Archive for the ‘A SHORT PITHY POST OR TWO’ Category


Judgement – With An Ironic Twist

March 24, 2014

So here I am again at the beach warung, relaxing and pondering the manifest benefits of living in Bali. The two twenty-somethings sitting nearby are deep in conversation, discussing and dissecting every man that walks past. They avidly gawk at body shapes, musculature, degree of hirsuteness, perceived cockiness and body language and acerbically comment on each attribute. And from this superficial data, they somehow manage to glean an astonishing insight into the characters, histories, backgrounds and personalities of the men in the passing parade.

“OMG, look at him – betcha he’s a wife-basher!” and “What a creep. He’s gonna hit on us in a minute!” (he didn’t) and “That one’s a rapist for sure” and “Looks like my loser ex-boyfriend.” and “Wow! How arrogant is he?” and “Body like that should be banned from the beach”. This opinionated, ugly profiling goes on for a good five minutes, until another unfortunate male walks past the judgemental duo who are about to rip him to pieces.

They freeze for a moment, because this one has committed the cardinal sin – he is wearing Speedos. Well! He cops the full vitriolic treatment, despite looking quite presentable. His black briefs aren’t overly tight and they are certainly not revealing, except in the vague Christo sense that there may be an underlying architectural structure under the drapery. But that doesn’t stop the peanut gallery.

“Disgusting! Look at that – showing off his junk like that!” “Yeah, I can’t stand exhibitionists! Why don’t they wear proper gear?” (I presume she means those Truly Silly Pants that make grown men look like toddlers wearing hand-me-downs.) “What a sleaze-bag. Betcha he’s a flasher …” and so on until the poor unfashionable man, blessedly oblivious to the slander,  disappears from sight.


Then comes the interesting bit. As the women leave the beach bar, they shed their sarongs, leaving them clad in their bikinis. Both their tops seem to have been carefully selected to show maximum cleavage, considerable side-boob, more under-boob than strictly necessary, and a carefully-engineered gape at the front, which they skilfully employ while leaning over to check their toenails.  Several times, in fact, and always in the direction of an audience.

Their bikini bottoms, which incidentally are about a quarter the size of the aforementioned offending Speedos, are of a pale, clingy material that displays prodigious amounts of gluteus maximus at the back, while their fronts feature astonishingly prominent camel toes of almost gynaecological detail. They make Speedos look like empty garbage bags. Their several slow, deliberate pirouettes in front of patrons as they left the place ensured that no-one, but no-one, would miss their all too obvious gender markers.

And before you leap to attack me, I am not judging these women’s attire, or their social display behaviour, or their right to comment on the physical appearance of men. God knows women have had enough of that from men over the decades, and maybe some feel it’s time for payback.

But I do respond negatively to rank hypocrisy, and to attitudes that are based on “Do as I say, not as I do.” or “One rule for me, another for you.” Maybe some people who hold these attitudes are blind to their part in the grand Game of Life, or maybe some just want to play by their rules alone.

That’s why I suspect that, for these women, the irony of their performance totally escaped them.


The Anxiety Of Being Untethered

April 6, 2013

It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon; my energy is low and my body craves caffeine. I can’t think straight, and the demands of dealing with with writing, social media and lazing by the pool have become overwhelming. Within five minutes I have thrown together my essential leaving-the-villa survival kit and launched my favourite motorbike towards the coffee shop. Well OK, it’s my only bike, and it’s actually a scooter – but that’s beside the point.

But only a few minutes into the caffeine experience, I experience a crisis. I feel suddenly exposed, like in those crazy dreams where you’re on a bus on the way to work and suddenly realise that you are naked. Totally naked. Everyone is dressed except you, and even though no-one seems to notice, you just know that within minutes, the whole bus will be pointing and giggling at the idiot who forgot his clothes in the morning rush.

But it’s not one of those dreams, even though the feelings are the same. My discomfiture morphs into a horrifying realisation that I am truly alone. I am blind and deaf, shut off from the world around me, unable to communicate, to listen to others, or to contribute to their debates. I can’t even lurk on the periphery of life’s countless conversations and vicariously enjoy the swirling currents of existence around me. My brain no longer functions, and my surroundings blur into a surrealistic cage, leaving me incommunicado.

