A Discussion

I was talking to my friend at Starbucks the other day about smoking — or more precisely, about quitting smoking. This caused me to think back to a time when I did try to quit smoking. So, I thought I’d tell him that story.

“Do remember that old movie, Hatari?” I began.

“Atari?”

“No, Hatari. You know, with John Wayne?”

“John Wayne?”

“Yeah, you know, John Wayne. The actor. I mean … I mean, it’s John Wayne, man! You don’t know John Wayne?”

“John Lennon, yes, I know.”

“No, no. Different guy.”

Good grief. Well, on the other hand, it was a long time ago. Hatari, I mean. John Wayne too. And this particular young man is much (much) younger than I. Still, surely any westerner would know John Wayne, I have to think.

“Okay, you know cowboys, right?”

“Yes. The Marlboro Man.”

Ah, now we’re making progress.  Sort of. Not where my story is concerned, mind you, but where the general idea of cowboys is concerned. Which, however, has nothing to do with Hatari.

“Okay, never mind John Wayne and the Marlboro Man. There was this old movie, see, called Hatari. I was trying to stop smoking, but I happened to turn on this movie, Hatari, and everyone, I mean everyone, in the movie was smoking! Like, in every scene!”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are they smoking?”

“Well … no reason. I mean, everyone smoked back then.”

“When you decided to quit?”

“No. When I watched the movie.”

“Atari.”

“You know what … let’s talk about something else.

“Okay. Hmm. Do you believe in Bocong?”

I’ve never heard of the word. I have to look it up in the translator on my phone, which gives the definition ‘Jug’.

“Do I believe in jugs?”

“Hahahaha! No, no. That’s wrong. It is not jug.”

I show him my dictionary.

“Yes, but that is not right. Bocong. This is what we say. It’s like slang.”

“So what is it?”

“Hmm. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know either?”

“I mean, yes … No, I don’t know in English. Hmm. Let’s see. You know the white face, with holes for eyes?”

“Huh!”

What the hell are we talking about?

“Sorry, sorry. Oh! Halloween. The white sheet!”

“Ghosts!”

“Yes!”

Whew.

“But that’s hantu, I thought.”

“Yes. But we say Bocong. Do you believe?”

“In ghosts?”

“Yes. I do. I believe.”

“Well. Yeah. I guess I do, too. But they’re not really ghosts. That’s what I think. I mean, they’re not dead people. They’re demons.”

“Lemons?”

“No. Demons.

“What is it, dee-mon?”

“Iblis.”  Ah ha, I know that one!

“Oh ya, Iblis,” my friend says. “With Muslims they are Iblis. With Balinese, bocong.”

“With Christians, they are different. A ghost is one thing, a demon is another.”

“What is the difference?”

“Oh … well, I mean, I’m not an expert. But a ghost is not real, but a demon is.”

“I believe in ghosts.”

“So you said. But anyway, go on.”

“Go on where?” He looks at his watch. “Still ten minutes in break time. Or … maybe you want to be alone? Maybe you are busy, yes. Please excuse me.”

“No, no.  No!  I’m not busy at all. Look … How about we talk about something else!”

“How about if we have another cigarette,” he suggests. “Just like John Wayne.”

 

Poso and Tamblingan

I had mentioned previously how very much the Sanur beachfront has changed in a mere 7 years, now crowded with restaurants and hotels such that one can hardly get to the actual beach without feeling like he’s trespassing. Of course, the motive seems quite clear. People want to go to the beach when they are in Bali, and if there’s a restaurant in the way, why then they’ll probably have to stop in and order something just so they can sit near the ocean.

It’s the same on the main thoroughfare that runs through Sanur — Jalan Tamlingan at the one end, turning into Jalan Danau Poso at the other. Seven years ago, there were a few popular restaurants, a few popular bars, and many  more than a few roadside local cafes and shops. Now the entire length of road is wall-to-wall hotels and upscale restaurants, clothing shops and jewelry shops and furniture stores and … well, you name it.

Jalan Danau Poso has been the slowest section to develop. There used to be two bars on the street (not counting the “chicken bars”, ie establishments of ill-repute). They were Angel’s and On-On and sat side-by-side on a lazy turn in the road. Every night, these two bars were crowded with customers, 95 percent of them tourists (the other 5 percent being the Indonesian waitresses). They were fun, carefree spots where one could meet people from all over the world — The Netherlands, England, India, France, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and of course there were a few Americans as well. The waitresses, mostly from Java or Sumatra, were delightful,, sharp-witted young women who knew how to sell as much beer as possible, and developed a particular talent for picking up bits and pieces of multiple languages. They have all moved on now — married, or gone back home to their islands. Angel’s has been changed to The Place to Be, while On-On is still On-On, as far as I know.

