Worlds Apart – 3

Of course, I wasn’t about to move into a cardboard box, not just yet anyway. I had my investment savings from my career to fall back on, and within 7 years, I would have my Social Security funds. No, upon arriving in Bali, we began straightaway to look for a suitable little house–nothing grandiose (our budget fell far short of grandiose), but something more than a box.

We were met at the airport by Iluh, an old friend of my wife’s, and her husband, Vick. Our 12 boxes were carried by at least 12 eager helpers for a fee that was also less than grandiose to Vick’s car. I began to see on that first day of arrival, within the first hour, the power of just a little bit of money in Indonesia. We were assisted, for instance, through customs, our route expedited, long lines avoided, the bothersome process of inspection bypassed. One box was cracked opon as a sort of proprietary measure, peered into, and sent on its way to the car. Any one of these boxes might have been filled with cocaine, as far as they knew. Of course they weren’t, but one did contain MS medications that would be considered illegal here in Indonesia–specifically, Vicodin, which is a narcotic pain medication, for people who actually need it for pain, but is also, as I understand it, crushed into a powder these days and huffed for a high. (Narcotics are illegal in Indonesia, even in hospitals. Good luck if you’re in pain. I guess you could always meditate, or go to a Hindu healer–which I actually did do, and will cover in a future post).

At first, having not yet had the time to search for a house, we stayed in in a villa, and got a taste of ‘the good life’, enjoyed as a ‘way of life’ by many of the wealthier bules here. The villa was complete with private pool, AC units in each room, an expansive kitchen with all the modern bells and whistles, and a ‘staff’ — cook, gardener, maid, and so on.

We soon found that common housing was a bit, well, common in comparison to what we were used to in America. It was, however, incredibly cheap compared to housing in America. The places we looked at ran between 20 and 30 million rupiah per year–given the exchange rate at the time, between 2 and 3 thousand dollars–kind of like one would pay per month back home. These were two or three bedroom houses, generally one bathroom about the size of a closet (water closet is indeed a fitting term here), with sometimes a small yard, and oftentimes the kitchen would be outdoors. No pool, of course. No garage, no basement, one floor. One that we looked at featured a steep stairway that ended at the ceiling, at which point the builders had decided, apparently, Well, nah, we don’t need no second floor, but the stairway is kinda nice anyway.

From the villa, we went to a hotel. From the hotel, we went to a home stay. And we looked for houses. Part of the problem is that landlords here in Bali don’t seem to acknowledge any particular responsibility for the properties they seek to rent. One will find each in some degree of disrepair. There’s a toilet, for instance, but the toilet doesn’t work. Maybe you (the prospective renter) can repair it. There’s a hole in the roof, but, hey, it doesn’t rain that often. Just put a bucket beneath the drip. One of the doors is permanently locked. No one knows where the key is. Maybe you can find it? Some have stood empty for perhaps a year or more, during which time they have never been cleaned. Some of the former tenants belongings are still in the corner. The point for the Balinese landlord is to collect rent. The rest is your problem. In house we lived in, a pipe somewhere beneath the front yard sprung a leak. Soon, the entire yard was a lake. I called the landlord to report this, and she advised that I (yes, I), might call the number of a repairman she knew. But why would I call the repairman? It’s your house. Right? Oh, no, I had nothing to do with that leak. It’s just my house. I’m not responsible for things that go wrong.

So, you see, one enters a new reality, full of strange procedures and expectations. I still have not gotten used to the viewpoint of the landlords. Two winters ago, for instance, a panel flew away from the roof of the carport (luckily missing my wife’s car as it fell). I called the landlord to politely inform him of the occurrence, and he said he would take a look. About six months later, he did take a look. And the panel is still propped against the wall at the side of the house.

The roof of my neighbor’s house sprung five leaks, requiring five buckets. Oh well, it is rainy season, he was told. And so he paid his final dues and moved out, much to the astonishment of the owner of the house.

And our own home search? Well, it went on, much longer than we would ever have anticipated.

Worlds Apart – 1

This may sound curious to you — I know it sounds curious to me — but before coming to  Bali in February of 2010, I had never been outside of North America. Never in 55 years.

When I was 5 years old, my family, as part of a trip to Arizona, took us just across the border to Nogales, Mexico. But I don’t remember it. Well, I remember this: A street of open-faced souvenir shops, and one shop in particular where I and my brother were each allowed to purchase the tin mask of our choice. Mine was a round sort of mask with big ears, one of which fell off within a week. My brother’s was an Indian sort of mask with a sharp nose and a headdress. That’s all I can remember about Nogales.

