Monday, October 27, 2014

Indonesian Frustration Chains

You know if I were on a tropical island with plenty of everything I could ever want to eat, free and fast internet, gorgeous women who love old, bald, fat guys, a high paying job teaching English to underpriveleged and well behaved kids, a nice place with a pool, a hammock and a yard for my dogs, I'd probably complain about never having to shovel snow. That's just the way I am. If there's nothing to complain about I'll make something up. What else would I blog about?

This is not to say Indonesia is paradise. I've had lots to complain about. It's just that for some reason the things I could complain about seem easier to laugh about here. I guess because when I'm driving in an air conditioned taxi fuming at the traffic that will probably make me a few minutes late for my class, trying to call someone to tell them I'll be late and getting no cell phone signal and I look out the window at a 5-year-old kid in bare feet wearing pajamas and just wandering along the sidewalk at 9 PM playing with a stick, and that kid is much happier than me, I get brought back to earth. The shame of it all is I seem to need this grounding on a daily basis. Or I start whimpering, whining and whinging in my excess. I just can't seem to take joy in what I have even though it would bring abundant joy to I'd say half the people on the planet to have all that I have.

But, being the incorrigible bitcher that I am, (fake well), here I go again... At least I can take a tiny bit of pride in the fact that here in Indonesia the things that bug me the most tend to be amalgamations of little things chained together in logic-defying strings of bad fortune that combine to make me lose my shit, albeit, momentarily. Perfect storms of niggling annoyances that snowball into a pissy mood or a nasty, (but humourous), blog post. I'll give you two examples. One from just today.

I'll do that one first. It all started, you guessed it, today. Well, no, that's not true it actually started last night. Well, but the reason I was annoyed last night was caused by two days ago. See what I mean by chains? Well I guess you DON'T see yet cuz I haven't said anything. Okay two days ago the wifi at my kost, (rooming house), was out. Being Sunday, the day I plan all my lessons for the week, I needed the internet more than ever. But as good fortune would have it, my student Herry had given me a Bolt. This is a little gizmo that creates your own private wifi channel when you turn it on. I paid about 40 bucks for two months of service. You see the wifi going down is a pretty regular occurrence at my kost. At least a couple times a week. So I got the Bolt home, turned it on, set it up and, BAM, NUTHIN'! It was explained to me that the signal wasn't strong enough for the BOLT to pick up. I thought that was why I had bought the damn thing. But, oh well, it was a freebie. Other than the 40 bucks for what they call "pulsa" here, and the 10 bucks taxi fare to go get that pulsa. And the two hours stuck in traffic in that taxi. And the two hours of sleep that cost me because there were mosquitos in my room and I couldn't sleep the night before... See? Chains.

So anyway, I have this Bolt and am using it as a paper weight for almost two months and one of the other tennants here tells me that you need to put it as close to the window as you can, sometimes OUT the window, before it will pick up a signal. So I DID this Sunday. It was a hot, sunny day and I opened the window, put the Bolt on the sill and lo and behold the internet worked! I was happily bangin' away at my computer finally getting a little use out of my 40 bucks worth of pulsa when suddenly the internet was down again. I checked my Bolt and the lights on it were all flashing wildly! I picked it up and it was as hot as just popped toast. Mmmmmmm... I need a toaster. Probably next paycheck. Anyway, the thing was fried, (mmmmm.... fried...), because I had left it on the window sill in the hot sun. I tried to turn it off but it wouldn't turn off. It just kept flashing and not turning off! So I took the back off and took out the battery. Then I put the battery back in and it was fine. But the back piece, being plastic, was warped and wouldn't go back on. After trying about a hundred times to put the back piece on, and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing, I chucked it across the room to deal with later. I had almost finished everything I needed to do anyway so I called it quits for the computer. Sunday is also a good day for grocery shopping. I needed some exercise too so I hoofed it into Kemang and went to the Ranch Market there. It was night by the time I got home with my groceries. It's about a 30 minute walk to Ranch Market and a 20 minute walk back. Longer there so I don't sweat so much that they won't allow me into the store.

I had some supper and sat at my computer watching some NFL games I had downloaded while the internet was up. Just as I finished watching the disappointing Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints game in which the Saints, my team, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the internet came back on! Yeehaw! So I began catching up on my facebook games and commenting on people's stuff and reading other people's posts and even studying my first lesson of Indonesian. Yup, I'm finally taking Indonesian classes! Soon I'll be able to bitch in THAT language too!

While doing my computer stuff I started noticing an awful lot of itchy spots on my feet and back and seeing some mosquitos in my room. Now you have to picture the scene. I DIDN'T walk home slowly, plus I was carrying a few bags of groceries with me. Sweating like the guy on Airplane! So I got home and stripped down to my gotch immediately. Even before putting away the groceries. Now I had to turn on BOTH of my main ceiling lights so that I could better see the mosquitos. Thing is they are very glare-y lights so I need to shade my eyes from that glare somehow. So I put on a ball cap. I haven't yet been able to find any fly swatters here so I use what I have: a grey, plastic, pancake flipping spatula. Oh yeah, another link in the chain: If you remember my last post I talked about the skimpy male panties here in Indonesia. I guess I went a little too long before bringing my laundry in to be washed. And it takes them at least four days to wash it. So, down to my last pair of underwear, I broke down and bought three pairs of these plum-smugglers that would look ridiculous if they were big enough, but look absolutely obscene because even though they are size XXXXL they are STILL too small! Imagine if you will, (dare), the fat, sweaty, milky-white bule wearing only these and a Canucks ball cap, brandishing, (and occasionally drumstick twirling), a spatula stalking around the room like Kato or Clouseau senses honed to a fine point just waiting to spot that next bloodsucker and HHHHEEEEAAAYYYYYAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!

Deep into the night. I mean hours and hours. I tried probably five times to turn out the lights and get some sleep thinking that surely I had just killed the last mosquito but as soon as the lights were out, bzzzzzzzzzzzz. On with the lights and into offense. But there was no end to the buggers! I covered up the drains in the bathroom, closed the bathroom door, put some clothes into the crack between the bottom of the door and the floor, but more mosquitos kept coming. Finally I pulled back the curtains and there it was! The window I had opened to get a better wifi signal for my Bolt. It was still open and with the glaring lights on attracting the mosquitos it was no wonder I was so busy! So I closed the window and didn't really finish killing all the mosquitos before I finally dozed off. It was starting to get light outside. About 5 o'clock. I could tell by the banging on the pipe. I had to get up at 7 o'clock to call Herry and see if he wanted his class at 8. Two hours later the alarm went off. I woke up with mosquito bites on my hands, feet, legs, back, front, one on my cheek and one on my right EYELID! I texted Herry and, bless his heart, he cancelled. Said he's going on a trip. YES! I could try to get back to sleep. No class till 4 PM. So I did. For like an hour. Then my phone message alert sounded. Message from Matthew, the boss. "No Herry today. He's going on a trip." It's now 8 o'clock. I've had a couple hours of sleep. But I see another mosquito. Up out of bed and on the offense!

