Friday, March 31, 2023

Night Walking

 There was a time in my life as a young man, as a teenager, when I became fond for some reason of walking in the woods at nighttime without a light of any kind. I don't know why. I don't remember why. Cloaked in the darkness of teenage angst? Testing my bravery? Practicing just in case I were fated to be struck blind someday? Or did I imagine that at night one might see things better than in daylight? Or see things that could not be seen in daylight?

This was in the high cascade mountains where there was no light at night except that which came from the stars, or from the moon if it was out, or if someone had a campfire nearby or a kerosene lantern lit. I would take off through the trees and hit the road and leave these earthly lights behind and soon the road itself would become indistinct, more tactile beneath my feet than visible to the eye, and the edges swallowed up altogether. Wrapped in a sound cloud of a thousand crickets, I would march on between the blacker smears on the night which I knew to be the fir and pine trees rising on either side of the road, heading into the eternity ahead where the stars came down to touch the edge of creation.

I would reach the point where the forest fell away and the lake spread out to my left and I would know it not by the sight of the water, which was lost in darkness, but by the mirroring of the wide expanse of the sky and all the stars in the sky, a universe above and a universe below, conversing together in breathless silence, a secret language spoken only at night, only alone, and when the only other sounds are of the breeze and of the crickets and of the soles of ones shoes on the rocky soil of the road. 

There I would sit down on a particular rock, a familiar rock, the same rock, flat but slightly concave, and sometimes I would lie down in the shallow bed of that rock and look up at the endless sky, the cold and milky stream of the stars, and listen to the sounds all around, of the breeze and the lake and the forest, and think about ... everything. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Novel Experiences of the Common Kind

 Sipping my cappuccino at Bread Basket, nibbling at my cinnamon roll, engrossed in the novel I'm reading, I recognize only very gradually that there is a man standing just to my right speaking to me. His voice is background noise at first, white noise, but unravels itself at last from the rest and I look up to find a tall Australian, smiling, one tooth missing in the front of his mouth.

"Oh, hi," I exclaim apologetically, wondering at the same time whether I know this man. 

"Long time since I seen anyone doing that," he says, nodding toward the book in my lap. 


"Yeah. Usually staring at an iPhone, you know? Scrolling. Good to see a man with an actual book. 

Hmm. Well, good to be a man with an actual book, I'm thinking.

"I brought along a couple myself. Working my way through. Staying away from the clicks and scrolls and bells and whistles."

We smile at one another. 

"Ok, mate, I'll let you get back to it." 

Instead of 'getting back to it', I look around to see what I've been missing. The story outside the book which has been happening at the same time as the story inside the book. A very tall woman, no doubt Dutch, because the Dutch are on average the tallest people in the world, is whirling in circles while holding her baby. The baby, blue-eyed and not at all tall, is wearing a pink knit cap, smiling up at her mother and wearing on her unusually white face a mixture of glee, surprise and just a hint of fear. The mother is laughing, wide-eyed, blond hair billowing behind her in the whirl. Across the narrow street an Indonesian man trudges along carrying one thousand brooms over his right shoulder and one thousand feather dusters in his left hand. He is a giant in his own way, though not in the same manner as the Dutch woman. "Sapu, sapu," the man calls out as he moves along the street just outside the curbing. But nobody seems to be sweeping today. Behind me a table full of Germans debate something with growing excitement, sounding a bit like a Nuremberg rally, but that is the fault of the language, not the people. Now a waitress is at my left shoulder. Little by little she is there, saying something. "Maaf," I say. I'm sorry. What? She is asking whether I would like another coffee. And here I am in two worlds at once, two stories occurring at the same time, page by page, minute by minute, the one experienced in submersion, the other in surfacing. The mind breathes in, the mind breathes out. And stories live between each breath. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Nyepi 2023