When I was about 50 years old, I flew two times to Winnipeg, Manitoba. I had a girlfriend there. For a very short time. I don’t remember a whole lot about Winnipeg, either.

Other than that, my lifetime travels were limited to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, northern Georgia, northern Virginia and Washington DC.

And then suddenly I flew to the other side of the world with my wife, my stepson and 12 cardboard boxes, 11 of which actually arrived with us. (I have often wondered what was in that 12th box, never to be seen again).

When you leave your home country, you never really think that you’re leaving it. It is everything you know, it is your entire frame of reference. You imagine vaguely that you can hop back and forth at any time. But your boxes get unloaded and you set up house and you accumulate things, and the months pass and the years pass and your daily frame of reference sets roots in a new world–and, suddenly, your old home seems very far away indeed. A world away. A lifetime away ….


As American as Apple Pie

A curious thing happened to me during the 2016 Presidential election. Well, one curious thing among many, I suppose. I was rather profoundly against the views of one of the candidates, and often enough would say so in social media platforms such as Facebook, appending articles in most cases from well known, reliable, mainstream sources which I hoped would further explain my point.

Well, one morning, I received an instant message from an old friend of mine in Portland. I had not seen him in some years, even before leaving America, but we had once been quite close. In fact, he had lived in my house for a time, eaten my food, slept in my spare bed when he was down on his luck, out of a job, newly divorced from his wife.

More surprising yet, then, was the message I received that morning. I should stay out of American politics, I was told. I should just enjoy the life I had going in Bali, sit on the beach, improve my tan, and leave America to Americans.

The most curious thing about this, to me, was not so much that an old friend would turn on me. The campaign season had caused many bitter divides–or rather, revealed many bitter divides, among friends, among associates, even among members of the same family. What struck me most was the idea that because I had been outside of America for six years, I had become, in his mind, no longer a full-fledged American. I was out of touch, corrupted by paradise, disenfranchised of my national identity by suntans on the beach.

Similarly, another acquaintance in an online political discussion group wanted to know what any of this had to do with me. How is it that American politics, American issues affect you as a resident of Bali? What pertinence can it have in your life? What relative experience do you have of what is currently going on in our country?

Hmm. Where to begin? There is the pertinent fact, for instance, that, as an American citizen, I pay taxes to the American government. My desire, as with all tax payers, is to see my contributions responsibly distributed, and, for this reason, I am interested in policies that strike me as responsible, progressive, compassionate and, yes, reasonable.

Moreover, I am a recipient of Social Security, and stand to receive Medicaid when and if I return to America. It is therefore of importance to me that these programs thrive under the protection of a government that will continue to devote resources to those who have worked a lifetime to receive them. In Indonesia, the populace does not enjoy this great gift of our responsible democracy. Pensions are restricted to government workers, policemen and politicians and bureaucrats. The rest, the vast majority, work until they die; or if they are too ill to work, they must rely on their family members for food and shelter and care. Most people here do not have health insurance. In the case of illness or injury, they must either spend everything they have or borrow from relatives and friends, or simply suffer, and often enough die of curable maladies. There is no Obamacare. There are no charity programs. If you end up in the hospital, you must pay before receiving treatment. There is a story of a man who died in a hallway while awaiting the desperate attempts of his family members to gather funds. One case among many.

And so, yeah, you’d better damn well believe that I care about the American way, about the great abundance that enables us to care, about the honorable commitment of our government to represent all and extend benefits to all.

Here in Indonesia, the government is run by graft and corruption, greed and class consciousness. Yes, little by little, we begin to see the rise of a middle class, we begin to see a more progressive distribution of wealth; and yet it remains, in this day, a populace composed of the very rich and the very poor.

Aside from practical matters such as these, I did not, upon coming to Bali, simply shed my American skin and become an Indonesian. And, to Indonesians, I will never be anything other than an American, even were I to live here for the remainder of my life. To them, I am a bule–which means, essentially, a foreigner. They may think that I am an Australian or that I’m Dutch, simply because most white people here are either Australian or Dutch; but they will not in a thousand years mistake me for Indonesian. In fact, even were I to become an Indonesian citizen, for some unimaginable reason, I would still not be an Indonesian. I would remain a white person, a bule.

I was born in America of American parents, lived 55 years in America, was schooled in America, worked my career in America,  buried my parents and my brother in America. And so no, my old friend, I have not changed my identify, discarded my heritage, forgotten my culture, ceased to care about my nation. You can take the American out of America, but you cannot take America out of the American.

In short, I am, always have been, and always will be as American as apple pie–not the fake kind that they stuff in plastic wrappers in the Mini-Market, but the kind that mom used to make from scratch and set on the windowsill to cool.