Thursday, April 20, 2023

Islands in the Stream

 At Pantai Karang, just off the beach, three little manmade islands have been raised atop a naturally rocky rise on the ocean floor, three oblong temple-like mounds of roughly square-cut foreign rock, and on top of the little islands small huts have been erected, open on all sides beneath umbrella-shaped wooden rooves. These serve as sheltering spots for the local fishermen. Alternatively, they serve well as the subject of tourist photos, and on any given day, if the sun is out, one can see the tourists taking the photos.

Generally, a quiet expanse of water intercedes between the beach and the islands, just deep enough for swimming, but this evening the ocean has receded and naked, puddly land stretches from the sand to the islands, exposing shale-like rocks and mucky looking dips and green patches of seaweed, the unseen revealed, stripped of lovely facade.

I've put my book face down on the table and looked up for a time, thinking about the three islands, watching children and adults alike splash about in the moonscape of this new-found no-man's land. It's breezy, wonderfully so after a scorching day, and the wind folds back the covers of my paperback and shuffles through the pages like a deck of cards. I'm wondering if the story will be all mixed up when I return.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Some Things

 Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things--naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror--are too terrible to really ever grasp at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory, that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself--quite to one's surprise--in an entirely different world. 

--The Secret History, Donna Tartt

It is summer and we are at the Metolius River, camping, I, my father, my mother, and my first wife. It is the last summer she and I will be together and it is already showing. It is night, not late, but already full darkness has fallen, and I have come away from the campsite for a walk around the immediate area, alone because my wife doesn't want to walk, preferring to hide in the tent from the mosquitoes. Or that's what she says. To be honest, no one has felt like doing much. We are just all trying to do what we used to do. It's not easy. And it is never-ending. I have seen my father, instead of fishing, several times simply sitting at the base of a tree, head down. It was very hot in the daytime, but that was not the reason. The darkness whispers with the chirping of crickets and the occasional buzz of a bullbat's wings overhead and is barred by the thick trunks of the tall Ponderosa Pine trees. I can smell the fragrant sap as I walk between the trees, like vanilla, we always said, when there were two of us. Vanilla trees, we called them. And he was Iron Man. And I was Green Lantern. A long time ago. But nothing now was a long time ago. Everything was less than a half year ago. When I reach the road, I stop. On the other side the land rises softly for perhaps a quarter mile and then plateaus and from up there in the light of day you can see the river snaking bluely and serene and silent along the shores of the camp. But it is night now and no one can see the blue river from up there in the night. I turn back from where I stand on the side of the road. I can still see the campfire winking between the trees, a cold orange light more like something from October than August and I walk back that way, wanting warmth. About halfway, where the campsites begin, little red lava driveways marked by wooden posts bearing the number of each site, I see my father walking toward me, the light from the fire burning at the edges of his figure. He has taken off his fishing jacket and replaced it with a flannel shirt but his hat is still on his head. He is smoking his pipe. The aroma reaches my nostrils and that is how I know it is him. He comes on, looking at the ground, and we are but several paces distant when he looks up. He sees me and stops suddenly, as if he had run into a wall. Gary? he says.

Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Sometimes the dead are more alive than the living. Sometimes, in the night, when everything is quiet and nothing quite clearly seen, the impossible seems for a moment possible. It has to be, dear God please let it be. But this is not Gary. Would that it were. This is Richard. I am Richard. Father, this is Richard, your son. And the other, the first, who you had hoped was me, will not, will never, be found again among the living. 

Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. It takes time for things to stop ending, time to sort through the ashes, and faith to find the flickering coal. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Gempa Bumi

 Earthquake this evening, 6.3, I am told, and it seemed to last a fair long time, although the passage of time takes on a different character when something like this happens. I think that the duration is not really very long, but just seems long because you have it in your mind that it should be ending straightaway, but it doesn't. I was sitting at the Indonesian Specialty Coffee cafe when the earthquake occurred and it felt to me like being on a rocking boat. one of those boats that go the short distance from the island of Bali to Nusa Penida. Everyone came to attention in the cafe, frozen that way for a moment, then some rise from their chairs, hurry out to the street for some reason. Some shriek in surprise, or fear, and some look up into the sky. In the Indomart parking lot across the street people mill about, looking up, or clinging to a friend. And there in the lot I see, of all people, my Aunt Anna Margaret, dead these many years. That, to me, was the most shocking thing about this. How in the world did my aunt get here. Why? Had the shaking of the earth shaken up the heavens just a bit too, jarred something loose from time? Well, I looked away to speak to someone else, and when I looked back, Anna Margaret was gone. And so was the earthquake. 

