Jungle Buddies: In Memoriam Hasan Merdjanic

Ageing has its hills and ravines: there’s a slowing down that can be relaxing after the intensity of postmodern life, some of the mysteries of living become just a little clearer with the wisdom of hindsight; the valleys include the persistent and pesky aches and pains from past injuries that were easy to forget when younger and stronger, failing vision, a few extra (and unneeded kilos), and most difficult of all the loss of old friends.

Twenty-nine years ago I left beautiful Petaluma, California, and the Bay Area to head off to the jungles of what was then called Irian Jaya and is now known as Papua and West Papua. I wasn’t expecting to stay more than the year contract that I had in my baggage as I arrived in the little town of Timika where the mining company that I was going to be working for had their airport. I didn’t know much about what to expect other than what was offered in a brief orientation at the mining company’s headquarters in New Orleans. No friends, a new school, a new language to learn, leaving family and friends behind. It was a bit daunting for someone who loves routine to keep some of the demons of life away.

Not long after I arrived, I started heading out on the weekends into the villages of the local ethnic groups that lived just outside of the fenced mining community that I called home. And it was not too much longer before I came across the man who was to become one of my best friends during the nine years that I spent in Irian Jaya; that friendship continued on over the years only ending yesterday when I heard that he had passed on.

Hasan Merdjanic and I were in a sense an odd couple; he was a capitalist from the former Yugoslavia; I was a socialist from Chicago. He was a master mechanic; I was a second grade teacher. He was outgoing and cheerful; I was introverted and brooding. But our love of Indonesia, and especially Irian Jaya was the foundation on which we built our long friendship.

We were both single at the time, living in the BQ buildings just across the river from the Sports Hall. Hasan introduced himself one afternoon in the F-Barracks dining area. He had heard that I was interested in the local people and their cultures. Over dinner, we shared some basic background information and when he heard that I had a Ph.D. In anthropology, he gave me the nickname of drbruce. I’ve kept that nickname since then. And, he told me about his project – the Timika Yacht and Swim Club. This was a place for the three groups of people living and working for the mining company – expats, locals and Indonesians from other islands – to get together in their free time and recreate together and get to know each other and hopefully break down some of the boundaries and stereotypes that social groups tend to hold dear. I was impressed with the beauty, boldness and difficulty of Hasan’s vision. Still, it took a few months before I was ready to cough up the $100 membership fee.

We started our friendship having a few beers in Hasan’s BQ or mine talking about what he was doing. Eventually he dragged me down to Timika and the Kaoga River where the Yacht Club was located. At the time it was just an office building and a few bbq areas. But people would come there on the weekend on cook, swim in the icy river and just hang out. A few small stalls selling food opened up on the road outside the club. Hasan’s dream was becoming a reality.

After my first visit and my introduction to the small Amungme man who was the landlord for the Yacht Club, I was hooked on Hasan’s vision. Anytime that Hasan was going down to work at the Club, I hitched a ride along with him and took part in what turned out to be years of construction work as the Yacht Club went from the office building to include a two-story building with rooms for rent on the second floor and then the so-called Animal House for guys who wanted to come down and party away from the general crowd who came in on the weekends, more bbq’s, a building with toilets and showers, a kids’ playground, a restaurant, and finally a little golf course hacked out of the jungle where the idea was to hit a ball and not lose it.

My favorite times were the early days of construction when we would put up a tarp to cover us and sit around a campfire to keep the mossies away and drink and tell stories through the night. Hasan would bring his music box down and we had some of the classic 90s music to provide a soundtrack for our campfire stories. During the day, we’d help with construction; it was hot, dirty work but Hasan had this unique ability to draw all sorts of expat guys down to help out. He was the ringmaster of our weekend circuses.

Hasan had that ability to sell people on his vision: guys would work for free, the mining company would donate some of the building supplies that we needed, we had a local manager, a genial Javanese guy who ended up in Timika as part of the Indonesian government’s relocation plan. Hasan brought all of us in together. We had a little group of my teacher friends who would come down occasionally on the weekends to swim, eat and play.

At some point Hasan made me a vice-president of the Yacht Club in charge of art and culture. I would come down and scour Timika looking for Asmat carvings that we could sell at the Club. Sometimes I would find one or two tucked away in some small shop; once I came across a darkened little house with some statues outside. Peering inside a small cobwebbed window, I caught a glimpse of dozens of carvings piled up randomly on the floor and leaning against the walls of the room.

