Posts Tagged ‘bule’

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Why Do Parents Insist On Killing Their Kids In Bali?

July 19, 2013

I don’t really understand why some Balinese parents are so hell-bent on killing their kids here. Oh, they don’t do it deliberately – in many ways they care for their children in a way that far surpasses child-raising practices in westernised countries.

But they allow them to ride motorbikes from a very young age – an age when common sense has not yet begun to develop, when risk-awareness is non-existent and understanding of consequences is totally absent. And ‘road rules’? Well, I doubt that many of the parents who allow their kids on the road have any idea themselves.

So I’m on the road, on the way to brunch, and the road is full of kids on bikes. Many are in elementary school uniforms, all look to be between 7 and 10 years old. They are skittish and impulsive, weaving all over the road, impulsively accelerating and braking without a thought for any other road users. They are dangerous, and unaware of anyone but themselves. I ride defensively, because they show the same the attributes of caution as a cat caught in the middle of a busy road. At least a cat has the sense to be scared; these kids show no fear.

Suddenly, on a bend in the road, a child on a bike – way too big and heavy for him – comes straight at me on my side of the road. He looks to be about 6 years old. He is not wearing a helmet. It’s a blind corner, but he is taking a racing line, cutting the corner at speed, oblivious to the possibility of on-coming traffic. He sees me, but takes no evasive action. Maybe that’s because he has a phone firmly clutched in his left hand and has not yet mastered swerves using only one hand.

I brake hard – tricky on a bend – and manage to get far enough onto the left shoulder to avoid a head-on crash. He deviates not one centimetre from his line on the wrong side of the road. As he passes, he glares at me, his face twisted with anger. How dare I, as a bule, occupy a part of the road where he wants to be? How arrogant of me.

Worse, as he flashes past, his passenger – a little girl of perhaps 4 or 5, who is also helmet-less, just looks at me with that Balinese direct opaque stare, without a trace of fear, or a skerrick of understanding that she was seconds away from death or a horrible maiming.

In the next ten minutes, I see dozens of small children on motorbikes, riding three abreast, chatting to each other and ignoring oncoming cars that have to brake and swerve. I see others cutting corners, stopping without warning, turning right from the left lane without indicating, and entering heavy traffic streams from the left without looking. Just like their elders.

I ride as carefully as I can to avoid them all, because I know that in Bali, if any local crashes into my bike because of their ineptness, inexperience or stupidity, it will be my fault. I am the foreigner; if I had had the sense to stay in my own country instead of coming here, the accident never would have happened. Ergo, it’s my fault. Balinese logic.

And if I do have an accident where a local is hurt, at best I will be expected to pay for all hospital bills, repairs to their bike, ‘compensation’ to the family and a gratuity to the police to avoid further unpleasantness. At worst, I will be beaten or killed by an enraged roadside mob.

So why do Balinese parents allow their under-aged, inexperienced, unlicensed kids to ride the family bike? They know the danger. They know that three people a day are killed on bikes in Bali alone, and that countless others are badly injured. They know that children are more at risk than adults, and they know that children will always promise to be ‘careful’ despite not having the slightest understanding of what ‘careful’ even means.

My feeling is that it’s sheer, uncaring laziness. Or a pervasive fatalism. I was with one family as their very young son jumped on the family bike and rode off to school.
“Why don’t you give him a lift?” I asked the father.
“Oh, I’m too busy”, was the reply.
I tried a different tack: “But he doesn’t have a licence …”
I got a pitying look. “Of course not. He can’t get a licence until he’s 16″. (Unspoken: “You idiot.”)
I thought I’d give it another try: “But it’s dangerous …”
“No. He knows how to ride the bike. He has been practising in the gang outside for two weeks now.”
I have no answer to that.

Finally, I asked the question that I had been avoiding, as I didn’t want to bring bad luck.
“Does he know what to do if he has an accident?”
“Oh, yes”, he laughed. “I’ve told him. Get out of there as fast as you can!”

Oh. I guess that’s OK then.

With growing impatience at my obviously retarded intellect, he also indicates that the young boy had been riding as a pillion passenger practically since he was born, “so he knows the rules”. Presumably by some variant of osmosis. Or worse, by watching his parents, both of whom scare me to death when I see their abysmal lack of road-craft when riding.