After killing a couple more mosquitos and feeling pretty sure I had them all I sat down at the computer to check emails and facebook and news and whatnot. Also had my cup o' tea. My usual morning ritual. Not feeling very tired, later I ate some breakfast and although I knew it wasn't going to be very healthy, I went to sleep right after eating from about 11:00 to 1:00 and woke up with NO mosquito bites, but some terrible acid reflux. I jumped on the computer to update my facebook games and such. I hadn't been on for much more than 10 minutes when, BAM, power outage. Another regular occurrence here. Once a week or so. I had to shower, shave, and get ready for work in the dark! So I opened up my curtains and since the mosquitos don't come in when I'm gone and the lights are out, I opened up the window to get fresh air. I didn't do a very good job of shaving. Missed a spot on my chin that was noticeable when I looked into a mirror when I got to the building where I teach my first class. Other than that it wasn't too big a deal. I got to work on time and taught my classes from 4-8:30. It was a little after 9 PM when I got home. Window open, lights on and room full of mosquitos. You see, I had forgotten to turn the lights off. Because of the power outage I thought they WERE off. When the power came back on sometime during the day, the air conditioner and all the lights came on and stayed on wasting all that power for the whole day. Then when it got dark, the window was still open and the lights were on. I got home and looked up at my window and swore. Fairly loudly. A couple of the workers at the kost asked me what was wrong. They don't speak a lick of English between them and with my ONE lesson of Bahasa Indonesia and body language I tried to explain what was wrong. Tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed. Then I just said, "Never mind!" I stormed up to my room. Now THOSE guys think I'm a dick and there's no way I'll be able to explain to them what happened or get them to read this. They are the guys who do laundry, call for cabs, open the gate after hours, clean the rooms etc. What do you want to bet the next time a taxi comes one of them says, "Cab for David? Nope. Never heard of him."

Frustration chains. But I gotta admit, it's pretty funny. In fact I could see Jerry Lewis winning a French movie award acting this out. I can't make myself feel better getting angry about it so I'll complain here for a while and someday way in the future read this and have a good laugh. Which will make it worth it. Maybe.

Frustration chain number two: This one started quite some time ago. And it's a longer, more complex chain. But on the plus side, I'm just glad it takes a long, complex chain to make me lose my cool here. Hopefully this is all improving my patience. Okay, I guess I should begin with my long lost, and missed, Samsung Galaxy. I bought it in Canada when I lived there and it was a good phone. There were a few minor problems with it when I got to Indonesia but it was still a good phone. I managed to find some dead spots around Jakarta, actually lived in one for a few weeks, and this somehow completely reset my Galaxy. I mean the time, the messages, calls, alarm, NOTHING would work. I didn't know dead spots like that were even possible. I have explained it many times to many people and nobody can figure it out. A couple times I got the message, "Emergency calls only" when it was totally dead. It was spooky. But it created some big problems for me. When your schedule can change from day to day, you need your phone to work every day. Sometimes the phone would be dead for a whole day and I wouldn't notice it. Then I'd go somewhere and get a signal and suddenly text messages, call alerts and stuff would all flood the phone at the same time. Messages like, "I need you to start a new class at 2 o'clock today. I would get that at 1 o'clock. But anyway, those of you who are following my escapades here in Jakarta will know that my beloved Galaxy was pickpocketed on Jakarta's Birthday on the busway. Again, the freakish confluence of events. You'll have to read it. The upshot of the whole thing, after getting pickpocketed, standing up my boss and his wife, walking for six hours around Jakarta looking for my new apartment and ending up sunburned and blistered, I had to buy a new phone. I got a little Nokia. It was fine. No camera and no internet or apps of any kind but it was good for keeping in touch. Usually. Sometimes though, with no warning or explanation, it would switch into this mode in which I would just get the message, "Emergency calls only." Nobody could reach me and I wouldn't notice until I tried to call somebody. Again Herry to the rescue. He noticed one time when the phone shut itself off so he got me a Blackberry. I have been using that until just recently.

A Blackberry is no Galaxy. Far from it. But it had a camera and I was able to use What's App and Blackberry Messenger and some other things that were convenient. It wasn't too bad. Until just recently. It started to get crackly sounding. Really suddenly. One day the sound was fine and the next it sounded like 1950's television. But it wouldn't have bothered me so much if it hadn't combined with another long time building frustration: that of the morning taxi. I had classes Wed. and Fri. at 7:30 AM. They were an hour's drive from home so I had tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and failed to get just ONCE a taxi to come to my place at 6:30 AM. I tried calling and ordering but they'd come at 6:00 and leave or not come at all. I tried waking up at 5:00 and telling them to come at 6:30 but that didn't work either. I tried getting a standing order for a taxi two times a week for 6:30 AM. That didn't work. I tried with Bluebird and Express, the two, (supposedly), best taxi companies in Jakarta. Neither could do this. Not once!

So one fateful day I thought I'd try something else. I got up early and called Express Taxi at a little before 6 AM and just said I wanted a taxi to come as soon as they could get one. They knew my number and name and address because of all the times I had called, and failed, and called, and so on... So the girl says, "Okay I will look for a taxi in your area now. Your PIN number is 0815. It should take about 20 minutes." Perfect! When they say 20 minutes, I had learned that it means about 30-40 minutes. They should be at my house at 6:30, or so I thought. That's how they get you. They make you foolishly BELIEVE they're coming, the heartless BASTARDS!!! 6:40 rolls around and I call back asking what happened. It's a dude this time and asks if I want to order a taxi. I say that I already ordered one and want to know what happened to it. I waste a lot of time giving him my name, address, pin number all over again and he says, "Okay we will look for a taxi in your area now. It will take about 30 minutes. Your PIN number is 8855" I ask again what happened to my first order and he appologizes and says he doesn't know. The communication is rough due to a language barrier but also my phone has a newly developed crackling and several times I had to try to say something, fail, try to say something, fail, you get the pic. But I figured I'd be in the cab before the class started anyway. I'd be late but what choice did I have? At 7:30 the taxi hadn't come. An hour and a half after I ordered my first taxi. I receive a call from Express Taxi, this time from a girl. She says, "This is Express Taxi confirming your order. Mr. David? PIN number 8855? Okay we will search for a taxi in your area. It should take about 40 minutes." Well I tell the girl that I don't want the taxi any more and ask her what the hell they had been doing for the last half hour since they told me they'd be looking for a taxi in my area. She says, "Sir? I can't hear you. Could you call again?" So I talk louder and the crackling in my Blackberry gets louder, "I ASKED WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOING FO-" "Mr. David? Hello? Again say? Could you call again?" So even louder now yelling into the phone like a walkie-talkie I scream, "I HAVE BEEN WAITING ALL MORNING AND -" the crackling gets even louder but I hear her saying, "Could you call again? I'm sorry, could you call again?" So I absolutely lose it and slam the Blackberry down on the ground. The cover goes one way, the phone goes another and the battery goes a third way. One of the workers saw me and was shocked. He tried to help me pick up my phone but I wouldn't let him. I'm sure he thinks I'm a psychotic. Again I just storm back to my room.

My Blackberry is dead but I take out the sim card and put it into my old Nokia. Then I try to call the student whose class I am going to miss. I get a message on my Nokia, "Emergency calls only." I take the battery out and put it back in and still get the message, "Emergency calls only." I try again, fail, try again, fail, try again fail. I am pretty close to slam dunking my NOKIA too when I decide to unpack my computer and just send emails to the student and my boss explaining why I couldn't make it to the class and that I am going to spend the morning at the Nokia shop getting them to explain to me the "Emergency calls only" BS. Finally, I get another idea. I take the phone apart and put the sim card in the other sim slot and try it. Success! The Nokia works again! So I call my student who I'm sure is wondering what happened. He's very forgiving and calm. He has heard me explain the taxi troubles many times before. Then, I am absolutely not kidding you, at 8 o'clock or so my taxi arrives! I get a knock on my door from the kost worker who thinks I'm psycho, "Mr. David? Taxi?" "What the FUCK!?!?!" I stomp down the stairs and this taxi driver is coming toward me saying something. All I could understand was "PIN number, PIN number?" I felt like Bruce Leeing the guy but I just waved him off VERY rudely saying, "Cancel!" then turned around to avoid a homocide and returned to my room.

