Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Home Coming

A Mathmatical Home Coming

I was off Barraveigh for 4.5 months. That’s the longest amount of time I’ve spent away from my baby since I moved aboard 4.5 years ago. I made it back to Bali and slipped thru Indonesian customs with all my expensive electronic gear that should have been hit with a 47% duty. Lucky lucky. In Japan the exchange rate is roughly 100 Yen to the Dollar. In Korea it’s roughly 1000 Won to the Dollar. In Indo it’s roughly 10,000 Rupiah to the Dollar. I just keep erasing more zeros in order to do the mental math. It’s good to be back, but the US dollar went from 12,500 Rupiah to 9,500 Rupiah. That’s a 24% loss of it’s value in the 4 months that I was gone. That hurts, but I can still afford “nasi goreng dan Bintang besar” (their national dish and a big beer. Goering was a Nazi – ordering that dish always feels a little strange.)

"Why Wouldn't Cha?"

When you come visit, and you should, this is one of the best places I’ve ever been, you’ll notice that the Balinese all seem to have the same names. Here’s why: The first born is named either Wayan, Putu, or Gede. The second born is either named Made or Kadek, The third born is either named Nyoman or Komang. The fourth born doesn’t get a choice – only Ketut. It cycles over again to the remaining first names for the fifth kid. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. The sex of the child doesn’t matter. The name game stays the same. Males get “I” in front of their names and females get “Ni” in front of their names. Birth order matters here. I’m actually the first born, of the first born, of the first born. You’d think I’d be crowned “King of All Friedmans” but my name doesn’t help my standing on this island since “Bobby” (spelled “Babi”, but pronounced exactly the same) means “pig”. When I introduce myself the blank stare of disbelief is uniform. I lighten the mood by making the joke complete for them by repeating it James Bond style: Bobby. Bobby Guling. That means “suckling pig”. You see it on signs all over town. It’s a popular dish.

Add It Up

The average American male lives to 72 years of age. You can look that up. It’s a fact. What you can’t look up is how many fleeting moments of that life qualify as brass ring experiences. It’s those rare and powerful seconds that make up a life worth living. They’re precious and irregular. Life’s rich pageant isn’t chock full of glory. The base ingredient is really rather drab, but those seconds that make you know you are alive are the ones we must chase.
You might live 72 years but how many moments really counted? One of Joop Dekkers’ moments came when he found himself stuck on a reef with an outgoing tide at the mouth of Benoa harbor. A few of us commandeered a boat and raced out to help the Dutchman and his wife once he put out the Mayday. I swam the tow line to him. He bought me dinner 2 nights later and what will live with me is the look on his face when he retold this story in his own words: “2 things that I will never forget – 1.) You diving from another boat to swim to me 2.) I said, "I think the Coast Guard will be able to help." You said, "Coast Guard? There isn't any Coast Guard. We're all you got."

…One of my moments came when he told me this with tears in his eyes. It choked me up then, and it chokes me up now. That’s one of those rare precious moments that puts the chill in your spine.

And I’ll own it forever.

It’s good to be home,

Capt Bobby Guling

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Seoul, South Korea

The first clue that Korea was going to be a little different was when the airline stewardess announced just before we landed that it is forbidden to take aerial photos of the country. The war never officially ended. It has just been left as a cease fire for 46 years. The term they use in written documents is “armistice”. North Korea unilaterally withdrew from the armistice on May 27 2009. Did my brother and I possibly choose a dangerous time to come to Korea?

Everyone wants to hear the scary before the serene. “What was the worst passage you ever had? “How big were the seas?” I will now accommodate your terror lust.

DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone. It’s roughly the 38th parallel. This is the “no man’s land” that separates the North from the South. In 1974 the South Koreans were alerted by a defector who told them about a tunnel being dug to invade their country. It took 4 years for the tunnel to reach the no man’s land where the soldiers in the South could detect it. They bored holes and ran sleeves of PVC pipes into the holes. They filled the pipes with water and waited for a gusher. When the underground explosions that the Northerners were using to dislodge the granite went off near the pipes, the water would jump out with the concussion. They knew the tunnel was getting closer. The South kept boring holes and filling them with water until they bored one that wouldn’t fill no matter how much water went in. Bingo – they had found the tunnel! The Northerners retreated and painted the walls black as they abandoned years of work. Why paint the walls black? They knew they were caught, and when the tunnel was examined, they tried to say it was an old coal mine. When that was laughed at by the international community, they then had the audacity to say that the South dug it in prep for invading the North. However, the angle of the bore holes for the dynamite charges prove it originated in the North. Here’s the shocking bit: that was the 3rd tunnel that they’d found. The tunnel was wide enough for 30,000 heavily armed troops to run through every hour (North Korea has the world’s 4th largest army. They weren’t going to stop after an hour)! The most recent tunnel was discovered in 1990. Think there might be more out there?