Silent Day in Bali is rather more entertaining for me this year as Eveline is visiting from Java. This is her first Nyepi experience and she is using it so far to clean the house--sweeping, mopping, dustingšŸ˜… Each to his or her own on Nyepi, I guess. They did not turn off the internet this year either, so we have the TV too, as long as we lower the volume. In general, it is not as quiet as usual either, as I can hear people talking up and down the street and walking around outside. Nor have I seen any patrolling Pecalang (traditional cultural police) as yet.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Return of the Mail Order Bride

 So I'm talking to a guy on a Facebook thread today, something about Biden, I don't recall exactly what, but it doesn't exactly matter either, because the mere name Biden violently triggers a lot of people out there in the Facebook community. Anyway, I'm being generally polite, although occasionally sarcastic, conveying my viewpoint, and this guy is getting a little more frustrated and upset with each of his replies to me. Finally, he writes F Y! Where did you buy your wife from?

Hold on. I thought we were talking about Biden. Lol. How did my wife get into this? For that matter, how did I get a wife? 

It's a mystery. 

As is how any grown man, presuming to comment on complicated political matters, could be unaware that the word "from" in the sentence as presented is both grammatically incorrect and redundant. It's just 'Where did you buy your wife', not where did you buy your wife from. I'm not sure why this bothers me more than the F Y! and purchased wife bit, but it does. It just does. 

I asked, but to no avail. He either does not know or does not want to say. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Rooskies and Yooks

 On the heels of the recent ban on the use of motorbikes by foreign tourists in Bali, the Governor of Bali has now made a request to the central government to disallow the Visa On Arrival to citizens of Russia and Ukraine. VOA is currently available to more than 80 countries around the world. This would mean that Russian and Ukrainian visitors would have to seek approval from the government before coming, while citizens of other countries can simply get on a plane, fly here, and be issued the permit to stay on arrival. 

This is being done, according to the governor, because of a long series of troublesome incidents involving the citizens of these countries, ranging from criminal activity such as overstaying the limits of their visit permit, illegally running a business in Indonesia, and ignoring traffic rules, to disrespecting the local culture.

In the past year, citizens from Russia and Ukraine have kind of flooded into Bali as a means of escaping the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, such that Russia now accounts for the second largest tourist population in Bali after Australia (although Australia far exceeds any other country). 

I can't say that I'm very surprised by this decision. Russians especially are often in Bali news, and not for any good deeds. It seems that nearly every week I will read about yet another incident involving Russians--Minit Mart holdups, drunken brawls, deportations, porno villas, and so on. Just yesterday a Russian was stopped by the police in Sanur for riding a motorbike without a helmet, without a shirt, without a license, without a registration, and without a legal license plate. The man was fined and the bike was impounded. Stupid, really, because he likely could have avoided any trouble at all had he simply warn a helmet and a shirt. Was he trying to attract the attention of the police or what? Good job, comrade. 

Happily for me, there are relatively few Americans in Bali, and we are not in any case widely known for causing trouble. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ozeki Piles On

 I kept it up for a while, making these cheerful, chirpy postings to The Future Is Nao! but I felt like a total fraud. And then one day, a couple of months after I got back, I happened to check my statistics, and I realized that the whole time since I started my blog, only twelve people had ever visited it, for about a minute each, and I hadn't had a single hit in weeks, so that's when I stopped. There's nothing sadder than cyberspace when you're floating around out there, all alone, talking to yourself.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

I had posted just the other day an earlier quote from Ozeki's novel touching on this same discouraging subject, and now she piles on with more. Talk about kicking a guy when he's down. Lol. But isn't it just so wonderful? Isn't it so true? In fact, the entire novel so far is just so wonderfully true. I am impressed, amazed, and envious. And I don't mean to give the impression that the story is depressing. Not at all. Nao's thoughts are the thoughts of a teenager, albeit an exceptionally bright one, and her feelings are the feelings of a teenager, conveyed in a sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, sometimes fatalistic voice by an author who has not forgotten how it all feels. Blogging is of course not the important thing. It is a symbol. This is about the feeling of being so very unseen in life. It is about the will to connect, and about the crowded void one finds oneself reaching into. 