As luck would have it, that student has cancelled and I no longer have that massive stressor in my life so now I can laugh at it all. But that won't bring back my Blackberry. Seriously though, I don't think I behaved as I should have but if you know the whole story I think it at least makes my behaviour understandable if not acceptible. Doesn't it? And all of the little annoyances taken one at a time I am okay with. It's just a more enlightened incarnation of me that will be able to deal with these frustration chains with any poise. But I'm working on it, I'm working on it. This helps.

It's now 2:16 AM and I'm still bangin' away here because I have seen a mosquito and I'm not going to bed till she's dead. MAN I'm glad I don't have to teach Herry early in the morning tomorrow!

Addendum: It's now the next day. I stayed up till 4 AM chasing that one bloodsucker around but finally got her and went to sleep. Today I went to work and evidently was offered a new teaching gig by text message and missed the text because my phone was in that Nokia Narcolepsy mode I described in the blog post of that name. I got to my class and my room was full of people so I had to call the contact to see what was up. "Emergency calls only." So I took out the batt and put it back in and called her. After 30 seconds of talking she said, "Your class has been moved to room -" It cut out. RIGHT THEN!!! I tried to call back and got "Emergency calls only." THREE times we had to call each other to communicate where my class had been moved to and three times I had to take out my battery and put it back in. After class I tried to call my boss and "Emergency calls only." I was finally able to call him from home and talk for more than 30 seconds to find out the info about this new student. But I don't trust my "trusty" Nokia any more. So now I have to hunt down the receipt for it and take it back to the place I bought it to see if they can do anything. If not I might have to look into phone number 5 already in this country. Almost one every month! Unbelievable!

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Few Indonesian Oddities

While I wait for the Canucks game to download I reckon it'd be a good time to blog. I was doing a lesson this past week on overseas business and the dangers of not knowing a little bit about the culture you are dealing with. We had a lot of fun talking about cultural body language like the Bulgarians who shake their heads for yes and nod their heads for no; the Balkan head toss back and tongue click meaning no; and the Indians who are like human bobble heads combining eyes, eyebrows, nods, shakes, wobbles and whatever else they can throw in. I'm sure even THEY don't understand their head gestures sometimes. We talked about the okay sign, spitting, throwing up the horns, thumbs up, crossing your legs, come here/go away, touching, sticking out your tongue, pointing, left hand/right hand, all the things that could get you into trouble or lose you a deal because some cultures' insults are another cultures' courtesies. Member that scene in Ace Ventura II where they spit on each other? This is accurate, folks. It's a blessing to spit on a person's head in some parts of Africa.

I often wonder if, after receiving many odd reactions to uncommon courtesy like horking a loogie on a person's noggin, the horker might clue in that the horkee doesn't appreciate the gesture. But I don't wanna be anything but accepting and tolerant of other cultures, so here just give me a list of all the shots you've recently had, malaria zones you've visited in the last 6 months, Ebola and AIDS checks, a clean bill of health and by all means let the saliva fly! You know what, on second thought, let me inho-spit-ably, (nice one!), impose my culture upon you, shake your hand and take my chances on losing the multi-million dollar bat guano deal because I didn't feel like being your spitoon in a suit. If that costs me the deal, I'm good with that.

Believe it or not this IS the way I have been, generally, while traveling. And nobody has gotten overly offended. If you appologize and claim ignorance, then explain your own culture, you're fine. Still, there have been things that I haven't been able to, and things that I just plain refused to, develop any kind of appreciation or tolerance for. The first thing that comes to mind is the Korean "hello." I've explained it before so won't again. I also won't cite the article I read last week about the U.N., which has a Korean leader, (Ban Ki Moon I think), making a concerted effort to do something about the excessive xenophobia and racism consistently exhibited by Koreans. But since this is going to be an article on my new country of residence, I'll just say that they have somthing similar here. The thing is I just haven't found it anywhere near as offensive. I suppose I've been here ten fewer years, but still... Let me explain. In Indonesia I am a bule, (pronounced boo-LAY), which translates, quite insultingly, into "albino." lol I have heard others refer to me in this way and self-applied the term on occasion. It just isn't that offensive to me. Yet. It's like the Thai word "falang" or "farang." As in, "Hey sexy falang you buy me drink?" She, (presumably, although one never knows in Thailand), called me sexy so she could have called me puppy-killer after that and I'da been flattered. That's the way bule's usually used in Indonesia. Not with sexy but just not with any negative tones or words.

Then you have "Hey bule!" Or the more innocent, "Hey Meesterrrr!" I like the way they roll their r's. I think I can tell when there's malicious intent and when there isn't and I haven't yet heard anyone using it to impress their friends by mooing to the foreign cow the way the little Korean shits do. Nor have I yet had a whole group burst into laughter after I replied. That's usually a dead giveaway. For now I choose to believe the Indonesians are just being friendly. And I think they are. Funnily enough I've seen kids say, "Hey Meesterrrr," to women. So my response up to this point has always been a friendly, "Hello."

I think the biggest shocker to me so far has been the Muslim people. Like many a pilgrim from Western cultures, (unfortunately), I think hijab and taqiya and I think no fun at all. But I have met cool people here who are Muslims! Friendly, smiley, smart, absolutely normal people who are Muslims. I am actually ashamed that that has been the most shocking thing to me. But I never saw THIS video!

Another interesting thing to me has been the cultural significance of the scooter. Now I had seen the families of 5 riding scooters before,
the impossible loads packed onto them before,
but I've seen something here that's new: people sleeping on their scooters! Check it out!

That was new to me. The scooter is also, as near as I can tell, the thing that makes the infamous Jakarta traffic so indescribably brutal. I spend a great deal of my time in it so I am getting to the point where I might come close to being able to successfully describe it. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be a fruitless and demoralizing undertaking but I believe I can give an inkling of the traffic in this city as follows: imagine the worst traffic you have ever seen, witnessed or thought of. Traffic between which newspapers and refreshments are sold. Traffic that is stationary long enough for beggars to give you the sad face or sometimes sing a song long enough for you to dig into your wallet and get something for them. Traffic that is motionless for long enough at a time that motorists can get out, walk to the vehicle in front of them, ask for directions, get them, get back into their car and not get a horn blown at them because nobody moved in all that time. Happened to me this morning. I'm not kidding. Where cars and trucks, when they FINALLY get a chance to move are making up for motionlessness with speed and are brushing so close to the vehicle you're in that you don't know how you haven't lost a mirror. You've taken a quick breath and braced yourself numerous times for collisions that were narrowly avoided by your taxi driver. So many times that now, like a person realizing their fear of flight is not going to stop the plane from crashing into the side of a mountain and bursting into flames, you've said a little prayer and surrendered your life to the pilot/driver's skills. Then, just when you think that truck beside you could not possibly get any closer... a scooter passes in between the two vehicles tilting one way then the other to avoid the side-view mirrors of the two vehicles. THAT is Jakarta traffic. The very first day I was here a scooter actually HIT the mirror of a taxi I was in. I've since had three or four other minor fender benders. In every case they were ignored by both drivers. You won't find a car here without a scratch or a ding or two.

Staying with taxis, sort of, I have had about 5 taxi drivers, ALSO including today, fall asleep while driving me. Luckily none while in motion. Yet. It's also pretty uncommon to find a taxi driver, who conducts cash-only transactions all day long, with change. I don't know how many times they've committed to the scam so fully that the drivers have gotten out of the car, gone to a nearby store or even asked people on the street for change. I don't care. I'm not paying them 100,000 for a 50,000 Rupiah cab ride. That's the equivalent of a 5 dollar cab ride and a 5 dollar tip. Sounds like nothing by Canadian taxi standards but you just can't think that way here. I wait until the whole production comes to a conclusion and don't tip. otherwise I ALWAYS tip the taxi driver. Like the barber or hairdresser. They could kill you so I think they should be tipped. And depending on how good the performance was, I've even tipped when they tried the no change scam on me.

