Here Thar Be Monsters!

From the other side of the argument to the other side of the planet, read in over 149 countries and 17 languages. We bring you news and opinion with an IndoTex® flavor. Be sure to check out Radio Far Side. Send thoughts and comments to luap.jkt at gmail, and tell all your friends. Sampai jumpa, y'all.

30.8.10

Dear Mom, Part 6

All this talk of onions has me thinking of food now. I haven’t really talked extensively about Indonesian food in past missives, but now would be as good a time as any, I suppose. There is a wide variety of cuisine here, with each region having some specialty that is generally popular. Balikpapan is known for its crab, which are quite large and meaty with a very delicate flavor. It is usually served with saus tiram,which is a sour red sauce and often spicy. In fact, a lot of Indonesian food is spicy, using what we generally call Thai peppers or here known as cabe rawit. Some regional foods are particularly known for being spicy, such as Batak and Manado, with Manado being far and away the hottest I have eaten. Padang, an area in west central Sumatra, is very popular. There are padang houses all over the place. The restaurants usually employ some motif that approximates a padang-style house, which kind of looks like a giant saddle with horns and both ends. The food is known for being spicy but also popular for the box lunches, which usually include a vegetable, rice, meat, and a banana.
As you can imagine, in a country that is primarily covered in ocean, seafood is very popular and there is a wide variety of it. Among the freshwater favorites locally are lele, a small catfish, and gurame, which is similar to a perch. The lele is prepared by battering and deep frying the ENTIRE fish, guts, head, fins and all. Everything but the bones are consumed, with the head being sucked like a crawfish (also considered the best part). The fins are eaten and have a consistency similar to potato chips. I particularly like guarame, as it has a mild flavor and is often served with sweet and sour sauce (saus asam manis). There are many creative ways of serving it, as well. One I was impressed with had the meat filleted but still attached to the body. The whole thing was battered and then fried so that it appeared to be swimming and was served standing on the plate balanced on the pectoral fins. You pulled the strips of meat off and dipped them in the sauce.
As far as ocean favorites, tuna is very popular, which is fine by me. But the one that really blew me away is the prawn. Having grown up on the Gulf coast, I know jumbo shrimp (which any more is an oxymoron), but these prawns make the biggest of our jumbo shrimp pale by comparison. They are green and literally the size of a small lobster. A meal consists of one of them. I’ve seen some that are easily bigger than a pound of pure meat. It’s hard to impress upon you the size of these things. If you are familiar with tiger shrimp, then you are a fraction of the way there. If you are a shrimp lover, this will put you in a state of euphoria.
Of course, there is squid and octopus, smelt, red fish, and many more familiar varieties. One that I particularly like is called belut. It is a variety of eel about a foot long. At the store, they are kept live in tanks, and when you order it, they pull out your selection, club it over the head and slice it into chunks that are prepared in several different ways, most popular being fried (of course).
Among the more curious foods are dog, bat and squirrel. These are generally considered to be Batak and Manado favorites. I have told about my dog story some time ago, but the bat is far more exotic. It is a particular variety of bat that is medium-sized, and could be a type of fruit bat, though I’m unsure. To prepare it, the bat is gutted and denuded, battered and (you guessed it) deep fried. Some of the more creative presentations have it with wings spread and standing on the plate. The wings are considered to be a delicacy and are crunchy and really not bad, not unlike pork skin cracklins. It’s difficult to describe the taste of the meat, although “just like chicken” comes to mind. Being from Texas, the squirrel wasn’t really all that exotic, although the word for squirrel here is tikus bajing, with tikus being the same word for rat or mouse, so I was a bit put off until I figured out what it was.
One that I was not particularly fond of was something called usus ayam. Now ayam means chicken, and at the time I didn’t know what usus was, and since I am in the habit of every now and then picking something on the menu that I don’t know, so that I have to try a new experience. I have since learned that usus means guts, and that is exactly what I got, grilled chicken guts on a stick. Basically, the gizzard was at one end with the intestines playfully snaking up the middle, with the heart and liver at the other end. The whole affair was dipped in yellow curry before grilling, which gave the items a sickly yellowish cast, making the whole experience rather unpleasant, even though I like curry.
Some items that I really enjoy include patagol and gado-gado. Patagol is hard to describe, except to say that it is kind of like meatloaf, but made with fish. It is thick enough to cut into bite-sized blocks, which are then, say it along with the chorus, battered and deep fried. It is served with a very thick and spicy peanut sauce and kecap manis, or sweet soy ketchup, a thick black liquid. When done right, it is very good with a mild flavor and smooth texture. When done badly, it tastes and smells like three-day-old fish, which is why the really good stuff is also expensive. The good one runs about 80 cents apiece, while the nasty one costs about 10 cents. Gado-gado is one of my favorites. It is a hot salad made with tofu, bean sprouts and cabbage. It is tossed with a spicy peanut dressing, and regional variations can include cucumbers, black beans, corn, and other additions.
The Indonesian table is usually set with only a fork and a spoon. Those items are recent additions, as traditionally, all foods are eaten with the fingers. For this reason, there is a food called kerupuk. Kerupuk comes in a dizzying number of varieties. All of them are some substance the is sliced and (yup) deep fried. Some are about the size of a potato chip and have the consistency of the puffy kind of Chee-toes. Others are quite large and are slices of a kind of root called singkong, which looks like a giant parsnip and have the flavor and texture of a potato. There are at least ten or fifteen kinds of kerupuk that I can think of, and probably quite a few more than that.
Of the meats, chicken and fish are the cheapest, and naturally the most common. Beef is available, but is fairly expensive, so harder to find at the street vendors. For red meat, the most common and popular is goat. It is fairly easy to find duck and frog, as well. Pork, as you might imagine, is virtually impossible to find and very expensive. If you can find it at the store, it is kept in a section that is completely isolated from any other foods and clearly labeled with the image of a pig. There are some stores, mostly in areas frequented by foreigners, where you can buy fresh pork, but the store must have two separate butcher shops: one for pork and one for everything else. As you can imagine, it is almost impossible to find hickory smoked bacon, and one of the things I dearly crave is a thick, toasted BLT piled with pepper-crusted bacon. Cheese, for that matter, is also very rare and expensive here. A half-kilo of Gouda can run $20, when you can find it.
At this point, I am having trouble typing since the keys have become slick from my drool. Perhaps it’s best if I leave food behind and get into other subjects.