I'm only 150 pages into this 400 page novel, and I'm already feeling sad that the story must end. But hey, I guess that's one thing that makes it a tale for the time being. 

Tourist Ban

I found an e-mail from my cousin this morning referring me to an article about a new ban on the ability of tourists in Bali to use motorbikes. He asked whether I might have a comment. I do, as follows: 

Yeah, David, I reckon they are half right about this decision and half wrong. On the one hand, many irresponsible tourists have indeed made a nuisance of themselves by continually disregarding the law and driving without a license, without a helmet, and without anything resembling caution. Moreover, they have been combative and disrespectful with police when stopped. On the other hand, Indonesian drivers are certainly among the most incautious in the world, often don't wear a helmet, and sometimes have no license at all, so it's a bit rich to penalize the tourists while allowing their own excesses to persist. But the last word is that it's their country and tourists are well advised to obey the law. Of course, none of these new rules apply to me, since I am a foreign resident, not a tourist. I have noted that tourist communities here are outraged, declaring they will no longer come to Bali and will go to Thailand instead, or wherever. That is also fine with me. Lol.

Two points to append here have occurred to me on further thought today. One is that this newfangled idea may well make me a target of the police. How, after all, are they supposed to know that I'm not a tourist? It may be like having big neon dollar sign on my back. Of course, if stopped, I need only show my Indonesian ID card and  Indonesian license. But still, it could be annoying.

The second is that extreme panic is probably not necessary, as policing here, especially where traffic is concerned, is all but nonexistent. The preferred method has always been to set up a giant traffic stop on a main road, but of course this could be avoided by using less travelled roads, or by not travelling during heavy traffic periods. It is also hard to imagine that those Indonesian 'entrepreneurs' who are in the motorbike rental business will simply quit the business. There's always a way around these difficulties. I'm sure it would help as well for a tourist to avoid riding without a helmet, without a shirt, and without a license of any sort.  

So we'll see what happens down the road a ways. Maybe a significant change, maybe not. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Shards

 I've just finished reading The Shards, a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, and I'm mighty glad to be done with it. 

Upon starting this novel, I hardly knew what to think, because although it had been widely touted as a rare literary accomplishment, what I was finding was a rather embarrassingly clumsy offering of breathlessly tedious prose generously salted with poor grammar. Literary, you say? 

I guess I could see the thing as a sort of teen soap opera, a Netflix series, and a damn long one at that, for the novel drivels on for some 600 torturous pages. And it's got all the right stuff for that genre, I suppose--drinking, drugs, sexual episodes of every nature, longer and more detailed than anyone (I would hope) would find interesting. I mean look, I don't mind sexual material in a novel, homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual or any other sort of sexual there may be, if it somehow moves than narrative forward. But the sex here is wholly gratuitous, as if the writer had taken time out from an actual plot every two pages or so to perform a sort of personal keyboard masturbation for his own amusement. Boring. And ultimately creepy. 

After dragging us along through hundreds of pages of vague suggestion that something (anything) is about to happen, Ellis kind of tosses the whole thing on page 500 or so and gives us a different book altogether--a teen thriller this time with plenty of chases and fights and broken glass and blood. Boom. The end. 

But that's okay, because we are skimming the text by that time anyway. 

In a way, Ellis reminds me of my old friend Todd Grimson, also a novelist and the author of Brand New Cherry Flavor, Stainless and other titles. They have in common a fascination with drugs, with violence, with sex, with perversion, with nihilism. But what Grimson has and Ellis doesn't is talent, man! Although Todd's subject matter has never been my cup of tea, I am nonetheless astounded by the expertise of his craftsmanship, not only in prose and style but in narrative control. 

So yeah, give Ellis a pass, is my suggestion. Read Grimson instead.

Friday, March 10, 2023

What Matters?