The weirdest one though was the taxi driver who kept missing shifts because his fingernails were too long. Not all of them, just one or two. I have seen a lot of dudes with one or two long fingernails around Jakarta.
I asked about it and the story goes that it's to demonstrate that they don't do manual labour. Like the preference, (again I don't get it), for women with really light, untanned skin. Indonesians constantly marvel at the bule men, who have such lovely, white skin, choosing the ugliest, dark skinned, buck toothed, high foreheaded, Indonesian peasant girls. But if I showed you a pic of that girl it would look something like this

Isn't she hideous?

Just one more about the taxis and I'll stop. I have noticed a bit of an obsession over here with mothballs. There are mothballs used in urinals, in houses as air "fresheners" in all sorts of places that just seem tacky if you ask me. I once got into a taxi with a young guy driving. The taxi had a really good stereo and some extra work done to make the interior more plush but the smell of mothballs was overpowering. I actually had about an hour in that cab and it was all I could take. I absolutely hate the smell of mothballs if it's just noticeable but this was something more. This was like putting the contents of Gramma's closet into a blender, pureeing them and then snorting them. I actually got out a couple blocks before my place just so I could get out of that smell.

And speaking of mothballs and Gramma's closet, you'd likely find some shirts in there like this:

These are the 1970's Saturday night disco going shirts known as Batik around these here parts. They are traditional Indonesian clothing. And I DIG them! I have three! They come in big sizes. This leads me to another curiosity. For people who wear such, um, shall we say, "throwback" clothing, and when they're not they're wearing their Muslim garb, and when they're not they're wearing something fairly old man respectable looking for the most part, the underwear is a WHOLE NUTHA STORY! There's not enough material in these things to call them underwear. I hate to do it but I gotta call Indonesian male underwer "panties." I gotta. Nobody over here heard of tighty whities? Or boxers? Or even briefs? You know with the little triangle trap doors in the front? No, they call these things "briefs" but the undies here are wildly inconsistent with the conservative vibe I'm getting from most guys. And for a fat ass like me who can't even find a shirt that fits, oh the horror! Oh the horror! I recently went to a place where I found the largest selection of men's undergarments I could find. It means nothing to my readers but it was Mall Kota Kasablanka. "Kokas" they call it. I found heaps of them! There were even boxers and some tighties. Not whities but tighties. However none were my size. The store girl showed me to the only pair with the waist size I was looking for. They looked when she took them out the box and showed them to me, like shorts that would stretch all the way down to the upper thigh. Like tighty whities only blue and black. I had to buy a two pack. 20 bucks! Never have I spent so much for so little! But I had a class in half an hour and the store girl assured me they were the only gotch in my size and they were "Western size." I got home and tried them on and let me just say this: nobody, western or not, with my size waist, could fit into these things. The waist was fine. It WAS the right size. But the manufacturer, (I checked and sure enough NOT Western, "Made in China"), must have been saving on material because there was no way to pull the waist up to the waist. It reached the upper arse at its highest point and STILL lower arse was leaking out. Along with other parts. And you can't take underwear back after trying them on can you? Uh uh. Nope. Not even gonna try.

Which is a brilliant segue into the final cultural oddity I am dealing with here. At least the last one I can think of. I just said, or wrote, uh uh. That means no. Here uh uh, mmm mmm or any of its equivalents are used to mean yes. Now I get that in the Philippines where oh oh means yes. But here yes is ya. How do they get two sounds outta that? It has caused some confusion for me. But nothing major. I have met a few high foreheaded, buck toothed, dark skinned beauties since coming here who didn't smell like mothballs or have one or two long nails. When I asked them if they wanted to talk or dance or get to know me they all said the same thing: "Mmm mmm."


Actually there is one more but I don't know a lot about it. I think it's similar to something that blew my mind, (and the minds of many in Korea), called fan death. Here they believe you sometimes get sick because of ill winds. Masuk angin, which literally translates to "entrance wind" is when a bad wind blows into your body and makes you sick. Not dead but sick. So they go to a healer who uses a coin and rubs it, sometimes hard enough to leave marks, on your body to get rid of the ailment. I have a cold right now. Maybe I'll go get a coin rubbed on me.

Anyway, all of these things have added colour to the country and made my stay all the more interesting to blog about. I'm sure I'll come across more. And when I do, you'll hear about them.

This is an addendum: A couple das after I wrote this a few more things came to mind so I figured I'd add them. I was awakened this morning, like many a morning, by the Muslim prayers. I don't find prayer to God odd in the least, but prayer to God broadcast over loudspeakers... yeah, that's odd. I mean what if the guy needs to ask God to please heal that nasty rash or please make Fahtima like me, or please let Chelsea cover the spread tomorrow or Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz... I'm not so sure I'd want my private prayers broadcast all over the neighbourhood. However, I'm told, by my crazy Iranian friend, Mehdi, who understands Arabic, that they're really not saying much in these prayers. Just, "Come pray, wakey wakey, everybody pray to Allah," and things like that only in multi-MULTI-syllabic nasal tuning wails that would be absolutely perfect as an alarm clock sound. There seems to be one prayer time every morning at 4:30. That's the annoying one. But I've almost gotten used to it. And I have my ways of getting my revenge. I actually JUST finished a bowl of Kraft Dinner and two juicy pork chops. Cooked in the communal kitchen. You force me to listen to your prayers, you WILL smell my bacon! Now, I'm not as nasty as I could be, I used my own frying pan and cooking utensils so as not to contaminate the other tenants' but I have to admit, the meat is a touch more savoury when the eating of it is a great big nose thumbing to those who besmirch the noble pig and call it filthy and unclean. And those who wake me up at 4:30 in the morning. To all of you, mmmmmmm MMMMMM that's a tasty chop! Marinated in beer! ha ha ha. I'd be a terrible Muslim.

But that's not the only noise early in the morning. There are noises all night actually. Somebody is always out there hammering on something or other announcing an item they are selling, the time, communicating with morse code, I don't even know. Oddly enough I actually don't mind most of them. It is kind of nice to hear the pipe hammerer whose hammerings end with three hits at 3 o'clock, 4 at 4 o'clock etc. Especially when you have to wake up at 5 AM and you're sure it's almost time and he hits the pipe three times. "Yes! Two more hours to sleep!" Then there are the sewing guys who knock on the coconut shells, the fruit guy who bangs two blocks of wood together, the chicken porridge man who taps a spoon on a bowl and all that with guy knocking on the pipe, it's like, (I'm sorry), a Tony Orlando song at dawn.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

FIPA-Countdown to Chinada

For any of you who know me or read my righteous outrage from time to time, you have probably heard me rail, blather and rant, but certainly not rave, about China and its inexplicable “trade” relationship with Canada. I want to start off by saying that doing business with China is not inherently wrong, but the quotes around the word, “trade” might lead you to the conclusion, the correct conclusion, that I don’t think it can be done fairly. China is never going to play fair with Canada. It won’t happen. Ask a person from China. But until now I was entertaining a na├»ve and somewhat uncharacteristic hope that Canada might be able to use the trade relationship as a wonderful opportunity to loosen the stranglehold the Chinese Communist Party has on China, tell them to smarten up on the human rights violations and for the love of GOD leave Tibet alone! I thought that maybe China could learn some things from Canada. Like educating people, not training them to be obedient disciples walking in the light of the Party, is better. I thought on a national scale, perhaps a cool country like Canada could find the funny, (or maybe just not so evil), character hidden inside the nerdy, Long Duk Dong country of China. Well, I was shooting for the moon I guess.