As for landmines, there are still 700,000 unaccounted for future leg amputations out there, and that’s just what the South knows about and hasn’t recovered. That heavily fortified border and the land block that the North serves as, has, for all practical purposes, made South Korea an island. They’ve been overrun by the Japanese many times, and now their own brothers have cut them off from overland travel. They’ve had it tough, but the South Koreans have persevered. Their economy is expanding in a recession and they are completely plugged in, or maybe the opposite – wirelessly connected, to the hilt.

I like ‘em. I like ‘em a lot.

We arrived exhausted. We had inflicted double helpings of self abuse upon ourselves in Tokyo. Bloodshot and with sugar levels dropping, we dumped our bags at The Bong House in Hyehwa and went up the street to the first bbq restaurant we found. The floor was covered in spackled pork fat. Cheers from the neighboring tables came regularly, and with gusto. Soju (their local rot gut) washes down the cholesterol and stokes the bravado. It was a friendly and raucous crowd.

Korea - 2 forks, a pair of scissors, a set of tongs, but no knives. Here’s how it works and I’m angry at my own culture for having never figured this out: a fork in each hand is the perfected method for eating chicken. It makes taking the meat off the bones as easy as opening a Ziploc. As far as the scissors go – they pick up the beef or pork with the tongs and use an industrial strength pair of scissors to cut the meat into workable sizes. This is so simple and so much better than a knife. My knives, from this point forward, will be relegated to cutting ropes and shanking pirates.

We don’t speak a word of Korean, and hardly anyone speaks English. Our dining technique was to sit down, smile, shrug our shoulders, and then eat the delicious food that was served to us. I had no idea Korean food was so good. That was surprise number 1.

Seoul is a thoroughly modern city. It begs the comparison to Tokyo. Or maybe more aptly; Tokyo’s little brother. The subways are easy, it’s fairly inexpensive, and the infrastructure is sound. We did have a discussion about First world vs. Third world. Skinny and I came up with the following questions to ask oneself when trying to decide if a nation qualifies: 1.) Can you flush the toilet paper? 2.) Do members of congress have televised fights with each other? 3.) Can you drink the water? 4.) Is the electrical up to code? I’m not sure South Korea is going to be expanding into the G9 in any hurry but that’s just fine with me. I actually prefer the 3rd.

Surprise number 2 was how friendly the people are. It’s been said that the Japanese are like the English in their repressed state, and the Koreans are more like the Americans. The girls are pretty, the guys are fun, the city is exciting and we had a great time.

Surprise number 3 was this cute girl that I met named Megan from Oklahoma, USA. Remember that name. I have a feeling it might pop up again.

Korea – I give it 2 thumbs up and a big gold star. Get there, you won’t be disappointed.

Your man on point,
Capt Bob

Sunday, August 30, 2009

4 Days in Tokyo

My cousin Randy drove me to the Indo consulate on the morning of my departure from Los Angeles, and true to his word, Agung had my passport and visa ready to hand over. Without it, I would never have made my flight to Tokyo 2 hours later. I was intending to knock myself out with the pillbox lobotomy that my mom gave me but because my brother had arranged a speaking engagement at his school, I elected to not medicate. I never sleep well on planes unless I dope myself. I once transferred at Heathrow and flew on to Edinburgh, Scotland with no recollection except for the wonderment of where all this drool came from.

It was a long flight and I was beat. My brother Skinny hugged me, hoisted half of my overstuffed luggage, and whisked me off to the trains. Our 3 month separation had ended. 2 hours and a few platforms later, we were exchanging shoes for slippers and bowing to his bosses. I gave a slide show about my sailing adventure to 100+ people while Skinny punctuated my commentary with magic tricks. Does it sound surreal? It was. We were paid $180 and then hauled my luggage back to Tigerland (his jungle habitat with sliding rice paper doors and an internal pond with waterfall).

I had a date with Motoko. I met her when I was there the last time. She lives in Tokyo but was born and raised in Hiroshima. I should have left that subject alone, but, well, you know me; if there’s a scab, I just have to pick it. I asked her about her ancestors and the war. It seems we vaporized her whole family and only her grandmother survived. Can you imagine the uncomfortable silence that followed? The date ended early.

