesn't it? I can remember (yes, I'm that old) when a pregnant young unmarried woman was a subject of whispered disdain or pity, even exclusion from polite, moral circles.

Of course, it is also believed that all Americans are rich--thanks again to the movies, and to tourists who are actually rich and visit the islands with their wads of cash. What the local people don't know is that most Americans never even leave America, most often because it is simply financially unfeasible to do so.

They have not seen the cratered inner cities in America. They have not seen the bread lines or the homeless on park benches or the tents in the woods or the crumbling projects or the panhandlers--and they have not seen it because it is not in the movies.

Life, in fact, is easy in America--according to people who have never been there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Long Distance Call

I got a phone call from my second wife this morning at 5 am (she's a little foggy on the time difference between Bali and Portland, Oregon). This was in response to a recent message I had sent asking about the coronavirus issues in the States. I wondered if the YouTube news stories I had seen were exaggerated or if things really were that serious.

It turns out that the reports I hear are not exaggerated. Cities are shutting down, store aisles are bare, toilet paper is gone, schools are closed, sparse traffic on the freeway even at rush hour. People are freaked out.

She feels, as I do, that there is a liberal pinch of paranoia in all this. And she is really not one to shy away from disaster tales and apocalyptic scenarios. In a way, I reckon, we have been primed for this sort of thing by popular fiction. We are not taken by surprise because we have seen this in the movies and television series. Now it is upon us. We are familiar with it. We are ready. We know our parts.

In fact, I was impressed by her level headedness.

Besides that, what is this virus, or any other, compared to simple old age, to poorly controlled diabetes, to being unable to buy medications, to the regular challenges of every day life? What is it compared to MS, to an incurable stomach ulcer, to daily fatigue and weakness and pain and confusion? We already have a virus. We all have the virus. It's called human mortality.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

No Teeth, No Fever

As one enters Plaza Renon now one must have his temperature taken. They just point a little gizmo at your forehead and presto it's done. Wish I had one of them things at home. Much simpler and quicker than the mouth thermometer, but who knows, maybe it's not really accurate. Window dressing? I wonder what would happen if one had a fever. You'd have to go home, I guess.

There's no major outbreak of coronavirus at this point in Bali, or indeed in Indonesia, and there could be a couple explanations for that. It could be, as I reported recently, that the virus does not thrive in hot tropical climates, as researchers have theorized. Or it could be that many people have it and simply have not seen a doctor. For many here, seeing a doctor is financially unfeasible. They simply don't have the money. And, as one might imagine, there is no billion dollar public health program set up for detection and further action.

At the same time, it may be that I am more at risk than ever, given my risk factors of age and autoimmune disease, because yesterday I had for teeth pulled from my mouth. It was supposed to have been two, but the dentist added two more just for fun. The result is that now I cannot eat, nor will I be able to eat anything of significance for the next two-plus weeks. No teeth to chew food with. Apparently, I will be on a diet of soups and liquids. Haven't figured out yet how that's gonna work. But anyway, it would seem to me that extractions and poor diet would open one to a greater risk of infection and illness. I will also, no doubt, be losing weight as I suck down vegetable juice and oatmeal. This is not gonna be fun.

Of course, Nyepi is also upon us--a day wherein we will all be stuck in our own abodes anyway and therefore not exposed to germs in the public realm. Hey, maybe that's the cure! Nyepi for all. It will be a disappointing day, however, in the sense that I have in the past used it as a day to pig out on all my favorite treats, watch movies, read a book while munching. It just won't be the same with vegetable juice. In addition, the local government has made the usual threat of shutting down internet access on Nyepi, which may or may not happen in fact. Thankfully, it never has in the past. But if the internet were actually shut down, what then? Meditate?

Oh, wait. That's what one is supposed to do on Nyepi.

Monday, March 16, 2020


Normally these days I do a little bit of shopping every afternoon after coffee as it seems most convenient that way--the Starbucks and the market are in the same mall. I tend to buy just for the day at hand, something for dinner, something for lunch. In this way, I don't have to carry too much stuff on the bike with me, and I don't have to think ahead about what I might eat tomorrow or the next day and so on. No one to feed, after all, but for myself.

