Big Dog

Every time I think of Big Dog, it makes my heart ache.

This was a very BIG dog for Bali, like a mix between a Labrador and a Mastiff. He was a gangly, clumsy, bull-in-a-China shop sort of dog who had not an enemy in the world, as far as he was concerned, even among other dogs, who often tend to be territorial. Sometimes, this or that dog, generally about half or less Big Dog’s size, would run out barking and snapping at him, and he would just glance at them as if they were crazy.

Big Dog had an owner who lived a couple blocks from our house, and he actually did have a name. The name, however – a Balinese word – never did fit on my tongue in such a way that it would stay there, so he became and remained Big Dog to us.

Every day, Big Dog would make two or three circuits of the neighborhood, visiting people along the way, exploring the rice fields, looking for unattended sandals that might want stealing and eating. He would come to our house several times to ask for some food, or simply take a quick nap, and if the gate was closed, he would simply jump over the gate, most often knocking it off its track in the process. We soon learned to just leave the gate open.

He was surely one of the friendliest dogs I have ever encountered. He tended to scare some folks, just because of his size, and because he would gallop up to anyone he saw with the intention of making a new friend.

When we moved away from the  Biaung area, I hated to leave  Big Dog, but, as I said, he did have an owner who did appear to care for him, in the sense that he was well fed and always returned to his house at nighttime, like a child who had been out playing all day, but knew he was to return home before dark.

Several times, we drove back to the old neighborhood just to see if he was around.

A couple years later, we happened to run in to an old friend who lives in Biaung. We asked, of course, after Big Dog.

Big Dog, she told us, had been found dead in the road outside her house. It appeared that he had been beaten to death with some sort of club. His skull had been crushed.

I have no doubt in my mind that Big Dog had happily walked right up to his assailant, thinking that he had found a new friend. What had he done to deserve this violent death? Who knows. I cannot imagine him offending anyone, except for some sick person who was already offended by dogs.

And so, you see, it hurts to even think about it.

RIP, Big Dog. We love you.

Bloggles the Mind

Very often, I will come to the Starbucks in Renon to blog. It’s on the street level of a brand new mall, has a wide, airy outdoor seating area which seems to be located in a sort of ‘wind channel’ flowing from the beach to Denpasar such that one can stay cool and fresh while he works, and the staff members are super-friendly, providing the opportunity, often enough, to chat rather than write.

Perfect, so far.

The only problem is that WordPress itself often gets in the way. There seems to be a particularly malignant feature, hidden somewhere in the dark, inscrutable caverns of the program, that logs you out every time you log in and try to view your site. There is a fix for this, though apparently only temporary, but the trouble is, fixes don’t stay in my mind from session to session, and thus I am obliged to search again for the fix on each occasion.

If this is not the monkey wrench currently jammed in the gears, it will likely enough be something else. Each little difficulty – a simple matter for the computer savvy user – is a major stumbling block for me. I’m not saying that there is anything particularly wrong with WordPress. I’m saying that there’s something wrong with us as a couple. My wife would know what I mean.

So it happened today, as with other days, that I spent a considerable amount of time wrestling with the program so that I might actually get to the point where I could write something, and by the time I could actually write something, my latte was almost gone. And who can write without a latte?

One cannot help but miss the old days when a writer’s tools consisted of a piece of paper and a pencil. There’s not a lot of shuffling and arranging to do. The meaningful struggle is right at hand – namely, to put words on paper.

I expressed this sentiment to my friend, Chippon, a software engineer, who was at the house yesterday and had kindly agreed to take a look at the blog and see what might be done in the way of improvements. He simply stared at me, dumbfounded, at the mention of paper and pencil, at the suggestion that this could be, in any conceivable way, better than a powerful word processing/blogging program.

So I watched as he flew back and forth between screens, in and out of plug-ins, registered and verified and clarified, and I learned … well, almost nothing. Although I did gain a greater understanding of how perfectly clueless I am. One has to be good at something.

