Here There and Nowhere

He sings the body incredulous.
Existing between never was, and never will be.
Existing without substance, yet heralding shifting bedrock.
Occupying no fixed space, filling no specific need.
Both the unexpected journey and the probable consequence.
For all his banal and baleful presence, he is neither cause nor solution.

Living in Indonesia: A Husband’s Perspective

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Vantage graphics ... accept no substitutes

For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18th.

“You’ve been ordered to leave.” Dini’s voice was rapid and strained.

“When?’ I asked as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

“This afternoon. Everyone’s meeting at the Shangri-La hotel.”

Dini, from the Canadian consulate, has been a great help. She’s helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

For this excursion, they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you’re a businessman or an engineer – no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don’t have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily’s from a previous marriage, but nonetheless – our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly, I don’t have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It’s a damn expensive trip, and again I don’t have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The children’s Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I’d prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in? I can’t take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday’s impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya’s hotels or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They’re Indonesian citizens, but they’re also Chinese. Even if Emily could come – as she’s my wife – what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily’s mum? their Grandmother? my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage? Don’t freak gentle reader – I love my mother-in-law. She’s a great lady. The bottom line is; I’m not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On their own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They’re playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They’re having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven-foot iron fence – waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans, while other streets are occupied by soldiers. The men seem decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. The men seem to be having less fun than the children. The men are waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas (five-legged men) the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees – they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria‘. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He’s probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o’clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now, they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.

Part Two fewnights2

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Memories of Bali

I should note that this was originally posted in 1998.

It’s good to be home.

Emily had gone to Bali a few days earlier, as she had some business and both my son and I still had school. On Christmas Eve we got to the airport and boarded our flight to Bali.

Like the song goes … “the weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew …” We made three passes over the Island of the Gods, but it wasn’t meant to happen.

The rain was buffeting our sturdy craft. It was impossible to see anything, and then the peanuts ran out.

Well, next thing you know … ol’ Wayne’s back in Surabaya. And Boy howdy, was I ever happy about that. I peppered the air with cries of gosh golly and dad burn it. I’m not happy.

Emily is waiting at the airport for me and her handphone is obviously not working. My handphone has previously given up the ghost. Now I’m using a phone card and trying to find a compatible phone. I find one, but unfortunately, it’s sandwiched between two phones occupied by men talking louder than seems necessary.

I can’t hear a bloody thing. I’m trying to explain the situation to my mother-in-law. She’s a nice lady who I communicate quite well with in person, yet her English doesn’t exist, my Indonesian is poor, the connection sucks and the surrounding noise is unbearable.

Well, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas at the top of my lungs, I compliment their country and their courtesy and I wish them on their way. My son thinks dear old Dad is ready for a new sports coat in that lovely wrap-around style.

Finally, I get through. Everybody’s okay on that side. We waited in Surabaya’s Juanda airport for an hour and a half. Finally, the plane boarded again. It was now 10:00 pm. The flight to Bali is about 35 to 45 minutes. Bali is an hour ahead of Surabaya.

We arrive in Bali at 11:40 p.m. Bali time. It’s drizzling. The taxi driver asks for Rp 40,000. I decline. We walk out to the taxi booth and buy a voucher. We pay Rp 26,000. Christmas Eve passes in the back of a taxi. We arrive.

My wife is at work preparing a shipment of fruit to Hong Kong. I am now a fruit packer. By 12:00 p.m. Christmas day the fruit is packed and on its way. We shower, eat and almost everyone sleeps.

Me, … I’m wired. The rest of our merry band has fallen asleep. The nanny and the cook are watching the kids. The next day the lost sleep will catch up with me. I take a long walk. We were in Denpasar, Bali and it’s hot. I walk for an hour and come back drenched in sweat.

Christmas night we head to Jimbaran.

Jimbaran beach is a long strip of seafood restaurants. You order your food fresh. You pick a table. On the beach, if it’s not raining, under the tents if it is. On a clear night the sound of the surf, the smell of barbecued fish and the majesty of a star-filled sky conspire to bewitch even the most cynical traveler.

The day after Christmas I sleep until 11:00 a.m. I’m still tired when my two nephews and my niece wake me. Chinese-Indonesian children do not play outside and are generally spoiled. I’ve brought some cartoons with me. The VCDs keep them occupied for half an hour.

We head to Kuta that afternoon. We don’t go to the bars or the shopping malls. We find a relatively quiet beach and play in the surf. My son, who’s eighteen, seems more interested in the spectacle of topless women frolicking close by. My head may have turned one or two times. The surf-kissed sand has been rendered almost mirror-like. The sky is a rich blue with traces of white clouds. Gradually the blue becomes purple and the sun is a descending red ball. Pale pinks and rich oranges dominate the fading palate. A tropical sunset is beautiful and abbreviated.