Later, as I was writing this piece, I spoke about this problem to a couple of my local friends, who gave me an ever-so-gentle spray. They politely implied that I don’t understand Balinese customs, that “this is what we do”, and that I should not bring my Western preconceptions to Bali. At least this time I didn’t get the time-honoured response of : “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back where you came from?” But I’m also sure that one will come from the affronted after they read this.

Well, maybe I don’t understand. Maybe I believe that all parents have a responsibility to keep their children from harm, and this includes not allowing them to have control of a lethal weapon  such as a car or motorbike before they are old enough to do so responsibly. Maybe I don’t want to be killed or injured by a child on a bike, or see children badly hurt even if their parents don’t seem to care.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a bule here.

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The Problem With High-Mileage Bodies

June 15, 2013

The human body is a wondrous thing; complex, resilient, flexible, tough, and built for endurance. But its very complexity makes it fragile, and susceptible to disturbances in its equilibrium that baffle medical practitioners.

Never is this more true than for those of us who suffer from the complaint known as ‘age’, when our component parts begin to wear out, when the dies of our DNA become blunted with repeated cell replications, and we begin to wonder what the hell has happened to our bodies.

Sometimes the signs of decay creep up on us like wraiths in the night and we wake more tired than when we went to sleep. And sometimes they leap out, gibbering at us, in the course of a normal day. When one’s personal odometer clicks over to 24,500+ days, these signs appear more frequently.

So I’m doing my normal Bali thing of writing, reading, reflecting and waiting for inspiration’s thunderbolts to strike, when I feel an urge to have some condensed milk instead – something I haven’t consumed for six months or so. When it comes to actually sitting down and writing, I am very good at displacement activity, particularly when it involves ingesting something sweet.

After mindlessly spooning half a can of the sweet goop into my mouth, I don’t feel so good. Fifteen minutes later, I have a violent attack of dizziness and nearly black out. With a fine understanding of cause and effect, I resolve never again to use a spoon to eat condensed milk, but to drink it straight from the can in future. Obviously, there is a chemical reaction occurring between the spoon and the milk, causing vertigo. Because this has never happened before during my youth, I deduce that it must be my advancing years, together with the use of the metal spoon which has exacerbated the problem. Never again.

Later that afternoon, feeling better and thinking that my condition has resolved itself, I go for my customary coffee. This is a time of day that I enjoy, sipping a good brew, watching the passing parade of humanity, and browsing the infinite weirdness of my favourite social media.

But wait, what is happening here? I can’t understand what is on my screen! Not because it’s Twitter, where almost everything is incomprehensible, but because I seem to have lost the ability to translate letters and words into anything meaningful. My screen is a series of distorted, whirling voids superimposed on individual letters, which either disappear altogether or morph into unrecognisable shapes.

Suddenly, my screen looks like this ...

Suddenly, my screen looks like this …

The distorted shapes writhe and pulse, and the visual field around my phone is shimmering and undulating like a heat haze. And no, I haven’t been drinking. Sweet Jesus! I’m going blind! Or I’m having a stroke, or a TIE. Maybe my retinas have decided to spontaneously migrate and wrap themselves around my irises, but after thinking about the anatomical improbability of this scenario, I dismiss it.

Perhaps it’s glaucoma, I think hopefully, because the treatment for that is cannabis. Then I remember that in Bali, this medication is impractical because it tends to be accompanied by either lengthy incarceration in the Hotel Kerobokan, or a free death penalty, especially if one is unfortunate enough to be a foreigner. OK, scratch glaucoma; consider giant cell arteritis, or a brain tumour, or maybe just one of those psychotic episodes common amongst expats …

Strangely, I don’t feel any fear – just an incredible curiosity as to what might be causing these weird visual effects. My ruminations are interrupted by loud sirens and flashing lights in Jalan Melasti, where a police car escorting one of the terminally entitled VIPs in their shiny black cars has stopped just outside the cafe, taking up a whole lane and inconsiderately blocking traffic. The occupants, presumably some raja kecil with more money than consideration, get out and wander around to do some shopping while traffic snarls behind their car, and I snarl behind my coffee.

