Archive for November, 2005

Baby better off is the search

November 25, 2005

From “The Iceman”, by Bruce

Gotta find a way to communicate just how funny the little things are here, and why absorbing them appropriately contributes so significantly to a rewarding life. I’ve got two little stories; maybe they’ll do the trick. I’ll stick a couple of last pics from the beach in here to break up the words for those readers with the shorter attention spans. The pics come from Kun’s camera (she’s in the middle below), but some people have told me they depict their vision of paradise. Can’t imagine why…



November 25, 2005

The University has put a car and driver at my disposal since I got here. When a local staffer gets a bule to tend full-time, he must feel like those kids in The Night Before Christmas. On the other hand, when a bule gets a local staffer full-time, the question is always “How do I take care of this guy without losing my shirt?” And the game begins. There can be only one winner if everyone is to win.

Katy knows he can’t make anything above his $20 or $30 a month if he just drives me to and from work. I know he’s going to be grumpy and unreliable if that’s all we’re doing. So, from the beginning I’d get him to take me shopping on the way home, and compensate him for every hour of overtime. This often included picking up a pack of smokes for him at the cashier. No big deal. We’d drive around, he’d honk at the cute girls and buzz the weaving motorcycles, giving me the thumbs up as he did it. At the same time, I noticed I was getting hit for gas a couple of times every week, and he was using my water – extremey wastefully, I might add, to wash the car anytime he arrived early enough. No huge deal, but I discouraged him from the car wash thing.

This went on for a couple of weeks until one afternoon he tanked up on me at the end of the day… and tried to hit me for another tank first thing the next morning. What did he do, and how stupid did he think I was? Drive all over Java after he took me home? Unlikely. Odds will get you evens he took his free gas to his kampung (family village compound) and sold it to his cousins.

“Nga (pronounced ‘ng-ga!’) is the viscerally pleasing-sounding Indonesian slang word for “no”. Kinda like saying “not” when you mean “no, you twit.” That was my answer to Kati that morning. I followed it with, “I can always take a taxi to work. It’s a lot cheaper.” Which is true. Also, “Probably better to buy a motorcycle, really.” Which is also true.

The look of chagrin on Katy’s face was nearly comical. We got to the office and parted frostily (if frost is possible here) and I confirmed from my Indonesian rep at the University that the University would be happy to reimburse me for all gas bills. So I could relax. But I also couldn’t let Katy take me for it, regardless, or he’d win the game and everybody would lose: I’d drop him as a driver and he’d lose the care of a bule for the year.

When it was time to go home I learned that Katy had had to be reassigned, and they couldn’t get me a driver for the afternoon. Sadly, I’d already made plans with him to take my friends and me to the temple for the Ramayana ballet that evening. They’d call me in the AM if they’d worked something out. What this really means is that I had embarrassed Katy privately, and he could not show himself to me again. So much for the convenient ride to the ballet.

But later that evening I was messaged that he would pick me up in the morning. It seemed they’d worked something out with him. So I invited him immediately to come get my friends and I to the ballet that evening, and there he was. We didn’t talk much, but he did the job well. And I rewarded him fairly… and he was thrilled.

Since then I use him for airport runs, the beach run, and all that other stuff. Now he pops out of the car and negotiates me a filling and safe 50-cent breakfast at a market on the way to work. If I did it myself it would cost me three times that. He helps me haul the water jugs when they need replacing, and the shopping when there are two many bags. His young son was hit by a motorcycle ten days ago, and he’s missed a few days amid court appearances and insurance meetings… and I’ve made sure I’m using him enough to ease some of the worries that go with that.

So now he sees that he doesn’t have to try to rob me: if he takes care of me I’ll take care of him. He still won’t wear a seatbelt unless I tell him to, and will hit 100 km/hr on beach roads and bump motorcycles unless I get stern with him. That’s when he grins and laughs, and says “Yes, Mister,” and honks at the next babe on the back of a bike…

Cheeseburger in Paradise

November 25, 2005

The 2nd story – Had a great night’s sleep last night, and rewarded myself for the coming weekend with an amazing workout this afternoon… Leaving the gym I had an immediate desire to reward myself for the workout with a light meal and beer, but didn’t want to pay the prices at the hotel.

Went exploring, and quickly found a café called Oregano Steak and Ice Cream. Sounded about right. Sweating already (mostly from the workout, even after the shower), I ordered a cold beer and a menu and sat down. Lots of steak and burger choices on the menu at absolutely thrilling prices. Nothing more expensive than 70 cents. I settled on the “Smoked Burger”, for 60 cents, described as “smoked beef with mozzarella cheese in a bun. How could you go wrong?