It took a while to track down the owner of the carvings as I went from house to house asking who lived in the statue house. Eventually, we hooked up and made our way back to the treasure trove. I tried bargaining for individual statues, but the prices were more than I wanted to pay. As a final tactic, I offered to buy all of his carvings for one price. Deal. But, I didn’t have enough money so I raced back down the dirt road that connected Timika to the Yacht Club leaving a trail of billowing dust behind me. As I screeched to a stop, Hasan popped out of the office and, giving me a dubious look asked, “What have you done Dr.Bruce?” I told him I had 73 carvings but no money. He pulled out a roll of notes, counted them out, took my wallet and emptied it and gave me his favorite saying, “Make yourself useful and do something.”

I was reliving this story just yesterday as I was photographing and cataloging the remaining statues that I brought back with me to Bali when I left Irian Jaya. And then one of those moments of synchronicity; I took a break to check my email and saw the notice of Hasan’s passing.

It was only a few months ago that we sat along the Esplanade in Cairns trying to stay out of the morning rain while we discussed our various illnesses and the ravages of ageing. I showed him the scars on my leg from the tropical ulcers I picked up on my most recent trip to Papua. He showed me his heart surgery scars. But, as always, he was upbeat, but realistic. We made some plans to meet again, either in Bali when he felt better or back in Cairns if I did another run on the cruise ship that he had talked me into working on as something to “make myself useful.”

I didn’t suspect that that would be the last time that I would get the pleasure of spending time with my old friend. Probably that was for the best, I’m not known for being good at sentimentality. But, I would have liked to have told him how much his friendship over the years meant to me, although knowing Hasan, I pretty much guess that he was clued into that as he was clued into so many things in this life of adventure and mystery. Rest in Peace Buddy. Miss you already.

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Modernity and Tradition at Home and Away

As Zoey and I return home from our morning walk around the city, she’s drawn in to a number of rapid fire conversations with her kampung friends (she spends more time out playing everyday with friends now; Grandpa time often takes second place to playtime in the neighborhood). She’s smart and sassy, so much like her mother, grandmother and youngest aunt; my oldest daughter and youngest son take more after me – thoughtful and somewhat reticent in dealing with others. Zoey gets into a verbal taunt with a friend who is twice her age, and she holds her ground. She switches off effortlessly into English with me when she asks if it’s ok to play with her friends rather than come upstairs to her room to play with me. She grabs some snacks that she’s bought at the mini-market, gives one to a friend and off she goes.

A group of these little kampung urchins gather round to watch a neighbor who’s crafting a new outrigger boat. The kids still learn about traditional ways by watching the adults; none of the adults mind the audience unless they get in the way of the work. It’s a scene that’s gone on in this kampung for hundreds of years. But one of them pulls out a tablet and snaps a photo of his uncle at work, modernity is never far away or totally separated from the traditional life. The kids blend them together without a thought. Their toys include store-bought dolls and laser guns, castoff plastic plates from a recent ceremony and some oddly shaped pebbles that have washed up from the sea in a recent storm.  This kind of childhood is far from my own Chicago child life: we rarely interacted with adults, dads were at some sort of work that we only vaguely understood and moms were at home cooking and cleaning. Here it’s like Tom Sawyer and Kim all rolled into one, set against the beautiful Bali Sea in a somewhat seedy fishing kampung.

I’ve been trying to get a grasp on the issue of modernity versus tradition (if it’s really a binary thing, and it certainly doesn’t appear to be) in PNG, but it dawns on me that very similar processes are at work here. Maybe that’s what has thrown me off integrating my most recent trip to PNG into my somewhat idiosyncratic world view. I was having dinner with a few guests on the cruise ship and one of them remarked that my wife sounded very traditional.

That remark just came to mind today while I was cleaning the house and moving some of my wife’s traditional medicines out of the way. The smell of jajan (a wonderful variety of baked goods) rises up to my room from my wife’s kitchen. She’s cooking for the 40-day ceremony for my new grandson. She still makes everything from scratch even though she could more easily buy the things she cooks in a bakery or supermarket. My wife is about as traditional as you can get here, but the tablet that she uses for her regular Facebook postings is never far from reach.