I can feel my blood pressure go up, and with that comes an additional visual disturbance – radiating, wriggling worms of light and shade surrounding my central visual field, coruscating with a ghostly radiance and causing pulsating halos around the flashing lights of the police car. This is getting really interesting.

Melasti_Street
The effect is both trippy and magical, and lasts for half an hour, after which it fades. When I can read my phone screen again without distortion, I seek medical advice. Not from a doctor, I hasten to add, but from an alternative source blessed with more diagnosticians than a hospital. I am referring of course to Facebook, where my FB friends rally instantly to provide suggestions, explanations and advice.

And one explanation, thanks to friend Vida, emerges as the most likely. It would seem that I have had an attack of ocular migraine, a painless affliction I had never heard of, and for which there is no real explanation or cure.

Whatever it is, I can vouch for the fact that it is fascinating. I am now looking forward to what other mystery ailments will befall me in my journey towards the dark side. New experiences are endlessly intriguing of course, but I agree with Carl Jung, who so accurately remarked about the travails of ageing: “Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life.”

But I think that it is this very unpreparedness that makes life in the sunset years so sweet, so interesting and so challenging. You know – live in the moment, devil take the hindmost, carpe diem, damn the torpedoes, and long live spontaneity. Forget the future; it hasn’t happened yet.

I live every day by each one of those wonderful aphorisms.

Well, sort of.  After today, I’m adding ‘Be Prepared’ to that list. I’m off now to check that my medical insurance is up to date, and that my will is in order …

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Your Call Is Important To Me

June 9, 2013

Your call is important to me, and that’s why I won’t answer it. I get voice calls on my hand-phone all the time. I ignore them, not because I’m a curmudgeonly old fart (which I am), but because it doesn’t make any sense for me to answer your call. And it’s not because I wish to emulate those execrable call centres who tell you in unctuous tones: “Your call is important to us”, and then leave you on hold for the ninety minutes it takes for some earnest character, for whom English is a fifth language, to pick up and tell you why he can’t help you.

My voice call avoidance behaviour is partly a matter of motivation. At least 70% of my voice calls are from people I don’t know, and who are trying to sell me something. Regardless of the pervasive ambient noise problem here, I won’t answer calls from unknown numbers, or from those whose caller IDs are blocked. Life is too short to waste on dreamers who believe that I want to give them money, or that buying their insurance policy will somehow enrich my life. How will it do this when I have to die to get a payout?

No, I don’t answer because my phone usually rings when I am riding my bike, and I am way too busy avoiding other riders who are texting and talking because they have answered their phones. Just because they are dangerous lunatics who can’t concentrate on actually driving while talking doesn’t mean that I should become one too. So while you fume at the manifest unfairness of your call going unanswered, I am occupied in staying alive and relatively un-maimed.

And when I have parked my bike and I am sitting in some restaurant or bar, I don’t answer my phone either, simply because there are probably only two venues in the whole of Bali that are quiet enough to hear you, and I’m rarely in either of them. I’m so deaf now that I wouldn’t understand most of what you say even if I did pick up in such noisy environments. Do you really want a conversation that goes:

You: “Hi, Wayan here, apa kabar?”
Me: “Um, no this is not Wayan, it’s Vyt, and yes, I’m in a bar. Who’s calling?”
You: “Wayan!”
Me: “Why? Because I want to know who I’m talking to!”
You: (Gnashing teeth) ” No, it’s … doesn’t matter. You free there tonight?”
Me: “No, not three, I’m here alone …”

And so it goes. Any conversation under those circumstances will end in either tears or homicide.

Once I am actually at home, where it is comparatively quiet, the situation theoretically should be better, but in practical terms rarely is. The rushing sound of water from my pool produces white noise which is perfect for masking critical mid-range vocal frequencies. The dog next door is psychic, and with devilish cunning, only barks during critical words in conversations, rendering the meaning of sentences unintelligible. Bali’s air traffic controllers only schedule aircraft to fly overhead when I get a phone call. The ringing of my phone immediately triggers a need by some locals in my lane to rev the shit out of their motorbikes just outside my gate, or some clown to begin fogging the place, and all of these sonic distractions serve to destroy any chance of meaningful conversations. But that’s not why I don’t answer my phone at home.