29.8.10

Dear Mom, Part 5

[Ed. Note: about twice a year, I write a massive missive to the folks back home...let's listen in...]


Dear Mom,
Well, I’ve started this letter five times, but they were all abortive attempts as they just kind of rambled around and eventually just became blog posts. Lately though, a theme has emerged and perhaps that will let me hang a tale upon it.
The three-year anniversary of my arrival is fast approaching and in the past year it seems that I have begun crossing a number of lines or borders. It seems that in nearly every aspect of my life here, I have stepped over some invisible barrier into a different phase of things. Some of them are internal, some external and some just purely time related. There were no signs or warnings, and most were unexpected, but all noticeable in their passing.
The most obvious one is that folks no longer are impressed with my language skills. It used to be a few sentences into a conversation, they would invariably ask me how long I had been in Indonesia. When I told them, they would nod in approval at how fluent my Indonesian was. No longer. Now when they ask and I say, “Two and a half years,” they just nod as if thinking, “It’s about time.” So to prolong the novelty a bit longer, I have begun learning a little Javanese. For a Westerner to learn Indonesian is rare, but to learn Javanese is vanishingly rare. It’s not unheard of, though.
There is a Spaniard who lives not far from me, who has been on national TV demonstrating his mastery of both dialects of Javanese (halus/smooth and kasar/course, akin to high and low English). I have a New Zealander friend who, after 14 years here, has mastered Sundanese. I have a Dutch friend who does pretty well with Bataknese Toba dialect. But, on the whole, foreigners do not ever learn, at least to a conversational point, the common tongue. Case in point is Steve, who after 20¬+ years of marriage to an Indonesian, two daughters who are fluent in Indonesian, and 12 years living here off and on, can speak only a hand-full of words.
For my part, there was a point about six months ago, that I barely thought about, where I stopped translating English to Indonesian in my head when I was talking. I simply started thinking in Indonesian. Suddenly, I was able to have hours-long conversations (on some subjects) without having to compose in my head; the words simply came out naturally. I noticed it one day when I was waiting for my ojek driver (motorcycle taxi) and I got into a conversation with some men on the street. Just a bull session, nothing complex. The part that was intriguing was that when I came across a word I didn’t know, I was able to describe/define it to the point they could tell me the word.
This may not seem like such a victory or momentous occastion, but there are several factors that make it unique for me. I am quite fluent in Spanish and German, but in both cases, I had extensive classroom training in those languages. Indonesian is the first language, other than English, that I have learned naturally, by being forced to use it every day, in the same way a child has to learn. I bought some books to teach me grammar and a dictionary, of course, but that is akin to learning English by studying Shakespeare. One can speak beautifully, but most people look at you like you just stepped out of the Middle Ages. The other challenge is that Indonesian really doesn’t have a grammar system.
It’s only the past twenty years that academics have begun trying to codify the language, but it really only amounts to a list of exceptions to every rule. As a field of study, it is wide open right now. A linguist could make a job for life studying the language (and yes, I’ve thought about it). As I tell my students, the first rule of grammar is: we always do it like this except when we don’t. That was never so true as for this language.
For instance, Indonesian has 10 affixes that can be used with any word, no matter what its function. In every case, they change the meaning and function of the word in any number of ways, depending on context and structure. The prefix meng- has four different meanings with nouns, four with verbs, two with adjectives and two with adverbs. Sometimes the meaning is dependent on the word itself, but more often on the function and position in the sentence. It’s enough to make you crazy when you are trying to get a handle on things.
I was rather proud when I figured out one rule on my own that none of my students have been able to guess, but all agree that I’m right. There are two words commonly used to negate things. Tidak means “no” or “not,” and bukan means “isn’t.” The problem is that no one could tell me when to use one or the other, they only knew when it was right or wrong. Turns out that tidak is used to negate verbs, and bukan is used to negate nouns. For example, “Is that your brother?” “Bukan.” “Do you want to go to the mall?” “Tidak.” I know, seems like a small thing, but it was a genuine victory to define the rule.

