Is that your
by Mad Dog
I suspect they
were afraid that if they pissed off the White Demons From Across the
Water we’d bring more with us next time. Tour buses full of them.
All from Dubuque wearing polyester double knit.
If I hear “Halo, Mister!” one more time I think I’m
going to lose my rice. I know everyone’s just being friendly, but
couldn’t the school system teach them a few more phrases in
English just for variety, like maybe, “Top ‘o the morning” or
“You come here often?” or even “What’s your sign, White
Last week I went to a small
island off Bali, the name of which I swore I wouldn’t mention
since they don’t get many tourists and the friend I was with is
afraid that if I print the name, within weeks everyone will flock
there and it will turn into Las Vegas, complete with Siegfried and
Wayan’s trained monkeys, slot machines in every warung, and
99-cent gecko cocktails.
I’m flattered she thinks
I wield this much power. But a promise is a promise, so let’s just
say it begins with “Nusa”, which doesn’t help you much since
that means “island” in Indonesian, and considering there were
13,670 islands as of the last count (and amazingly no politicians
demanded a recount or instigated court proceedings) you have
a lot of guesses.
There are only two guesthouses and three telephones on the island of
Nusa ______. And enough motorbikes to fill a Harley- Davidson
convention, though the total cc’s wouldn’t add up to a chopped
street bike. Tamu are a rarity, especially when one has a
shaved head and handlebar moustache and the other has long, flowing
red hair. The only times they’ve seen people who look like us were
in traditional paintings of demons. Yet in spite of that—or maybe
because of that— most people were friendly. I suspect they were
afraid that if they pissed off the White Demons From Across the
Water we’d bring more with us next time. Tour buses full of them.
All from Dubuque wearing polyester double knit and clutching their
free slot machine tokens and half-off coupons for Denny’s Grand
Slam Goat Sate and Eggs Breakfast.
You can be anywhere,
minding your own business, and someone you’ve never seen in your
life will walk up to you and ask, “Where are you going? Where have
you been? Where do you live? Are you married? How old are you? Do
you have any children? You want transport?”
They were definitely curious. Most people yelled “Halo!”
as we drove by on our motorbike. When I first got to Bali I thought
it was really nice that so many people knew English pleasantries. It
made me feel comforted. After all, the last place I spent an
extended time was St-Malo, France, where it’s so bad that everyone
has forgotten what the French word for English even is. (HINT:
It’s not tête
de merde.) Then I found out that people here weren’t speaking
English to me after all—the word halo is Indonesian for
After “Halo”, the most
commonly heard English phrase is “You want transport?” Offering
tourists rides on the back of their motorbikes, in their cars, on
their bicycles, or even piggyback is the favorite Balinese way to
pick up a few extra rupiah. Some days it’s like walking through a
gantlet in Ubud. Though I do have to say that before I got the
motorbike it came in very handy. Except, of course, that they were
never around late at night when I needed them, leaving me to walk
home, constantly reminding myself that exercise is good for me,
especially the extra bit I got dodging the barking Balinese dogs who
own the streets at night.
The favorite game here is Dua Puluh Pertanyaan or Twenty
Questions. You can be anywhere, minding your own business, and
someone you’ve never seen in your life will walk up to you and
ask, “Where are you going? Where have you been? Where do you live?
Are you married? How old are you? Do you have any children? You want
It’s not that the
Balinese are nosy, they’re just curious. Okay, they’re nosy.
Real nosy. It’s interesting though that, unlike in the U.S., they
don’t ask what you do for a living, how big your bank account is,
or what kind of motorbike—I mean, car, you drive. Well, not unless
they’re of the opposite sex and happen to know the English phrase
I told him I had two
children and they were coming along with my wife. I don’t remember
what names I gave them, probably Wayan and Gede which really had him
going since those are the two names you can give your first
Answering these questions is a problem for me, since if
you’re over the age of seventeen and not married, they feel sorry
for you, and if you don’t have any children, they take pity on
you. The Balinese, you see, feel very strongly about the philosophy,
“Misery loves company.” One time I was in the grocery store when
a man standing next to me started playing “Who Wants to be a
Million Rupiah-aire” with me.
“Where are you from?”
“America,” I said, since they don’t know United States,
“Where you stay?”
“Where your wife?”
“She not here?”
“No.” He looked
confused, so I added, “She’ll come later.”
He was relieved. I was amazed. Not that he was relieved, but rather
at how easily I made up the story. I told him I had two children and
they were coming along with my wife. I don’t remember what names I
gave them, probably Wayan and Gede which really had him going since
those are the two names you can give your first born. He was happy
that I had a real life. I was depressed that I had to make one up. I
went home and drowned my sorrows in some rice.
Laki-laki is a man. Anak
is a child. Therefore a young boy is an anak laki-laki. More
than one becomes anak-anak laki-laki. See how much fun this
language can be?
|| If I close
the curtains to my cottage for a little while and I’m inside, when
I come out there’s inevitably someone waiting to ask me what I was
doing. It’s a highly refined form of Balinese radar. Unfortunately
my Indonesian phrasebook doesn’t include “jerking off” so I
This is an all-purpose
answer to the questions, “Where are you going?” and “Where
have you been?”. Jalan-jalan means walking, and for some
reason if you say that they’re satisfied, not knowing that we more
accurately translate the phrase as “none of your damned
business.” I often use jalan-jalan to answer any question
they ask, which usually satisfies them because they realize that
I’m not just tamu (tourist), but also gila (crazy).
the Indonesian language, has some interesting touches. There are no
tenses, so “Saya jalan-jalan” can mean I walk, I walked,
I will walk, I would have walked, and of course, none of your damned
business. In order to make a word plural you repeat it. Car is mobil.
Cars is mobil-mobil. This is actually very fun, especially
with some words. Laki-laki is a man. Anak is a child.
Therefore a young boy is an anak laki-laki. More than one
becomes anak-anak laki-laki. See how much fun this language
is liver, though it’s used like we use heart, as in “he has a
big heart.” Hati-hati means caution. You see this on road
work signs all over the place. It’s going to be tough when I get
back to the states and I start telling people to be careful by
saying, “Liver liver!”
All those doubled words get
bulky, which is why they often abbreviate them in print by squaring
them. Thus, cars becomes mobil 2.
Hati-hati becomes hati 2.
When you abbreviate children by writing anak 2
laki 2 you start to
understand why most Balinese are better at calculus than English.
A few other basic words in Bahasa
Indonesia which are good to know:
kasih – thank you
– no, which is usually followed by a blank stare for about two minutes
until you want to ask, “What part of tidak
don’t you understand?”
Bagus – which means “good”. You see this everywhere and it’s easy to
remember since it sounds a bit like bogus. If you ever try the
bagels at Bagels Bagus you’ll remember this forever.
Gila – Mad Dog. And you thought I get funny looks when I tell
them I’m not married.
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