I feel as if I have entered some sort of dissociative fugue state, alive but cut off from my normal sensorium, and as a result, isolating me from my network of friends and family. I have lost a big piece of my identity and this generates enormous anxiety. Is this what a Transient Ischaemic Event feels like? Or a sudden onset of dementia?

But, even with my depleted sense of identity, I still understand that I don’t need medical or psychiatric intervention. I know, at the deep core of my mind which still works, that my mental and emotional state is purely due to my forgetfulness. It is a self-created problem which is fairly easily fixed.

You see, I have left my smartphone at home. My god! No Twitter with my coffee. No email. No Jakarta Globe on which to leave pungent rants in the comments section. No Facebook to let me engage with endless pictures of cats. No Messenger to answer important questions like, “What are you doing?” No Google. No Google Translate – how will I converse? Rely on my memory? Ha!  No news. No … life.

Fortunately, just as I am about to leave my coffee half-finished and ride desperately home to retrieve my missing life-line to the world, I remember that I still have some ageing technology with me. It might be ancient, but it still has the capacity to connect me to the world, and to the Universe beyond. It’s modern enough to have random-access storage, and its display, while not back-lit, is adequate for ambient light. People might look at me askance while I’m using it, but at least I don’t have to worry about being caught with a low battery, because it doesn’t have one.

So within minutes of using my old-fashioned portal to other realities, I am immersed in the imagination-expanding richness of the old-style information stored on my portable, albeit retro, Bound Offerings Of Knowledge unit, a Caxton product from a past era, which surprisingly, is still available on-line today. I promptly forget all about my smartphone and stop stressing.

I highly recommend this technology – and not only for those occasions where you forget your phone or tablet either. You have probably heard of it by its more commonly-used acronym, “BOOK”.

Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.



Some Post-Nyepi Reflections

March 25, 2012

Another Nyepi has come and gone.  It was a time of quiet darkness, the freedom from the incessant chaos of traffic and people on the streets providing a balm for jaded souls. A Day of Silence, introspection and respect. Except, of course, for those who seem to be exempt from respecting the strictures that this day imposes on the rest of us.

Like the local lads in Buleleng who rampaged through the streets of the silent Nyepi night on motorbikes, attacking rival communities, hurling insults and missiles, and co-opting reinforcements to swell the numbers of those engaged in this desecration.

Like the police and paramilitaries who responded to this affray not with mediation, counselling and diplomacy, but with gunfire. Gunfire on Nyepi Day, no less!

Like some Balinese children and teenagers, caught up in self-righteous vigilante hubris – and believing that they have the same rights as adult Pecalang – rampaging noisily down streets, hammering loudly on doors and demanding that lights be doused.

Like the Pecalang who believed that young children under their supervision, should be permitted to play in the otherwise empty streets while their charges socialised, chatted and played cards.

Like some insensitive bules who perhaps thought that they had been quiet for long enough by 11 pm on Friday night, and were therefore justified in letting the sound of their loud, drunken arguments escape their villas and pollute the still night.

Like the few errant mosques, whose clerics arrogantly permitted amplified sounds to sully the silence despite all prior polite requests for quiet – and despite Bali’s already generous concessions which allowed Muslims to walk to mosques in the name of religious tolerance.

Like surfers and visitors to Medewi, who freely used the streets and beaches all day.

Like some restaurants in the same area, which were open for business on the Day of Silence.

And like a few non-Balinese households, who believed that their brightly-lit, noisy houses were as exempt from silence, darkness and respect for local customs as those of their compatriots in other parts of the archipelago.

Visitors, tourists, expats and most Indonesian non-Hindus have, in the main, always shown respect for Nyepi, observing its restrictions with good grace. But now, with breaches and exemptions on the increase, some people are starting to question whether the Balinese take it all that seriously themselves. And if they don’t, why are the rest of us bothering?

I think that the spiritual currency of this special day is being slowly devalued – and that makes me sad.

RELATED POST: One Day, Will We Commemorate Nyepi Day With A Minute’s Silence?


