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in a Strange Land
by Mad Dog
This inertia could be
caused by the constant heat and humidity taking its toll, much like
a tropical E-Z-Bake oven where your brain is the cake mix and
youíre either always half-baked or permanently fried.
Thereís something about an island that causes inertia to
set in. Iíve felt it in St. Maarten, Iíve felt it in Hawaii,
Iíve even felt it on Long Island, where it got so bad I didnít
even care about getting hair extensions or acrylic nail tips, better
yet bother going to the club for dinner. And yes, Iím feeling it
I donít know the physics
behind this phenomenon, but I suspect Einstein predicted it in one
of his many theories. After all, anyone who couldnít be bothered
combing his hair must have understood the lassitude of island
living. Day by day, nap by nap, you find yourself losing momentum
and, as anyone whoís even slept through a physics class will
remember, inertia slips in to take its place. Itís the natural
order of thingsómomentum and inertia are the yin and yang of
activity. Of productivity. And of something else too but I really
donít have the motivation to be bothered thinking about what it
might be at the moment.
This inertia could be caused by the constant heat and humidity
taking its toll, much like a tropical E-Z-Bake oven where your brain
is the cake mix and youíre either always half-baked or permanently
fried. Then again it might be the force of the waves pounding
against the shore which surrounds an island, setting up a resonance
that vibrates at frequencies which block alpha wave activity in the
brain. And beta. And theta. And any others too.
But I suspect itís
actually because the gravity is light here, which may explain why so
many strange people float down and land here so easily. And trust
me, there are plenty of them.
Not all expats are
strange, though you do have to be a little different to reject your
homeland in favor of a place where you can never completely fit in,
not even after 30 years, a native spouse, three kids, and a
Certificate of Inertia signed by the village chief.
First, there are the Balinese, who fish in streams with electrified
rods to stun the fish, stand next to the Coke machines at the
airport so they can put your money in the slot just in case you
canít figure out how that works, and talk on the handphone while
wearing full ceremonial dress, driving a brand new car on the way to
see a balian (traditional healer) so he or she can counteract
a black magic spell someone put on the baby, and not even bat an
eyelash at the incongruity.
Then there are the tamu (tourists) who, in addition to
the usual touristy foolishness, go to Lovina to see the dolphins,
which entails getting up at 5 A.M. to climb in one of 30 small boats
which sit in the water, then race en masse to a spot where
the dolphins have surfaced. The dolphins, of course, dive underwater
before the boats get there since they have this innate fear of being
run over by a flotilla. Itís called survival instinct. This
slapstick farce goes on for hours. Itís like the Whack-a-Mole game
at the carnival without the hammer, though I wouldnít be surprised
if they used to hand them out before someone convinced them it was
an unnecessary expense.
But the expats might be the strangest of all. Iím not sure at what
point youíre technically considered an expatriate, but for our
purposes weíll consider it someone whoís here longer than the
average holiday. Of course that would mean Iím an expat, though
the saving graceóor rationalization if you insistóis that Iím
leaving soon so I wonít be an expat much longer.
Whew, that was close!
Not all expats are strange,
though you do have to be a little different to reject your homeland
in favor of a place where you can never completely fit in, not even
after 30 years, a native spouse, three kids, and a Certificate of
Inertia signed by the village chief.
Everyone in the Ďhood
thinks itís a real hoot whenever they see me sweeping the porch or
ógasp!ó mopping the floor. Seven months Iíve been doing this,
and each time they still smile and call the kids over to see how
wacky we tamu can be.
Itís surprising how many of the expats here are, well, damaged.
They come here to find themselves, to examine their lives, to find
spiritual awakening. They end up staying because itís dirt cheap
and they hardly have to work, giving them plenty of time to sit
around drinking arak, the local rice liquor, while trying to
remember what a coherent thought pattern was like. Itís a place
where misfits fit in. You know, my kind of place.
Of course the Balinese think all Westerners are strange, and
Iím certainly not in a position to argue the point. Most of them
live in a rumah keluarga (family compound) their whole
life, being born there, getting married and having kids there, then
watching the kids get married and raise their kids there. A typical rumah
keluarga houses more people than a Canadian province. Thus they
go through life with no privacy and lots of people around.
Twenty-four hours a day. You have to wonder when they have enough
privacy to create the kids.
Thus they think that anyone
who spends time alone is doing it because they have no one to be
with. It couldnít possibly be voluntary. They donít understand
the concept of, say, quietly reading a book by yourself. Thatís
why they keep you company all the time, like it or not.
When Iím working on the verandah itís not uncommon for a
Balinese Iíve never seen in my life whoís walking by to come up
and sit next to me. He usually speaks no English, has never seen a
laptop computer, and feels very sorry for me since Iím all alone.
He sits and quietly watches me type, and trust me, I do some of my
best work when someoneís staring at my fingers on the keyboard.
After about five minutes he smiles, gets up, and leaves, having done
his good deed for the day, received a little karma boost in the
process, and knowing he can go home and have something to tell the
287óor is it 288 today?órelatives at dinner tonight.
Even though I kept telling
them ďtidak mengertiĒóI donít understandóand their
family told them Iím not Balinese (duh!), theyíd look at me like
I was an idiot and kept repeating themselves. They probably thought tamu
actually meant moron.
also think Iím strange for doing the housework. Most Westerners
hire pembantus, literally ďhelpersĒ, to take care of the
cleaning, cooking, shopping, and laundry. For all of about $40 a
month. But my place is small, Iím used to being independent, and,
to tell the truth, I really donít want anyone hanging around all
day long. Yup, thereís that Western aloneness rearing itís ugly
isolationist head again.
Everyone in the Ďhood thinks itís a real hoot whenever
they see me sweeping the porch orógasp!ómopping the floor. Seven
months Iíve been doing this, and each time they still smile and
call the kids over to see how wacky we tamu can be. Iím
surprised there isnít a TV show here called ďTamu Do the
Strangest Things!Ē Iím sure it would be a hit.
My landlordís niece and nephewóokay, two out of a slew of
themóused to think I was really weird. Okay, they probably still
do. They had the hardest time understanding that I donít speak
Indonesian or Balinese. Even though I kept telling them ďtidak
mengertiĒóI donít understandóand their family told them
Iím not Balinese (duh!), theyíd look at me like I was an idiot
and kept repeating themselves. They probably thought tamu
actually meant moron. But they figured it out eventually. Now they
speak to me the same way they do to their two-year-old relatives.
And I understand perfectly. Well, on a good day, anyway.
But Iím small potatoes on
the strangeness scale here, and since Iím ranking it I can place
myself anywhere I want. Probably the oddest person Iíve run into
was a budding cult leader I met last week. He seemed innocuous
enough as he talked to a friend of mine about being socially and
environmentally conscious. It wasnít until he ended up declaring
that he was Shiva, a shaman reincarnate, Michael Jacksonís evil
twinóor was that the good twin?óand that everyone who didnít
join up with him would be dead soon that it became apparent he was
the frontrunner in Bali Bonkersfest 2001.
Obviously that was an
extraordinarily light gravity day. Even for Bali.
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©2001 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them, but don't be surprised if a Balinese joins you while you do.