Jet lag comes in handy in a 24 hour city like Tokyo because one can party like a rock star. With the time differences, it makes sense for one to sleep all day and stay up all night. That turned out to be the case for me and my memories end with karaoke, conveyor belt sushi, and calling it quits when the sun rose. Somewhere in that haze of late hours and too many Asahis, I do recall I found it endlessly entertaining to ask, with a concerned look on my face, “Where is the safest place to be when Godzilla attacks?”

The night before we left for Korea, it was sleep deprivation on a par with passage making. The next day, I recall a montage of perfume girls at the airport with their artificially high helium voices touting their fragrances, and salary men and office ladies scurrying for their flights. I’ve never seen so many Betty Page hairdos.

4 days in Tokyo, a reunion of brothers, and a campaign of self abuse. We left for more of the same, as we flew to Seoul, South Korea.

That’s coming up next,

Capt Bobby

Friday, July 24, 2009

The USA Wrap Up

The whirlwind begins.

The house closing finalized, I kissed my dear sweet mother goodbye, and hopped a red eye to Miami. I was headed there to meet my friend Terry Allen in order to help him move his family to Dahlonega in northern Georgia. We filled a 27 foot Penske-rent-a-truck and then packed what was leftover into the car that we were hauling behind us. I thought parking my 41 foot boat was tough. Somewhere near Macon, GA I ran over one of those protective pipes at the gas station and caused $5,000 worth of damage (they had fortunately purchased the zero deductible insurance). We drank ourselves silly in Athens and arrived in bad shape on July 2. For those of you who know Terry, I can report that he’s happy, nowhere near healthy, and I still love him.

The next day I flew to LAX and Chris Miller picked me up. He refused to sign up for the mayhem that was The 4th of July at Newport Beach, but I was all in. I thought Sweden had the most beautiful girls but I think I’m going to amend that to California. Why did I ever leave?

My cousin Randy drove me back up to the Indo consulate (I forgot to bring my passport the day before when I went with Chris) and I was told that they would rush it for me. Randy dropped me off at Union Station and I took the Surfliner down to Solana Beach in North County San Diego. For a coastal tour of Southern California you are nuts to forsake the Amtrak. It’ll get you closer to the water than a car and you can gawk all you want without causing an accident, and for $27 it’s an e-ticket value. My uncle Jerry picked me up and I was lucky enough to spend the evening with my cousin Brina and her husband just before she had her baby boy.

Then it was back on the train and the completion of the rail trek to downtown San Diego. What a city. I really love that place. My buddy Jeff picked me up and I stayed at his place with his wife Gwen and their 2 cute kids. We surfed everyday (thanks Jeff, sorry Gwen). One of the nights I even got to sleep at my own house in South Mission. My tenant is doing weekly rentals for the summer and no one had it booked. I got shipwrecked at the Pennant and stumbled back to my old bed. That was the first time in 4 years I’d slept at 802 Dover Court. That house deserves its legendary status.

I bought thousands of dollars worth of boat gear while in SD, and caught up with old friends but my time was running out. I took the train back north to Santa Ana and Chris again picked me up from the station. Mike Beale joined us for an alcohol soaked outing in Costa Mesa. I can’t believe 22 year old girls still talk to me.

Randy drove me back to the Indo Consulate only to find that they hadn’t processed my passport because they were waiting for my itinerary. What! This was the 14th and I was set to fly to Tokyo the next day. My pulse quickened. Agung took my case under his wing, ushered it through, and after one more night at Randy’s house in Monrovia he drove me to pick it up in the nick of time to catch my flight. What a cousin. Ask me to do my Randy impression the next time you see me.

I changed beds 14 times in 24 days. That’ll grind anyone down. But it’s what I signed up for and I have no regrets. I like the freedom of movement and I was physically built for this. I can sleep anywhere and I’m no longer allergic to dogs or cats. Things just keep improving.

So I left the land of my birth, and it’ll be years before I return. That’s a very disconcerting feeling. It would have been made easier if I didn’t come from such a noble country with friendly citizens and In-N-Out Burgers. I leaned on friends and relatives and I thank you all very much. For anyone who gave me a ride, a bed, or a car – you have sponsored the dream and I grant you partial ownership. I had a flawless 3 months and I even managed to have a minor epiphany while surfing with Jeff one early morning – I was thinking about the sale of my house and my 4 years without a paycheck. The light bulb that went off was this: It’s not that I’m making poor financial decisions. The truth is; I’m not making financial decisions at all. I’m making lifestyle choices, and they are often contrary to wise financial strategies. These are my peak earnings years but I’ve purposely chosen to fill my memory bank instead of my bank account.