Nothing could be more apparent, however, that neither is any longer the place to be. One finds both establishments all but deserted now, languishing in the shadow of the new restaurants across the way. The waitresses are no longer bright and sharp and chatty. Usually they are staring at their phones, and seem somewhat annoyed at being interrupted. I imagine that both places will soon fade away as well — just like their former customers. It is as if they have grown old and unwell, just like people. Just like me. They have become but memories.

Swimming and Sunning

On the shrinking sands of Sanur, I found kind of a nice little spot this afternoon to lay out my beach towel for a couple hours of swimming and sunning. Reminds me of the olden days when we first came here, although one cannot really recapture that feeling of total peace and comfort he had experienced after having worked through a long career, eight hours a day,five days a week, and then finding himself floating in the sea beneath an endless blue sky, with nary a care in the world. Nor can he truly re-experience the wondrous, unreal intensity of the Bali heat after 55 years of Oregon chill. But anyway, I enjoyed myself, and the sun and the water and the rest was good for my poor old back.

Dog Rescue

Yesterday morning when we came out of our house, we heard the most piteous yelping and squealing sound coming from somewhere just down the street. On investigation, we found that a little black dog had somehow ended up at the bottom of the deep culvert beyond the last house on the road, and there he had gotten stuck to something and could not free himself. The wall on our side of the culvert is quite high, perhaps 30 feet, but on the other side it is lower, no more than 7 feet above the little garbage laden stream.

My wife found some young men just up the street from us, who immediately offered their services. They surveyed the situation, hopped on their motorbikes, and we all drove around the blocks until we could reach the lower wall above the dog. My wife brought along a pair of scissors, as it was clear, even from the distance, that the dog was entrapped in some kind of wire, while I brought along a pair of elbow length leather gloves. The dog, naturally, was panicked and frightened, and would surely bite to defend himself.

Well, one of the young men lowered himself down to the putrid stream and found that the dog was indeed entrapped in wire, and had a hook stuck in his cheek as well. Thus the painful yelping every time he tried to pull away.

Very carefully, the young man snipped at the wire and at last freed the dog such that he could lift it to waiting arms at the top of the bank. At this point, it  became clear that we would need wire cutters to break the hook in his mouth.

Rushing back home, I found a pair of pliers which would also function as wire cutters, while in the meantime my wife and the young men attempted to comfort the dog and keep him still.

With a couple more snips, the hook came free, and the little dog ran to hide in the bushes nearby.

Back home again, we collected some soft food and a bowl of water and left this near the little hovel he had chosen for protection.

Returning to the spot this morning, I found the sausage gone, half of the water gone, and the little dog gone as well.

Hope the little fella will be okay.

 

In the Lap of Luxury

bed

Yesterday, we were out looking at villas near Sanur — row upon row of luxury homes for sale or lease. The villa will commonly be a walled property with 2-4 bedrooms, full kitchen, 2-4 bathrooms with tub and shower (and hot water, of course), commonly arranged around a swimming pool and garden. They are private little paradises, segregated from the outside community — personal little castles for the rich.

Directly across the road from one such row of villas is the little shanty town in the photo above. These dwellings have been fashioned from sheets of metal, bits and pieces of cardboard and plastic and wood, balanced against one another like playing cards.

“Do people actually live there?” I asked a man on the road.

“Oh, yes!” he said.

So here is the reality of Bali, standing side-by-side, the mansions of the rich, the hovels of the poor. No doubt, those who live in the shanty houses are those who do the yard work and cleaning for the villa owners. Or perhaps they are those one sees standing on the main road, shovel in hand, hoping to be picked up by a work crew.

Upon this, our common earth, every paradise has been enclosed by walls for the benefit of the few. Are other folks starving? Are other folks ill? Are other folks old or unable? Are other folks struggling to survive?

Oh well, let’s not think about it. Let’s just take a swim and enjoy a brunch of brie and fine bread.

Pijat

In the West, we tend to think of having a massage as a particularly cozy, relaxing experience – a way of comforting and spoiling ourselves. As you enter the massage parlor, relaxing music softly fills the air. A receptionist greets you and you are given a cup of green tea.  There is a lightly scented aroma in the air, vaguely flowery, spicy. You are ushered into your private room, where a soft, cleanly made massage table awaits you. The music wanders through aimless repetitions — flutes and other wind instruments, vaguely oriental, maybe some strings. A comely masseuse enters, whisking about like breeze in the grass, smoothing her hands over your skin, kneading and pressing like the paws of a kitten.