The bonus for learning Indonesian is that I can also understand two other languages. Malay and Tagalu (Filipino) are sister languages, like English, German and Dutch. Knowing one gives you a leg up in the other two. Malay is close enough that I can easily read it. There are minor differences in spelling and pronunciation, but virtually interchangeable. Tagalu is a little more difficult, but there are many shared words and the grammar is identical, so far as I can tell. When I listen to Filipinos speak, I can clearly understand about 20% of what is being said.
Javanese is the first language I have attempted to learn using another foreign language. I have yet to find any authoritative sources in English to help me, so the only way I can learn it is by having it taught to me in Indonesian. Fortunately (or not), the grammar is identical and only the vocabulary needs to be learned. There are two primary dialects, high and low. High Java is spoken in south central Java, around the city of Jogjakarta. It is considered the definitive dialect and amounts to the royal form of the language (Jogja has one of two remaining sultanates in the country). The other dialect is spoken in north central Java, around the cities of Surabaya and Solo. There are numerous sub-dialects and people are able to read them the same way we can tell a New Yorker from a Californian.
An example of the difference from Indonesian is the expression, “Tidak apa-apa.” Literally, it means “no what-what,” but translates as “it’s nothing.” In Javanese, the same expression is, “Mboten nopo-nopo.” Another example? In Indonesian, one says, “Jangan lupa makan,” or “don’t forget to eat.” In Javanese, one says, “Ojo lali mangan.” One of the major rivers in Jakarta is the Kali Malang, which is Javanese for the Unfortunate River. In Indonesian, that would be the Sungai Sial. As you can see, there is little crossover in vocabulary, though they match word-for-word in structure and grammar.
I have an ulterior motive for learning Javanese. In the immediate situation, it is an quick ice-breaker in many situations. It brings an immediate laugh and a flurry of conversation as people remark in surprised disbelief that this foreigner knows boso jawa. But, as a long-term investment, it is a tool to protect myself in the event of future unrest. I have heard numerous stories about the events around 1998, during the “unrest” that led to riots and extensive violence against foreigners and Chinese descendants. My thought is that being able to use a little Javanese can buy time or turn away people looking for trouble, and diffuse tense situations. In any case, it can’t hurt and makes for a good hobby in the meantime.
The reason for the long, involved diatribe about language was to tell about one of my hobbies, which is learning local legends and myths. Many of the ancient myths, and indeed the pantheon of Javanese gods in the old stories are borrowed from Hindu and Sanskrit myths, in the way that the Romans borrowed and customized the Greek pantheon. Indonesians of all classes and education still harbor a strong belief in magic and superstitions. There are shows on TV that dramatize the stories of the old gods and the soap operas feature frequent scenes in which characters consult witch doctors and use spells and charms.
All Indonesians have a strong belief in ghosts and spirits, and many people (primarily women) are often possessed and fall into trances. It’s a curious phenomenon that I have witnessed a couple of times with my students. It is almost the diametric opposite of epilepsy in that the person becomes completely flaccid and the eyes are fixed and unreactive. The cure is to take the person to the doctor, where certain prayers and rituals are performed to exorcize the spirits. But I digress…