“Remember what the door mouse said; “FEED YOUR HEAD. FEED YOUR HEAD.” – White Rabbit / Jefferson Airplane

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby
P.S. / Stay tuned, Japan and Korea are next!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm Still Here

2 Months In America

I went 2 years and 3 months without touching US soil. Now I've been back in the USA for a whole 2 months. I feel a renewed connection to my passport and tattoo. I still love this country.

The last you knew I was gorging myself on Mexican food and reuben sandwhiches while trying to sell a rental home. I'm still delighting in the cuisine, but the house is sold! I was actually in contract the first day I listed it, which made me sure I didn't ask enough. Turns out it appraised for only $3,000 more, so I think I did quite well in retrospect. Even still, it was a poor financial decision given the reduced value of the house in this market, though a great peace of mind strategy. My pockets are now loaded again and I have one less landlord headache. I'll be buying that new dinghy, converting the bimini to a hard dodger, and I might even purchase a new chartplotter for the binacle.

Life with "The Momma"

She's not the best mom in the world but she's in the top 5. My brother and I refer to Jere Mae Friedman as "The Momma". I think she understands it's a term of respect. She's been spoiling me rotten and in return I've redone her patio. There is honor in staying home with your mom on a Friday night. I have found the Zen in chiseling concrete in order to repair the patio. We do the crossword together in the morning and watch Jeopardy together eveyday at 4:30pm. She lends me the car whenever I want as long as the sun is up, but boy does she fight me if I want to go out at night. That's when the curfew negotiation begins. It was cute in the beginning but now it's just like highschool all over again. She has an over developed "mom gene" that makes her want to protect her kid, and since she has no control over my scary life at sea, she now needs to over-exercise her mothering instincts. Here's some irony for you – I was staying here in her house while she went to Europe for a 2 week cruise around the Med, and guess what: she didn't email me at all! When I'm at sea I email her everyday. She's really a special lady and I love her completely.

One of the first mornings I was here I awoke to what sounded like shrieking winds in the rigging of Barraveigh only to find that I was safe in my childhood bed at my mother's house and it was the yard crew outside the window with a weed whacker. What a wonderful mistake to make. I forgot how good it can feel when the elements are not a threat.

It's obvious that I enjoy the exotic and the exciting. We all do. But this quiet time with my 71 year old mother has proven to me that once we teach ourselves to hear the music of life, even when played at the lowest of levels, it doesn't matter what country we find ourselves in, what company we share, or what work surrounds us – we can enjoy it all. It's all about finding the sublime in the subtle. The simple joy of submerging myself in my mother's pool can still be as pleasurable as the Pacific ocean. It's been a great homecoming.

I do miss my boat though. She's the main girl in my life, and as of July 1st, Barraveigh will have been my home for 4 years. I do think though, that once you get the hang of traveling, home can be anywhere. I think of my mom's house as home, my brother's little sanctuary in Tokyo feels like home, even my storage room at the beach house in San Diego with the bunk next to the hot water heater - It all feels like home.

2 cliches: "You can never go home." WRONG – "Home is where the heart is."

It rings true.

Your fish out of water,

Capt Bobby

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Last Time I Crossed That Ocean . . .

I've spent over 3 years in the 3rd world and 1 month in Japan, which essentially means I've eaten a lot more rice than you. But that ended a week ago. I've been wolfing down Mexican food and reuben sandwiches for 7 days. How is that possible? Well – I'm back in the US of A!

I own a rental home in Chandler AZ and I've made the decision to sell it. I have more time than money so I've returned to do it myself and save the agent's commission fee. I'm expecting to be sweating it out in Phoenix all summer long.


On my first day out of my mother's house once the jet lag subsided I went to Wal-Mart and then to a motocross event with David Leppert at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. It's what Terry Allen's French wife would call "Deep America" (The last time I saw that many fake breasts I was at Aubergine in the gas lamp district of San Diego drinking $10 cocktails while Nash sold art from the walls). Then 3 policemen on horses rode onto the track while a teenager crooned the national anthem. Later that night I went out to the garage to pull a beer out of the 2nd full size fridge/freezer. How American is that. Yep – I'm back. It's an interesting experience when your own country gives you culture shock.