“You’ll get used to it,” Chippon encouraged. “It’s just a matter of knowing your way around, getting accustomed to how things work.

I’ll start on that. Right after I order another latte.


Moby was a dog with “issues”.

He just had that don’t touch me look about him. And, in fact, he did not like to be touched.

Little by little, Moby made his way past our front gate and into the yard, at first to receive treats tossed from a distance, then creeping a bit closer each day. Still, one did not want to reach out and touch him, unless he wanted to get his hand bit.

Then, one day when my wife was sitting on the porch chair, Moby climbed up the step and calmly sat down on her feet. She was afraid to move–happy, on the one hand, that Moby had suddenly and inexplicably decided to cozy up to her; and unsure, on the other, whether he might just as suddenly decide to bite her.

But that day proved to be a turning point. Moby made his way inside the house and made a special friend of our son, with who he would sit and watch TV. Sasha was the only person whom Moby would allow to pet him.

Moby had a number of health problems, however. At one point he had some kind of stomach problem, for which he went to the doctor. At another, he had a skin problem (quite common with dogs here in Bali). Moby went to the doctor again.

Finally, Moby went to the doctor, and never came back.

Kite Flying

Kite flying is a favorite sport in Indonesia, and especially in Bali where man-made structures are low, by law, and the beaches are wide, especially from Sanur to Padang Galak, presenting no obstacles to flight.

The Bali Kites Festival is a series of kiting events that take place annually between July and August (sometimes through October), notably at the start of the windy season. The kite festivals are one of Bali’s major provincial calendar highlights presenting unique cultural scenes on par with the preceding the Bali Arts Festival. The festival is slated for various dates, with main events customarily taking place along the eastern coast. Main preliminary events are usually held near the end of June and confirmed following favorable weather, therefore planning ahead to witness the event is usually a last-minute deal. Hundreds of competing kite troupes gather from all over the island to pilot their traditional kites, alongside international teams with modern kites in various shapes and sizes.

The following photos are from Mertasari Beach, at the west end of Sanur–a site where many traditional festivals and ceremonies are held.


Fat Dog


Far Dog was the first to show up at our new house in Biaung, along with his sister, who disappeared within days and never got a chance to be given a name. He was a fat, solid little puppy–thus, the name., Fat Dog.

Fat Dog was loosely associated with a family that lived about a block away from our house. And I do mean “loosely”. When he wasn’t running around the neighborhood or through the bordering rice fields, he would spend much of his time in our house, and then go home to spend the night with his “grandmother”. What became of his mother, I do not know, but gramma was always at her house, lying in the road outside the front gate. She didn’t like people, and she didn’t much like Fat Dog, either.

Fat Dog was a delightful, friendly little guy, but he also had a fairly deep “naughty” streak. He had, for instance, a particular fondness for shoe leather or rubber, and was responsible for the disappearance of not a few sandals and flip-flops. If one was lucky, one would see his shoe somewhere on the roadside and be able to retrieve it, or what was left of it.

He loved to run in the rice fields, especially when it had been raining, and on one occasion, burst joyfully into the house after just such an excursion, dashed into the master bedroom and leapt atop the clean white bedsheets, proceeding to dash about in circles so as not to miss a single spot with his mud-caked paws.

This was not Fat Dog’s most endearing day.

He loved our son, and would spend a cozy hour on his lap as he watched a TV show. Fat Dog was at his best while asleep.

Like White Dog, Fat Dog had a bad habit, which ultimately led to his demise. He liked to chase chickens. Well, okay, sometimes he actually caught the chickens, and, one day, actually brought one to our house. Perhaps he was trying to repay our kindness for the food he had received from us. Perhaps he was merely thinking of himself and thought we would cook the ragged thing and serve it up with a side of mashed potatoes.