Friday, April 7, 2023

Tensions Arising

Simmering discord has been rising lately between foreigners and Indonesian citizens on the island of Bali, a very strange development the like of which I've not previously seen in my 12 years here. 

The problem seems to be a combination of the influx of foreign tourists and immigrants to the island since the lifting of COVID travel restrictions and a decreasing local tolerance for the same. For some reason, many of these post-COVID visitors and guests (and lest we forget, foreign residents are still merely guests here) have come with the idea that they are free to behave in whatever way they choose, not subject to Indonesian law, unmindful of the need for cultural sensitivity. 

As always, it is a minority that is causing these problems, but it's a loud, minority, ignoring traffic laws, arguing with police when caught, abusive to those who dare to criticize their behavior, disrespectful of local religious sites and temples, and so on. They are the arrogant, privileged representatives of the contentious poison of the West. And the locals are fed up with them. 

To be honest, I don't blame them. It seems that when these folks are not disputing with local authorities, they are bickering with each other, even in the formerly peaceful little community of Sanur. I had previously mentioned here, for example, the outrage among some in the foreign community about the little electric bikes that had been running on the beachfront paths, daily registering their frantic, and wholly unrealistic complaints against foreigners and locals alike who were having too much fun on these little two wheelers. 

Well, they finally got their way, along with the ownership of the western oceanfront hotels, and the bikes have been removed by order of the Balinese government, putting an abrupt end to a lucrative little business for the locals, who I am sure are rather more in need of money than are the wealthy tourists. 

But Karens must always have a complaint, and so with the victory over the recreational bikes, they moved on to outrage at a new nationwide stress on the need to wear a helmet, shirt, and shoes when driving a motor bike, and to be able to present an actual driver's license and registration document. These commonsense laws seems clearly an infringement on their rights (the right to the ignore the law, I guess). If I don't want to wear a helmet, that's my business! My safety is my own concern, my health is my own concern! Why are you interfering with my freedom? 

And the most common excuse? Many of the locals don't wear helmets. I see them all the time without a helmet. Why should I wear a helmet if they don't wear a helmet? 

Do you remember when you complained to your mother that you ought to be able to do a particular thing because all your friends were doing it? Of course you do. And do you remember what she said? That's right, she said, If Bobby goes and jumps off a cliff, does that mean you have to follow him?

An Indonesian fellow on the Facebook Sanur community page expressed the same idea in a slightly more contemporary manner. If you pass by a warung and see a bunch of locals eating big plates of steaming shit, does that mean you should rush in and order a plate for yourself? (Unfortunately, this was written in Indonesian and so likely lost on most readers). 

Point well taken, by this reader anyway. 

Honestly, I have not in twelve years driven my motorbike without a helmet on. Why in the world would I? Do you know that some years ago an Indonesian woman was driving her bike on the small street through the center of Sanur when she got into a minor accident, and yet died instantly when her bike tipped over and her helmet-less head cracked against the concrete curbing?

No, the helmet is not impinging on your freedom, it is protecting your life. 

So as the temperature rises, as foreigners snap naked photos of themselves at a holy site, as they rampage through Kuta coming from loud afterhours parties, as they contend with police for doing their job and wail at the unfairness, the local government begins to consider laws restricting the of stay for tourists in Bali, prohibiting the rental of motorbikes to tourists, beefing up deportations, and so on. 

When COVID began, an idea was often expressed to the effect that people would begin to reevaluate the way they were living, that the pandemic would give people time to reflect and bring them closer together, and as COVID ended, it was thought that people might rejoin society in a thankful, more communal manner.

Such sanguine imaginings have proven quite misplaced, have they not?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

When it Rains it Pours

 I woke this morning to what sounded like pouring rain. Bummer, I thought, envisioning a day, or at least half a day, stuck in the house. Cabin fever, damn! Nothing to do but to watch hour after hour of Trump being arraigned. Uplifting news to be sure, but once around will do (until the next arraignment). 

So I brewed up my cup of tea, by which I mean that I dropped a teabag in my cup and filled the cup with hot water from the water dispenser, swallowed my before breakfast omeprazole capsule, scooped up my pack of cigarettes and headed out to the table on the front patio. 

I was met by the sound of the downpour immediately outside the door--more than a downpour, really--a deluge--and the sight of the water cascading down the side of the wall, onto the table top, streaming across the bamboo screen, washing over my motorbike from front wheel to back.

