Posts Tagged ‘EXPAT LIFE’

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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.

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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.

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Watering The Seeds Of Religious Intolerance

August 6, 2013

Here are two sad little tales that encapsulate the rot that is slowly eroding the previously harmonious social fabric of Indonesia. The stories are connected, but separate; their threads weaving dark changes in the characters and mindsets of their protagonists, and diminishing their faith in humanity.

A few months ago, a woman from a lovely family in Sumatra, despite being comfortably settled in Medan, accompanied her husband to Perawang, a village 50 kilometres from Pekanbaru in Central Sumatra. He had secured a better job there, and while it was hard to shift so far away from the family’s love and support, they made the move. They found a house and executed all the necessary agreements to rent it for twelve months. It seemed like a friendly neighbourhood, and the local residents appeared welcoming. But that was soon to change.

After having lived there for just over a month, and having settled in – with all the usual establishment expenses – there was a knock at the door. The house owner was standing there, and he did not look pleased.

“What religion are you?” he demanded without preamble.
“We’re Christian – why?” was the bemused reply.
“You have to get out of the house”, demanded the owner. “We are all Muslims here. You are not welcome.”

Stunned, the couple protested, saying that the owner had already agreed to a twelve-month rental, that he had sighted their KTP identity documents (which specify to which of the six ‘government-approved’ religions one belongs), and that they had done nothing to upset any of the neighbours. The owner was unmoved. “I don’t care. Get out now. We don’t want you here.”

So they were forced to move, and having lost their rental money – and their house – to a religious bigot, had no option but to seek charitable help from their local church. Fortunately, the church showed a compassionate face sadly lacking amongst the Muslims of Perawang, and allowed them to use one of their church properties, where they found temporary sanctuary.

Meanwhile, here in Bali, my good friend Septyni was furious. You see, the woman in question is her sister, and she is both fiercely protective of her sibling and enraged at the bigotry displayed towards her and her husband. For the five years I have known her, Septyni has always been one of the most tolerant and accepting human beings I have ever met. But her family’s crisis in Sumatra, together with the constant news of religious intolerance towards minorities in the press, have begun to change her. She is developing a profound distrust and dislike of the dominant religious group in Indonesia, and this, while sad, appears to be a view shared by more and more people as abuses continue.

And so to the second part of the story, the timing of which was both unfortunate and destructive. Through an acquaintance, Septyni recently met someone who had just arrived  from Aceh – a man who was looking for a job and a place to stay. Ever-helpful to all people, regardless of their origins or faith, Septyni gave him helpful advice about job-seeking strategies and about settling in to Bali life.

She helped him to find accommodation at her kost, where there was a room available for rent. She guided him in his search for ads for job vacancies, and helped him to find a motorbike to rent. And when his rented bike developed mechanical issues and became difficult to ride, she even lent him her own bike and rode his faulty bike herself. He was a neighbour now, and in her view, one should help thier neighbours.

She didn’t pay much attention to his pronouncements that he was “a good Muslim”, because in her mind, a person’s faith is a personal matter between them and their god, and irrelevant to most normal human interactions. So as a Christian, and as a good person, she helped him, not because she wanted anything from him, but because that’s the sort of person she is.

And then this bastard, who called himself “Adang”, repaid her kindness by waiting until she had inadvertently left her room unlocked while using the shower at the other end of the building, sneaking into her room, and stealing 400,000 Rupiah and some of her books, leaving her with insufficient money to pay her rent or buy food. By the time she had finished her shower, he had disappeared for good – no doubt to find someone else to rip off.

Her sister’s forced eviction and her experience with this opportunistic thief were two events that occurred within days of each other. As a result, this kind, tolerant woman now has a deep antipathy towards Muslims – perhaps unwarranted on the basis of only two incidents – but wholly understandable given the very personal nature of her experiences.