Please, Someone In Indonesian Politics – Take The Final Step

September 25, 2011

I was going to write a thousand words on this.
But maybe a picture is better …


The Sate Was Flaming Good

May 15, 2011

A large part of Bali humour tends towards the physical, sometimes bordering on slapstick. If someone gets slightly hurt, or at least discomfited, it’s even better. Any event that causes someone to be brought down a peg or two triggers an unseemly display of mirth from the locals. It really doesn’t seem to matter whether the butt of the joke is a local or a bule – everyone is fair game.

Ever tripped on one of those lethal Bali footpath bumps and sprawled in a painfully undignified heap into a nest of parked motorbikes? The rapidly glued-on masks of concern will be replaced by barely muffled chortling and streaming eyes as soon as your back is turned.

Ever ridden your bike through an innocent-looking puddle during a rainstorm? You know the ones – the mantraps that conceal half-metre deep sink-holes into which you and your steed suddenly plunge. You get thoroughly soaked if you’re lucky, and moderately contused if you’re not. If you have the presence of mind to look around after the event, chances are you will observe that you have become the object of borderline-enuretic peals of laughter from spectating locals. They even drag benches to the best viewing spots to ensure that not a single dunking is missed.

And so it happened that I was sitting on the porch of a little bar in Legian Street one evening. On the other side of the street was an alcove of sorts, containing some tiny shops and an open-air stall manned by a purveyor of fine sates. A steady stream of locals was arriving and ordering their food. The sates were being cooked over a charcoal brazier, which required a careful monitoring and maintenance regimen to get the flames exactly right. The young gentleman involved in this process was attired in the usual Bali youth garb – an oversized tee-shirt and a huge pair of mid-calf pants of a style that only starts moving forward after their inhabitant has taken several steps.

As he was engaged in vigorous fanning of the coals with a large piece of cardboard, his attention was momentarily distracted by a customer who began pointing behind him and obviously asking a series of complicated questions. As he looked away from the flames to answer, for some reason the frequency and amplitude of his cardboard oscillations increased. This caused his tee-shirt to billow like a skirt on a motorbike and the flames to shoot higher. Naturally, he promptly caught fire.

The waiting customers, of course, collapsed in gales of laughter as the bottom of his shirt flared, watching him beat at the flames with his bare hands. Only one had the presence of mind to grab a bottle of water from the wares he had for sale, and pour it on his shirt. The others, on the ground by now, convulsing in fits of shrieking joy, just ribbed him mercilessly. And me? Mr. Compassion? I watched all this from across the street, laughing like a drain and thinking it was better than any sinetron I’ve seen in Bali.

So maybe I’ve been here for too long. Maybe my erstwhile caring demeanour is being replaced by a Bali-like appreciation of farce, slapstick and physical humour. I now find things like this quite funny – as long as they don’t happen to me, of course.

The sting in this little tale? As I was leaving the scene, still chuckling, the sate vendor was engaged in an argument with the guy who saved him from self-immolation. Apparently he was insisting that the Good Samaritan pay for the bottle of water he used to douse the sizzling sate man …


The Post-Nyepi Breakfast Debacle

March 6, 2011

It’s the morning after Nyepi, Bali’s annual Day of Silence. A quiet, introspective day was followed by an uncharacteristically early night. After all, there is only so much you can do by yourself in the dark. Finally, at six thirty (barely light here), I give up on my natural inclination to snooze until mid-morning and heave myself out into the still-quiet Legian morning to track down some breakfast.

The trouble is, all of my regular breakfast haunts are closed until mid-day because of the post-Nyepi Ngembak Geni custom of visiting family to ask for forgiveness for past transgressions. As I have no family in Bali, nor will I readily admit to any transgressions, this means I have to find a new purveyor of fine breakfasts which is open early.

So I find an establishment (the identity of which will remain undivulged to protect the guilty) which is open at 8am , park myself in the suspiciously empty dining area and peruse the very limited breakfast menu. Yikes! Fifty-five thousand for an ‘American Breakfast’! The alternative seems to be something consisting of something normally found in a horse’s nosebag, together with ‘milk’ that has never seen the inside of a cow.  I opt for the eggs, tea, fruit juice and toast combo. Big mistake.

The tea tastes as it has been stewing since the day before Nyepi. Even my usual three big spoons of sugar don’t help, particularly as I am unable to get all of the ants out. Never mind, I’m told that tea with formic acid is the new health kick. The ‘orange juice’ is actually cordial – and I don’t mean in the friendly sense either. It is so watered down that it is practically a homeopathic remedy. The toast is stale and dry, and its accompanying butter pat is best described as borderline rancid. At least the omelette can’t be as bad – I mean, how can you screw up an omelette?

