Bali, Hi - Eight months in Bali

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Part XII
Size may not matter, but sometimes longer is better
by Mad Dog

 

It could be that as bad as the infrastructure is hereóand trust me, thereís no such word in the Indonesian languageóthe power still doesnít go out as often as it has been in California lately. But I suspect itís actually because I have a nickname now.

    Iím extending my six-month stay. Please wipe that smirk off your face so I can continue.

    I know itís hard to believe considering that during the past four years I havenít been in any one place longer than two months, but I can rationalize this strange turn of events by saying I havenít stayed here longer than two months at a shot either. See, tourist visas are only good for 60 days, so twice I had to leave the country to renew my visa. Not to mention my multicultural outlook on life. I spent a week in Singapore and another in Thailand. Since I didnít want to cut it too close, I left a couple of days before my visa was up. Thus, I was never here for more than 58 consecutive days, which is less than two months, so the record sticks.

    Isnít rationalization a wonderful thing?

Temple at Danau Bratan    Itís hard to know why Iím staying longer. It might be because the six months have flown by and I havenít gotten around to doing half the things I intended on doing, including diving, seeing the Museum Subak (okay, so it doesnít have the worldís largest ball of used dental floss, it does show the history of the Balinese rice paddy irrigation system), or learning not to laugh when Iím offered yet another ďspecial morning price for good luckĒ at the Ubud market.

 

When I was in Cuba people who had never seen me in their life would pass me on the street and call me SeŮor Bigote. In France it was Monsieur Moustache. When, that is, theyíd talk to me at all. 

    Or it could be that as bad as the infrastructure is hereóand trust me, thereís no such word in the Indonesian languageóthe power still doesnít go out as often as it has been in California lately. But I suspect itís actually because I have a nickname now.

    Itís true. Iím being called Pak Kumis, which means Mister Moustache. I know, it sounds like a facial hair grooming attachment for your vacuum cleaner which will be all over TV next Christmas season right alongside Chia Pets and the Clapper, doesnít it?

    ďIt grooms! It combs! It shapes even the toughest facial hair, all with one quick stroke of the patented Stash-o-matic blade. Itís perfect for thick moustaches, pencil thin moustaches, even fake Groucho moustaches, both with and without attached glasses and nose. But wait, thereís more!Ē

So this is how you make a penjor   I really canít complain. After all, Pak Kumis is better for day-to-day use than the actual translation of my name, which in Indonesian is Anjing Gila, and in Balinese is Cicing Budoh (pronounced: chee-cheeng boo-doe). See, no one here would think of calling someone either of those names except just before they pulled out their curved rice cutting knife and pretended your genitals were plants in need of harvesting. In Bali, calling someone a cicing is fightiní words. [For more name translations, see International Dog]

 

 

I suspect the real reason theyíre calling me Pak Kumis is because itís the punch line to an old Balinese joke they all remember from the third-grade: Whatís white, has a handlebar moustache, and is dangerously close to becoming an expat?

    This isnít the first time Iíve had this nickname, though it is the first time itís been in Indonesian. When I was in Cuba people who had never seen me in their life would pass me on the street and call me SeŮor Bigote. In France it was Monsieur Moustache. When, that is, theyíd talk to me at all. Which wasnít often. And in the U.S. itís usually either ďYo, Rollie Fingers!Ē or ďHello, Dali!Ē Right. Like I look even the slightest bit like Carol Channing.

    The nickname started here at the cottage while kidding around with Nyoman. Then it migrated to his family. One night I walked into the Jazz Cafť and the head waitress greeted me by calling me Pak Kumis, and I know she didnít hear it from Nyomanís family. The next thing I knew people Iíd never seen started calling me that. First there was a guy who works at a padang restaurant. The next day a transport driver I was chatting with on the steps of Tinoís called me that. Hey, I can spot a trend when I see one.

Penjors along Jalan Kajeng    Maybe my photograph ran in the social column of the Ubud News and World Review without my knowing it. Or it could be itís adorning a wanted poster at the post office. The truth is, Iíd be more worried about the former than the latter, since if the policeís ability to apprehend criminals is anything like the post officeís ability to deliver mail before the recipient dies of old age, then I have many years of freedom left ahead of me. But I suspect the real reason theyíre calling me Pak Kumis is because itís the punch line to an old Balinese joke they all remember from the third-grade: Whatís white, has a handlebar moustache, and is dangerously close to becoming an expat?

 

They used to call tourists wisatawan, or turist, but in their infinite wisdom the government decided that tourists didnít like being called tourists because, well, it conjured up images of what they were: tourists. 

    Thatís the scary part. Iím not sure where the dividing line is between tamu (tourist) and expat, but Iím pretty sure I donít want to cross it. Nothing against expatsóafter all, some of my best friends around here are expatsóbut Iím not sure I want that distinction. Maybe itís because you have to wonder about someone who fits in better in a foreign country than their own. Or maybe itís because, like staying somewhere longer than two months, being an expatriate has a certain ring of permanence to it, and we know the kind of nightmares that can give me. Tamu, on the other hand, actually means guest, and I prefer thinking of myself as a guest here.

    Interestingly, they used to call tourists wisatawan, or turist, but in their infinite wisdom the government decided that tourists didnít like being called tourists because, well, it conjured up images of what they were: tourists. Thus they started a campaign to teach Indonesians to refer to them as tamu, which of course the tourists all assume means tourist. Itís one hell of a think tank theyíve got here.

A very extended Bali family    So Iíll be hanging around for another month or so. It will give me more time to explore the island. More time to learn the language and culture. And more time to continue meeting interesting people. After all, Iíve met more people and had more of a social life here than Iíve had in years. But one thing I wonít be doing during my extension is to sit around trying to figure out why it is Iím still here. After all, the answer might be similar to what Will once told me in Hawaii when he explained that, ďI live in a house full of misfits. Maybe thatís why I feel like I belong here.Ē For now I think Iíll stick to rationalization, thank you.

Previous ] Part XIII - Oop!....I did it again ]     [Bali, Hi! INDEX]

 

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