The Japanese Wrap Up

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel

Their language is a series of easily pronounced syllables delivered in a staccato cadence. It's actually very easy for the western tongue. It's a martial language banged out with a metronome rhythm. There is none of the subtle nasal sounds of the French or the swallowed cluckings of the Vietnamese. However, reading the 3 different alphabets that they use is not easy at all. In fact – unless you are willing to put in years of rigorous study – it's essentially an unbreakable code. Staring at the signage while on the bullet trains feels like trying to read the dashboard of the alien spaceship that has just abducted you.

Screaming at the TV

Karaoke – It's not like back home. You don't sing on a stage in front of a bunch of strangers. You are nestled into a very small room with the TV monitor, the wireless programmer, 2 mics, and the sound system. Just like the Elvis dancers at Yoyogi park – we do it cuz we gotta. It's cathartic. It's $12.50 per person per hour and that includes all the drinks you can suck down. It's one of the most surreal experiences. Imagine singing in English with your American brother and then when your bladder can't stand it anymore, you kick open the door (cuz you just sang a Clash song) and the halls are teeming with clusters of 15 – 18 year old Japanese school girls in their navy-like uniforms giggling in a foreign language with their alien hieroglyphics on the walls.

We did 7 hours a couple nights before I left. 7 hours in a karaoke box. Then we ate some dirty ramen before running to catch the last train out of Shibuya. You can hit the top 40 list as many times as you want, but you haven't really made it unless you get in the Karaoke book.

World's Largest Ant Colony

There was a time when the scientists thought the largest living organism was a mushroom, then they found that a whole forest of aspens actually were connected at the roots making it all one living being, but then . . . they discovered the Japanese. There is something about their culture that Westerners; with their rugged individualism, may never grasp in its entirety. Their way of life puts an emphasis on the "whole" over the "individual". This is why kamikazes where born, and how 28 million people can live on top of each other in the city of Tokyo. They even say that they are one big family. It's an interesting aspect of their culture and I'm still wrangling to understand it. Maybe the hierarchy of human evolution looks like this:

Lowest – Those who won't procreate because they only care about themselves: me
Middle – Those who can put their families ahead of themselves
Highest – Those that can put their communities ahead of themselves

Hmmm, gotta think about that one.

Amateur Anthropological Observations

  • Their hair is so thick, that for the males, going with a "spikey" look is not only the obvious choice but really the only choice.

  • You put an 80 year old Japanese woman next to an 80 year old Navajo woman and I guarantee you can't tell which is which. Bering land bridge? – Absolutely!

  • Their children are cuter than ours. That's true of the pikininis of Melanesia too. Sorry – my blog, my opinions.

  • They can immediately put themselves into "sleep mode", just like your computer, the minute they take a seat on the train. If not sleeping, reading, or text messaging on their phones; they stare. Staring is meditation. I believe that.

Sexually Convenient

Convenience stores sell pressed white business shirts, ties, toothbrushes and fresh underwear so anyone who didn't make it home the night before can still make a respectable appearance at work the next day.

Narita International Airport has goods from all over the world so you can buy your wife a gift from your business trip to Paris even though you really went to Thailand for a sex safari.

Random Observations:

  • And you thought we were good at marketing. They put 16 individuals in their girl bands! Everyone is sure to have a favorite. I like the one that is bold enough NOT to make the "V" sign with her fingers. That's rare.

  • Their culture dictates that they have to take their shoes off and put them on so often that they tend to break down the stern of their shoes so that they are all reduced to clogs.

  • The bikes are ideal. Proper centerline kickstand, the lock is built in, comes with a friction light and a basket. You don't even have to remove the key when you ride

  • Bintoro – Albacore tuna. Maybe the best sushi I've eaten. Super soft. Dissolves on your tongue. Some of the Japanese scoff at it as being low grade. I guess I'm going to be amazed at the good stuff if this is low grade.

Do I Actually Miss the Ocean?

I didn't think I'd actually spend time day dreaming about sailing in deep water since most of my last passages have been no fun, but once I was in Tokyo and away from Barraveigh, I grew nostalgic for the feeling I get when far offshore and a light from another boat is seen at night. There is a sense of camaraderie that is very satisfying and yet hard to explain. We'll never meet, but by seeing each other our existence is confirmed. That doesn't quite capture it but it might give you a small sense of the notion. Seems romantic and fleeting and I guess it is. Kinda nice to know I still have a fondness for the big salty in my heart.

Here's the Plan:

I sell the house, visit friends and family in California, fly back to Tokyo, then return to Bali. Why am I going back to Tokyo instead of straight to Bali? Well – I want to see my brother again and also because I forgot to say "Domo arigato Mr. Roboto" when I was there before and I really need to say that to somebody.