Switch to Indonesia …

Massage here is no game. It is not done for comfort. It is done to rearrange every bone and muscle in your body. In short, it is torture. The Indonesian masseuse (ahli pijat) — a good one, anyway – will meticulously search out every sore spot, every tender crevasse, and dig into that precise area, as if his fingers (made of iron, mind you) were able to enter through the skin and tug and pull and twist at the muscles and bones and nerves. You cannot hide these weak areas from the masseuse. His hands are trained to find them. Search and destroy.

Ah ha! You’re having a problem right here, yes?

Oh my God, yes!  Ouch!

It’s okay. I fix.

No pain, no gain, right? But it’s true. if you have a rope that is in a knot, you don’t just rub at the thing, or lightly poke it. Not if you want it undone, that is. No, you dig and tug and push and twist — and by God, little by little, that knot begins to loosen, thread by thread.

For more than a year, I have had pain in my right shoulder and scapula. I tried rest, I tried exercise, I tried medications — all with negligible effect. My masseuse, who visited the house last night — Ketut, by name — found the difficulty straightaway.

Ah, this hurts, yes?

Oh my God, yes!

After two hours of massage and reflexi (a strategic digging and gauging of the feet, I did feel better. Much, much better.

And I will call upon Ketut again next week.

Ubud

Took a day trip to Ubud on Wednesday. Ubud is one of the five popular tourist locales in south Bali, to include Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Sanur. Ubud is different than the others in the sense that it is inland rather than on the coast. One drives up the gradual rise to the wide green plateau of rice tiers laying out like carpet before the mountains at the center of the island. Known for its ‘post-hippie’ sort of flavor, it is often promoted as the island’s ‘art and culture’ center, and was, as the reader may well know, the film location for Eat Pray  Love. Tucked into this especially green, especially lush part of Bali is the town of Ubud itself, along with its suburbs – a steaming, chaotic traffic jam that competes neck and neck with the island’s most stupendous jams.

But once you get out of the jam, Ubud is a pleasant little district to wander about in for a day. Our main destination, really, was place specializing in Kopi Luwak — a strong, aromatic coffee derived from, of all things, the waste products of a little critter called the Civit Cat. Here’s the story: During the time of the Dutch colonial era, the big land owners forbid the Indonesian people from using the coffee beans they farmed. They were to harvest them and prepare them, but then turn them over to the Dutch for their own use and for sale to European countries. But the Indonesians, always an industrious people, found that there was a certain little critter — enter the civet — which particularly enjoyed eating raw coffee beans. These could then be extracted from the civet’s waste, washed, filtered, cooked and so on, and, voila, you had coffee once again for the common people. Moreover, this coffee was particularly strong, aromatic and delicious. Sadly, however, this, too, was discovered by the Dutch in time. It is called Kopi Luwak and has become the Cadillac of coffees, available only at a high price (and therefore not generally available to common Indonesians, or to common people of any sort). A very small tasting cup of Luwak at this particularly tourist site goes for 50.000 Rupiah (about 5 dollars). Nor has it been a happy result for the civet, which is now hunted, captured and spends his life in captivity, eating as many beans as possible so that he can produce as much coffee as possible.

 

Confusion

Upon entering the Sanur Starbucks the other day, I was greeted by the woman at the counter, who then said something that sounded like “Dee ozoo all?” I figured she must be speaking Indonesian and that this was a word I do not know.

Noting my failure to understand, she repeated the expression very slowly, enunciating each syllable. “Dee-Ooo-Zoo-All?”

Oh! Hang on … The usual! She was asking whether I wanted my usual coffee drink. Seperti biasa. Lol.

When you are expecting Indonesian, but English comes out, and yet with a heavy Indonesian accent, things can get confusing. The same thing happens with my own pronunciation of Indonesian words, wherein the response may be, ‘Sorry, I don’t speak English.’

In fact, it happened just the other day with the word Bingung, American pronunciation, ‘bing-Goong, meaning ‘confused’. And my American accent did indeed ‘confuse’ the hearer.

And then we have a third language called ‘rap music’, which is very popular among the young Indonesians.

So it happened that my friend, Iadi, wanted to know what does it mean, Ma Nigga.

Whoa, Iadi. It means that you, a non-black person, neva, eva say Ma Nigga!

House Hunting Once Again

As the year nears its end, we face once again the question of whether we will be able to remain in our present rental house or whether we will have to move. This is one of the more irritating features of Balinese society. The home owners are never sure whether they want to rent for another year, although they are sure, if they de decide to continue to rent, that they want more money for the ensuing year. The price tends to go up in increments of 5 million Rupiah (500 dollars, more or less). Nothing has changed about the house in the meantime. In fact, it is likely in somewhat worse condition than it was the year before, yet landlords are certain nonetheless that it must be worth more with each year. Like a collector’s item.