It’s because Telkomsel, my lovely provider, has somehow managed its tower coverage so that their normal 4-5 bar signal everywhere else in Legian drops to 1-2 bars in my house. Voice calls drop out, or they are so broken up as to become auditory garbage. Sure, if I stand on tip-toe on the edge of the south-east corner of my pool and connect an earth wire to my left foot, I get a reasonable signal, but only if I hold my mouth right. That’s why I don’t answer my phone at home.

My eyes still work – not very well, but they are good enough to read SMS messages, as long as I take my glasses off and squint a bit. The trouble is, no-one who rings me, and gets no answer,  seems to consider the possibility that sending me an SMS might actually be more productive. I used to reply to missed calls with an SMS explaining that I can’t hear voice calls, but inevitably this would trigger yet another voice call. Sigh. I don’t do that any more.

Now all I have to do is to work out how the hell to clear my phone log of 1,679 missed calls. Last time I tried, I deleted all my contacts by mistake. Actually, that might not be such a bad thing …

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More Phallic Language Pitfalls

May 5, 2013

So as I painfully and slowly add to my meagre Indonesian vocabulary, I discover yet another trap for the unwary practitioner with limited knowledge of local languages.

Whenever I discover a new word, I try to sneak it in to the conversation in order to demonstrate my evolving mastery. Most of the time, I get baffled looks, because I’m either using it in the wrong context, or at the wrong time, or in the wrong situation. I still mix up harga and ongkos –  to me, it’s all ‘price’.

Or I mix up words that sound similar to me, such as jempol (thumb), jemput (pick up) and jembat (bridges), resulting in such inane requests as “where is the nearest thumb across the river?” Or “What time do you want me to bridge you?”

Of course, these gaffes pale into insignificance when I accidentally use jembut instead of one of the three above. Then there is the prospect of real trouble on Facebook, where Indonesians refer to a “like” quite logically as a “thumb”, often responding to a ‘like’ with “Thanks for the thumb”. You should have seen the hysteria I caused the first time I mistakenly used jembut instead of jempol, because basically what I wrote was “Thanks for the pubic hair”. Awkward.

The soft consonants at the end of Indonesian words give my bule vocal apparatus grief too, particularly with slang. Don’t try telling someone that you are very broke (bokek), because with poor enunciation, it may well come out as bokep. What you have actually said is “I am extremely pornographic”. Even more awkward. And don’t even get me started on the confusingly similar words for ‘gecko’, ‘breast’ and ‘shit’ – these are all too hard and should probably be avoided altogether.

Never mind; it’s slowly coming together.  But every so often I still drop a clanger, even if I think I have checked word meanings carefully before experimenting with them in public.

So my Balinese waitress asks me if I would like dessert after a good meal, and I reply “Tidak makasih, aku sudah ada kenyang“, intending to say “No thanks, I’m already full“. Kenyang is, of course, my new word of the day. I attribute the stifled giggle that follows to my awful pronunciation. She rushes off and returns with another waitress, who asks me the same question, and gets the same reply. They both collapse in giggles. I think I’m being set up here.

It turns out that the word ‘kenyang’, which does mean ‘full’ in Bahasa Indonesia, has a completely different meaning in Bahasa Bali, and what I have so earnestly been saying to these Balinese is “No thanks, I already have an erection.” Kill me now.

Later – too late, naturally – a friend tells me that to avoid confusion, I should say ‘kenyang Java’, or ‘kenyang Bali’. I think I’ll pass on that suggestion; I can’t think of any occasion in a restaurant where I would need the tumescent version of that word …

But it’s not just us foreigners that get challenged by unexpected meanings. My delightful assistant, not being Balinese, commented one morning on all the penjors in my street – those tall, drooping ceremonial structures made of bamboo. She didn’t know what they were called, so she said, “Wow! Your neighbour has a … um,  a really big bamboo!”