In any case, the farmers did not appreciate Fat Dog’s sport. As the story around the neighborhood went, Fat Dog, chicken in his mouth, was beat to death by one of the farmers.

He was still just a young dog, full of spice and vinegar, not yet fully grown.

RIP, Fat Dog.

White Dog and Jakey

I place Jakey and White Dog together in this first post on dogs I have known because that’s the way they were, almost always side by side. They ate together, slept together, roamed together, almost like husband and wife, although White Dog would have nothing to do with Jakey along “romantic” lines. Perhaps, in her mind, Jakey was more like a brother, although this was  not always Jakey’s take on the relationship and he would have to be sharply reminded of his place with a warning growl or snap of the teeth.

Jakey actually had a secure owner, and a loving owner at that, and so was more domesticated than most dogs in Bali. He had originally belonged to a French woman who lived in our housing complex, but when she left Bali, she gave Jakey to the elder son of the complex owners, who grew to love Jakey dearly. He would often take Jakey, as a passenger on his motorbike, to the beach for a swim, and Jakey so loved these excursions that he would hop on to anyone’s motorbike, including mine, in the conviction that he was about to go to the beach. It could often be difficult to convince him otherwise and that he must “dismount”. Everyone was about to go to the beach, Jakey thought–and why not? What better amusement could people possibly want?

White Dog was another matter. No one in the complex knew where she had come from. She just showed up one day and decided that this was where she would live. The opinion of the people living there was irrelevant. She simply planted herself in its environs and set up camp. No one knew her name, if she had ever had one. Nor did they bother to give her a name. She was just there. My wife and I began to refer to her as “that white dog”, which, by and by got shortened to White Dog, and soon she was known throughout the complex as White Dog.

White Dog sort of surveyed the situation and its opportunities over time and ultimately decided that she belonged not only in the complex at large,  but more specifically in our house. She ate at our house, she slept in our house, and if locked out, as might occasionally happen were we go spend the night somewhere else, she would cry and throw herself against the door and tear at the wood with her front paws until someone showed up to comfort her and offer an alternate place to stay.

White Dog was moody, a little bit cranky. Unlike Jakey, she was not particularly friendly with strangers (whether human or canine). No doubt she had learned the value of caution in whatever travels she had experienced on the road before landing in our complex. This is common for dogs here in Bali who are only loosely associated with a home base or a particular pack. They learn that prudence is the best form of self-preservation.

The day came, some months after her occupation of the complex, when White Dog found herself “in the family way”. Immediately, she decided that our house would be the best place for a litter of puppies. In response to her decision, we did everything we could think of to dissuade her. One dog is a welcome guest. A herd of dogs would be a disaster. Every time White Dog entered the house, she would search for what seemed a convenient spot for birthing–under our son’s bed, for instance, in the closet, in the bathroom. Again an again we shooed her outside, explaining that she must follow the conventions of a normal Bali dog. Again and again she reentered, began preparations. At last, one evening, after a short walk to the market, we found her in one of the kitchen floor cupboards, feeding six new puppies at her teats.  In short, and as usual, she had gotten her way.

Ah well. As often happens with events that seem unwanted, we soon accepted the reality, and actually enjoyed raising the little brood of pups. Each was given a name, and fed, and followed around with newspapers and napkins.

And it became White Dog’s conviction, conveniently enough for her, that these were not her children, but ours. She would feed them, of course, when given no choice, but then would soon pursue her own interests and activities, which was pretty much in keeping with her cranky, “me first” character. She found other abodes in which to pass the night, lest she be inflicted too often with these noisome little critters who had, as she believed, nothing to do with her. Not my business, not my problem, she was often heard to mutter.

I don’t know what ultimately became of Jakey. After we moved to faraway Biaung, we would sometimes visit the old complex upon passing through Sanur, and Jakey would run out to climb up on the floor of the motorbike. And then, perhaps two years on, he was simply no longer.