Tradition and modernity are all around me, but I miss a lot of it because in so many ways, I really have (as I’ve been accused of by several former anthropologist colleagues) gone native for  the most part and so what seems strange and exotic to Western outsiders is just another regular, non-remarkable event for me that I gloss over like so many of the ceremonies and colorful cultural artifacts that bring millions of visitors to this tiny island every year.

And then there’s tourism that gets thrown in this mix. I came here as a tourist as all of the foreigners who live here did, but over the years I’ve grown to view tourism mostly through its negative aspects. But tourism is one of the economic and cultural forces that I’ve come to reconsider after my month on the Sepik River. And accordingly, I need to do so here as well. Lots of things to reconsider; that in itself is actually refreshing as the events of the last six months have shaken me out of my tropical lull and started me on taking a look at the local and the foreign in some new ways.

The movement from tradition to modernity doesn’t have a simple linear trajectory; it twists and turns, advances and retreats. Some aspects of modernity are adopted and modified to fit into the regular flow of life; technology seems to be the easiest path to be adapted, ideology the hardest. And there’s the sticky problem of the definition of both modernity and tradition. This is a current issue in many of the places that I’ve visited in PNG. What’s tradition, what’s custom, what’s good tradition, what’s bad, what’s the difference between tradition and custom. One example: are young ladies in the Trobriand following tradition when they dance topless in front of camera-clicking (and cash-paying) tourists? And if it’s tradition, is it good tradition or bad tradition. And then there’s land issues. Here the issue revolves less around land problems (a common point of contention in PNG) and more around how cultural actions are played out whether it’s in death rituals, religious rituals or the political translation and mobilization of the two.

In both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea there are serious existential concerns about the viability of traditional culture under the onslaught of 21st century modernity and globalization. However, they are opposite sides of the same coin;  Bali is concerned with too much tourism, Papua New Guinea with too little.  Finding a balance seems to be the commonsense solution to Bali’s problem, although the eyes of the powers that control such things here seem to be blinded by the color of money. It’s always the more the better. But this issue in Bali has been discussed since colonial days, and with no solution in sight, it’s easy enough to take the cynical view that nothing will change until the whole fragile system collapses under its own weight. For PNG, well that’s something for another post.

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Thinking of Papua New Guinea: Part I,

I have some time today; Su and Zoey went south to visit her sister in the hospital. There’s some time then to get back to trying to unravel what’s happened to me during my 11 weeks in PNG. I’ve started two posts, but they have both started to unravel under some invisible weight of change – it’s the change thing that has me disoriented. I’m not sure if it’s a change in ideology, in worldview, or in some ambiguous theoretical stance (although to be honest, I lost my Marxist/Freudian theoretical stance during the crazy month thirty some years ago when I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation).

So, I’ve been flopping around the house since I returned from a month on the Sepik River, taking care of my granddaughter, fixing things around the house, and worrying about my children and grandchildren. But, running in the back of all this has been the need to get a grip on what happened in PNG.

Zoey has her bilums (net bags that everyone wears and uses in PNG and in Indonesian Papua as well, although they call them nokens over there) spread out all over her room; I didn’t know if she would like them as gifts, but she stuffs things down inside and says, “I have a surprise inside my bilum, Grandpa, do you know what it is?” And then there are the masks that I brought back and have hanging on the wall and the sacred flutes that Zoey likes me to play. So PNG is in my awareness constantly.

Living on a cruise ship is, in itself, a surrealistic enough experience, but add to that the destinations – small villages (and some not so small villages) and islands known to most of the outside world primarily through guide books and the anthropological writings of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Reo Fortune and a slew of folks who have followed up on their work. I just happened to find an anthropologist who had been through this experience years before me; another American living over in this corner of the world who had worked on the same cruise ship that I have just finished traveling on. She wasn’t an academic anthropologist, she called herself (at least on her blog) as an applied anthropologist, and it turned out she had a blog where she wrote about her life in PNG.

Unfortunately, she passed away in one of those unexplained and tragic auto accidents while she was back visiting in the US. But she has this blog that is still online and through it, I’ve started to get some feel for what it may be that I’m looking for.

A Jump Start from the Homeland

I was looking back on what I wrote above yesterday while watching the always depressing news about what is happening in Trumpland, and the realization suddenly hit me that what I’ve been thinking around – not able to get to it head-on for some reason – and what it was that startled me about being in PNG was resilience.