Your man at home,

Land locked Capt Bob

Friday, April 3, 2009

Capt Bob in Tokyo

Hand on the Door

I am standing on the threshold of a new experience. I feel fear and elation. Tokyo is the largest city on the planet. It's intimidating and inexhaustible. In that respect, it's the same as the Ocean, but that's where the similarities end. This congestion of concrete and people is the exact opposite from the sparseness of the Sea.

There have been other changes as well - I went from soaked with sweat by 10 am to wearing 2 layers of fleece and freezing. 3 years in the tropics has thinned my blood. I swapped hemispheres and my entire wardrobe.

Oh the Humanity

Because my mother visited my brother here 2 years ago, she told me to hold onto his belt loop whenever we went out in public. I thought that was a little paranoid. On the 2nd day after I arrived, we were on a train and I stood up a little slower than Skinny. Before the door opened there was 1 person in between us. The door opened and with the crush of humanity we moved off the train, suddenly there were 10 people in between us. We turned a corner and more arteries of congestion merged into ours. There were now 30 people in between us. As we jostled through the bottle-neck at the escalator the distance increased. There were now 60 people in between us. With every fusion the space increased. I kept my eyes on his curly hair and caught up to him as he waited near a column in the station. It created a human eddy and allowed the currents of people to flow around us. I grabbed his belt loop.

The Enigma

We call him Skinny, my only sibling. Amateur: musician, magician, comedian, interior decorator and Japanese man…"but anything else you hear is a filthy lie." He likes to "pish in Yiddish & sneeze in Japanese." He's 2 years younger, 2 inches taller and he isn't ever going bald. For those of you who know us both, I'm sure you'd agree that he's the interesting one. His most recent masterpiece is entitled "TigerLand".

Our Habitat from Humanity

It seems I can't escape the jungle. He has built out his apartment to resemble a bamboo rainforest. He has palm trees, coconuts, vines, moss, 6 foot bushes, flagstones, fake grass, and a pond. That's just on the inside! In addition, there are traditional Japanese woven Tatami mats and sliding rice panel doors. It's wonderful. People drop by just to show it off to their friends. It should be on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I sleep on a convertible futon that is swathed in tiger print. He sleeps inside a closet that is also covered in tiger skins. It seems we're still playing "fort". He in his habitrail, and me in my boat.

Anime for Everyone

In the city of Tokyo, there is a cartoon cat that dictates all the rules to follow. "Don't park your bike here." "Don't get your fingers stuck in the closing door." "Stand on this side, walk on that side." It's Hello Kitty! Yes - Hello Kitty literally guides you in your daily life. It's as if Mickey Mouse was a law enforcement officer.

I Can Speak Engrish!

I haven't had a job in over 4 years or a job interview in over 15 years. One of the reasons I'm here is to earn money. My first interview was a dismal failure. I was overwhelmed and underwhelming. I wouldn't have hired me either. I'll get better at the process. What is the position I'm applying for? Well – that would be English teacher of course. It seems I learned a marketable skill at a young age. The problem is; there are a lot of other people in Tokyo trying to sell it as well.

Your fish out of water,


Friday, March 13, 2009

Barraveigh's Dispatch

Happy New Year From Bali

I'm giving you my Happy New Year cheer in March. I'm very late in writing this dispatch. Let's begin -

Infrastructure At Cut Rate Prices
The urban conglomerate that is the southern portion of Bali is a rare prize. It's a prize because it has a village mentality with a city infrastructure. From Denpasar to the northern reaches of Bukit and from Kuta on the west and Benoa (where I live) on the east, the city offers hole-in-the-wall warungs (a place to eat) to high dollar resorts. You can eat nasi campur and drink an ice cold Coke for the equivalent of $1.50 (the Coke is always the most expensive component), or you can sip an $11 cocktail at Kudeta. There is no shortage of dining, drinking or lodging establishments. In fact – there is such an over abundance that the choices seem to never run out. You can go to a western deli and see all your favorite cheeses under the refrigerated glass, or you can ride the public transport (bemo) for 20 cents. You can join a gym (I did, and it's the most modern I've ever seen) for $30 a month, buy pirated movies that are still in the theatres for $1, rent a car for $140 a month, or stay in a private room for the night just cuz you drank too much and can't make it back to the boat. It costs about $9. You can hire a hard worker to scrub the decks in the hot sun for $13 a day while you wifi from the air conditioned innards of a sailboat. You can talk on your own mobile phone for a penny a minute.

