Friday, April 27, 2012

For Better or Worse

Me, reading the headlines: "Blind Chinese activist flees house arrest. That sounds like the kind of headline that's going to have a punchline at the end."

17-year-old son: "Hmm. I don't see it."

Uh-oh. These kids are just like me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Word-Lover Musings From a Balinese Mountaintop

Stop laughing. Sarongs are required to enter the temples, okay? 
And these were the only hats we could find. 
P.S. Don't tell Scott I posted this photo

The guide's name was Wayan Bon Jovi. 

At least that's how it was pronounced.  I have no idea how it was spelled, and he couldn't tell me, because he "can't write, can't read, never been to school.  If not for tourists, I be dead in cemetery."
It had the rehearsed sound of a prepared speech, one that was honed each day for the tourists who supported him and the seven other people in his household -- wife, parents and four kids.  In fact, he would repeat this same line later in the hike, almost verbatim.  I didn't mind, though, because there was no question that it was true.  Everywhere we went in Bali, we met people supporting large households on one job, usually something related to tourism.  And without exception, they were cheerful, kind, and hospitable.

But Wayan Bon Jovi was unique.  Three-and-a-half years before, when he'd started hosting these hikes, up Mt. Lempuyang's 1700 steps to the Hindu temples, he had spoken no English.  (English is taught in Balinese schools, but that does you no good if your parents can't afford to send you.)  Yet now he was nearly fluent, despite being unable to read a word.  And not only in English, but also in French, the other language spoken by large numbers of tourists in Bali.  Which means that this man with no formal schooling now speaks more languages than 99.99%+ of my fellow countrymen and women.

C'est le temple
(Balinese temples are all open air, incomprehensible to a Seattlite)

"C'est quoi, ├ža?" he asks a French woman at one of the lower temples, gesturing around him.  What is this? (A rougher, less formal construction than  he would have learned in an actual French class.)

"C'est le temple," she replies. 

"Le temple," he repeats, rolling the word off his tongue a couple of times before storing it away for use on the next French-speaking tourist.  "C'est le temple." 

Over the three or four hours we're together, he practices his English on us in the same way, appealing hugely to my inner word nerd with questions like, "What do you say, 'I wish you to have a good day', or 'I hope you have a good day'?"  The desire to improve, to get better, is palpable.  I find myself thinking that this is a way to take control of his life after forty-some years of having little control due to poverty and lack of opportunity.  The better his language skills, the better the experience for the tourists.  And, with luck, the better the experience, the more they will pay.  Words are currency, almost literally.  For someone who loves language as much as I do, this is both fascinating and touching.

His charge for the 3-4 hour hike up and back, including "temple offering," is 250,000 rupiah, or about $28.  Twice, he speaks with awe about the American tourist who gave him 300,000 rupiah.  And even though his intent in telling us this is obvious, it's impossible to resent him for it, because it is just as obvious that he has worked hard to get to where he is, and he deserves whatever he can make. 

(Oh, and he protects us from the Evil Monkeys.  Which by itself was probably worth the extra 50,000 rupiahs.)

Much cuter when they're behind bars.
(The monkeys, not the Germans)

We reach the top temple, and the view is breathtaking. 

The entrance to the top temple

In the absence of a Christian church, not a bad way to celebrate Easter.

Wayan Bon Jovi and me, at the peak

We have managed to arrive at the temple during the three-day full moon ceremony. At each of the temples on the mountain there are dozens of Hindu temple-goers, many of them carrying offerings on their heads to be left at the temples.  Wayan introduces one of the temple priests as his uncle. "His uncle, not his ankle," the uncle chuckles, pointing at his lower leg. And I find myself marveling at this ability to create English-language humor on a Balinese mountaintop. 

When we leave the peak, we take a shortcut down, avoiding several hundred stairs by heading down a steep trail that's still muddy from the just-ended monsoon season.  My feet keep slipping out from under me, and it's an effort to not catch myself on the cables running beside the trail.  They look like hiker supports, but turn out to be live power lines.  (Because in impoverished countries, they don't have the money to protect you from your own stupidity.)  Despite my best efforts, I fall a couple of times, landing on my hands in an attempt to protect my favorite capris and borrowed sarong from the sticky yellow clay. 

"You okay?" says Wayan Bon Jovi after the second fall.

"Fine," I say.  "It's just very slippery."

"Slippery," he repeats thoughtfully, absorbing the new word.

"Very slippery," I say. 

He nods, reaching to help me up, saying the word once more before filing it away.  I am certain that it will be pulled out again with each future group of tourists until the mud finally dries.  "Careful," he will say, "It is very...slippery." 

Imagining this makes me smile. 