Kopar Village, PNG

Despite everything, all the difficulties of living in remote areas with no immediate access to education and health care and often running water, as well as the lack of direct assistance from the government, was the sense of the resilience of the people that I met over 11 weeks. They are working on finding the path that leads to a successful blending of modernity and tradition. And with that, I’ll leave more until the next post.

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Once Again Back On the Road: Another Ubud Trip (Where Else?)

I’ve been back from my latest trip to Papua New Guinea for almost two months now. I’ve been working on writing about the changes in me that those trips have brought about, but I haven’t quite completed figuring the whole thing out – but soon, it’s just on the tip of my tongue.

After being out on the sea for three months out of five (before these two months at home), life in the kampung has gotten a bit ho-hum. Everyday is the same: get up, play with Zoey before school, get her off to school, clean the house, play with Zoey after school, do a little reading and writing, play with Zoey again while my wife makes dinner, eat dinner, watch tv and sleep, Reset and do it all again tomorrow.

Now, that’s actually not a bad life. I don’t have to work; I wouldn’t mind having some extra money, but we have enough to get by on, and for me that’s cool. I have a great bunch of kids and grandkids. Somehow all the neurological problems that I had a few years back after a stroke have disappeared. I live on a tropical island, which I’ve wanted to do since I was in high school. I speak two languages and bits of three or four other ones. I have a beautiful and extremely challenging wife. I have a completely strange and blind monkey that I would love more if he didn’t insist on peeing on me.

So, what I have always needed when I get these stay-at-home blues is a road trip, and where else to make a trip other than to Ubud to visit some old friends and see what the Yoga capital of the world is up to these days. Really the trip is not just about visiting friend or getting out of the house. It’s as much about seeing Bali. Getting out to the villages and the small roadside warungs and life outside of tourism central.

Life on this small island now regularly called a resort island (how ugly can we get) has always been about what happens with the masyarakat (the people). All the rest is window dressing for anthropologists, royalty-struck tourist hangers-on, and, of course, the wealthy and connected. And for me, the best way to get to see what is going on around the island is to head out on my motorcycle and make a few stops along the way to chat with folks. The destination of Ubud is really of secondary importance to the physical act of the ride over these twisty roads that run through some of the best of traditional Balinese villages.

The weather on the trip down and back was beautiful: clear skies, a slight breeze and that Balinese sun to keep me warm when I got up into the mountains just before Kintamani.

These trips give me a chance to let the thoughts flow freely, unencumbered by the daily trivia of life back home. My children call these trips “refreshing,” and while I used to think that was kind of a strange way to put it, it’s actually the perfect word to describe what happens when I get out on the road. On this trip, I was playing with the concept of consciousness (not in the sense of how some of the new arrivals to Bali use it, such as in “Oh ya, I’m a conscious person,” but in the scientific sense of the word.) Consciousness is a favorite concept to think about just because of the act of perceiving and thinking about the beauty found around Bali on the way up to Ubud from Singaraja. The sense of being in the world can be really startling when immersed in the lushness of a tropical island.

By the end of the drive, I was, as is said, refreshed. Down in Ubud, things are as busy as usual; the tourist season really doesn’t exist anymore for Ubud, it’s always the tourist season. The narrow sidewalks that were once a pleasure to stroll along in early May before the onslaught of the traditional tourist season that began in June, now are packed in early May with the wandering hordes of tourist walking two or three abreast making it difficult to do an absent-minded stroll. Seems like there is always someone pushing you off towards the street, which is extremely hazardous with all the traffic in Ubud these days.

I had a chance to catch-up with the Balinese family that I have been staying with for the past 29 years, as well as spending a pleasant afternoon catching up with an old American friend and his Balinese wife. And, as usual, I did my shopping tour through town to get a few things for Zoey, Zander and Su. I made my obligatory stop at Ganesha Books to get Zoey a few books, and I succumbed to the desire to spend a quiet evening in my room by ordering a pizza from a local restaurant.

Getting out of town is for me a chance to get out of a few of the daily routines, and this trip was successful and pleasant. And now back home to start on some new projects.

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Time and Time Again: Life in Bali

Bali. For some people the name says it all – warm seas, soft sands, cold beers, vibrant colors, exotic sounds, friendly people, wide smiles, laughing children, a multitude of inexpensive small hotels and homestays. Bali. A land of wonder and magic set in the warm waters of the Bali Sea and the Indian Ocean.