I laughed, which was a tad insensitive of me, and which disconcerted her. So I played her the classic old calypso ditty ‘Big Bamboo’ on YouTube. After she listened to the bawdy lyrics – and giggled a lot when she understood what ‘Big Bamboo’ actually meant  – she said solemnly, “I will NEVER use those words again.”

I know exactly how she feels.

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On Being A Cat In Bali

May 4, 2013

One of Bali’s many cats, practically a walking skeleton, crosses the road slowly outside a restaurant. It doesn’t even try to dodge cars and bikes; it doesn’t even look for hazards; it is beyond caring.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, who target restaurants in the hope that patrons will throw them a morsel in response to their piteous meowing, this one ignores everything and everybody. It seems wholly focused on the process of walking without falling over, single-mindedly intent on its unknown destination.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Bones stretching its dull and matted fur, it plods slowly past the tables, paying no attention to the smells of food. It is almost beyond using its scavenging skills, beyond hunger, and nearly beyond life.

Does it have a human family? Someone to nurture it and look after it? Probably not. In Bali, there don’t seem to be many locals who feel more than a diffuse and distant empathy for cats. After all, it’s only recently that  the Balinese have discovered the companionship that dogs provide; cats don’t seem to have quite made the grade yet.

Perhaps that’s because dogs have owners, people on whom they can lavish affection and loyalty, and therefore get it in return. Cats, on the other hand, don’t acknowledge anyone as being their master. Instead of accepting a human leader, a cat sees a competitor. Cats don’t have owners; cats have staff, whose sole purpose seems to be to minister to their needs and to be ignored as soon as these needs are met. They pay a price for this independence.

Of course there will always be ‘dog people’ and ‘cat people’ as long as humans respond to animal personalities in different ways. I’m more of a dog person myself, but it makes me sad to see any animal alone, unloved and discarded as this cat appears to be, and I try to help it.

But it rejects my offer of food, acting as if it can’t see, or smell it. Maybe it can’t; maybe its whole being has shrunk to a tiny pinpoint, the purpose of which now is just to stay alive for another minute, another hour, another day.

Unbidden, the plight of Indonesia’s poor rises to the surface of my mind, but, like a true coward, I push it back down. Many, like this cat, are alone, malnourished, without hope, and without opportunity. But there are 100 million of them and I can do nothing; the problem is too vast. Instead, I focus on the cat, because there is only one, it’s right here and it provides me with an illusion that I can actually help it.

But of course, I can’t. It walks on as if I wasn’t there, any spark of hope it may have once had in those dead eyes beaten out of it by a thousand rejections, a thousand harsh words and a thousand disappointments.

Go in peace cat, and may the end be peaceful.

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The Marquee Job – A Metaphor For The Planning Process In Bali?

May 1, 2013

Bali has many attractions to tempt visitors. Its culture is alluring, the scenery is stunning – once you get away from the The Great Southern Urban Blight – and the opportunities to relax are boundless. With proper planning,  sustainable policies and infrastructure that matches its population, it could be fabulous.

Good planning would mean that hotel and condominium permits are curtailed to match demand. Instead, permits are issued at the whim of Regents who can not see beyond the windfall of the ‘special fees’ that such permits deliver. The resulting oversupply of beds means that competition for guests is fierce.

But instead of competition driving down the high room tariffs, hoteliers have been told by the government that a ‘fixed price’ regimen is to be implemented for accommodation. Ostensibly to maintain the perception of ‘quality’, the real reason is obvious. Lower room tariffs mean a reduction in the government tax take. Hoteliers are now being threatened with loss of their star rating if they reduce prices in line with the normal rules of supply and demand. A modicum of long-term planning could have avoided this ridiculous situation.

Good planning would also mean that supplies of electricity and water were sufficient for both the existing and the projected population. It would also involve introducing methods of conserving and recycling both water and energy. Proper planning would avoid the situation we see regularly here – load-shedding power blackouts, a poor water supply and distribution system, and salt-water contamination of ground wells. But there is little evidence of any such planning.

Good planning would mean that purchasers of cars here would have to demonstrate that they actually have somewhere to park the things, instead of clogging up every narrow road and gang outside their garage-less dwellings. Pro-active registration policies could reduce the increasing numbers of over-sized private cars, bought for status – and invariably on credit – which try to squeeze into narrow streets, causing monumental traffic jams.