As for White Dog? Well, White Dog had a certain sort of hobby that won her fewer and fewer friends over time. She liked the chase motorbikes. I don’t think she ever intended to bite anyone. She was just maintaining the peace and quiet in her environment. But many people did not appreciate her pursuit. One morning, the complex owner later told me, White Dog had been found dead. She had been poisoned. The left over evidence was still at her side. And it was his guess that an irritated biker and done the deed.

Such has been the common fate of the dogs I have known. Death by accident. Death by intention. Sudden disappearance. Jakey and White Dog had provided an introduction to the life of dogs in Bali–joyful, free, difficult, sad. I treasure each relationship, knowing that it could end just as suddenly as it began–something which may well be life’s most useful lesson for relationships in general.

About Bali Dogs in General

I have always been a dog lover, and, while living in the US, always had a dog of my own. Sad to say, however, that the lot of dogs in Bali is a hard one. When I came to Bali, in February of 2010, the island was in the midst of a rabies epidemic. Feral dogs had been allowed to roam free, thus infecting other dogs, as well as humans. In fact, a number of people had died from the infection, which, if not treated promptly, is often fatal. This is exacerbated by the fact that many locals do not have the money for the necessary treatment, and are also generally uneducated about the danger.

Unfortunately for the wild dogs, the government’s answer to rabies was culling (and basically still is). Dogs which were healthy and whom someone would claim were given a red ribbon as a collar. Other dogs that were unattended, or merely “wandering” dogs, were killed. Some effort was made by humanitarian organizations such as BAWA to vaccinate all dogs, but these efforts were too little, too late, and were not actively supported by the government. In any case, rabies has now been all but eradicated in Bali.

Pure Bali dogs are a unique breed found only in Bali. Their DNA is made up of a combination of Australian Dingo, Chow Chow and Akita. Until 2004 no outside dogs were allowed into Bali, so the Bali dog remained pure. Sadly, with the influx of breed dogs, the Bali dog’s unique DNA is becoming mixed. Genetic scientists from UCL Davies who have studied the Bali dog state that in its pure form it is the true protodog with enormous value to all of dogdom and to science.

The genetic make-up of domestic dogs around the world has altered over thousands of years and they have become dependent on humans and their goodwill. This transition has not occurred with the Bali dog. While the Bali dog relies on humans for one source of food it remains highly independent and can survive without human contact. The four main colors of the Bali dog are black, white, brindle and red.

In the six years that I have spent in Bali, there has always been one dog or another who has made my house a regular stop on his or her daily rounds. These dogs have a generally loose association with an owner and tend to wander about the neighborhood, looking for convenient food sources–like me. They learn that when they stop by my house, there will be a treat for them or saved leftovers, or, if they happen to show up at meal time, they simply join the meal. They will visit for a while, then move on to the next house, or head back to their home residence.

Many dangers face the Bali dog in its excursions–cars, motorbikes, people who don’t like dogs, and people who take dogs and sell them for dog meat. This, too, is an epidemic in Bali that is just beginning to be seriously addressed–for the slaughter of dogs for meat is illegal. Nonetheless, it continues to happen, and seems to have been the fate of at least two of the dogs I have known and cared for.

In the posts that follow, I will tell the story of the individual dogs who have befriended me and my family.

On the Common Bali Flu and Treatment Thereof

[I post this just now because, yes, I have a cold. It seems I have always had a cold]

Having a cold in Bali is not fun. I’m not saying that having a cold anywhere is fun, but it seems, in my limited experience anyway, decidedly less fun in Bali than anywhere else in the world. Maybe this is because a cold seems so out of place in the tropics. And maybe that’s why they don’t call them colds here, but the flu. It is not, after all, cold in Bali but hot, and so they should rather call them “hots“ if anything, but then that would be likely to lead to a further confusion over terms. Can you imagine people going about saying they have the hots? And so they call a cold the flu instead. It is not the flu that we know in western countries, for the flu where we come from is something significantly more than a cold and is attended by pyrexia, myalgias, arthralgias, nausea, emesis, and of course coughing and sniffing and hacking and blowing. Having the flu — the real thing, that is — the all American flu, so to speak — would be immeasurably worse than having a mere cold, which I have already said is not fun in and of itself; and it is on this count alone that we can be thankful for the typical Balinese cold, otherwise wrongly called the flu.