Bali. The tourist-ruined, money-soaked island sucking in foreign dollars for the Indonesian government in Jakarta. Hand-planted rice, delicately crafted religious offerings, vibrant cloths used in ceremonial clothes. Gamelan orchestras practicing in the warm nights under a brilliant moon, fishing in a traditional prahu chasing tuna and flying fish, the mystery of a wayang kulit in a village with the children laughing, the men gambling, and the women making comments on their husbands’ performances or lack thereof. Bali. Which one is it?

The answer is that there is no answer – it all depends on what you bring to Bali and where you take it. There are foreigners who have come to Kuta and have never left. The excitement, opportunity and midnight rush have seduced them into finding a way to build a life there. Sanur, a twenty minute ride from Kuta, is a more relaxed village catering to generally more upscale tourists. Then, too, there are the tourists who come and drink, dance, spend and flee looking for one more country or island to “do.” Come up to the north and you might find boredom or bliss. Quiet sunsets on Lovina or Anturan Beach, serene walks in scenic villages. Try Ubud, the fabled center of Balinese ‘culture,” and you may find fantastic artists and musicians, thrilling performances of ancient dances and plays, or you may find digital nomads wandering the street half-naked, rabid dogs, muddy pathways and cold showers.

Bali. I first heard of the legendary Indonesian island during my freshman year at the University of Illinois in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course. Years later, I was a teaching associate in the anthropology department at UC Berkeley teaching an introductory anthropology course with Bali as one of the culture areas. And, while I had never been to Bali, my readings and lectures lit the desire to visit this island about which so much had been written just to see what the fuss was really about. As these things sometimes go, not long after I was offered a teaching position in a mining company on the island of New Guinea – not all that far from Bali. The fulfillment of my desire was just on the horizon. When I left San Francisco in 1989, I never imagined that I would still be living overseas 28 years later. As the Grateful Dead say, it’s been a long, strange trip.


Being one of the old-timers now on the island, I tend to get lulled into thinking about how much better the island was before tourism boomed – there were plenty of tourists when I first came here, but every year the numbers go up and in some parts of the island – Ubud and the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak area in particular – high season just means even more tourists than usual. We like to talk about the adventure that life here was back then when many places still had no electricity, it was more common to drink warm beer than cold, streets in the villages would turn into streams of mud during the rainy season, and you never knew what strange thing you might find around the next bend in the road.

Thinking about the lost, the real and the imagined Bali. I find that living in a developing-world slum keeps me somewhat less in need of a reality check than some of my friends who actually buy the market-driven fantasy of a paradise island. And, yet, driving through these solitary mountains and antique villages bereft of Mercedes Benzs, delivered pizzas and organic carrots grown in soil saturated with the green revolution’s chemical remnants reminds me that something brought me here so many years ago long before it was discovered by yoga-drenched sybaritic youngsters looking for one more fix for their god-obsessed wandering. We project our needs, desires and dreams on this little, overcrowded island of drama, ceremony, magic and tedium. People of all ages, classes and nationalities arrive here daily: many are physically ill, emotionally-drained, financially or intellectually challenged. They are looking for something special to recharge, revitalize or renew their lives. They’re looking for that special magic that Bali is so famous for. Some find it and go on to develop their lives, others just can’t connect to the realities of life in a developing country.

So why have I stayed in Bali and not gone back to the States or off to another country around the world? Serendipity is one short answer. A close American friend and long-time Bali resident has the saying: many are called, few are chosen. Without getting overly mystical, I felt a pull here within the first month that I was here. Not as soon as I arrived; I stayed my first week in Kuta and while it was a welcome break from life in the mining camp where I lived, it was not what I had hoped to find here. But slowly over the month of my vacation my perception of Bali developed. It was a combination of the natural beauty of Bali and the friendships that I developed with Balinese. It happened when the giddy edge of exotic strangeness started to wear off and a feeling of normality set in. It was then that I realized that I wanted to live here permanently. It wasn’t cheap living, it wasn’t being able to build a “villa,” (never been there, never done that), it wasn’t having a “staff” to cater to my every need, it wasn’t even because of a woman (I had already set my mind to living here permanently before I met the lovely Suhana). It was that mystical something that drew me here and keeps me here.