One of the more popular mythological characters is a man called Gatotkaca (gah-tote-kacha). The name is derived from Sanskrit and means “bald kettle-head.” He was a giant, as most of the gods were, and his head was shaped like an updside-down kettle which was completely hairless. In many ways, he parallels our Superman, in that he had magical powers and incredible strength. Unlike Superman, though, his powers worked best at night. For that reason, he is frequently depicted as being black. His story is very popular in the shadow puppet plays and bedtime stories for children.
More interesting to me is the story of Si Pitung. This character is very real and the story is a cross between Robin Hood and Zorro. His house is now a museum just east of Jakarta. The name Si Pitung is a variation on the Javanese for “the gang of seven.” I guess that there was a primary character and presumably a band of merry men who assisted. He is considered a criminal by the Dutch version and a hero by the Indonesian version. The most authoritative version I have heard says that his career began by selling a goat to the Dutch landlord in an area of Jakarta not far from where I live, Tanah Abang. That night, he stole the goat back and kept the money. Well, this escalated into an all-out manhunt by the Dutch, with Si Pitung stealing and distributing wealth from the Dutch, a la Robin Hood. He also would extract revenge on local officials who were guilty of oppression against the poor people in the area, a la Zorro. Legend has it that Si Pitung was able to strike in many places at once, which, along with the gang reference, implies that there was a group of men using guerilla tactics to generally make the Dutch masters miserable. I have to admit I really like the guy.
Another curious legend is about a fruit called “buah simalakama.” Apparently, the fruit is highly desireable, being at once large, delicious and pleasing to look at. One who beholds the fruit is struck with a passionate desire to possess it, but once they do, they are presented with the ultimate dilemma: if they eat it, their mother will die, and if they don’t, their father will die. The legend has elements of our own “forbidden fruit,” along with flavors of the sword of Damacles and other similar predicaments. The expression buah simalakama could be translated as being stuck between a rock and a hard spot, or damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I imagine there is some story that goes along with it, but I am still trying to track down the definitive version.
There is another story about a king who had two daughters, named Bawang Merah and Bawang Putih. It’s a children’s bedtime story and is rather involved, but the gist of it is that Bawang Putih is the apple of her father’s eye, and Bawang Merah is insanely jealous of this fact. She sets out to get revenge, which ultimately leads to everyone getting hurt and the two girls begin to cry profusely. Wherever the tears of the girls land a plant grows, one producing red onions (bawang merah) and the other producing white onions (bawang putih, or garlic). When you cut the red onions, they make you cry, but the white onions do not. Just so you know, white and yellow onions are both called bawang Mumbai, or Bombay onions.

To be continued...

22.8.10

At The Crossroads

WARNING~

The following post may contain words and/or phrases that offend, anger or upset some people. If you have not read my other posts, then you may not be prepared for the fact that I use language, with all its connotations and permutations, to make points, in the tradition of William Safire or George Carlin. If there is a word or phrase that offends you here, then examine yourself, not my usage. You have been warned...

Having spent the night in the men's room of T2 at Changi Airport in Singapore, I have come up with a couple of revelations, as it were. One is, the restrooms at T2 have a nice shelf area behind the toilet, which if you are carrying your towel like I told you to, makes a rather nice free hotel room. Use the towel as a pillow.

The other is that I live at the crossroads of two very different cultures, complete with separate ideologies and goals. You may think to yourself, "Well, duh, doofus." But the profundity of the realization is startling. Living on the Far Side is 180-degrees from EVERYTHING.