In fifteen minutes it is dark. The stars are brilliant. Aside from a few moments of temper, the week passes uneventfully. We watch videos on New Years’ Eve. Two days later we hop in the car and head to Lovina. We’re going to see the Dolphins.

Last episode we left for Lovina to see the dolphins.

Along the way, we pass the site of Gunung Agung’s 1963 eruption. The devastation was massive and thousands died. The Balinese believe that this was because prayers had been interrupted. Now the boulders, once part of Gunung Agung’s crown, are strewn about, but they are covered with lush vegetation. It was another example of nature’s power to repair itself.

I was reminded of a walk through Canada’s Algonquin Park.

Granted, it probably doesn’t need to be said that it certainly wasn’t similar terrain. A picture from the early years of the last century showed a devastated mountain.Trees, and earth torn away to run a rail line through. Then in the fall 0f 1995, I walked down that same path and tall, healthy trees shaded me. Waist high grass surrounded me. I was shaded by mature pines. Nature will right itself, once given a chance.

Now I stood in the lushness of Gunung Agung’s revival. Gunung is the Indonesian word for mountain, and the center of Bali is a spine of mountains. Many of them are still active volcanoes. As late as 1994 there have been eruptions. They don’t call the Indonesian archipelago the Ring of Fire because of the hot food. We arrived in Lovina. We looked at one place. They wanted RP 300,000 a night. That’s the price of a luxury hotel in Surabaya.

We found the Hotel Padma. We paid Rp 120,000 for each of two rooms, barely enough for myself, Emily, her sister Suzy, our son Adryan, Suzy’s three kids and a family friend. So, it’s guys in one room, and women in the other. The pool was clean large and warmed by the sun. We ate a large dinner and turned in. At 5:00 a.m. we were up and by six o’clock, we were in two traditional boats heading out to see the dolphins. We were about 20 minutes out when the first small pod appeared.

They surfaced, played about and were gone – only to reappear in another area. This went on for half an hour or so. Then a larger group appeared. The two groups surfaced, dived, disappeared, raced the boats and delighted their audience. It is impossible not to feel a little like an alien watcher, privileged to witness a very personal kinship with nature.

The surrounding mountains were mist-cloaked shadows at the water’s edge. The water was black in the pale early morning light, briefly disturbed by our bright-coloured boats and the sleek gray bodies that danced and dived around us.

Then it ended. We had spent almost two hours watching. It was impossible to tell who was more excited, the adults or the children.

After breakfast, Adryan and I went snorkelling.  A reef lay about halfway between the shore and where we watched the dolphins. Again, we were in a traditional boat. A narrow canoe like craft with twin outriggers, a small (5.5 horsepower) outboard motor and an inverted, triangular-shaped, lanteen sail that also serves to shade our driver/guide as he naps. We don masks and flippers and enter the now blue waters. Colors explode around us. Angelfish, rainbow-hued fish, blue neon tetras and unfortunately a few too many jelly fish. We moved location twice. Adryan managed to find a French coin. Once cleaned, it was revealed as a 1995 coin, but still a find. I had to rescue it from the pool bottom later that evening, so the excitement of discovery was obviously short-lived. We stayed two days then headed back to Denpasar.

We flew home that Saturday.

An open and honest discussion

I shared a meme. It’s something many of us do, have done, and perhaps we’ll do it again. This meme was a reworking of a famous poem by German Pastor Martin Niemöller.

A message was then posted which questioned the post. I almost replied that the post was only shared, and not mine. That reply would have been disingenuous at best. I shared it because I agreed with the idea that we need to be both aware and caring. I have not identified the writer although I have put a part of his reply in quotes. I have left him anonymous, one because he’s a friend and this is not a personal issue. It’s a discussion. My second reason is that I hope that we can always approach things in a civil manner. If we lose the ability to communicate, we will eventually lose ourselves.

His reply was, “But what specific policy since Obama left has been anti-Jewish? What anti-Black? What anti-Muslim, all Muslims? What anti-all Mexicans? What anti-gay? Hoist on your own petard.”

I have not presented a petard to be hoisted upon. Trump’s campaign and his ongoing assault on propriety, common sense and your constitution are the problems before the world. What Trump will do to the world is the issue we will all face. Trump is like an elephant in musth. He seems to have little focus, no clear direction or objective. The ongoing blind destruction of policies and relationships, the trampling of enshrined rights, nor much else done by the newly minted president, don’t seem to be an issue for some Americans.

The first steps to repeal the Affordable care Act, to roll back hard-won advances for LGBT rights, to imperil women’s rights and health, to continue racial profiling, to deny climate change, to either defund or muzzle critical government services, to deny sanctuary to those in need, to violate treaty in order to violate both the environment and human dignity, and to smugly demand that UN member nations lock step with ill-considered and provocative statements. None of these things that have been put on paper, tweeted, broadcast, or signed as executive orders, should surprise anyone who has followed the campaign and has an inkling of the current administration. Governments disappoint us, but they usually parcel the pain out over an entire term.