Yesterday, however, I found the market aisles jammed with shoppers, long lines cued up at the three open cash registers. It was not until later that I realized that these were people stocking up because of coronavirus (or coronavirus paranoia?). The rush seems to have been kicked off by Australia's two week lockdown, which was responded to by President Jokowi in Indonesia with a two week lockdown on Australian entry into Indonesia, and particularly Bali.

As a result, I bought no groceries and ended up just eating what I happened to have at home--which was fried eggs and toast. I was met at home as well by alarming messages from my ex-wife, who is in Australia at this time and unable to get out of Australia. "Stock up!" she wrote. "Canned goods, dried foods, spaghetti noodles, ramen, water."

This seems like a lot of trouble to me, and a lot to carry on the motorbike. I'm thinking of eating the dog if the situation becomes critical. Or the nearby vegetation (although there may be some competition involved).

I remember that back during the Y2K scare my second wife insisted on stocking up on survival items, including the purchase of a shotgun "to protect our home" from lawless marauders. We never did learn how to shoot that shotgun (which is likely fortunate, as we might not be here now if we had).

In any case, I find that whenever I do have "extra food" in the house, I tend to eat it all at once. I may, for instance, buy a package of cookies to enjoy during the week, but I end up enjoying them all in one day.

I'm not cut out to deal with pandemics, or with the concept of rationing. I was going to say that I suppose no one is--but, in fact, I'll bet you that there are those who are enjoying the ride, the whole scenario of looming collapse and survivalist struggle. Just like a TV series! Popular fiction come to life, infecting life, so to speak, with new meaning, new purpose, a goal, a game that can be won by the prescient and able few.

Sadly, I cannot get a shotgun, as firearms are outlawed in Indonesia. I'll just have to use my wits and bare hands. Wish me lock. I mean luck.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Cotard's Delusion

I came across mention the other day of a very odd psychiatriac condition called Cotard's delusion, also known as walking corpse syndrome. It is a rare mental disorder in which the affected person holds the delusional belief that he is dead, does not exist, is putrefying, or has lost all his blood or internal organs. 

Fascinating, Captain.

Well, I don't believe myself to be dead (although I may be putrefying a bit). But sometimes I feel that other people believe it to be so. How else to explain silence from people whom one would otherwise expect to have been continually engaged, or at least intermittently so, with one's existence? Loved ones, family members, stepchildren, old friends--indeed, new friends as well. Where have they gone?

But that's not really the question. The question is, Where have I gone in their consciousness? How is it that years of intimate relationship have dropped altogether if not from memory, at least from pertinence? I have tried to take the initiative in the past, to announce my continued existence, but to no avail.

Anti-Cotard's delusion: The delusional belief that someone else is dead. Or perhaps it is not delusional but merely preferred.

By way of immediate example, I met not long ago a very pleasant woman on a social media app. We got along famously from the get-go. We clicked. Not in a romantic way, but just as friends. It seemed one of those strange natural, effortless connections--a like-mindedness, an easy familiarity.

And then one day she simply disappeared. Or I disappeared. Or the me in her mind disappeared. Although I myself continued to be acutely aware not only of my own existence, but of hers as well, the I-in-she had vanished. No explanation offered, no clue left, no  apology, no excuse, not a single parting word.

This is my proven gift, my unusual talent. The ability to disappear in the esteem of others. I really have no idea how I do this. If I had, I would stop.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Is it I alone who has been unaware of how very many dicks there are floating around in cyberspace? I mean actual dicks, penises. I had no idea! But on chatting with women who use online social media sites, I learn that countless scads of dicks are being launched into the web every day, and splashing down, unsolicited, on their cell phone screens.

Nor are these dicks circumscribed according to app type or purpose. The app I use, for instance, is a language sharing app. People from various countries, wanting to learn and practice a new language interact here, learning one language and sharing their own. Where do dicks fit in?

Well, they don't fit. They intrude. A woman will be contacted by a man, a very few niceties will be exchanged, and then the dick will arrive. Or an invitation to do phone sex, or video sex. Or all of the above. Though none of these things has been invited by the woman.