China and Canada are very different countries. Almost opposites. I was looking at Facebook posts the other day and found 26 interesting facts about Canada posted by one of my friends. They WERE interesting. Some questionable and impossible to prove. Like second happiest people in the world. I put no stock into this. Canada is a world leader in antidepressant use, top 40 in suicide rate and of all the really happy people I’ve met, most were not in Canada. And, contrary to what the website says, this will only get worse. Continue reading and you'll understand that statement. Like for most things no stats were available on antidepressant use or suicide for China.

But the one interesting thing about Canada that jumped off the screen at me was that almost half the population of Canada was born in other countries. In a 2010 census China was found to have the lowest percentage of foreigners of any country in the world with 0.05%. That lower than North Korea! China and Canada are both big countries but our populations are very different. I think of Apu from the Simpsons stating that the U.S. is a dangerously underpopulated country. But I know that it’s predominantly the Chinese who are already trying to save Canada from the horrors of wide open spaces. No danger of that in THEIR country.

More donut shops per capita than any other country. Not so much for the donuts but the coffee. We love our coffee! The Chinese drink tea. Canadians smoke weed and don’t test for drugs. The Chinese execute far more people on marijuana charges than die from it in their country. I made Kraft Dinner for my Chinese girlfriend. She hated it. We conserve forests. For every tree we cut down two are planted. If there is a word for conservation in Chinese, the people show no understanding of that word. They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven. But I'm with you in Rockland, Canada. Our tap water is better than the bottled water in China. We drink a lot of fruit juice too.

I’ll tell you one other big difference: Canadians blow money. We spend loads of money having fun. This is part of what makes us socially adept. May be a contributor to the antidepressant use or suicide too. We “buy” things on credit and spend our lifetimes working jobs we may not like to pay off our debts. I know money problems are the major cause of our massive divorce rate in Canada. The Chinese save first then buy. Or maybe just keep saving. They’re incredible savers! And they don’t get divorces. I’ve never seen a Chinese hockey team but they’re getting better at curling.

You’d be hard pressed to find two countries that are more different. Not a good match. Like oil and water some might say. HOWEVER, the leadership of the country of Canada is anything but an accurate reflection of the people of our country, and it is with a sickness in my gut that I type it is going to be mostly oil and water that will solidify the union between the countries and will inevitably start the steady decline and fall of Canada into the environmental hell that China is now. In this article about the FIPA agreement between Stephen Harper, (not Canada), and China, Patrick Brown, the author, says Harper fits right in there. I wrote a blog post about a Chinese food named after Harper. It was made with knuckles but called Harper's Elbows because the Chinese with their thousands of years of medical history they'll all be glad to tell you about, have not differentiated kunckles and elbows linguistically. And in all that time they also did not build up any reputation for equitable business practices either. Nor did they seem to gain any respect for the land, nature, or the environment.

I'm being a bit unfair. Of course I am talking about the leadership of China, not the average Chinese person. The problem in China is that the average person, who most likely disagrees with the practices that cause them to breathe air that there hasn't yet been a pollution scale invented that can measure the toxicity of, doesn't know, or can do nothing about what those pracices are. They are probably against the decisions that caused to the little known oil spill that is four times as large as the Deepwater Horizon spill. Remember those gutwrenching daily picture on TV of oil gushing into the gulf without any way to be stopped? Imagine 4 times worse. Betcha didn't know that happened in China didja? They don't like people knowing too much of the bad stuff about their country, that's why. They're secretive about bad stuff they don't want anyone to know about. Like suicide rates, drug use, oil spills, government ordered executions and FIPA. And there is nothing the people of China can really do about it.

Canada, on the other hand, although we've allowed Harper to continue as our P.M. even though he was fraudulently elected; even though we sat back and allowed him to get away with that omnibus crap which included several surprises like water deprotection that will expedite the Chinese pillaging of Canadian resources; even though we let him shove the Northern Gateway Pipeline down our two thirds opposed throats; even though we lounged idly by whilst he systematically defunded all the programs from whence any opposition to the Chinese raping of Canada might come, (like the scientists and environmentalists who detect, clean up and fight against oil spills and the infrastructure that leads to them); even though we helplessly watched as China bought Nexen to get at Alberta's oil and we worried then about percentage ownership but with FIPA they'll have similar powers to majority owners even though Harper assured us then that Canada is not for sale; even though we might have thought it was a positive statement and even clapped when Harper said we wouldn't even recognize Canada when he got through with it, we still have time to change the disastrous effects this FIPA deal could have if we DO something about it before October 1.

Here's what the deal will do: If at some time in the next 31 years, some laws or rules in Canada are changed that affect the profitability of any Chinese business in our country, the Chinese will have the right to oppose the law and actually sue our government for damages. Our government in this case means Canadian tax payers. If, and I'm just spitballing here, for example, the pipeline to get oil out of the Alberta tar sands and onto the ocean destined to China, the Energy East Pipeline, were to be voted down by Canadians, (do so here), the companies losing money could force Canada to pay up. Then we'd have the government saying, "Well we can either just fork over the money out of your taxes, or we can let them go ahead with the pipeline." And there will be announcement like this aplenty if we have learned anything about Chinese greed for natural resources and their thoroughly environmentally devastating way of extracting them.

China has been jonesing for Canada's oil, water and probably everything else they can frack, pump, pipe, dig, cut or haul out of the country for many years. Harper has believed for years that he has some special understanding of the Chinese that other inferiors aren't privy to. I'm privy. It's called being moronic enough to agree to the completely one-sided terms that were laughed out of other countries with leaders who don't have broners for the Chinese. They have gutted their own country in a mad frenzy of capitalistic resource stripping. Imagine what they'll do to a foreign country! Ask the Hong Kong Chinese how they like being run from Beijing.

That's what's coming to Canada in two short days, folks! But it can still be stopped. Do what you can. Go to and sign the petition. Walk in the streets for the environment. DO something! There's a line in our national anthem that says, "Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee." Whether he's evil or just plain stupid, the deal Harper is trying to secretly sneak into action for the next 31 years is a bad one for Canada and it's people like Stephen Harper we need to stand on guard against. Kick his gold-brickin' ass all the way to China where he obviously likes the people better.

Thank you.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Out and About in Indo

I didn't realize how long it had been since I last updated folks on the goings on in my latest adopted country, Indonesia. Things are going well here. I've got myself into a more stable state of affairs that both keeps me busy and (well) fed. I've started striking out into the vastness of unexplored Indonesia starting with the less adventurous, less natural wonders, Taman Mini and the Zoo. Taman means Garden. Taman Mini is a sort of park where there are exhibits of things from different parts of Indonesia.
A really cool thing happened there. While we were snapping pics all over the place I shot one of Fitri riding a pig and Michael taking that pic, and Michael shot one of Fitri riding the pig and ME taking that pic. Cool eh?
Fitri is one of the wonderful people I worked with at Wall Street English when I started teaching here in Indonesia. Now we've both made our way up to our new jobs since Wall Street has been disallowed by the government to issue any further visas. We arranged to do the Taman Mini trip on the weekend and I told Fitri I could bring some gin and tonic. So I did. Gin, tonic, ice, lemon, the whole works. But I didn't bring glasses. So that is why Devon, (Fitri's hubby), and Fitri are drinking from PB & J jars respectively. It worked out great though cuz the lids kept them from spilling in the van on the drive there.
A whole bunch of family came with. And a good time was had by all.
I got to ride the pig too!