We reach the bottom of the mountain and he pulls out his cell phone and gives my husband his number, insisting we call him and come to visit if we ever return to Bali.  He shows us photos of his family, and of the tourists -- fresh-faced Australian twenty-somethings -- who have taken him up on his offer of a visit.  This kind of hospitality is everywhere in Bali; people are constantly offering to share what they have, even when they have very little. 

Wayan Bon Jovi hugs us goodbye as we leave, kissing me on both cheeks.  I reflect that he must have learned that from the French, because it does not seem to be a Balinese custom, and it's definitely not American.  Balinese man, American tourists, French customs.  Three separate continents in one act. 

Small world, this. 

As we watch him walk away, I say a small Easter prayer for this fellow lover of language who has found his way into my heart: 

May your words and hard work continue to help you reach your dreams, Wayan Bon Jovi.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Joys of Jet Lag

Jet lag in Bali meant that I was awake at some time between 3 and 5 most mornings.

But this meant that I could slip outside  and pop into the pool to go for a moonlight swim, all by myself.

Or I could watch the sunrise.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Name Game

Balinese Sunrise.
Which has nothing to do with the post.
I just liked the photo.

In Bali, it is traditional to give all firstborn children -- both male and female -- the name of Wayan. And so our driver (male) was Wayan, our hotel front desk person/manager (female) was Wayan, and our guide up the mountain to the Hindu temple (male) was Wayan.

From Wikipedia:

The firstborn is "Wokalayan" (Wayan or Yan, for short), second is "Made," third is "Nyoman" or "Komang" (Man or Mang for short), and fourth is "Ketut" (often elided to Tut).

And for the fifth, it's back to Wayan again.

When we were explaing this to the family after we got back, my future son-in-law says, "That would be kind of difficult. Except when you go back to your high school reunion and you can't remember someone's name. Then it's just, 'Hey! Wayan! How's it going!' And you have a greater than 25% chance of being right."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Peace Signs are a Universal Language

Cathedral of St. Paul, Macau
back view

The Cathedral of St. Paul, in Macau, is a a ruin. A facade. It was once a real cathedral, starting back in the 1500s, but when there was a fire in 1835 (when Portuguese colonial rule had started to die), it was never rebuilt. Now all that remains is the face, with scaffolding in back for the tourists to climb. And there are a lot of tourists.

Most of them are Chinese, visiting from mainland China. (Macau used to be a Portuguese territory, but in 1999 was handed over to the Chinese, similar to Hong Kong from the British.) Very few of those tourists are Westerners, and even fewer are Americans. And the Americans who do make it there?

Well, when it comes to being tourist attractions, we rival St Paul's.

We discovered this when we made the trek up the scaffolding to look out over the city through the cathedral windows. One of the first things we saw when we got up there were two Chinese guys, about the age of our own kids -- maybe late teens or early twenties. They were posing for a photo that was being taken by a friend down at ground level. And they were posing in a way that's familiar to anybody who knows teenagers -- giggling hysterically, with middle fingers extended toward the camera.

It was such aa familiar, yet unexpected, sight that we burst out laughing. And a friendship was begun.

There weren't a lot of topics we could discuss, since their English was rudimentary and our Chinese was non-existent. But they told us where they were from, and that no, they were not in Macau to gamble. ("Not lose money," said one, which makes sense in any language.)

As we turned to go, one of the boys called out to us: "Wait!" he said, "You take picture?"

At first we thought they wanted us to snap a picture of them, together, but no. What they really wanted was a photo with the Americans.

That there, on the right? It's an index finger

This happened three times that day, all with kids in their late teens or early twenties, all wanting their photos taken with The Americans. And for some reason, all of them flashed peace signs.

I'm still not sure about the Chinese government. But the kids are all right.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guess What I Bought in Bali!

So I had heard that batik quilting fabrics were cheap in Bali. But I had no idea how cheap until I actually got inside the batik shop, where the only thing hanging on the walls was batik fabric. I'd said to my husband, "I want to spend about $200," but I had no idea how much that would buy. Since batiks run $10.99-$12.99 a yard here, though, I figured that even if it was $5 a yard, I'd be getting a great deal.

So I walked into the shop, and the Aussie already standing there says, "It's amazing. Only 22,500 Rupiahs per meter." The exchange rate that day was 9100 rupiah per $1. Or, in other words, less than $2.50 per yard. With a two meter minimum cut per fabric.

I may have gone a little crazy.

My husband was walking in just as the shop owner was holding up her calculator to show me the dollar price. Of my $200 goal, I spent... Drum roll, please...


Total haul: 80.5 meters. Not bad, huh?

Pretty sure I'll be making Bali quilts for the rest of my life.