How very strange. Am I impossibly puritanical to think that a language sharing app ought to be used for sharing language? How does it occur to these men to bring their dicks to this particular site? Or is it because on the internet there is no safe space whatsoever, no safety in a crowd, no safety where you are, for here you are everywhere. The door is always open and can be locked only after the dick has invaded, and it must be locked again for every new dick, as well as those who merely change their profile and revisit the scene.

I wonder as well what makes these men think that women want to receive random dick pictures. Do they believe that something about their own dick makes it stand out in the crowd? Don't they all look pretty much the same? Personally, I am convinced that women are much more intrigued by well chosen words than they are by random dicks. A dick does not speak. It just stands there. If you're going to misuse a site for sexual pursuit, shouldn't it be done with a bit more class and sophistication?

But then maybe this, like rape, is not really about sex at all. Maybe it is about power, insult, invasion, disrespect, underlying anger and insecurity.


There is a technical name for this intense inner heat sensation that I suffer daily, although I've forgotten what it is. As I've mentioned before, there is no fever, though there is the definite sensation that one has a high fever. Some time ago, I bought a thermometer just to prove to myself that I had no fever, and I actually take my temperature twice a day, I guess for the dubious comfort of knowing that I don't actually have a fever (although the knowledge certainly makes me no less hot).

I say all this in preference to an experience I had yesterday. I was feeling, miraculously, not very hot at all for a change--in fact, almost normal. I took my temperature as usual .. and found that I had a low grade fever!

Now what the hell kinda sense does that make? Should I prefer now to have a fever and feel cooler rather than to have no fever and feel hot?

But then again, an actual fever indicates the presence of some sort of illness (coronavirus, for instance), so, yeah … I'll stick with my daily bane of feverish non-fever.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Heat and Coronavirus

An interesting article in today's Jakarta Post describes new research suggesting that heat may curb the spread of coronavirus. Specifically, Indonesia's tropical climate may prevent a major COVID-19 outbreak. It is found that higher temperatures may render the virus less potent and ultimately inactive. Something good, at last, about our damnably hot climate!

No Cigar for 2019

I happened to realize last night, having at the time nothing better to realize, that I did not receive any of the usual awards for my blog in 2019.

The old man is slipping.

To be fair (to me) though, the awards have always come from Multiple Sclerosis websites, and the fact is that I just don't have much to say anymore about MS. While the disease remains quite involved with me, I am not very involved with it. I suppose there will be plenty of time for a more intimate relationship in the future.

As it is, my blog is now mostly about life in Bali, little mood sketches of this and that, complaints regarding the political scene in America, and other random fluff.

Why do I bother, you may ask? Well, it's a habit. It's something to do. It's a reason to get out of the house every morning at 10 o'clock and have a coffee in the outside community. Like the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, it's a narrative about nothing, which yet contains, one hopes, somewhere some hint of coherence, of meaning.

I cannot in any case do anything other than this, for writing seems as necessary as eating, and is in fact more enjoyable than the latter these days, for it goes in easy and comes out easy and does not result in noxious symptoms.

Thursday, March 12, 2020


I was looking at my pack of cigarettes this morning, specifically at the graphic cancer picture, which in this case was of a mouth and gums infected with the disease, and I thought "Well, least he has all his teeth."

I may be missing the intended message.

I am however receiving a message from the pricing of these things, which is that they are getting too damn expensive, even in Indonesia. When I came here in 2010, a pack of Marlboro was about 11.000 Rupiah. Now they're going for over 30.000.

My father once told me that unwanted expense is not a good reason for quitting cigarettes. One can always scrape up the money one way or another. And one ought to be more concerned about the real issue: one's health.

Yeah, you're right, Dad. For sixty years, I have managed to scrape up the money--from 40 cents back in 1972 to God knows what nowadays.

I do think, in fact, more often of trying to quit, or at least cut back, not because of a fear of cancer, but because smoking seems to significantly exacerbate my constant feeling of nasal congestion--not due to the cigarettes per se, but to my damaged stomach condition which sends acid to my throat and nasal passages, making the throat feel sore and the nose feel stuffy.