So, there I was in Singapore. I was supposed to meet a long-time acquaintance and spend the day/evening discussing business and pleasure. I sent him a text from the airport at 10am, letting him know I had arrived at the precise time I had predicted, allowing for the fact that I was flying on an Indonesian airline, which meant that I had to give an hour to the posted time. I told him that I would take the MRT down to Orchard Road, which was very near his place. I received his confirmation to meet when I arrived at Orchard, so I boarded the MRT and made my way downtown.

Keep in mind that I am perhaps 80% blind due to MS. This was my third trip to Singapore and my second since becoming blind. I had never used the MRT and I was a bit apprehensive.

The first thing to mention is that Singapore is very friendly to the handicapped. Most stairs have rails and the treads have light-colored strips to highlight the end of level ground. There generally aren't any surprises, although that is not universally true. Outdoors is a bit of a challenge. But for the most part, I was able to get around effortlessly. There is almost always an elevator wherever a set of stairs exist, as well.

Another point is that people are paid to help. They actually look for someone who looks lost and offer assistance, particularly around the public services. Just because I was reading various signs around the MRT station, a woman, God bless her, came up and all but led me by the hand to get a ticket and explain the system to me, and yes, she was a uniformed employee of MRT.

I boarded the train and made my way, fairly effortlessly, to Orchard Road. Unlike someplace like New York, people in Singapore are more than willing to answer questions. Of course, you will want to use your most formal and polite English, just to be sure. English is the default language of Singapore. The locals speak Singaporean, which is a curious creole of Mandarin, Malay and English. Knowing a smattering of Mandarin and Malay/Indonesian will buy you Brownie points and get secret information and additional discounts, if well applied. It's kind of like knowing the secret knock at a speak-easy.

When I arrived at Orchard, I looked for a place to alight. I found an Italian street restaurant just outside of Ann City mall, where I proceeded to order Cajun fries and a Japanese beer (2-for-1 special in the afternoon). I sent Rajan a text and waited for the next five hours for a response. Being a planner, I also had another contact that I had made prior arrangement with, an Indonesian who was staying in S'pore at the same time. As backup, I sent Ivan a text, as well. In all that time, I received no response from either party.

And there you have the set-up for this post. Two very different cultures. Don't see it? Let's review. I spent the night in a toilet and both contacts did not respond to my text messages. If you are a Westerner, your feathers are already ruffled. There are two primary concepts at play here. One is punctuality and the other is frugality.

The first concept is something uniquely Western, in my experience. The idea of setting an appointment and actually being there at the appointed time is part of my British/American culture. If I say I will be at a place at a time, I am there at a minimum of five minutes early. I am bound morally and ethically, and perhaps genetically, to meet that schedule. For some unknown reason, Westerners have a punctuality fetish. For Germans, this rises to the level of obsession. The British invented the use of clocks for navigation and arbitrarily set Greenwich as zero hour. The Swiss are known for their precision in making time-pieces, not to mention cuckoo clocks. Which brings up a great quote from the Orson Welles character in that brilliant film, The Third Man:
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!
But I digress.

In my experience, people closer to the equator have a distinct "get round-to-it" attitude. This is not a hard and fast rule, as one look at South America and Africa might tend to shoot a hole in the theory. Certainly, northern Europeans have cultures that are focused on time and punctuality. British high society has regulated its life around day parts, what with tea-time being a central part of those rituals. The invention of atomic clocks and alternating current are futher examples of this focus on time. Cettainly, the development of astrology for telling the future, and more recently the work of Clif High and George Ure with web bots displays a cultural focus on time and future.

It is possible to generalize the idea that cultures that focus on time are more successful than those that don't. No one would argue that American, British, German, and even Japanese cultures have been wildly successful in propagating themselves and in amassing wealth. Many American exports involve the concept of repeatability (e.g.-McDonald's, KFC, Holiday Inn), which I see as a function of time, and others about saving time (e.g.-assembly line, appliances, mass transit). Even the Dutch invention of the telescope was not about something so frivolous as looking at stars. They were to give the user a jump on the competition by being able to see arriving ships before anyone else, and thus have information that allowed for beneficial investments. Indeed, the whole idea behind computers was to save computational time for complex mathematical tasks. Ironic, since things like Facebook and games have become some of the greatest wasters of time. Even the medical focus on life-extension is all about having more time.