The next weekend, this weekend, I had plans to go to Taman Mini with my student, Rica and her son Gabriel. She saw my pics of Taman Mini on my computer and said that we should go to the zoo/safari park instead. There was Rica, her friend Egy, Gabriel, our awesome driver, Nowo, and Gabe's helper. I'm not sure of her name. I say the driver was awesome because if you saw the traffic we had to crawl through, both ways... I'll never even get a motorbike licence in this country. Anyway we picked up Egy pretty close to the place where the zoo is. But by the time we got there it was lunch time. So we ate some traditional Indonesian food at a realy cool restaurant. It had ivy covered walls and a huge coy pond in the middle. We sat on floors that we could see the water through. Gabriel enjoyed feeding the fish rice for a while. They'd sometimes put their faces right out of the water and he'd scoop rice right onto their mouths. Little did they know we were eating their relatives. In fact I threw a piece of fish or two over the rail and they ate THAT too the little cannibals. I thought all the food was great but both Rica and Agy told me it wasn't that good.
Rica ordered the food and paid. (Thanks, Rica ;)) You can see in the pics we had duck, chicken satay, goat satay, a few different kinds of fish, rice and a sort of spinach called kangkung. Then there was peanut sauce for the chicken satay, sweet and spicy black bean sauce for the fish and goat satay, I just pigged out! Then because of the big meal, and watching the Sydney Swans destroy North Melbourne the day before to make it to the grand final, I was yawning all the way around the zoo. But still had a great time!
We had just stepped out of the restaurant when, wouldn't you know it, it started to rain. But we weren't deterred. The road to the zoo was lined with carrot and banana vendors. You can feed all sorts of animals in the park you see. So we got some from the enterprising young gent you see in rain gear loading up a bag full of carrots for us. I brought my own carrots. Organic! I thought I'd see if the animals could tell the difference. Nope.
The cool, green van is actually a local bus from the area. Anyway once we got to the zoo a good time was had by all.
We stayed at the zoo pretty much until nightfall. The thing I liked the best was that the animals did not get stuck in cages. They were wandering around huge areas and didn't seem depressed at all. You can tell how close we were able to get by the pics of the bear, lion and hippo. I discovered that zebras, deer and llamas like carrots better than the other animals. There were a few animals that were brought into the people so that they could be photographed holding a lion, tiger, monkey or whatever. I didn't enjoy that part. But mostly the zoo and safari were great. And there are signs all over saying that proceeds from the business go toward helping local wildlife. I hope that's true.

I'd say the highlights for me were the tigers and the big, red orangutan. Incidentally orang means person in Indonesian and utan means jungle. This jungle person was hilarious. He just sat thre lounging by the water trying to get people to feed him. There was a big sign that said not to but he was a rebel. He'd slap his hand then hold it out almost demanding zoo gooers to disregard the sign and throw some food. One guy had some food and he opened his mouth and said, "Ah," and the orangutan did the same. The dude threw some food and the orangutan caught it in his mouth. He was awesome! And the tigers were amazing too. My third favourite was a red panda but he was one animal that looked really unhappy so I didn't include a pic of him in here. Or her. I also noticed that one of its eyes had a cataract, which made it extra sad. But overall it was a great zoo! Lotsa fun!

So anyway we left late and the carrot/banana stands lining the road on the way up had been converted into barbecued corn stands. Man did THAT smell good! I didn't try it though. We made an attempt to drive to the top of the mountain for the view but there was just too much traffic. "Machet terus." This means "always traffic." It can be said at least once a day here. But even though there was a lot of traffic it was an outing to the country. Life was more like the holiday Indonesia out by the zoo. Not the work Indonesia in Jakarta. It was just really nice. I'm really glad Rica was nice enough to take me!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An article on a site I use for news stories intended for ESL purposes stated that Nespresso is announcing ambitious new plans to make their espresso coffee machine company more sustainable. The name of the new plan is “The Positive Cup.” And it will “help” some of the world’s poorest coffee farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. Hollywood actor George Clooney said that the 16 million dollars invested in the three countries will help farmers living in coffee communities.

Well then there’s really no more to this story, is there? Hollywood actor George Clooney supports it so it’s fine and dandy.

Let’s look a little deeper, shall we? This is a lesson I intend to teach, not from a “hooray for Nespresso” platform but as more of a “question everything” lesson. You see the “Nes” in Nespresso is because it is a company owned by Nestle. I recalled having watched a vomitus piece of putrid corporate politics from Nestle recently so I looked it up on Youtube and relived the horror. It’s a speech by their former CEO and current chairman, Peter Brabeck, in which he talks about Nestle’s great new corporate campaign to buy and sell the water of the world with Austrian finesse and debonair charm reminiscent of his countryman Adolf Hitler. If you investigate the details behind it, the message of subjugation and domination by the elite, who Brabeck says have never in history been so rich, is not far removed. I certainly cannot relate to the Austrian ivory tower from whence he speaks because the class to which I belong has definitely had more money. Do they have Austrian ivory? No elephants there I don’t think. Hmmm… Anyways, after WWII regular people were building cars for GM at a wage that equates to 50 bucks an hour nowadays. People had stuff and it was paid for! Seems like a distant memory don’t it?

The truth is there is a water war going on in this world and the only thing comparable to its dire importance is the incredible lengths the combatants in this war have gone to hide it. Very much like the GMO thing, and if you delve into the seedy underbellies of both, you will inevitably find that they are connected. In reality inseparable. GMO's need still water to grow. Until they mutate away that characteristic I guess. The hefty Aylmer’s glue that bonds them together is that ever-present entity that is at the heart of everything wrong with this world: corporate greed.

I could have said, “national greed,” since there are countries represented in this war but since countries are now corporations I felt the distinction redundant. Countries like France to give just one example, where water conglomerates Veolia and Suez hail from. What have these two evil entities been up to that the world knows absolutely nothing about? They hooked up with the World Bank and under the auspices of apparent debt relief they have offered places that needed financial help like Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, Santiago and probably others this deal: privatise water and we give you aid. What you get is a situation like all over Africa where water is reserved for corporations who can buy it, then sold to the people who can’t afford it. Water is more expensive than Coke in Kenya, for example. And, the water I’m talking about is the only water available, Dasani, which is in plastic bottles and bottled by Coca Cola. A spokesman for Coke, Harry Ott, lied his ass off in the documentary, “Blue Gold” saying that the plastic bottles were more expensive and taxed more but in the background the prices of a litre of Dasani, 70, and a litre of Coke, 40, BOTH in plastic bottles, were shown.

Speaking of Kenya, there is another great example of the water war there. Roses are farmed around Lake Naivasha, using its water for irrigation of the rose crops, then they are sold in Europe. The World Bank has the balls to take credit for debt relief and proudly label these roses “fair trade” flowers even though there are locals dying of thirst around the lake that belongs to them but has somehow been BOUGHT by a company that they didn’t sell it to. Activist Joan Thorpe Root was assassinated for her attempts to save Lake Naivasha in case you think this is a bloodless war.

And while watching this informative documentary, hey, what do you know, there was a section on tea and coffee farmers in poor countries who are being “helped” by the World Bank. What is really happening is the farmers are growing the crop for practically nothing and the corporations are helping themselves to hefty profits that are not shared. “For every dollar of aid, corporations get $1.30.” Lawrence Summers – World Bank.

And back to Nestle, the largest foodstuffs corporation in the world, the 27th largest company in the world, what do you need to make coffee besides slaves in impoverished countries growing your coffee practically for free? You need water. Water that is a natural human necessity should be an inalienable right, but when despotic oligarchs like Brabeck see dollar signs, they get pretty creative with their bullshit. There’s the “heartfelt” message he delivers about some apparent misconceptions people have somehow gotten about his ideas about water in which he starts by saying he supports everyone’s fundamental right to water. But not for washing cars, filling pools or presumably watering lawns, (like the twenty acre, well maintained and watered lawn you see behind him).