We have been in our present residence for almost four years now, and each year has ended in a (now predictable) back and forth negotiation.

First he will say, Hmm, I think I want to sell this house. You want to buy, yes?

No.

No? Oh, hmm. Well, I think I must raise the rent. Thirty-five now. I make forty-five.

Oh, well okay — If so, we will begin looking for a new place.

What? New place? Why?

Why? Because that’s a ten million jump in the price, that’s why.

Oh! No, no. Did I say ten million? I meant to say five million.

For two years, yes.

No two years. One year.

No one year. Two years,

Oh, cannot do. Prices here very high. You cannot find for your price.

Actually, yes, we can. We’ve already looked at two.

Oh! Yeah? Hmm. Okay, I make a deal. Five million, two years. You stay.

Done.

So, it has been almost two years, and staying in our very small, very basic house will no doubt cost us significantly more than it is worth. So it does look as if we will be moving on to who-knows-where.

Personally, I hate moving. I get cozy in a place, I put down roots, I become intimately familiar with the neighborhood and the people. I find moving extremely unsettling. And finding a new house here in Bali is not a matter of just looking in the newspaper or going online. We have never found a place using that method. Most of the houses listed do not in fact exist. They have been bought or rented long ago. So what you do is you drive round and round through the neighborhoods, looking for houses with a sign on the gate. It’s not the most efficient sort of arrangement, but there it is.

So it happened that we looked at a house this morning, not far away from us. There was a sign on the gate. My wife called, and we went to visit the house. Nine of out of ten are bound to be dumps, and this one certainly was. Very small, dirty, unpainted, no toilet, just a hole in the ground. Nope. Not our cup of tea.

So the search goes on.

Or perhaps our landlord will change his mind. He has so far been quite good at that.

Glad to be Here and not There

Given recent events in America, the slaughter of hundreds of innocents in Las Vegas, the continued refusal of our congress to take serious, meaningful steps against the proliferation of guns and gun violence, I feel more grateful than ever to be living in Bali, where common sense rules the day, every day (except on the road). In Bali, private citizens are not allowed to own guns. The possession of guns is limited to the military and to certain branches of the police force. Of course, people are people, and there are bound to be violent people in every country. You may see, therefore, an incident involving a knife or a hatchet or what have you. But it would be very odd indeed (ie impossible) for someone wielding a knife to kill and injure more than 500 people at a time. And God help the man who kills even one person, for the response of the common folk will be swift and decisive. The police here are not really present in the same way that one sees in America. There is little in the way of police patrols and such-like. Mostly, they set up stops on main roads, if it’s not raining, and every passing motorbike is stopped and its driver checked for license and registration. It is a way of making some money for the force (and for their own pockets), as many motorists will be found lacking the proper papers. There is a special anti-terrorism detachment called Densus 88, which has been very effective indeed in tracking down and taking out those plotting terror attacks. Their motto seems to be “shoot first, ask questions later” (which seems to me a fair way of dealing with terrorists).

What is present in Bali, and is apparently less and less evident in America, is a sense of community cohesion and collective responsibility. Theft, in particular, is dealt with by those who witness the theft. Many of the local people in Bali have few possessions, and many of the possessions they do have are essential to their survival. A motorbike or a car, for instance, is a matter not only of conveyance, but of livelihood. They depend upon the vehicle for work, and they cannot afford to just run out and buy a new one, and, in many cases, there’s no such thing as ‘motor vehicle accident and theft insurance’. Thus, a thief caught in the act will be chased down by everyone in the area, and suffer a beating until the police arrive, at which point they may turn over the remainder of the beating to the police.

When someone is in trouble, bystanders respond. The call for help is not met with a closed shade or a locked door.

Every night, a member of the local citizen police (the pecalong) will walk a beat in the neighborhood, striking a front gate on every hour — one o’clock and all is well; two o’clock and all is well. They are employed by every local Banjar (community organization). Once a month, the Banjar collects a small sum for their services — about 5 dollars.

Ah, but what if the government becomes tyrannical and the people must rebel? They have no guns!

Well it has happened before, the people have rebelled, and neither rifles nor tanks nor helicopters, ultimately, could stop them. The idea popular among some Americans — that they must be armed should they need to rebel against the government — is on its face a damnable lie. For a citizenry that enjoys freedom and abundance and comfort unknown in many countries around the world, this conceit that one must arm himself for rebellion is nothing other than absurd. And in fact, one suspects that the rule of the rebels would be far more tyrannous than that of the government.