By contrast, cultures such as Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, and India all have cultures that view time more as a blob with fuzzy edges and certainly less linear. If you set an appointment with an Indonesian, you can almost bet they will be up to an hour late. There is no apology or worry about it, just a fact. If they arrive within the day, that is doing pretty good. These cultures even have expressions for this attitude. Indonesians talk about "jam karet," or flexible time. Mexicans use the expression, "mañana," or tomorrow.

With the obvious exception of Italy, which produced one of the most complex languages on Earth (Latin)and Hindi, many equatorial languages has simple or non-existent tenses. Malay/Indonesian and Mayan languages have very simple tenses which indicate general timing of events in a cause-effect manner, but little else. They really only see time as before now-now-after now, with NOW being the key idea. It's almost as if what is past is not worth talking about and the future doesn't exist. Perhaps that is the origin of Ram Dass' Be Here Now concepts, or the launching point for Buddha's Eternal Present.

The second idea I want to deal with is the lack of concern about the future, which is neatly capsulized with the distinctly American expression, "nigger rich." This goes to the idea that you really have nothing, but you finance the appearance of having something. It also refers to the habit of blowing all your cash on payday for temporary fun and having nothing tomorrow for dinner. This idea is related to the concept of time because the person who is nigger rich does not think about future consequences or needs, only about current looks and comfort.

It has been explained to me that the reason many Indonesians are not successful is that they tend to fling their pay out the window of appearances and never worry about saving for the future. I was told that the reason the Chinese are successful, and universally hated, in Indonesia is that they save their money and plan for the future. Indeed, it could be argued that part of the reason the Chinese culture has survived intact for 5,000 years (with some notable political upsets) is their focus on very long term planning. Surely, the Great Wall is a display of that attitude.

Nigger rich is not limited to equatorial cultures, though certainly the term implies that the practice in American culture comes from people of African origin. One could argue effectively that the collapse of the global banking system is caused by greed and expediency, which are both driven by a lack of long-term vision. Certainly, part of the cause of the fall of Rome, Egypt and Athens was predicated on the devolution of the cultures into immediate gratification.

In Indonesia, the holiday of Idul Fitri is fast approaching. At this time of year, sales of gold and cars soar. People buy flash to take home to the family in the village, to show how successful they are, and then promptly sell it all when they return to the big city. In fact, the best time (for planners) to buy gold and cars is immediately following Idul Fitri, as everyone unloads the flash.

I am told quite often that the reason Indonesians are not more successful on the whole is because of their short-term view. Certainly, I have witnessed similar practices in Central America and among certain demographic groups in America. By contrast, the Dutch have been quite successful over centuries, arguably because they are notoriously cheap (think Dutch treat).

Blowing your wad on payday and saving for a rainy day seem to be competing ideas that separate indemnic poverty from long-term success. Certainly, it appears that cultures that practice nigger rich are not as successful over the long term as cultures that save. I have heard it argued that the turning point for America is when people ceased to save and started hocking themselves to the rafters to buy gee-gaws and bling. Without a doubt, it is a massive debt load that is sinking America, and western civilization with it. The American desire for immediate gratification (i.e.-Halleluia! We found the printing press) has endangered multiple generations, and the same can be said for any group whose guiding principle is "nigger rich."

So, how does all this tie together, you wonder? Well, my frustration at not being able to contact and meet people in a timely manner, and my sleeping in the men's room at the airport are examples of cultural punctuality and saving money. I was extremely put out that just one hour after telling someone that I was in town and ready to meet after a week of preparation, and all of it failed. Also, my desire for immediate comfort was not enough to overcome my desire to save money, thus I found the shelf behind the toilet and my towel to be ample for my needs.

In the end, my delay of immediate gratification paid off by having a little extra jack to buy a bottle of Absolut reward, which this time actually made it all the way home. So I guess this saving thing does pay off.

Yeah, this post is a bit rambling, I know. But I am still jet lagged and a little stiff from my cheap hotel. Hopefully, the next one will be a little more focused.

Oh, and cheers!

15.8.10

Merdeka!