If you watch the original, where people obviously got the idea that he does not support everyone’s fundamental right to water… BECAUSE HE SAYS HE DOESN’T,
you will see why I call this guy a monster. He calls the idea extreme. But what he means is it extremely limits his profitability. He explains his brain damage a bit later saying that any CEO has to concentrate on making profits. This, we should really use as a virtual finger crossing so that all the shiny toothed, mealy mouthing about creating jobs and helping solve the problems of the world he launches into afterwards can be seen as the absolute garbage it is and can be given its proper credence. Nestle wants to buy the Great Lakes for crying out loud! I may just be a bit extreme but I bet this genital wart in a suit wants to drain them, turn the surrounding provinces and states into deserts and walk amongst the withering inhabitants like a devil of a man spreading the burning sand with cool, clear, Nestle’s bottled water, (only 20 bucks a litre), like some guy from a Marty Robbins song.

But in case that doesn’t convince you, and here we are with the indelible linkage between GMO’s and water, he says that after 15 years of eating genetically modified foods there has not been one case of illness. Yet the same extreme people who are bellyaching about having to pay for the water that Nestle rightfully stole, are whinging on about wanting companies to stop infusing our food with genes that make the stomachs of insects who eat them explode. It’s just extreme to think something like that could ever harm a human being. Especially when it makes Nestle, (and ME), so much money.

Well, I’m paraphrasing. Folks, would you rather listen to this corporate trough hog or I dunno, perhaps a scientist who has studied this sort of thing? Like Pushpa M. Bharyava, a renowned biologist who after reviewing over 600 scientific journals on the subject, concluded that GMO’s are a MAJOR contributor to sharply deteriorating health. Since their large scale introduction into the food supply of America in 1996, people with more than 3 chronic diseases almost doubled from 7% to 13%. That must be a coincidence, right?

Do you suppose there has been not one case, not one study that showed illness due to GM foods because the studies just aren’t being done? Maybe this might have something to do with the colossally idiotic reality that Monsanto and other biotech companies are the ones in charge of determining the safety of the foods they produce?

The fact is there have been long term studies done only on animals and GMO’s do horrendous things to animals. But that’s no reason to assume they would affect humans in similar ways! Come on! Stop being extreme. Infertility, immune problems, insulin regulation problems, changes in organs, accelerated aging, and one I feel strongly I got from GMO foods, gastrointestinal system troubles. There has been a HUGE increase in gastrointestinal problems in North America in the last decade and I suspected GMO’s long before I read anything about it.

But this is nothing really solid is it? Geez I wonder why. And if you make up some genetically engineered drug like L-Tryptophan or something like that and say it’s responsible for 100 deaths thousands of sicknesses and permanent disabilities due to a deadly, fast acting blood disease it promoted that took over 4 years to identify, well the best scientists or doctors money can buy will tell you that’s just conspiracy theory. So I won’t say any of that.

But I don’t think eating natural, non-GM foods is a “shibboleth” or an old-fashioned, outdated idea as Mr. Nestle tells us. I think it makes good sense to avoid GMO’s when you can.

Even the comment about the 35-hour workweek not working is something that should be questioned. I love working fewer than 40 hours! It works absolutely fine for me. And in France where they ran the experiment, there are laws that make it tough to lay off employees during slow times. So when they tried the 35-hour workweek there, more jobs were not created. Instead the work quotas were increased to make up for the 5 hours that were lost. So in reality the experiment was never conducted properly, making Brabeck’s comment that it was a failure just another of his obscenely skewed corporate ideas.

So let’s not break out the ticker tape and noisemakers for the Nespresso parade just yet. I have a funny feeling there might be some shady corporate profiteering going on behind the scenes of this new espresso machine venture that is too complex for even George Clooney to recognize.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Muslim, A Christian and an Atheist Walk Into a Bar...

Recently watching Hannibal the TV series and a line jumped out at me. Hannibal says, “When you stop trusting people you turn to religion.” Or something to that effect. Now usually the good doctor Hannibal Lecter is right on the money. There’s some really great philosophy amidst more guts and gore per episode than any other TV show to date. But the writers sometimes forget that you need to do more than say something in a mysterious monotone for it to be true.

I was chatting at my favourite watering hole in Jakarta, Eastern Promise, with my drinking buddy, Austin the other day and he asked me a question. What is the difference between a cult and a religion? I said it just depended on the number of members and he agreed. I am wondering what the difference between spiritualism and religion is. I think it’s the next step down. Or up, as it were.

Spiritualism, to me, is a personal thing, whereas religion is a whole bunch of people who think and behave, or at least are meant to think and behave, similarly. Religion – a lot of people, cult – a few people, spiritualism – one person. Wouldn’t it follow then, Dr. Lecter, that a healthy mistrust of people would lead to spiritualism, not religion? Religion is virtually BASED on trusting other people. A spiritual journey is undertaken alone, ideally with only one companion: God. And God, not being a person, can be trusted by someone who has lost his/her faith in humanity. The works of God are nature and nature is smooth, unchanging and dependable.

Alternately a person could come to the realization that there are bad people in any group. Indeed, the group mentality might be the source of a sort of mental pathology that causes bad behaviour. What was it Sting said in his awesome song? “All this time the river flowed endlessly to the sea.” Smooth. Unchanging. Dependable. In the same song there is the line, “Men go crazy in congregations. They only get better one by one. One by one by one. Yeah yeah yeah. I looked out across the river today….” And so on. LOVE that song! Maybe Sting is a bit of a pantheist like me.

At any rate, there are going to be some bad people in any group. And any religion has to be a group. They are many and varied. A guy who I often disagree with made some really good points about this. Sam Harris explains that there are so many religions they are almost like sports. Think of the wide variety of sports there are. Some are very violent. Hockey, one of my favourites, is among the worst. And badminton, well, if you get injured playing that it’s pretty embarrassing. Although, he has never seen my friend Ken Romney and I diving for the birdie in his back yard badminton court. You land on a tree root and you feel it lemme tell you!

Harris says that religions are many and varied too and that "religion" is almost a useless word. I totally agree! He goes on to say that you’d have to be “acrobatic” to try to UNconvince the Muslims Osama Bin Laden is teaching. Well I think the leader and the followers are both being given a lot more credit than they deserve here. First of all a major strategy in any religion nowadays is to count on the parishioners never actually fact checking your sermons. As always the easiest example, because they are more scrutinized whether fairly or unfairly, are the Christians. Take a gander at this article! HOLY! folks so you KNOW they're not going to be too hard on their own. And STILL the stats are staggering! Most Christians in the U.S. don't know more than a few of the disciples. 60% of Americans can't name half of the 10 commandments. But let's compare Christian Americans. To be fair, you wouldn't expect all the regular people in the U.S. to read the Bible even though it is a Christian country. 82% of Americans think that "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse. Surely the Christians have to know better! Well, they do. Whew! Only 81% of American CHRISTIANS believe that that is a Bible verse. I'd love to ask what book it came from and see some of the answers. "Um Hezikiah?" "Jebidiah Simpson?" "Wasn't that Austin 3:16?"

Joan of Arc was Noah's wife? 12%. Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife? The Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham? You can't, you just can't make this up, folks!

