Posts Tagged ‘deafness’


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 …


Bali – The Shangri-La Of Stridency

June 16, 2011

Much of the marketing guff written about Bali involves trigger words that conjure up visions of ultimate relaxation in a tropical paradise. Who would not respond to the promise of visiting such a jewel among tropical islands? Who in this frenetic world would not succumb to the lure of a quiet, harmonious, peaceful, serene, undisturbed and tranquil sanctuary?

It’s a beautiful myth, seductive and pervasive, but at least in South Bali, an impossible and foolish fantasy. Unless you are one of the fortunate few who can stay in a secluded villa, or one of the hardy souls prepared to travel to the calmer North and North-East parts of the island, your senses will be assaulted by a constant cacophony of noise.

Noise, being unwanted sound, is of course a relative term. The typical Bali pub band, consisting of nine parts enthusiasm and one part talent, may well provide an appropriately atmospheric background for joyfully raucous drunks. These denizens, intent on singing along in keys that bear no resemblance to those employed by most of the musicians, naturally don’t regard the resulting brain-twisting dissonances as noise. Neither do the musos themselves, each of whom seems to believe that playing louder than anyone else in the band is the path to fame, recognition and presumably riches. That’s like having a pack of four alpha dogs.

I talked to a few bands and their crews to ask why they played at such a high level, allowing their sound to smear and coalesce into a turgid aural glue. Their response, delivered as if to an imbecile, was that “there is no bass, and no treble” at low levels. Well, that’s true if you don’t know what you are doing. But I so long for a good band that can play at a lower volume and has the smarts to EQ their sound to obtain rich, satisfying bass and a crystal clear high-end. Ah, guys – ever hear of Fletcher-Munson curves? Or Robinson and Dadson? Or even a mixer? Oh well …

So for me, it’s noise – a painful sonic pandemonium that shuts my only barely-functioning ear down, so that conversation is impossible, my balance becomes marginal and the result is days of screaming tinnitus and blurry hearing. For those not similarly afflicted with Meniere’s Syndrome, I’m sure that the noisy blare of the pub and club scene is the epitome of fun. And I guess it will continue to be fun, at least until noise-induced hearing loss steals away the dubious pleasures of high-decibel environments for them too …

A recent, and worrisome trend, is that formerly peaceful venues are now providing ‘atmosphere’ by playing loud music. Warungs, coffee shops, small restaurants and shops, previously oases of relative quiet, have switched from an occasional gamelan track to the cloying clamour of eighties pop. Whether this is intended to drown out the incessant din of motorbikes, honking horns and the chainsaw-like blare of Bali’s surviving 2-stroke mopeds, or to cause rapid table turn-over is debatable. But lingering sojourns over a relaxing coffee or cool drink in these places is fast becoming a fading memory. Especially when some loon with a mosquito fogger – arguably the loudest and most intrusive contrivance ever invented – suddenly leaps into view and envelops you in a toxic cloud of fumes. Presumably this is a Balinese experiment to discover whether the carcinogenic hydrocarbon fog, traumatically ruptured eardrums, or Dengue fever will kill you the fastest.

This tropical tumult doesn’t  just consist of amplified and mechanical bedlam, of course. Even in remote Bali villages, there are hundreds of hysterically-barking dogs, rowdy insomniac roosters, chattering ‘cicak’ geckoes, incredibly loud tokay lizards, cicadas and frogs to disturb your peace. On top of all that, there are the gamelan orchestras, Bali Djembe drums, excitable infants and fireworks at any time of day or night. If you’re near the beach, the counterpoint to all this jangling racket is the crash and bellow of the surf merging with the roar of departing planes.

But through this complex warp of sonic threads is a weft that, for me, defines the sound of Bali – the unique vocal timbre of its women. Not, I hasten to add, in normal conversation, where for the most part, their voices are gentle and mellifluous, even bordering on shy. No, I’m talking about the times they need to talk to friends through the uproar of a crowded marketplace, restaurant or beach.

That’s when their pitch rises and their delivery becomes rapid-fire and staccato, reminiscent of a Gatling gun on steroids. No doubt that is a local adaptation to allow communication through potentially masking noises. But the net result is a projective capability that would put a stage actor to shame, cutting through the underlying hubbub far better than an ambulance siren. These are truly awesome, weapons-grade voices. Standing in the direct path of these verbal fire-hoses is guaranteed to instantly coagulate your eyeballs and melt your liver. Hati-hati, you have been warned.