Pastor Martin Niemöller’s original poem has been referenced, and to be fair trotted out, numerous times in response to a variety of issues both political and social. Is it apt here? It is pertinent only in as much as one chooses to look at the situation, and consider, “what next?”

As long as we keep the lines of communication open, we have a chance. My greatest fear is of extremists on both sides who use any excuse to further an agenda. They spend more time shutting down discussion than considering their, and other, opinions. Here in Indonesia, we have some fairly radical organizations that shut down discussion through intimidation and by using the political and legal clout of highly placed friends. A local governor has been charged with blasphemy and there have been a number of large protests against him. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/27/indonesia-court-blasphemy-trial-ahok-jakarta-governor

That the governor is Chinese and Christian does not sit well with the leaders of these groups. Their organizations are in turn being used to further the political ambitions of a few highly placed, and somewhat convenient, friends of more recent vintage.

If America does not reinvigorate and safeguard its freedoms, its media, and its education system, with open and honest discourse then the world stands to lose a powerful instrument for positive personal, national, and global rebirth and innovation. America has been called the most powerful nation on Earth. The American President is regarded as the leader of the free world. He must be tasked to do better, for America and for the world.

Leadership is a responsibility, not a perk. We must all demand more of our leaders. We must hold our leaders to a higher standard. Whether we are American, Canadian, Japanese, German, European, British or Indonesian we must live deliberately in this moment. When we allow ourselves to be divided along religious, racial, national, economic and ideological lines we hasten the moment when we can be drawn and quartered along more personal lines.

https://qz.com/702497/the-famous-poem-by-an-anti-nazi-pastor-rewritten-for-donald-trumps-america/

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007391

https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

Death by a thousand cuts

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony.

New year, new cuts. New governments, new rationales to save money. New managers, time to trim that fat. Programs are cut, or they are reduced. Job are cut or apportioned among a smaller pool of people. People are downsized. Unlike Antman, getting downsized doesn’t make us stronger or more effective.

No one is expendable. If people are sitting at desks twiddling their thumbs then they haven’t been assigned meaningful work or given the training to see what else could be done. We have all worked in corporate cultures, both private and government, where coasting through the days is routine. This is not because the people are not needed, or that work needing to be done is not available.

Many public parks and streets could be cleaned by workers who are idle or on reduced schedules. Many actual projects could replace unnecessary road ‘repairs’. How many office tasks could be accomplished in lieu of the six-hour meetings? In fact, this isn’t the real issue. Government houses cry budget and cost cutting up until it comes time to boost their own salaries and cash their own pension checks.

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony. The services that are cut. The help that is no longer available and the individuals, families, and communities that are impacted have little relevance for social and economic visionaries valiantly struggling towards the 18th hole.

Truth shouldn’t be just a matter of opinion

Dear Politicians, you need a demerit system. You start with 100 points and each lie costs you two, five or 10 points. Fudging the facts = 2 points. Stating opinions as facts = 5 points. A whopper of a lie (70% to 100% BS), or the refusal to admit something you were videotaped or recorded saying =10 points. Each of these will result in a fine and/or wage deduction. You only get 100 points for each elected term. Once you reach 0 points you will be asked to go home, and you lose benefits and pension.

Where would this lead? I would think a significant number of politicians across the ideological spectrum would not last more than a couple of months. Citizens of supposedly democratic nations are much too accepting of, or perhaps overwhelmed by, false promises, outright lies, and carefully crafted omissions.

What has led us to this precipice? Voting(or not voting) is often less about policy than it is the initial spark of self-fulfilling prophecy. The scraps of willful ignorance, obtuse apathy, and blind acceptance make efficient kindling for the bonfire of our freedoms.

The Missing Motorcycle: Part Three (Safety first)

The Missing Motorcycle: Part Three

Safety first

 

_________:First put on your helmet.

_________:Like this?

_________:Yes. Now fasten the chinstrap.

_________:It’s so uncomfortable.

_________:It’s only uncomfortable at first. You’ll get used to it.

_________:What’s next?

_________:Sit on the motorcycle.

_________:I know how to do this.

_________:Please pay attention. Sit facing the front with one hand on the throttle and the other on the brake.

_________:I can steer with one hand.

_________:You can also get arrested again.

_________:I don’t want that.

_________:Then pay attention. What do you do at a red light?

_________:Go very fast.

_________:No! You stop. What do you do at a stop sign?

_________:Stop?

_________:Right… I mean, that’s correct.

_________:When can I go fast?

_________:Once you learn how to be safe then you can learn how to have fun.

 

New words

Safety

Fasten

Chinstrap

Helmet

Fast

Throttle

Brake

Arrested

Steer

Stop

Sign

Safe

Used

Uncomfortable

Attention