Another of life's little pleasures compromised by my stupid stomach.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


You would think that it is hot enough in Bali without going out of your way to get under the sun, but the dog has his own opinion and his own ways. Here he is this morning sunbathing on the road. It is 31C, which is 88F. Humidity factor is 74%. For myself, I would prefer the AC in my room. But yeah, I guess he knows what he's doing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Gentleman in Moscow

Having lately trudged through a small stack of truly worthless novels, I finally stumbled on a good one--and more than good!

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel near the Kremlin. Tucked away in a small attic room, retaining only the most essential items from his former aristocratic lifestyle, restricted in movement for long decades to the interior of the hotel, the Count nonetheless finds himself in an expanding world of precious relationships, unexpected intrigues and emotional self-discovery. "He can't leave," as the book jacket puts it, "you won't want to."

Towles has managed a delightful return in prose and narrative style to the elegant, intimate tone of the 19th century classics--Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dickens, Melville and company--and I, for one, am more than happy to accompany him. Here, he has recovered a sort of camaraderie with the reader, a mutual understanding, inviting us along to all the doings in the halls and ballrooms and cafes and corners of the Metropol. It is one of those novels that one is truly sorry to finish, for he will have left a world of friends behind. Nearly every page, it seems, contains a gem. Such as this, with which I will end:  

From here the surprises only grow in power and scope. Such as when one discovers (as the blouse falls to the floor) that a back is as decorated with freckles as the skies are decorated with stars. Or when (having slipped modestly under the covers) the sheets are cast aside and one finds oneself on one's back with a pair of hands  pressing on one's chest and a pair of lips issuing breathless instructions. But while each one of these surprises inspires a new state of wonder, nothing can compare to the awe one experiences when at one in the morning a woman rolling on her side utters unambiguously: "As you go, be sure to draw the curtains."


Monday, March 9, 2020


A woman of few words. A smile not to be seen yet overwhelmingly apparent. She winks to herself. Her voice is as soft as the breeze in tall grass. It is music. All things vanish other than she. This is now. This is a long time ago. This has never changed, never been touched, forever been sought. She is the proof of all things that might otherwise have been. It is good to know that they were real. It is good, in the end, to know that much.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


I was chatting online with a random fellow the other day, just sharing some general details about our separate circumstances and situations and such-like (with an eye toward communicating effectively in our two languages), and upon learning that I live alone here in Bali, the fellow seemed alarmed. "Aren't you worried, on your own there, that something might happen to you?" he asked.

I guess that sometimes I do worry. I simply try not to think about it. When I am feeling relatively well, it's not a concern. But if I am ill or have some kind of other trouble, yeah, I do feel a bit concerned. Where can I turn?

Of course, I do have my ex-wife here, who does a pretty good job at checking in and seeing if things are in order. But then again, she is increasingly abroad and out of contact. What if there is some sort of immediate need. Like death. Lol.

But you know, my son died alone, with no one to help him, know one to even know that he had died until a few days had passed--and I reckon I ought to be at least as courageous as my son. How much did he suffer? We don't know. How long did it take? We don't know. What we do know is that he is well cared for now. What bothers us is the pesky details of the passage, not the final arrival.

Saturday, March 7, 2020


Two new slang terms in the Indonesian language have come into popular usage, both indicating a man who is controlled by/afraid of his wife (or mate). The one is bucin, a portmanteau word taken from the term budak cinta (love slave), popularized by millennials and members of Generation Z. The other is an acronym, ISTI (Ikatan Suami Takut Istri or association of husbands afraid of their wives), used mainly by married baby boomers. Yet a third, this having a religious nuance, is the portmanteau word Istiqomah and is short for Ikatan Suami Takut Istri Kalau di Rumah, husbands afraid of wives when at home, usually referring to married men who go wild only when outside their homes.

"In a patriarchal society like Indonesia," as a commentary piece in the Jakarta Post has it, "these terms, normally used in jokes among men, only reflect deep-rooted gender inequality in the country. The cynical abbreviations suggest that men should instead demonstrate supremacy over women, for example by way of abuse or by leaving all the household chores to women."

Ironically, or perhaps not so ironically, a rise in abuse of women has mirrored the adoption and common usage of these popular terms in culture, with cases of rape, abuse, verbal or physical violence increasing precipitously over the last few years. Nobody wants to be a bucin, right.

