Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Late night donut attack

It is 12:23 am. I have just returned from J.CO, where I consumed two donuts and an iced hazelnut latte. My head is now swimming from the overload of sugar and caffeine. I hope I will be able to fall asleep in an hour.

Check out the donut list on the J.CO webpage, where they try to make donuts sound like health food. For example, the "Why Nut":
Here is a donut with a special topping combination: American Peanut Butter and premium white chocolate topping, containing anti-oxidant to avoid you of cancer and heart attack.
While I didn't try it, I was somewhat tempted by the "Mona Pisa" donut, described thusly:
Get stunned by its beauty of rosy cheese and chicken sausage. Let her smile overwhelms [sic] your appetite.
Have I mentioned the high rate of diabetes in Indonesia?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Welcome to 1998!

The woman and I finally failed in our stand against modern technology and bought cellphones. While I didn't buy the cheapest, most stripped-down model, our phones are far from fancy. But they do have FM radio!

As one of my coworkers stated when I told him this, "Welcome to the '90s."

I guess it is a step up from the AM radio model.

A couple weeks ago, I went searching for some shoes. This task is very difficult here, since stores don't stock many shoes in sizes as large as mine. My shopping process involved me going into stores, asking for all the shoes in my size, and then rejecting the two ugly pairs they would bring out.

Eventually, I did find a pair. They are Airwalks.

So today I was at work walking around wearing my Airwalks and playing with my new FM radio phone. And occasionally stroking my freshly trimmed Fu Manchu mustache.

Needless to say, I was the coolest dude in the building.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I will tell you something if you have ears to listen

My friend Dave and I walked over to the nearby pool hall to talk poetry. He is applying to grad schools and wanted some feedback on his writing sample before he sent it out.

Before we began, he went to the restroom. While I was waiting, a white guy walked by. I nodded at him, since he was a bule like me.

"Where are you from?" he asked, and I told him.

"What do you think about Obama?" he asked.

I don't like to discuss politics, especially in bars, and especially with people from different countries. I only said, "I think he will do better than the man currently in office."

"Hmm. That is interesting," he replied. "Very interesting."

He pried for more information, but I only gave different versions of the same response. Each time he replied, "That's interesting." When I asked for his thoughts, he would only say, "It doesn't matter," or, "We speak a different language."

I learned he was from Finland and living on a military pension. He had lived in Surabaya for almost two years.

Dave returned from the bathroom. We introduced ourselves; the Finn's name was Jan. He asked me what type of alcohol I liked; I said good whiskey or good rum. He spoke as if he was going to buy us a shot, "just a little one."

He walked away, and the shots never came.

My friend and I talked poetry. Eventually Jan returned. He asked if he could sit, and I moved my backpack to give him space. But I kept talking to Dave.

"If you need to work, just say so," Jan said. I stared at him. "Just say so, and I will let you be."

"Do you mind?" I asked.

"Not at all. You just need to say what you want." And he walked away.

We finished our drinks and our discussion and went to the bar to pay. While one of the bartenders went for our tab, another bartender put two pitchers in front of us, and soon a third. We looked down the bar and saw Jan. We sat down next to him.

As we poured our beers, Rowan and our roommate Sinead arrived. They sat down and Jan motioned to the bartender for another pitcher.

We were arranged with me on Jan's left, Rowan and Sinead on my left, and Dave at the far left.

Jan and I talked. I learned little about him. Most questions were answered with more refrains of, "It doesn't matter," or, "We speak a different language."

At one point, he determined the girls weren't drinking fast enough. "If you don't drink, I will give you a massage," he said. The girls drank.

Jan looked at me. "Do you feel..." he said and then beat his chest, "...for the blond? Because I may have an interest."

"Yes, I do."

"Then I will not pursue her."

He ordered six whiskey sours. I figured he had two for himself and one for each of the rest of us. But he put three in front of himself and three in front of me. "The men will drink these." Rowan pointed at Dave further down the bar. "We are drinking these," said Jan.

And we did. We sat in relative silence until he got up to use the restroom. "You're not drinking," he said as he passed Rowan. He stopped and put his hand on Rowan's shoulders until I motioned his hands away.

