The Beetles

Having spoken of the rain, I would feel remiss not to mention the flying brown Bali beetle as well, for he comes along with the rain as surely as puddles come along with the rain.

During this season, directly after a downpour, you will see a follow-up downpour of these brown beetles, seeming to have been suddenly birthed by the rain itself, and equally storm-like in their own way. They appear in great swarms and have as their goal the inner part of any house they see. They fly in on large brown wings, which straightaway fall off, leaving the much diminished bug running around chaotically on the floor, discarded wings wafting about on their own.

As it happens, these bugs are a favorite snack for the lizards, cicak and tokek alike, and therefore one will see a swarm of these reptiles as well, rushing to the feast. (My wife tells me that the bugs are ‘high in protein’, which explains, I guess, the dietary wisdom of the lizards).

So, the hunt is on. The lizards rush up and down the walls, gobbling up the tasty morsels. Wings or no wings, they are apparently delicious either way (and, yes, nutritious).

When the rainy season ends, the beetles are gone as well. One does not see them again until the next rainy season. But one remembers how they filled the air, as dense as the rain itself, and feels, curiously enough, a certain pleasure at their return, as if, like snow, they were a winter tradition.

Rainy Season

Well, this is shaping up to be a pretty rainy rainy season here in Bali. This has varied over the past seven years. Our first year here in Bali, 2010, saw little rain at all. For that reason, having never been to the tropics, or, indeed, outside of America (except for a couple brief trips to Canada), I had the happy, though false impression that this would be the normal course for the weather here.

I found out differently during the course of years 2-7. Rainy season in Bali generally begins in October or November and extends into the early spring. One will very rarely see a day of constant rain; rather, the rain gathers itself in dark, swollen, bulging clouds, the air becomes tense with a breathless, suffocating humidity, and then the heavens break loose in buckets and tubs and tanks of water, assaulting the earth with a certain inimitable fury (a bit like my wife’s temper). But it is a short-lived fury, generally exhausting itself within 10-20 minutes, lifting just as suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown — on, off. The sun creeps back into view, poking tentatively between the fleeing clouds — like, Holy Cow, what was that all about?

The same show will play perhaps two or three times a day. Motorbike drivers, constituting the majority of drivers here, will have hurriedly pulled to the side of the road to don their (supposedly) rain-proof smocks, and at the end of the fit, will stop once again to shed their smocks, and find themselves pretty much as wet with sweat as they would have been with rain anyway. A number of vehicular accidents will typically have occurred, testifying to the general unwillingness of the common Indonesian motorist to understand that the oil and dirt on the dry streets will have become as slick as snot in the rain. Other untoward circumstances may occur as well. Tree limbs, unaccustomed to the wind and the pelting of the downpour, may break and fall. I know, because I was hit by one in the midst of a typical rain storm a few years ago — not a stick or a flimsy branch, but an entire part of a tree. This, of course, knocked my motorbike over as well, spilling me onto the street. In fact, two of the three accidents I have been involved in occurred during a rainstorm. The answer to this danger, as I have concluded, anyway, is to simply stop and take shelter in the nearest shop or warung, and wait it out.  Because the alternative — that is, falling off your bike and hitting the street — is a distinctly painful one, and best avoided.

Now, during the time it has taken to write these lines, the full fury of the storm has passed and diminished to a light sprinkle, with blue sky already peeking through the clouds. Another five minutes will bring partly sunny skies and the streets will quick-dry as fast as you can say The rain is Spain falls mainly on the plain. Some, as I say, will have had an unpleasant encounter with the pavement. Many will find their laundry, which had been hung out to dry, fully soaked and in need of re-washing. Dogs and cats will have enjoyed a rare bath, and rainy season will proceed; for here, as with every clime in the world, the words of Mark Twain ring faithfully true; to whit, Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!

Villa Vayu

Sometimes it pays to have wealthy friends … or rather, to have a wife who has wealthy friends. It’s all the same when you are both invited to stay a couple nights at a posh Seminyak Villa.

Vayu is one of two villas owned by John, an Australian friend. Both are situated among a sort of community of villas at the heart of the tourist district of Seminyak. The curious thing about these villas is that although they are tucked right into a district full of restaurants, shops and nightclubs, the villa environ itself is quiet and peaceful. How this bit of magic has been engineered, I cannot say. Perhaps something to do with the local Bali gods?

In any case, Villa Vayu, like most villas, is built around a central swimming pool and garden. Facing the pool are two suites, complete with king size bed, wardrobe area and outdoor bath and shower. And, of course, hot water. I mention that, because most places here, occupied by normal people like myself, anyway, don’t have hot water. Except when it turns warm from the heat of the sun alone. Not that we really need hot water, but it’s just nice sometimes, especially after a swim, or first thing in the morning.

Speaking of which, each morning the villa staff arrives to prepare a breakfast of your choice, and will then tidy up for the ensuing day.

It’s a little taste of luxury to salt the normal pattern of every day life.

The Complications of Simplicity

Indonesian is said to be a fairly simple language. Even the Indonesians themselves will say so. And theoretically, they are right — it is a fairly simple language, conceptually.

But there are two problems.

One is its abbreviated sort of structure. It’s simply downright un-American, and certainly downright un-English. English is a language of many grammatical requirements, and its forms are very specific. You may say for instance, I am going to school, or I will go to school, or I went to school, or I go to school. In Indonesian, the whole ball of wax is contained in three words: Saya ke sekolah, literally ‘I to school.’ The particulars are implied in the context — which is to say that the hearer will fill in the blanks according to the context in which the sentence is uttered. If there is any confusion, certain specifying words may be added, such as ‘sudah’ (already) ‘belum’ (not yet), or ‘sedang’ (in the process).

For those who speak English as their native language, the simplicity is … well, way too simple. It is the foreignness of structure, therefore, that baffles. It is not a ‘normal’ way of expressing one’s thoughts.

Secondly, although Indonesian is at its core a simple language, consisting of a much smaller vocabulary than English, it has been greatly expanded by the common people with all kinds of alternative words and colloquial expressions and forms. One may understand an Indonesian who is speaking directly to oneself, because he will be employing common, correct forms; but one will likely not completely (or even near completely) understand Indonesians as they speak with one another, as they will be employing a dizzying tongue of slang, colloquialisms, alternate words, and so on. Add to this that they may well be salting the whole conversation with words from a shared second language, such as Balinese or Javanese. For instance, when I arrived at the neighborhood Starbucks the other day, the Barista happily greeted me with the word “Tumben”.

“Tumben? What is that?” I ask.

“Tumben? It’s … hmmm … I don’t know. Let’s see now … What is the Indonesian word?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Ha-ha! Hmm. Oh! Sudah lama! That’s it! Long time, no see. It’s Balinese word.”

There’s a young fellow who works part-time as the parking attendant at the Circle K  store just up the street. If he is there when I stop by, the unspoken rule in that I must sit and chat for a while. Which I happily do. But to be honest, this young man’s use of language is so terrifically heavy on slang, that I generally understand no more than half of what he is saying. He, of course, understands all of what I say because I am employing only the basic core Indonesian that all Indonesians understand.

I was pleased, however, the other night when he said “Tumben malam” — because I understood it! I learned it at Starbucks! ‘Tumben: Long time, no see, plus malam: Nighttime = ‘Long time, no see at nighttime’, or, in English, ‘It has been a long time since you’ve come here at night.’

Regarding whatever he said afterwards, I am still uncertain.

 

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.”

 

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.

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.

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.