Cheap equals autonomy.
Affordable means freedom. I can afford to not have to share a room as I tour the island. I can afford to travel in a comfortable fashion all by myself. I can buy and rent the material possessions that grant me access to the real Bali. I can drive to villages that don't exist on the driven route of air conditioned monster buses packed with Korean tourists who are "doing" Bali in 5 days. Exploration is access, and access costs, but this place is penetrable even on a thin budget. Bali – it's a deep discount all access pass. E-ticket baby! I love this place.

A Brief Religious Note
Indonesia is an Islamic Nation, the largest in the world actually. However, the island of Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu. Not exactly the kind of Hindu that originally came from India. Close, but it has mutated some differences. You won't see dots on foreheads or saris. You will see puras (temples) everywhere. Seriously – EVERYWHERE. It's beautiful on a level that is hard to describe. These people pay attention to detail to a degree that I haven't seen in other cultures. I believe it's because their religion is so detail specific that they are patient on a rank that most of us can't fathom. It's this detail that shows forth in their architecture, their dress, their cuisine. They simply appreciate beauty.

Hindu Magic Force Field
Driving in Bali is an adventure everyday. Start the car and test the horn. You're gonna need it. Merging into traffic on this island is tantamount to holding your breath and jumping headlong into a swift river. The cars and motorcycles ultimately do part like a school of fish interrupted by your rude introduction, and I've yet to hear the crunch of plastic or the grind of metal. Just before driving straight into the mass, which looks like a guaranteed collision, I say out loud 3 times, "Hindu magic force field." It works. I wouldn't recommend it back in the States.

Return Of The Mods
These are scooter people. The vast majority can't afford cars so the country is flooded with scooters. If you ever wondered what happened to all those cool Vespas from the 70's & 80's, they're here. I've witnessed a family of 5 on 1 scooter a couple of times. It's common to see 3 or 4 people on each scooter, and in my experience the kids are usually sound asleep with their parents hanging on to them so they don't fall off into the traffic. Can you imagine if we made Dianne Miller leave Orange County and stand at the central roundabout and witness all the potential kiddy death? Within 1 hour she'd be carted away in a straightjacket. I haven't seen a child car seat in 3 years.

"This local girl showed me the scars from the bomb blast and she lived blocks away"
Bomb check! – When you enter the marina, any resorts, or the high dollar malls - the guards have a big mirror on the end of a pole that they use to check under the car for explosives. In 2002 and again in 2005 the Muslim extremists touched off bombs designed to kill the infidels in action packed Kuta. It worked. They killed and maimed lots of people from all over the globe. The men who were caught and held responsible for the crime were executed a few months ago. Will it happen again? Let's put it this way – young Muslim girls are earning money for new cell phones by giving hand jobs in massage parlors. When she comes home with her new phone, daddy Mustafa is going to ask a lot of questions. When he finally hears the truth, how do you think he is going to feel about the "Bules" (Whites) living in his country? This trip has taught me that EVERYTHING is relative. By comparison, we are immoral infidels.

The Currency and the Candy
The exchange rate is about 12,000 Rupiahs to the Dollar. Too many zeros make it difficult to give exact change. So when they can't, they give you candy to make up the difference as an apology. It's a fitting example of the sweetness found in a Balinese act of contrition.

The Guessing Game
There is an intersection north of Denpasar that is almost impossible to time. No one ever hits the green light and the Newspaper men know this. They wait on the side of the road with a stack of international newspapers draped over their arm. They have about 1 second to guess what nationality the driver is so they can bring that specific paper with its headline to the top of the pile. I've been guessed to be French, German and Australian. They keep shuffling as I shake my head. Finally the USA Today is pushed against the window. I gotta admit, it looks rather bleak back home, and I can't bring myself to buy it.

There Is A City Called Ubud
Near the center of Bali, in the high cool hills, there is a city called Ubud. It's the Mecca of meditation, massages without sex, art, poetry, cosmic energy & spirituality. There is a lot of blissed out smiling, but I don't remember ever hearing any laughter. It's where people who can't surf, tan or drink go to find community. It's not your typical idea of an Aussie vacationland. It's not the beaches of Kuta. It is, however, a viable alternative to the usual distractions of Western decadence. I endorse it. Plus – it's a great place to feed bananas to aggressive monkeys in a moss-covered-jungle-hidden-Hindu-temple.

Ivan The Tourist
When did Russians start traveling? Is this place so cheap or is their economy strong enough that they can finally afford it? Whenever I see a rich Russian I want to ask him how many men he's killed. If you ever get depressed, ask a Russian to show you their childhood photo album.