Good planning, and proper information channels, would mean that owners of restaurants, stalls and other businesses would know in advance when visitor peaks are expected. Right now, the owners of hundreds of businesses are staring glumly out into the streets, wondering where their customers are. They are oblivious to the dates of school holidays and other tourism-drivers, because no-one has told them and they haven’t bothered to find out.  So they let their staff go, without pay, until suddenly the tourists are back and everyone is under-staffed and under-stocked. There is no planning for peaks and troughs, and so the mad oscillations continue.

I fear that planning, at any level, is not one of Bali’s strengths. The government seems to show little evidence of strategic long-term planning, and individuals seem to show little tactical planning ability. When action is taken, it tends to be reactive, and there seems to be little understanding of the consequences of those actions. Maybe that’s why there is so much back-flipping on policies, so many abandoned projects and so much confusion here.

Sitting and watching preparations for a wedding at a little beach restaurant in Petitenget, I witness a  perfect example of the ‘no planning’ mindset that seems to afflict Bali. In this microcosm of what is happening here on a larger scale every day, I watch a group of industrious lads meticulously setting up a marquee and table on the beach sand. They have been doing this for the last 90 minutes, perhaps ten metres from the water. The tide is coming in.

Planning Ahead - Setting Up The Marquee

Planning Ahead – Time And Tide Wait For No Marquee

One of the wedding planners wanders over from the restaurant, speaks to the workers and gestures at the incoming waves. The lads stare out to sea for 5 minutes, verify that they are indeed waves out there, then shrug and continue working.

The next wave swamps the marquee and table and saturates the carefully arranged tablecloth. The boys, bemused, move the whole outfit 3 metres back and start re-setting the decorations and replacing the wet stuff. The tide is, not surprisingly, still coming in. In fact, the high-tide mark, clearly visible, is a good 20 metres shoreward, but this does not seem to register with them or affect their endeavours.

Ten minutes later, as I am leaving, the water is again lapping at the legs of the marquee. The boys, Canute-like, stare out to sea and will the tide to retreat. Inexplicably, it doesn’t, and they painstakingly shift the whole edifice back another 3 metres.

I don’t know how many iterations of this little drama occurred, because I left, unable to watch the inevitable. But I’m willing to bet it was at least three more …

I wonder if education might help. If schools and colleges encouraged their students to plan ahead, use logic, understand consequences, and gave them the tools to do this, would this change the paradigm? Would this result in a new generation better able to plan for Bali’s growth?

Or is what I keep seeing here just “The Bali Way”, and therefore unchangeable?

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The Great Nyepi Escape

April 29, 2013

I usually enjoy Nyepi Day, Bali’s annual Day of Silence, when all are confined to their domiciles for 24 hours and no noise, work, fun, or illumination is permitted. It is an opportunity to reflect and allow the stillness to enter you.

Despite having honoured this day for the last  four years,  sequestered alone in my dwelling, this year the prospect was a little more daunting. A few minor technical hitches – such as a broken stove, a malfunctioning DVD player and no hot water – would have made the enforced isolation more unpleasant. OK, OK – I’m a wimp.

My brilliant solution of checking into a hotel with expansive grounds, where guests can wander around freely during Nyepi, came to naught. Bali’s hotel prices are just too high for me now. Expansive grounds come with an expensive tariff, and of course the Nyepi lock-down means you have to book two nights. As it turned out, going off the island – to Kuala Lumpur – ended up being cheaper for four nights at a hotel, including airfares, than staying in Bali.

So here I am in Malaysia. Ten minutes to get through the immigration formalities, an automatic, free visitors’ visa, luggage waiting for me on the carousel. A train station right in the terminal, and a 25 minute, 57 kilometre trip to KL Sentral on the KLIA express.

The KL traffic is busy, but free-flowing, with amazingly disciplined and courteous drivers. Drivers stop for pedestrians on crossings, they stop for red lights, they wait for traffic to clear before pulling out from the left, and they park properly. The streets are wide and clean and clearly signposted. I don’t see a single piece of trash on the footpaths.