"What are you doing in Surabaya?" Rowan asked.

"I have a little interest," Jan said. Later, Rowan said she thought he meant prostitutes; Surabaya has Asia's largest red light district.

He returned and we continued drinking.

Then he looked me in the eye. "Are you a professional?" he said, and I replied negatively.

He pointed at the bartender, who was slicing lemons for more whiskey sours. "Is he a professional?"

"He's a professional bartender," I said.

"Give me the knife," Jan said to the bartender, and the bartender complied. Jan held the knife with the back of the blade running up his forearm. "If I hold the knife this way, you can't take it from me."

He spun the blade in his fingers and returned it to the original position. "Could you take it from me?"

"No," I said. I waited until he set the knife back down.

We sat in silence for awhile.

"I will tell you something if you have ears to listen," he said. He stared at me. He placed his hand on my leg, uncomfortably high up my thigh.

"Do you have ears to listen? I will tell you something if you have ears to listen."

I stared at him and he stared back for almost two minutes. When he began speaking, he spoke quietly. I couldn't hear at first, but then began to make out places and dates. And then numbers.
And then the words, "people killed."

I remember only two parts of his soldier's accounting:

"Lebanon. 1982. Twelve people killed.

"Afghanistan..." Here his voice gave out and he moved his lips soundlessly. I thought I saw him mouth the words, "Sixty-two."

We sat in silence. Later, I tried speaking, but received, "It doesn't matter," and, "We speak a different language."

He paid our tab, and we continued to drink. He passed out in his bar stool soon thereafter.

My friends and I finished our drinks. The bartender assured me that he would take care of Jan. This had happened before.

We left the bar and headed for home, just around the corner through Surabaya's thick nighttime air. My bed would be waiting for me, and my girl would lie beside me, and my sleep would be dreamless.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A question of giving

We headed south out of Surabaya to the smaller city of Malang this past weekend. Unlike our own bustling chaotic urban sprawl monster, Malang seems to allow for foot traffic. Part of this is the cooler temperatures, and part of it is the inclusion of such pedestrian niceties as sidewalks and crosswalks.

So we walked.

And saw more of the developed world culture that we have placed ourselves in but also partially separated ourselves from.

In any city, anywhere, there will be people in need, and people begging. Sometimes they sit quietly waiting, other times they grab your arm or follow you around.

And there are many of them. So many that one cannot give to all. You see this suffering, and you want to do something, but if I handed even a dollar to everyone, I would be out $50 by day's end.

We gave to the crippled: the man missing an arm, the man with the ravaged knees. We sometimes ignored those who begged for money even while they offered goods for sale.

We are teaching English here in the underdeveloped world (though such a description relies on one's definition of "development"), but we are working for a private company. We are teaching spoiled rich kids, not the kids who could use an added skill to raise their quality of life.

The kids ask us where we live, and then they laugh because they know that their neighborhoods and their houses are far superior to ours. Some of them have bedrooms larger than our classrooms at the school. These are not people who need my help to forge a path through the world.

I knew sort of what we were getting into when we signed up. I expected this quality of life. But what I didn't expect was how disheartening it would be to realize that I am not making a difference here.

In Alaska, I taught nights at the University. I helped people who wanted to learn, since these are the types of people who attend night classes. And I worked my normal job for a company serving nonprofits. Most nights, I could go home feeling like I was doing something to improve the world, even if it was just a little something.

But here, I don't know. We are not rich by any measure here, though we can give a little money, but there has to be some other way to help, some way to make a difference. We need to find it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shameless self-promotion

Those who know me well know that I'm sort of fascinated by the Vietnam War. I'm not really a historian, but I'm interested in the psychological ramifications of the war, particularly as it affects my generation, the children of the men who fought there.

I haven't written a lot of poetry this year, but a War Poetry Contest did get me to sit down and type awhile back.

Like last year, I was a finalist this year. No money for me, which was a little disappointing, but I did get the poems put up on some slick-looking webpages. Check them out if you're interested:

2007: "A marking, for each and all"

2008: "Zeno in the jungle" and "Through the window of a restaurant in Little Saigon"