Control has been the province of Indonesian men for ages, and still is. Moreover, they are often aided and abetted by out of pace laws and archaic cultural mores, nearly as persuasive for women as they are for men. But times are changing, and that irrepressible fact is stuck in a lot of male craws.

Thus the term bucin, and the desire to avoid being called bucin.

Friday, March 6, 2020

All I Want

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely
   sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her
   by …

One person and a guiding star. That's all one needs. It is not all that he wants, but it is all that he needs. And in the driving wind, through the shielded eyes and ears, a soft voice, a woman's voice, is all that one needs to hear. I am leaving soon, and yet the disinterested waters do not abate or part. One steers the prow, fights the rudder, adjusts the sails with unflinching care. While he can. While he still can.

I must go down to the seas again, to the
   vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where
   the wind is like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the
   long trick's over.


[Sea Fever, John Masefield

Thursday, March 5, 2020


I met a Jakarta woman online (language sharing app) who has been studying English since she was 4 years old. Absolutely fluent now, and with only a hint of an accent. Amazing. In the past, she has worked as a professional translator. My goodness, what a difference this makes in the character of conversation! One almost forgets, after nine years in a foreign country, the complexity and nuance and shadings of the English language when employed at a higher skill level. One recalls the pleasure of more sophisticated conversation. Wit, double entendre, sarcasm and so on. I'm out of practice!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Doublet for Woodwinds and Strings

It began to rain while I was talking to my friend at the villa. He was pacing, and I encouraged him to sit, and he sat for a time, but then was up again, pacing. It was nighttime and we could not see the rain but we could hear the drops drumming on the poolside umbrellas. 

"Are you sure you won't have another drink?" he said.

"No. No thanks. I wasn't even supposed to have one. Wouldn't you rather sit down?"

"One more drink," he said. He meant for himself. He busied himself in the kitchen, having found purpose, a use for his hands.

"I used to be a drunk, you know?" I said, raising my voice to be heard over the snare-like pattering. Thunder rattled somewhat surreptitiously in the distance. Still, it was clear that more would be coming. The air was tense, expectant, impatient. It wanted shattering.

"Sorry, what was that you said?" my friend asked.

"A drunk," I answered. Finally the lightning came. How many seconds had it been? "I was just saying that I used to be a drunk."

"Oh really? I didn't know. She never mentioned that."

"It was before her. It was a long time ago."

My friend had returned with his drink. "Would you like another?" he asked, without really asking. His eyes were on me but he wasn't really looking. His gaze shifted to his wristwatch.

"I don't think she's coming," he predicted. "I think she's definitely not coming tonight."

"Oh course she's coming. She lives here. And she knows I'm waiting, right? She hasn't talked to me since Tasmania."

"I'm waiting too," my friend said. "But what does that mean?" He laughed. More like a nod or a shrug than a laugh. The rain quickly washed the sound away, and then stopped as if it had accomplished the purpose for which it had come in the first place.

"Nope," he said.

"Nope what?"

"Just nope. My God. Nope, nope, nope."

Hundreds of frogs had begun a bassoon-like murmur in the garden and by the pool and beyond the gate and on the streets and in the fields and the wakeful crickets sang back, creating a sort of string and woodwind duet. It reminded me of something by Tchaikovsky, sad, inexorable, the whispered finale inevitable. I wondered whether he knew this deep down when he started or whether the ending had found its final word along the way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Proof of Existence

Had to meet my immigration agent this morning. Always something to be taken care of. Every year. No such thing as saving the documentation from the year before. This time it was the matter of official acknowledgement of exactly where I live and the necessity of a photo. As evidence for what? That I look a year older than I looked last year?

Of course, these documents and proofs are often false in any case. For example, I don't actually live where I am to be officially documented as living. Not yet anyway. The address recorded in fact hosts a mere of shell of a domicile. True, the Javan workers live there in various states of privation, but I'm sure that they require no such documentation.

And every year, on that special day when one finally visits the immigration department, one must have yet another photo taken, along with fingerprints. As if one's fingerprints change from year to year. He must also have memorized the address where he does or does not live.

Most importantly, he must pay the fee.

For what? For the bureaucratic red tape that so carefully wraps the entire process.

Ah well, it is but once a year, albeit the attendant annoyances are liberally spread over the course of several months.