It’s weird being in a place where everything just … works. The electricity stays on, water quality is good, places are open at their designated hours, and everything in my little hotel is as it should be. Well, most of it – my room’s air-conditioner control panel appears to be connected to a Bali-style ‘Wishful Thinking’ module, which in turn is connected to nothing. Like governments, I suspect it is there purely to give us all an illusion of control.

But no-one controls the weather, and at this time of year, there is rain. Lots of it. Regular as clockwork, the customary 4pm thunderstorm hits the city, often violently. Today’s is massive, with lightning striking every building around me every few seconds. I notice that all the smart birds are diving from the tops of tall buildings and taking refuge at street level. They don’t look happy, and they’re not smiling – but how can one tell? I mean, they have no lips …

I witness two hippy types, presumably with an IQ far lower than that of most of the birds, dancing in the rain on an 8th floor roof across the street. Faces upturned towards the continuous bolts of lightning, they wave their arms towards the raging skies as if in supplication to their gods. They are far closer to heaven than they ever imagine. But someone is looking after these dolts, and they fail to be vapourised in an incandescent ball of energy. I confess to feeling faintly disappointed.

While Bali is dark and silent for Nyepi, Kuala Lumpur is pumping. Checking out the restaurants, I find one called the White Raja. Ah, OK, Indian food. Then I look closer and notice that it’s actually called the White Raja – Borneo. Right, it appears that we have Kalimantan food with an Indian influence. Possibly with some traditional Dyak fare? Interesting. So I check the menu. It’s Italian.

Never mind. I find a basement under one of the plazas which is crammed with every imaginable type of food stall, each one serving delicious food. While English is widely spoken in KL, the locally-patronised food stand owners tend to stick to Bahasa Melayu – or Chinese, or dialects from the Middle East. Fortunately, even though they struggle to understand my Bahasa Indonesia (which is no surprise; people in Indonesia have the same problem) I can make myself understood.

I think I’ve worked out the secret. If I Anglicise every 5th word, add “lah” to every 3rd word and excitedly finish every sentence with “!”, they seem to understand me better. Or I could just stop torturing them and speak English …

After dinner, I find a footpath bar close to my hotel, and kick back with a wee drink while watching the passing parade. Suddenly, my ears are assailed with a strange, eclectic mix of Euro-Arabic-Latino-style music. Shortly thereafter, a figure materialises in the gloom of a doorway to one side. I see a hint of sinuous dance movements, a silhouette promising sensual delights, and a tantalising glimpse of a deep décolletage. And then the lighting improves, and an … apparition becomes visible.

He, because it definitely was a he, is about 190 cm tall and is dressed in a frilly, black, deeply low-cut top revealing astonishingly profuse chest hair, black leggings and a strange sort of fringed tutu. His dancing is a cross between belly dancing, erotic salsa, and pole dancing. Pelvic thrusts of an energy and amplitude that suggest a serious future back problem seem to hypnotise the rapt female patrons of the bar. The first unexpected thrust makes me inadvertently swallow one of the ice-cubes in my drink.

But that isn’t all. Every half-minute or so, he emits a shrieking ululation of a frequency and volume high enough to coagulate eyeballs for a one kilometre radius, as well as instantly kill any birds that have survived the earlier lightning storm. The first of these lifts me  completely of my chair, and I spill my drink. I discover later that this is a Zaghrouta – a traditional Iraqui cry of great joy.

My own joy is tempered somewhat when I try to go to sleep in my room later, only to discover that not only is his performance continuing, but the walls of the hotel are completely transparent to the sonic barrage. As I watch my bedroom walls tremble, their paint flaking off, and my bathroom fixtures fracture into shards of porcelain, I am struck with the thought that George Bush was looking for the wrong Weapons of Mass Destruction. The real ones were larynx-based, completely hidden and totally transportable all this time.

Zaghrouta aside, KL was a great short break from Bali. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the quality of infrastructure with that found in Indonesia, as the circumstances and mindsets are so different. It is amazing what a genuine pursuit of excellence can achieve – and of course, the will to improve things. It is a shame that some of those in power in Indonesia are so consumed with antipathy towards Malaysia. They could learn so much.

Will I come back for next Nyepi? Probably not. I sort of missed the silence.

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