And I gradually realized something was not quite right. 

The street, I noticed, with some considerable stupefaction, was dry.

And yet the rain was spattering down just beyond my toes. 

How can this be? Is it raining on only one half of my patio, and only upon the portion that is beneath the canopy? Is the canopy roof leaking? And oh by the way, why is the sky blue?

Ah ha! It is not in fact raining at all! It is, however, pouring--gallons and gallons pouring from the water tank on the roof of my house. 

Shit! I was worried about rain, worried about cabin fever, but this is worse. This means a day without water, a day without a shower, a day without a flushing toilet, a day of dirty dishes stacking in the sink. 

I call Louis, who actually owns the house, thank God, for I have no idea who I would call otherwise. I get no answer at first, as it is still only 6:30 in the morning, but within a couple hours she answers the message I left and says that Wayne, her significant other, is on his way. 

In the meantime, the tank has run completely dry (no further waterfalls) and Wayne tells me to unplug the electricity to the pump.  Upon his arrival, Wayne climbs onto the roof and determines that a pipe has become detached from the bottom of the tank. He gets this reattached and we restore the flow of water, but then he determines that the "pressure pump" is not functioning correctly. Damn again!, because this means we will need to wait for a repairman to replace the pump. Could be a matter of hours, could be a matter of days, who knows? 

Given, anyway, that it is in fact not raining, nor even cloudy, I head out to drown my sorrows in coffee and Wayne heads home. But when I return in a couple of hours, Wayne has returned as well along with a repairman. Fantastic! 

Before long, he has installed a brand new pressure pump and everything is running better than new. Hallelujah! 

I putter around the house for a while, eat some lunch, and then have a shower.

Halfway through the shower, the water stops, but for a slight trickle. I have just finished soaping up my body and rubbing shampoo into my hair. 


Shit shit shit!

I trickle as much soap as possible from my body and hair and call Wayne.

Wayne calls the repairman. 

Within a couple of hours, the repairman returns. He climbs the ladder. He removes the pump. He tinkers with the pump. He descends. 

Okay, he says. 



But what happened? 

Hmm. Maybe engine too hot, he says.

Oh. But all good now?

I think, he says. 

But will this happen again?

He scratches his chin, squints up at the tank. 


Oh dear. Well, one day at a time, right? One day at a time. 


Update, one hour later: Pressure pump dead again. 

Monday, April 3, 2023


 By 6 pm the clouds which had thinned at midday had grown heavy again, bringing on an early dusk, and the air had become close and still and breathlessly humid. The first raindrops came down at 6:30, in random, quarter-sized splotches at first, striking the bricks of the cafe patio like random paintballs and then thinning and gathering together in a general downpour which quickly painted the street a slate gray. The long yellow grass of the canopy above the table sheltered my coffee and my book and my ashtray well enough, but the rain dripped steadily on my left shoulder just outside of the cover. Tourists hurried by at the side of the street, most having come out unarmed by umbrellas. They walk with shoulders hunched, as if ducking will help. They shade their eyes with a hand, as if saluting, or peering Apache-like at the far horizon. A petite, rather elegant blond woman has come out to the edge of the cafe, careful to remain beneath the roof, to wait for the rain to stop, and I wait as well, lighting another cigarette, noting that three sips at most wait in my coffee cup. On the street traffic slows, horns blare. A tourist bus is trying to get through the narrow lanes of the road that are left between the parked cars. The elegant woman waits still, focused on nothing, looking at nothing, completely without expression. Next door at the deserted Curry In Bali, Indian Restaurant and Experience! establishment, the sound system suddenly booms through the pattering of the rain, entertaining all with the old Michael W. Smith hit, I Will Be Here For You (because what else could go better with curry, right?). From the old Hardy's store just up the street, which has a new name that no one seems to know, recorded gamelan percussion contends with Michael W. Smith and the scent of curry. At last the petite elegant, statue-like blond gives up and returns to her uncleared table, and I surrender as well, dash across the street to my bike, retrieve my cumbersome hated raincoat from the storage compartment beneath the seat cover, and take to the road amid the hissing of tires kicking up dusty showers of water from the asphalt, a long wet drive home before me accented by sudden fountains from lake-line puddles at the side of the highway and by run-ins with fantastically incautious motorists, squinting through my own rain-speckled glasses, palms wet and slippery on the handlebars and on the handle of the accelerator, wondering whether I will make it home alive. Ah the incomparably exotic adventure of the tropics!