 ...actually I stopped doing that [blogging] a while ago. It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everyone out there in the cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they're all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.

--A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

Well, don't despair, Ruth, or rather Nao, the character Ms. Ozeki has created in her novel, I know how you feel. Or do despair, that's probably better. It's the least we can do to honor such pitiful anonymity. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. 

Well yeah, but what the hell, a hobby is a hobby, right?

And so I continue to pluck away on this blog every now and then, though not so often as I once did. And why is that? Well, for one thing, it is painful. No, not the old blood on the page sort of pain, that old cliche, but actual honest to God pain in my neck and shoulder whenever I sit at a keyboard and raise my arms and hands to the keyboard. Like someone's sticking a knife in my neck and then slashing it down to my shoulder blade. That kind of pain.

There's that, and then there's the question, Why? Or its cousin, Who cares? As Nao says. Not that I really care whether anyone cares or is interested. I have always just written as a way of talking to myself. But now even I don't care what I'm thinking, enough to write it down, anyway. 

That said, there is still a bit of drivel left in me. 

I like a particular beach here. I like it better than the others, and I have only recently come to know it exists. I like it because the walkway along the ocean front is amply shaded by tall trees with leaves bigger than my hands. All along the path, the ocean is there, rolled out flat and blue except for the several lines of white wrinkles, and there is nothing in the way, no clunky restaurants, no armies of obscuring umbrellas, no ramshackle warungs. There are just three little beachfront cafes, unobtrusive, unassuming. Humble things. A beach ought to be humble. Grand and humble. 

I like the third cafe the best and sometimes in the evening I stop there for a coffee which is brought out in a handle-less pottery cup, burning to the fingertips at its best. The chairs are comfortable if you get the right ones and there are not many people there and just a few still wading waist deep in the rocking water, brown chests and backs gone golden as the sun takes one last look at the far horizon from which it had risen that day.

I sit and sip and read the book I have brought and suddenly a dog shows up at my knees. A black dog with a white tipped tail and white tipped paws. Hi! he says, and proceeds to climb up in my lap, overjoyed to see me. He's a fairly big dog, but he ain't heavy, as the old song goes (who was that by again?). Eventually, it occurs to the dog that I would like to finish my coffee (or did I actually say that?), and so he climbs down and digs himself a bed in the sand by the side of my table and curls up for a nap. 

I have never seen this dog before in my life. I suspect I will never see him again. 

It's the moment that matters. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Just Makin' a Buck

 One learns early on here in Bali that one must bargain with the people in certain places, such as a traditional market for instance, or people selling their wares on the beach, or in little local clothing shops. They will be offended if you don't bargain, we are told. I doubt that. But I do know that the price they first ask is way above what the item is worth, and of course they know this. So we as bargainers must try to determine how much to lop off this initial asking price. 

I myself am not a fan of bargaining. For one thing, I don't know why one would want to buy these things anyway, and for another I'd just as soon pay the set price in a regular store--or if it seems too expensive, just don't buy it. 

What one must learn over time, however, is that regular establishments may try to rip you off too. No, they're not setting their own price, but they are encouraging you to buy what is most expensive, banking on the possibility that the foreigner will just take their word for it, and that he doesn't know how to ask questions anyway in Indonesian. 

For example, I went to Kimia pharmacy the other day looking for methylprednisolone. I go up to the counter, ask the pharmacist if he has methylprednisolone, and he says Yes, we do, and brings out a packet. There are ten tablets in the packet. 

"How much?" I ask. 


"Huh? Eighty thousand! Wow, that's very expensive. Do you have another brand?" 

"This one is the best," he says. 

"Yeah, I don't care. What else you got?"

Glumly, the man returns the packet to a shelf behind the counter and comes back with another packet. There are ten tablets in the packet.

"How much is this one?" I ask. 

"Umm ... Eight thousand."

Right. So I buy two of these for 16.000, rather than one for 80.000. 

Gotta be on your toes, folks. And it helps if you can speak Indonesian too.