Trust me, this place can. This creation was perfectly round, perhaps 3 millimetres thick and of a consistency most reminiscent of hard rubber. If I hadn’t already taken a bite out of it, I could have taken it home, dried it out for two more days and kept is as a spare front brake disk for my motorbike.  And of course,this being such a high-end establishment, the bill for this morning’s indulgence came complete with hotel-style taxes and surcharges, inflating the price to 68,000 rupiah. Hell, I could have got a massage for that. I wish I had.

I shouldn’t have been so damned lazy. The next time my usual places are closed after Nyepi, I will cook for myself. Or maybe I’ll just find an unsuspecting family here and ask for forgiveness for imaginary transgressions. They might take pity on me and feed me.


Bali’s Snake of Greed Is Consuming Its Own Tail

February 3, 2011

Much has been said about foreigners in Indonesia feeling as though they have targets painted on their backs. We are treated as mobile ATMs.  We are on the mahal end of the ubiquitous dual-price system.  We are in the cross-hairs of Indonesia’s officialdom, with its entrenched corruption and endlessly inventive ways to charge us more for all imaginable services, commodities, goods, foods and beverages. In some ways, it is understandable, if not excusable. We are wealthy; the locals are not, so it is considered acceptable to reduce our ‘wealth’ and increase theirs by any means available.

This all-but-official ‘let’s grab what’s theirs’ attitude is emboldening the losers, thugs and criminals here as well. In recent months, an escalating spate of armed robberies, home invasions, bashings, stabbings and murders of expatriates are causing people to review their plans to move here, or even stay here. The hard-liners, of course, might say “good riddance”, but those who understand tourist and expat economics are becoming worried. As if Bali’s endemic rabies – virtually ignored by officialdom – Dengue fever, tottering infrastructure, horrific road toll and unsustainable over-development weren’t enough!

Sadly, the spectre of greed that fuels these rapacious rip-offs is not limited to bules. I always thought – mistakenly, it seems – that Indonesians stick together, even while employing increasingly ingenious ways of separating bules from their money. However, recent events seem to show that some Balinese have a streak of ruthlessness towards their own people that is both sad and disturbing.

A Balinese acquaintance was recently invited to go to Australia by a long-time friend. In the course of going through the administrivia required to get permits and passports, he was informed by a gentleman at the Immigration Department here that he needs to pay the FISKAL exit tax of 2.5 million rupiah. Somewhat confused, he pointed out that not only was this tax was abolished as of 1st of January this year, but it was normally paid at the airport, not to the Immigration Office.  He was then pressured by an annoyed Immigration official to pay, or his passport would not be issued. When he continued to refuse, he was told that there were ‘irregularities’ in his application, which the helpful official could overlook for a mere 1.5 million rupiah ‘facilitation fee’. The only way this hapless local could get a passport was to meet the corrupt official at Kuta beach and pay him the bribe demanded – an entire month’s salary. This is wrong and disgusting.

But even this shoddy example of corruption pales compared to what just happened to a Balinese friend of mine. Recently married and just having become a proud father, he lives in a kost in Legian, for which he pays 500,000 rupiah per month, a significant part of his salary. His wife, of course, isn’t yet able to go back to work. However, his landlord,  a man lacking compassion, but endowed with an additional serving of greed to compensate, has just informed him that his two-month old infant boy is an ‘extra person’ now living in their single, bathroom-less room. Because of this, he is demanding a rent rise of 200,000 rupiah per month, “because of the extra costs”.  My friend has no option than to try to relocate his little family. Heartless landlord – almost a cliché, but not one I expected in Bali.

Other friends tell me similar stories – landlords prohibiting fans, laptops and even mobile phone chargers in their kosts. Refusing to allow rice cookers in the rooms, or gas stoves. Demanding that doors to rooms be kept open all the time regardless of privacy or security concerns. When I asked my friend what happened to Bali’s famously touted familial, village and community support, he just laughed. “Where money is involved, no-one is a friend”, he said. “It’s all business”.

Am I the only one who finds that sad?