You may have guessed by now that I have a cold. What you probably would not have guessed, however, is that I have had a cold for a long time now. About two years, I reckon. As far as I can place the thing, on a rough timeline, I contracted this cold just after arriving in Bali in February of 2010. I suppose many will accuse me of gross exaggeration in this, but I am convinced that it is so, and as a witness call I my nose and the testimony of a persistent congested cough — or for that matter my wife, who in all respects is dead sick of the thing. My cold, I mean.

People will say that one catches more colds here in Bali than in America or England or Italy and so on, but I disagree. We catch but one, and that only shortly after our arrival here, but that one on its own is good enough to speak for many. Mine, as I have suggested, has been perfectly long-winded without needing the help of any other cold, and I may as well say prolific and eloquent as well where the common characteristics of a common cold are concerned.

One cold, two years. How is it possible? I’ll tell you how. It’s because the thing settles in, makes a home in the cosy rooms and corridors of your lungs and the various branches of the respiratory system, and then actually rolls over and falls asleep now and again, rather like a noisome beagle who tires of barking for a time, only to awake again when the spirit beckons and start its barking all over again. It sleeps, it rests, it gathers new strength. It burrows in somewhere — the spleen, the oesophagus — quite enjoys itself for a period of a week, or even three weeks, or four, and then leaps back to troubling you all over again, and with renewed vigour, like a persistent sprain or an ex-wife — in no way diminished by its brief vacation, or rather that of its victim.

Over time we come to count on this cold with a sureness exceedingly rare in this life. It will not leave nor forsake you, nor fail ever to be present, especially at the most inopportune times, for which you had, perhaps, other plans.

There are medicines for this cold, available at any drug store or Circle K, each brand being concocted of mysterious ingredients guaranteed overall to make the symptoms of the cold considerably worse. We take these medications religiously during the more active periods of the illness, desperate wretches that we are, and enter thereby a singular state of dull somnolence quite beyond the symptomatic talents of the cold itself. One amazing side effect of these pharmaceutical inventions is the onset of clinical narcolepsy — an aptitude of medicine not known by any other science to date, though of dubious worth. Nonetheless, it is clear that where medicinal decongestant modalities are concerned, Eastern medicine has far outstripped the feeble preparations available in the West.

Now, if you go to the doctor for this affliction — not the medicinal one, but the viral — you will invariably be told that you have “masuk angin,” meaning literally “entered by the wind.” This will make you feel somewhat better for a time, as it is rather poetic, and is certainly preferable, for all concerned, to being exited by the wind. You will come away feeling special somehow, as if you had something with a bit more pride, like consumption for instance, or high functioning autism. Anyone can have a cold, and often does. But this is not a cold. It’s masuk angin!

Enjoy therefore, and relax, don’t hurry. You and your Balinese cold will have the leisure of a lifetime together.

George Town

George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, is located at the northeastern tip of Penang Island. It is Malaysia’s second largest city, with 708,127 inhabitants as of 2010, while its metropolitan area, Greater Penang, is the nation’s second most populous conurbation with an estimated population of 2.5 million. It is a pleasant little suburb to explore. One can secure a reasonably price hotel near the historical district and easily and easily stroll through the area, stopping for coffee or lunch at one of the many little corner cafes. Inventive wall art is featured throughout the district as well as beautiful old structures in colonial and oriental architectural style along with the towering spires of a massive mosque.

In the heart of the district, you will find a fun museum tour featuring professional photographers who will help you post with interactive paintings.