And to give credit where it's due, all my atheist friends are going, "Idjits! Morons! Phillistines!" There is some debate as to whether more atheists have read the Bible than Christians considering a huge number of them are in countries that have limited access and VERY limited concern about the book. But studies have shown that Atheists tend to know a lot more about religion than do their Christian counterparts. I'm glad of that. I mean I wouldn't want anyone to disavow all religion until they've looked into as many as they can. Same as I wouldn't want to hear someone say they hate sports after only playing one or two and not liking them. There are LOTS of sports out there and in my mind there are some very important lessons sports can teach us. Teamwork, unselfish play, fitness, emotional control, negotiation with teammates and referees... cheerleaders...

But back to the point. You don't have to be acrobatic as a Muslim moderate to talk these extremists down. I'm telling you now, I picked up the Koran, or the Quran or however you wanna spell it because I live in a country where there are a bazillion people who follow its teachings. And in less than 10 minutes I came across a couple of verses that would seem to be pretty obviously telling Muslims to leave non believers the FRIG alone! This is taken from the first book of the Koran, the Cow:

[2.6] Surely those who disbelieve, it being alike to them whether you warn them, or do not warn them, will not believe.
[2.7] Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.

Some people won't believe. Screw them. Don't warn them. Or do warn them. It makes no diff. And then the really important part to my way of thinking, ALLAH has made them disbelievers! Why he's going to punish them for a trait HE gave them? Well that's Allah's to know. And if you think just for a second that it could be interpreted that "there is great punishment for them" could mean that man should be punishing the infidels, just skip ahead 8 verses:

[2.15] Allah shall pay them back their mockery, and He leaves them alone in their inordinacy, blindly wandering on.

Talking about the same folks here. It would take some kind of acrobatic, sophistry gymnastics to get out of this wouldn't it? Leave the non-believers alone, I made them that way and I will deal with them. It's very like the "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord" verse that has stopped Christians from taking the lives of non-believers throughout history. Ahem...

But both examples illustrate my point. Both books, whether written by God, influenced by God or having absolutely nothing to do with God, have been totally violated by asshole humans who claim to be following them and only get away with it because their followers blindly take their word for everything without doing something as simple as devoting a few minutes to checking the scripture they are basing their decisions to kill, rape, behead fellow human beings on.

I stand with my atheist friends on this one. Numbskulls, knuckle-draggers, nose-picking mouth breathers! Hey, say what you will about Atheists but they don't kill people for not believing there is no God as far as I know. But I do not fully empathize with the atheist. I think it is unfair to blame any of this religious SHYTE on God. Be an antimantheist if you hate religion. Being an atheist is almost like saying God made these idiots do all this crap, isn't it? And if that's the case, how can you blame them?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Catching Up With Korea

I still have a few friends over in the once and aspiring hermit kingdom of Korea. And I must admit the 11-12 years I spent there makes me more concerned with the goings on there. You could say I kind of like the place I guess. Sometimes I find Korean stories while surfing and sometimes I get them from friends still there. The things I have been reading about this week, not all bad, not all good, are providing lots of chuckles and head shakes. The occasional tsk tsk at the parochial path Korea looks to be on that will lead them right back to their past. Sometimes it seems there are those in Korea who won't be satisfied until their citizens all resemble THIS guy:

Maybe I'm too harsh. You be the judge. I started the week off with this gem. In Korea there is a penalty for smoking pot of up to 30 years in jail and you can be busted for it even if the marijuana is consumed in a country where it's legal! You heard right, folks, the citizens of Korea are policed worldwide! So you can probably sense a little hysteria. What did they call it back when all this stupidity started? Reefer madness? A Korean publication known as No Cut News even posted a picture with their article about the evil foreigners trying to tarnish the Korean racial purity with their vices. Here it is:
There you have it, a bag of Korean Pale. You just GOTTA wonder about the accuracy of the article after seeing this pic!

I said to my Korean student here that it seems to go in cycles in Korea. A while ago they changed laws for foreigners after finding some Canadians with fake degrees teaching ESL. They instituted all kinds of degree verification laws. Later it was found that the foreigners had nothing to do with the fake documents but that their Korean recruiters had obtained them for the foreign teachers. No punishment for the recruiters, the foreigners were deported and the degree verification laws remain. And, oh yeah, when they started checking qualifications for EVERYBODY there were tons of Koreans found with fake degrees, some very high profile. So they stopped that.

Then came the sex scandal. Not going into the details but cameras were put up in schools all over Korea and, what do you know, they found more Koreans committing sex crimes than foreigners. So that anti-foreigner crusade relaxed a little too. But the laws were changed so that foreigners now have to get criminal record checks across the board and those laws not only remain but the added inconvenience of having degrees and criminal record checks stamped by notaries was introduced recently.

STD's, AIDS, foreigners are blamed and have to be fully fluid tested before going to Korea. And I would suggest that with the increase in sexual activity while maintaining some absurd stigmas about HIV that scare the locals away from being tested, they'd find these problems more prominent amongst Korean citizens as well.

Now the drug thing. What do you want to bet it will soon come out that the marijuana or Spice trade in Korea is largely handled by the natives? And the users? Mostly Korean. It's just that when you raid "all foreigner" clubs, as the above article stated, you tend to find foreigners with the weed. I've seen plenty of all Korean clubs but never one that's all foreigners, however, I DO know that foreigners are extra special targets in Korea. I lived there. If you doubt my personal experience, here's just one article of a bazillion you could find to support the argument.

But when blaming the foreigners for your problems doesn't work, who can you blame? Big, rich businesses! I had a good laugh when I read this article. Korea's favourite alcoholic beverage, soju, blamed for alcoholism? If you've been to Korea the number 26 would jump out at you. That's all? Only 26 people are blaming their alcoholism on soju? Wow! If they win their lawsuit, every third Korean will have a good shot at some free money. Or at least a few cases of suju on the comp. I just loved the excuse that "The health warning labels are too small to read..." ... when you're blind drunk on soju, yes, they probably are! lol

Next I read about the flooding in Pusan. When I read stuff like this I genuinely DO feel bad for the good people of Korea. I still believe the majority of them to be good. Wouldn't have stayed there so long otherwise. But I also tend to let my mind wander to the faults of the rest of Korea. I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I didn't choose to go back to Korea and teach, and came to Indonesia instead. Why? Well, I WAS in Calgary during the great floods of 2013. If I had been in Korea during the Pusan floods just a year later I feel it might have been just a little too big a coincidence for Korean waygook busters to ignore. I'da been deported on meteorological suspicions.

But the news wasn't all bad. I found this to be too funny to exclude: Korean franchise Paris Baguette has opened its first store IN PARIS! Korea's "bang"ing on the French bread market's door! It must be "pain" ful for the French. Ha ha ha ha. Bang=Korean for bread and Pain=French for bread. Aren't you "roll" ing on the floor laughing? Or was that a "crepe" y pun? Well you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Finally, on another positive note I read that the 10th Gwangju Biennale will start September 5th in Korea. I always liked the Biennale. There was lots to see and do. In fact I participated in the kimchi making contest one year. The foreigners division. I recall that the first and second place prizes were taken by two Japanese ladies who were married to Korean men, spoke Korean, had lived there for ages, had participated in the event before and had actually brought outside accoutrements with them to the contest. I had no idea that was legal! They garnished their kimchi with fancy mushrooms and sprigs of attractive seasonal foliage. I tried to make mine in the shape of a maple leaf, a strategy lost on the judges who snubbed me that year. If I were in Korea on September 5th I don't think I could help but enter the Gwangju Biennale Kimchi Making Contest - Foreigner Division. And I'd bring along a dimebag of my OWN accoutrements, if you know what I'm sayin...
See that green stuff? You KNOW what that is!!! Hoo hoo haa haaaa! The 30 years in jail might just be worth it. I'd get shtreet cred yo! Then I could join the burgeoning Korean rap industry. K-rap, they call it. ha ha ha.

Anyway, shout out to all my homies in the R to the O to the K!