Yo Hablo Espanol
You can tell who the long time cruisers are cuz even though they're white; they speak Spanish to each other when they don't want the locals to understand. Spending all that time in Spanish America paid off.

Bali Mores
Blowing your nose is considered rude, but picking your nose is fine at any time, anywhere, in front of anyone.

Suzi Departs
I believe that everything has an expiration date. Suzi and I reached ours. The specifics are unimportant and will be forgotten over time. What will remain is the fact that this woman shared 2 years of my life and sailed half way around the world with me. Her place in my history book is secure. She returned to London on Jan 10th. I have said once before that everything dies a premature death on a sea going boat. It still holds true. I feel sad, I feel liberated, we move on. She'll move back into her flat, rejoin the London Metropolitan Police force, and meet a man who can be a better partner. As for me – my selfish ego trip will continue. The next page is about to be turned . . .

The Next Page

On March 18th 2009 I get on a plane and I fly to Tokyo. The plan is to live with my brother, earn money, write and soak up another culture. Barraveigh will wait for me in the slip in Bali. I'll eventually return to her, get her ready for the next leg, and then head up to Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

I'm writing the story of my life by living it. The construction of my biography is forged with every choice I make. I'm grateful you find it worth reading.

Your man on point,

Capt Bobby

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bureaucracy at it's Naked Best

In order to stay in Bali, for my 2nd visa extension I had to go to Immigration and get fingerprinted & photographed. The agent I hired called me and told me to go to the capital city of Denpasar, then asked if I knew where the office was.
"Not at all".
"No problem". She assured me. "Just come to our office and our driver will escort you".

We snaked through endless Indo traffic, one way streets, and back access roads until we were at the main office where Tiru handed me off to his associate and vanished into the blur of the other scooters. For 90 minutes Ketut assured me that it would only be another 5 minutes and that I was next. When the room was finally empty I shrugged my shoulders and asked when it was my turn as the room was now vacant except for me.

"Soon, lunch now."
"Lunch now! Oh come on Ketut. I've been good. Please squeeze me in. I can't wait another hour."
"Ok. Ok. You come now.

We walked 10 steps and once we past through the swinging door that denoted the inner office he immediately made a face as if he'd licked a 9 volt battery.

"Oh so sorry, no can come in here with short pants."
"What? You've known that I was wearing short pants for the last hour and a half. No deal. Let's finish this."

Then he didn't speak English anymore. He Bahasa squawked to his colleagues and they all shrugged and looked away. I got Bali Mode on the phone, that's the initial office I hired to deal with this. We went back and forth and the only solution seemed to be rescheduling, which didn't please me at all. Finally the lady on the phone offered a new suggestion which didn't make any sense to me. I couldn't understand what she was saying, something about "alternating". I handed the phone back to Ketut. He spoke to her, stared at me, looked around and then back at me. Total silence. Then he scanned the room again and his eyes settled on this Indo kid who looked like he'd been thrown out of the Asian version of Green Day. They spoke their language and the kid grew a huge smile. Ketut hung up the phone and then turned his whole attention to me. The kid stood up and walked over to us. Ketut spoke 2 words and made the international zigzag hand single.

"Switch switch."
"You're freakin kidding me. You want us to change clothes. Unbelievable. Fine. Let's get this over with."

He ushered us to the bathroom (kamar kecil - literally, "small room"). The kid turned his back to me. He had that center ridge hair-do that's suppose to look punk rock, but only serves to impersonate a dinosaur. He removed his pegged black pants and when he turned back to hand them to me he saw me standing nude (no underwear). His eyes fixated on my white circumcised penis (I'll bet he never saw that before!) and you should have seen the mortified look on his face when he realized I was going to wriggle into his favorite pants butt naked. I handed him my shorts, apologized for my immodesty and stabbed my skinny legs through his impossibly tight trousers. I'm a shrimp of a man in the First World but here I'm a giant. I left him with a big toothy grin and walked out. The fingerprinting and photo took about 2 minutes. The photo was a head shot, so no one will ever see my sexy leggings but now you know. I returned to the bathroom where he was waiting with that violated look on his face. I disrobed, handed him his pants back, apologized again, and walked the long corridor back to the parking lot. I looked back when I was at the door, and he still hadn't exited the bathroom. Bush might be gone but I'm still winning them over with "Shock and Awe".

More on the rest of Bali soon.

Your man on point,

Capt Bobby


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