We imagine what we’d like to see when we travel. In the days before social networking, smart phones and instant images that can be transmitted across the globe in seconds, tourists would develop mental images of what they might meet upon entering a foreign country, then those imagined images would be adjusted to the reality. Now we can see our hotel room online, read updated reviews of the restaurant, check out the toilet facilities, see who our neighbor is going to be on the airplane, view anything and everything in a 360 degree total surround sound view. Traveling around to exotic locales isn’t what it used to be in terms of adventure, but for those of us who have been around this tropical “paradise” for a long time, we need to remind ourselves that others arrived here before us and said pretty much the same things that we say now. We just need to remember that the beauty of the island is not just in a startling sunset or a lush paddy but in the dignity and strength of the people that live here.

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On the Road Again: Another Visit to Ubud

farviilageGetting out on the road in Bali just before dawn is one of my special loves. The air is fresh; a gauzy haze blankets the countryside; small, wood cooking fires send up snake-like streams of smoke from dozens of kitchens along the rural roads that add the hint of an exotic smell to the morning crispness. Markets are busy with a mess of motorbikes, trucks, cars, bicycles and pedestrians all maneuvering for space. The earliest and most eager students begin to appear alongside the rode ready to begin another school day.

dscf4048The road from Ubud to Kintamani via Tegallalang is mix of stretches of new, smooth asphalt and crumbly, potholed rubble. It’s better now though than in the past and it lends itself to a reflective drive – on cruise control most of the time as the early morning traffic thins out once past Tegallalang.

A three-day rest back in my usual homestay – my home away from home- for the past 27 years. It had been almost a year since I stayed these last: too many responsibilities at home with my job of raising my inquisitive little granddaughter, a month long cruise to Papua and the Moluccas, and the usual tedium of house repairs. So, back at the homestay a morning of friendly and surprised greetings – bapak, you’ve been away for so long, we were just talking about you, how’s Zoey, how’s Singaraja, have something to eat you must be tired from that long drive. Wonderful to know that I have my secret little sanctuary away from the bustle of city life in Singaraja and from the craziness of Ubud even though the homestay is only a hundred meters off the main street of downtown Ubud – if I can call it that.

Time to meet with old friends – foreign and local. Talk about the state of the world and the country in these post US-election days because everyone wanted to talk about that. And a lot of talk about the state of Ubud. My first surprise as I turned onto the main road on my way to the homestay was to just miss getting slammed into by two foreigners on a motorbike – obviously not used to driving in Indonesian traffic. And just as surprised by their state of dress – or perhaps state of undress – is a better word. The young man shirtless, wearing only shorts and flipflops, no helmet. The young lady on the back barefoot wearing only a bikini and no helmet either. It was the first sight of foreigners sporting beachwear in Ubud – far from any beach. Later I was to run into more of this as I walked around town: men shirtless, women in bikinis. I had to ask my friends because this was something new for me.

The responses from my foreigner friends were expected – something along the lines of “disrespectful,” “rude,” “clueless.” Maybe because we’re from another generation, or maybe just getting older and more conservative. But, what I really wanted was to hear what the Balinese think about this because regardless of what we foreigners think, if the Balinese aren’t offended by this type of dress in public places, well then, we should just get on with things and forget about it.

So, I asked a cross-generational group from great-grandpa down to the teenagers in the compound. Responses were pretty much uniform except varying in degrees of irritation: “rude,” “disrespectful to the local culture,” “eww, who want’s to eat in a restaurant when people are at the next table undressed,” “idiots” (a teen, of course), “kind of funny to see people walk down the street like that,” “OK for the girls but not for the boys,” “don’t they read the guidebooks on how to act in Bali?”

And it was that last comment that set me off on another line of thought. Whose responsibility is it to tell foreigners what is acceptable locally and what isn’t? Should they just figure it out on their own, should there be some kind of handout at immigration on how to behave in Bali, should the locals tell them directly (a bit confrontational for most Balinese that I know), should we old-timers act as the fashion and behavior police?

Well, there was no real consensus from my friends, but generally the idea of having some sort of informational pamphlet at the airport received the most positive responses. However there was also a pretty adamant group that thought that tourists should find out for themselves – “that’s what you did,” said an old-timer, “you were always asking can I do this, is it alright to do that. What’s so hard about that?”

So, I guess life with tourists will just muddle on as it has always done except for those extreme situations when tourists decide to have sex in a temple (yes, it’s happen a number of times here), or relieve themselves on a temple wall (yes, been done as well). So, in the meantime,  I’ll just continue to look somewhat bemused when I see strange tourist behavior and just get on with things.