One of the reasons I originally came to Bali was, yes, you guessed it – the lure of a quiet, harmonious, peaceful, serene paradise and the hope that my shabby hearing might improve. Well, it hasn’t. After two years, I’ve stopped wondering why.

Related post: Like a Candle in the Ear



Like a Candle in the Ear

January 10, 2010

I’m officially classified as deaf. Well in one ear anyway, which is about 90dB down from normal. That’s a lot. All I ‘hear’ from my left side is a high pitched hissing shriek that I have learned to ignore. Well, most of the time anyway. Two functioning ears are good, because they allow one to tell where sounds are coming from. I am an endless source of amusement for people who call to me from my left, because I hear their voice bouncing off walls to my right and I turn that way to look at … nothing. Warnings from homicidal motorcyclists blasting their horns are wasted on me, because the threat could be coming from any direction.    

Worse, the brain distinguishes important sounds from background noise by processing input from two ears and discarding the clutter. I get it all, unfiltered and confusing. It means I can hear, but not understand. To those of you with two working ears, think of an ink drawing, the patterns exquisitely detailed, the colours and textures vibrant and alive – that’s normal hearing. Now think of it being left in the rain, with the details smearing until only a muddy shadow of the original meaning remains. That’s what I hear. Once I could not only hear a sparrow fart at 500 metres, but I could have told you what it had for breakfast. Those days are over – I turn around at squeaky motorbike brakes thinking someone is calling my name. And ignore those who do call me because I think they are motorbikes.

Learning Bahasa is torture as I try to hear, then duplicate the subtle schwas and soft k’s of the spoken language. Even English is getting to be beyond me, and is now getting me into dangerous situations. I was inspecting a rental villa recently, one still full of holidaying guests.
Me: (To one of the guests) “Enjoying yourself in Bali?”
Her: “Oh yes, the group here is great. We’re old women here, you know”
Me: (Thinking that they look pretty young to me) “You’re old?”
Her: (Aggrieved) “Old? Old? Who are you calling old?!”
Me: “Er, you said …”
Her: “I said, we’re all women here”

Some smoothing of ruffled feathers was required. I’m such a diplomat, but you have to be when you’re deaf …

Hearing loss can drive one into self-imposed social isolation. Perhaps that’s why, in a misguided attempt to do something positive, I did something really silly instead. I tried Ear Candling. This is a procedure offered at salons everywhere, and it claims to clean the ears of wax residue by, wait for it – sticking a hollow, burning candle into one’s ear. Supposedly the candle creates a suction which somehow vacuums the crud out of one’s ear. If I did this, maybe my hearing would improve, even a little? Naturally, being a tad skeptical, I researched the procedure thoroughly by consulting with Dr. Google. Unfortunately, I did the research after having the procedure done, which in hindsight, was a tad stupid.

So there I was, lying on my side, with a burning candle stuck in my ear, looking like a birthday cake for a one-year-old who had asked mum to bake a full-scale replica of a walrus. It was quiet and peaceful, (but of course, it was my dead ear) and despite knowing that I looked ludicrous, I was relaxed. I could feel a few warm drops trickling in my ear. Aha! It’s the ear wax dissolving, I thought. In fact, I found out later that it was the candle wax dripping in. Medically, that is considered to be a Bad Thing.

Then I turned over, and the process was repeated on my ‘good’ ear. Ye gods! The noise of cracking flames nearly made me jump off the table. In retrospect, I should have. The only time that you normally hear flames that loud is when your hair is on fire. My nose worked overtime to detect the aroma of singed hair – but nothing. I lay there tensely waiting to burst into flames, but fortunately cranial combustion did not occur.

Afterwards, the helpful staff showed me the remnants of the candle stubs, filled with a hideous waxy detritus which they claimed were the contents of my ‘contaminated’ ears, now supposedly sparkling clean. I left bemused, but relatively calm – until I did the research I should have done before. Apparently a lit, hollow candle doesn’t develop any suction, and can’t remove ear wax.  Apparently the residue you are shown comes from the candle itself, not from your ears. Apparently, accidents where boiling wax runs down the candle into one’s ear canal are common, and there are even cases of eardrums being burnt completely through. The lessons here for me? I will research stuff before I commit to what could be a dangerous procedure. I will accept my disabilities and frailties and not look for whacko solutions, because there are no easy fixes – not for hearing loss anyway.

So watch out people, here I come. I’m the guy who will look the wrong way when called, and I will in all probability insult you because I didn’t really hear what you said. My conversations in crowded, noisy bars will be nonsensical. At least I’ll fit right in. And I will most likely run into you with my motorbike (yes, the girl’s bike) despite your loud and insistent beeping. You have been warned.