She is now on the brink of becoming intolerant – a state of mind previously completely foreign to her, but now precipitated by the appalling behaviour of some people, who just happen to be Muslim. Each new anti-social event she experiences in Indonesia, each new example of religious bigotry, will continue to water the seeds of her intolerance until they produce the same toxic flowers of hate and misunderstanding that we see growing every day elsewhere throughout the archipelago.

The government should do something to stop this rot, instead of promoting it as they are doing, despite their weasel words to the international community. And maybe the vast mass of tolerant Muslims should reclaim their once-vaunted reputation for friendliness and hospitality by opposing those in power who continue to promote Muslim supremacy over all others.

Because if they don’t, the situation will only get worse – and Indonesia will implode.

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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.

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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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How Hot Should The Fire Be To Burn Witches?

May 8, 2013

Indonesia seems determined to make itself a laughing stock in Europe.

After toiling over a draft of  a new set of Criminal Code Procedures, thirty lawmakers, accompanied by the usual retinue of free-loaders, are setting off on a $667,000 junket to Europe to ‘study’ how the criminal codes there might apply to the proposed new Indonesian criminal code.

The only problem is, in their zeal, lawmakers want to criminalise just about everything with the  new code. They want singles caught engaging in premarital sex to be sentenced to five years in jail.  They want adulterers to suffer the same penalty. They want to criminalise the act of sharing a hotel room by two people who are not married. To each other, that is. They want to make it illegal for hotels to accept bookings from guests who fail to produce a marriage certificate. In fact, any unmarried cohabitation will be made illegal.

The draft code criminalises homosexuality. It wants to continue to prohibit membership of any religion that is not one of the 6 permitted by the government.  It continues the existing criminal sanctions against atheists. One, Alex Aan, merely said “There is no god” on a Facebook page, and is currently serving two and a half years in prison for the ‘crime’ of atheism.

Witchcraft, ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ are on the blacklist too, although the definitions of what constitutes these occult practices, to me seem indistinguishable from what others might call ‘religion’.

Despite heavy criticism of this ‘study tour’, on the basis that laws designed for Europe will be incompatible with Indonesian  society, the lawmakers appear determined to press on with their taxpayer-funded trip. A more cynical person than I would be tempted to conclude that a free holiday jaunt to the fleshly pleasures of Europe – and the boundless shopping opportunities to be found there – are actually the prime motivators for the trip. That thought had never crossed my mind.

But let’s assume that the 30 stalwart legislators are actually going there to learn how Europeans deal with those issues of  ‘criminality’ that seem to preoccupy and vex the Indonesian government. They will no doubt ask serious questions. But will they get serious answers – or just bewildered looks, a few shrugs, and a dawning realisation of the size of the cultural chasm separating Indonesia from Europe?

I would give anything to see the faces of their European counterparts when the visiting lawmakers ask, “What laws do you have to prevent consenting couples from having sex?”

Or, “What is the best way to punish gay people?”

Or, “What penalties do you impose for being a member of a non-approved religion?”

Or, “For how long do you think atheists should be incarcerated?”

Or, “What is an appropriate temperature for a fire to be used to burn witches?”

And I want to see the shock on the faces of the Indonesian delegation when they discover that lawless vigilante thugs pretending to  ‘defend’ their religion because they have the tacit approval of their government would be heavily penalised under the criminal codes of Europe.  I want to see their reaction when they find out that those who burn churches in Europe, or assault and kill those who are not of their religion, are treated as violent criminals and incarcerated for long periods.

And yet, strangely, the proposed Indonesian criminal code seems to make no mention of religious persecution, forced religious conversion of children, and no changes in the law that states that any convicted criminal is free to become a lawmaker or high government official, as long as he has been sentenced to less than 5 years.

Luckily for many in Indonesia, the new code also seems to have inexplicably left out corruption as a serious criminal activity. Otherwise, once the new code is implemented, it would be difficult to find 3 lawmakers, much less 30, to take these ridiculous overseas trips, because all of the rest of them would be in jail.

But we all know that won’t happen. In the meantime, you guys enjoy your shopping and sightseeing. I look forward to reading your report of what you learned in Europe, and how you will justify using none of it.

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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.