And when we got to politics, no surprises there. No Trump fans and some worries that things will get worse in the world with a loose cannon in charge of the US. Despite what Trump likes to say, Obama is respected here, and no one is looking forward to the change.

A lot more from this trip – it was eventful – but that’s for another time. Zoey will be home from school soon.

And another local take on Ubud and its foreign residents:

And another with a relevant comment even though the location is Kuta:

And since I’m on with Natasha today, one more cute take on foreigners in Bali:

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Back to the Source: Lessons from Zoey

Getting older I’ve been somewhat surprised that I tend to live more in the future than in the past or present. This seems to be pretty much a function of raising a granddaughter (and still having several children in university or close to it). I’m continually thinking about how their lives will turn out and how long I’ll be around to help them as they transition in adulthood.

It’s gotten a little frustrating – this living in the future – as Indonesians are not generally known for their proclivity for living in, or planning for, the future. So, I’m usually out of time-sync with most everyone around me. And, as my memory continues to deteriorate at a faster-than-hoped for degree, trying to keep track of everything swirling around gets more confusing and frustrating. I wasn’t consciously aware of this (even though the signs have been fairly evident for months now), but weeks of nightmares led me to go back to the source of my early graduate school training in psychological and psychoanalytic anthropology. So out came the Freud in an attempt to figure out what my unconscious was insistently trying to tell me. I went through Interpretation of Dreams, Civilization and Its Discontents and a variety of essays in a few Freudian collections. The common thread finally became evident – a loss of control.

According to my neurologist, this feeling of a loss of control isn’t uncommon in people who have had a number of strokes. So the problem was how to deal with this disconcerting emotional state. Going back to the source of my sojourn in education brought me to the realization of what it was that was troubling me, but it hadn’t given me to way to deal with it. And, that’s where my youngest granddaughter comes in.

dscf1791Zoey has already developed a basic understanding of time – before (the video we saw before, Grandpa), present (let’s play ball, Grandpa) and future (when we get home we can go upstairs?). But, in the main, Zoey lives in the present: she’s acutely aware of everything that goes on around us – on our walks, when we play in her room, when we’re about to take a nap. She catches the details of the moment both for good (wow, big goats!), and bad (oh no, the nasi lady is gone). She sees the butterflies across a crowded street and the new house under construction a block away. Her greatest concern is the problem immediately confronting her. She enjoys life, she laughs a lot, she’s always present even when I’m not. That vacant look that she occasionally gets from me elicits a response of “no sleeping, Grandpa.”

This three year old bundle of energy takes things as they come. Her big thing now is sharing, and she believes that everyone will share like she will, that everyone will have the same big open heart that she has and that everyone will play fair and be friends and that things really are good and beautiful. That’s a lot of faith in believing that things will all work out for the best, and it’s something that our children and grandchildren have (and that we once had when we were younger). And, a lot of that faith, I think, has to do with her living in the present; she doesn’t remember when her friend smacked her over the head with his toy or when Grandpa was grumpy and made her take a nap, or when the crazy lady in the street hit her with a newspaper. She lives in the now, she has faith that things are going to be great – it’s a beautiful day Grandpa; look at that, Grandpa, it’s amazing. It has nothing to do with religion or politics or ideologies; it comes from deep down in the human DNA, that inherent optimism that we often let get buried by all the layers of cultural conditioning. She lives in the Now and that seems to me to be about the best place to be these days.

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Moving Overseas: Malaysia, first in a series

People are on the move all over the planet: students moving for study; workers moving for better job opportunities; refugees fleeing violence and oppression; retirees moving for a change in outlook, lifestyle or adventure; tourists traveling for fun.

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for foreigners who want to move overseas whether it be for retirement, work or just a change of life. It would be interesting to see the statistics on the number of Americans who are leaving the States for overseas destinations as the economy of the US still seems stuck in the doldrums. Life in Southeast Asia can certainly be less expensive than life in the States, and the warm weather is attractive for those of us getting on in years who don’t want to deal with cold weather and snow. I’ve already written extensively about life here in Indonesia. But, there is another Southeast Asian country that is actively seeking foreigners who want to relocate to this part of the world: Malaysia.

Malaysia’s government set up the Malaysia My Second Home program (MM2H) for foreigners who want to move to the country on a long term basis. Some of the features of the program are: a ten-year multiple-entry visa, tax-free import privileges, the ability to purchase a home, the ability to invest in and own a business, no taxes on income earned outside the country, and a clear set of procedures for entry into the program.