Well… by not bringing my camera, for one. When it arrived, the bun looked great… but I couldn’t see the meat, and the lettuce was a strangely fresh-looking combination of green and black… I lifted the top of the bun. Getting a closer look at the lettuce, I looked away whilst removing it from the bun. That’s when I saw what must have been the burger, but I’m sure it’s what was left of the inside of a pair of red leather loafers I threw away last summer when preparing to move to Jakarta, which I was able to confirm when I tried to eat it. If the police did DNA tests on it, we would have matched. Wafer thin, curling on the sides, half the diameter of the bun in width and nearly equal in length, it refused to be chewed. It had, however, clearly been smoked.

The waitress endearingly disagreed with my analysis, confirming that yes, a smoked burger was on it’s plate in front of me. And who was I to argue? She worked there, and I’d never been there before. Well, what do you want for 60 cents, a burger? In consolation, I had correctly deduced the Indo for French fries, and they were almost OK. Fine, in fact, with a 2nd beer.

And that’s why living here is such a hoot – you just never know when the ridiculous will produce the sublime. Usually, if you let the ridiculous do it’s work, it WILL come up with something sublime… In other words, my favorite thing in life, next to my own imagination, is my sense of humor, which lives right next door. Keep that healthy, and being alive can’t get much better than it is right now.

Prelude: Prodigal Pembantu

November 23, 2005

Where pembantu means “helper” or “assistant”. So the pembantu is the housekeeper, but the Pembantu Rektor is the Vice-rector ot the University.

Anyway — he came back. The “fold clothes before ironing, can’t really be bothered to change a light bulb or clean the tub” housekeeper I thought I’d fired ten days ago. The last time I saw him he showed up on yet another Saturday, and I politely dismissed him on the spot, having done all the mopping, laundry, and dishwashing Friday anyway. He stayed gone all week, and I did all the cleaning again (including the upstairs, ma) on Friday in preparation for my buddy Mick’s overnight visit. Mick and I head to the airport around 12:00, I come back alone at about 5:00. And I notice one or two subtle changes. The two socks and 1 pair of underwear are no longer in the bucket by the washing machine. The blanket on my bed is folded, but the incense ash on the bedtable is still there, along with the belly-up roach by the closet.

The son-of-a-gun snuck in on a friggin’ Saturday afternoon when he knew I wouldn’t be home, and can now argue about having done some work (about two-lifted fingers’ worth). Seems he refused to be fired, and will have no work to do (slightly less than he did before, I guess), as I’m doing it. Came home from the office early Monday so I could catch him in the house. Sat him down again, paid him for the extra sessions, relieved him of his keys… waved goodbye… then waited. All the cans and bottles of two months of living in my house had never made it to the trash or out. He’d hauled them all up and hid them under the water tank by the roof, until such time as he felt like pushing himself to take them to a store and collect on the change… He must have strapped 200 items to his bicycle as he left.

Looking Into the Sun

Finally got to the beach. There are three lovely beaches an hour or so to the south of Jogja — got to the first of them yesterday. If I’d known that Blogger finally got a technology in place to insert pics into these text entries, I would have done that here. Instead — they are laid out below like always. Next time, I guess.


November 23, 2005

Yesterday a Jogja-area native who manages all of us Fellows came to town for a couple of meetings with me and my universities. Afternoon was free, so we took my driver and some friends and headed to the beach… The forty-minute drive to the south coast and Parangritis Beach yielded lots of views like this one… Does everything outside of the cities look like Bali? Vice versa? IS this whole area of the world this beautiful? I need to find out.


November 23, 2005

Not time to sun-gaze just yet — it’s about 4:00 PM, and it’s still too bright and strong….


November 23, 2005

So we looked this way… yes, it’s a huge and relatively pristine black-sand beach. That said, out of view up where the tide doesn’t reach the beach is pretty much covered by the usual garbage, but it’s not everywhere, at least. This is a gorgeous spot.


November 23, 2005

A fair number of modestly-dressed folk played along the water’s edge. I had my picture taken five times with cute high school girls (no boys — go figure) AT THE REQUEST OF THEIR FULLY-COVERED MOTHERS… and every one of the girls grabbed my butt while they were posing with me…


November 23, 2005

Transport heads down to the quietest regions of the coastline. A couple of bathers break the rules… the water may not look like it, but the rocks in the background collect 15-20 corpses every year…


November 23, 2005

This is the view enjoyed…