MM2H has two sets of financial requirements: one for people under 50, and one for people over 50. The under-50 requirements are a bit stiff in regards to finances – it’s required to have a minimum of RM500,000 and a monthly offshore income of RM10,000; that’s around USD165,000 and USD3,333. So, foreigners who want to retire early need to have some significant financial resources available. For the over-50 crowd, things are a bit more reasonable. We need to have RM350,000 in assets and a monthly income from a government approved pension of RM10,000, or a fixed deposit account in Malaysia of RM150,000. While it is possible to purchase a house, the price of the house has to be at least RM500,000. So, while the 10-year visa and tax-free status looks great, the financial requirements may be above the resources of many of us.

photo by: By Azreey - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31077258

photo by: By AzreeyOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31077258

Reading a few blogs about life for expats in Malaysia, their experiences seem to be very similar in many respects to that of life for expats in Indonesia. The positives about moving to Malaysia include a low cost of living, an infrastructure that is one of the most developed in Southeast Asia, a stable political system, a low crime rate, the multiculturalism of the country and an excellent location for traveling around the region.

So, as potential expats look around for places in SE Asia to retire to, Malaysia appears to offer some attractive benefits but at a cost. At this stage, Indonesia’s financial requirements for long-term residency are lower than Malaysia’s. For someone like me with a retirement income below the Malaysian requirements, I’d say that retiring in Indonesia is the more attractive option.

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A Brief Historical and Socioeconomic View of Buleleng, Singaraja and Kampung Bugis

Singaraja is the capital of the regency of Buleleng, which covers the north side of the island of Bali. Buleleng is the largest province of Bali in terms of area. During the colonial period, Singaraja was the capital of Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands; in 1953 the capital was moved to Denpasar in the south. During the colonial period, the harbor in Singaraja was the entry point to the island for visitors and a variety of goods including slaves and opium.

Raja of Buleleng and his secretary circa 1875. Image:  Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute

Raja of Buleleng and his secretary circa 1875. Image:
Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute

Buleleng was founded on March 30, 1604, by the legendary Gusti Panji Sakti who was descended from the son of Dalem Sagening, king of Gelgel, and who at one time ruled both Buleleng and Blambangan in Java. The story goes that Panji Sakti left Klungkung to found a new kingdom in North Bali. When Panji Sakti reached the top of the mountain range, he was thirsty, but there was no water. So, he drove his magic kris into the ground and a spring formed. This spring still exists today at the site of the Pura Yeh Ketipat temple in the Lake Beratan area. Eventually Panji Sakti built three palaces; the last palace was at the site of Singaraja and this is considered the official birth date (1604) of the city and the kingdom of Buleleng.

Buleleng was the first of the Balinese kingdoms to fall to the Dutch after three battles in 1846, 1848 and 1849. (I’ll have more about this in my posts about the Bugis in Kampung Bugis.) Buleleng has 9 kecamatans (sub-districts); these are Gerokgak, Seririt, Busung Biu, Banjar, Buleleng, Sukasada, Sawan, Kubutambahan and Tejakula. Geographically Buleleng includes mountain ranges in the south, two lakes in the mountains and the relatively narrow coastal plane that skirts the Bali Sea on the north. Agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and crafts are the main areas of the economy. The regency’s land area is 24.25% of the total land area of Bali. Buleleng’s has a varied climate; the mountain ranges to the south regularly receive rainfall, while the coastal area has a dry season and a wet season.

According to the Kabupaten Buleleng’s website, the regency (or district as it is sometimes called) had a population of 786,972 in 2009. While the sub-district of Buleleng has the smallest area of the nine sub-districts, it has the largest population and highest population density. The sub-district of Buleleng had a population of 146,942 with a density of 1,515 people per square kilometer; the city of Singaraja has somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 residents and this accounts for the high population density of Buleleng. Singaraja is known as a city of education.

Kampung Bugis is located right along the Bali Sea (sometimes also called the Java Sea or the Bali/Java Sea), and is adjacent to the harbor. The total area of Kampung Bugis is 30 hectares. In addition to having the sea as its northern border, it borders Kampung Baru to the east, Kampung Kajanan to the south and Kampung Anyar to the west. The kampung has 3,299 residents, divided almost equally between males and females. Trading is the most common occupation, and there are 21 residents listed as making their livelihood by fishing.

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