Got the flag hung out just now. Tuesday is Indonesia's 65th independence day. It'll be a national holiday and there'll be neighborhood parties with games and gatherings. Of course, this year, it falls smack in the middle of Ramadan, so anything involving food and beverage will have to wait until after sundown.

A popular item on the agenda of many Indonesians is to visit the graves of the heroes. There are national cemeteries dotted around and folks buy red and white flower pedals to cover the graves. Many have direct relatives (grandfather, father, husband) buried there. The revolution is still in living memory. One 80-year-old woman has told me stories about the war. The revolution is still a powerful reminder of the empowerment of the people.

In so many ways, Indonesia is the mirror image of the United States. The US went on to develop an entrenched two-party system, that effectively means no choice. Indonesia went the other direction with about 40 parties currently vying for power. The US fractured itself into Various-Americans and spends a lot of effort dividing itself asunder, while Indonesia struggles to build a single identity from a very diverse population. Indonesia still reveres its revolutionary heroes, while the US has developed a kind of schizophrenic self-loathing regarding its Founders.

The similarities between Indonesia and the US are striking. They are both about the same physical size, though Indonesia is a lot wetter. They have about the same population and are composed of a wide variety of people with differing histories, languages and cultures. Both countries have vast natural wealth and great natural beauty. Both aspire to a republican form of government composed of semi-autonomous regions in confederation. But that's where things diverge widely.

Imagine a scenario in which the native Americans had risen up and kicked out the European invaders and you would have Indonesia. After centuries of exploitation by wave after wave of foreign invaders, the native population came together to cast off the oppressive occupations of China, Arabia, Portugal, Japan, and the Netherlands. Nation after nation has tried to control and profit from the incredible wealth of resources that are contained within the archipelago.

Indonesia consists of around 20,000 islands, ranging from the massive Borneo down to the cartoon-style "one coconut tree on a sand bar." All of the land areas where created by chains of volcanoes, many still actively creating new land today. The primary islands are Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi, and Papua or Irian Jaya. Borneo is shared by Malaysia and Brunei, which take the northern third or so. Papua is shared with New Guinea, and tiny Timor L'este takes part of a small southern island (the name means East-East, in Indonesian and Portuguese). Otherwise, Indonesia has no land borders.

The country is dominated politically and culturally by Java. The capitol is in Jakarta, which is the largest city in Indonesia, with a population of approximately 12 million. In the same way that New York dominates the media nad culture of America, Jakarta does the same in Indonesia. Television programs center around the city and Javanese culture dominates the drama and humor. Western Java (Jakarta and environs) also get the bulk of infrastructure development, with modern highways, mass transit, and so forth. Road conditions outside of Java are spotty, at best.

For this reason, many of the outlying regions resent Java. Many folks grumble about all the focus on Java and the lack of funds to improve roads and utilities. Many areas experience regular black-outs, which are relatively rare in Jakarta. Travel in most areas is tedious, if not downright hazardous due to poor roads, especially in the rainy season. It has also led to sometimes violent secessionist movements, such as in Papua, Aceh and successfully in Timor L'este. There is even a somewhat contradictory situation where people regularly protest for more jobs and better conditions, while at the same time moving to Jakarta to find them. This leads to additional pressure on the government to develop other areas, if for no other reason than to alieve the congestion caused by the mass movement of people to the city.

To its credit, the current administration led by President Bambang (SBY) has done quite a bit to open trade blocks, grant regional autonomy and decentralize the power ctructure. It is helping, as areas like Medan, East Kalimantan and northern Sulawesi have experienced good growth in both tourism and general business and trade. There is a move to build more airports so make getting around easier and faster. Communications have exploded in the past ten years with the introduction of cell phones and WiFi. There are even road projects underway to improve ground transportation. So there is hope.

Indonesia is governed by Dutch law, which comes from Napoleonic law, and thus resembles Louisiana law somewhat. There is a healthy spinkling of Sharia, and in some regions like Aceh, it is the law of the land. Muslim men are allowed to have up to four wives, as long as he can feed and care for them at some minimal level. One advantage that everyone can share are very low bank rates for loans and credit cards. Sharia forbids usury, so the gross abuse of interest rates seen in the US does not exist here.

The government is unicameral and parliamentary, with the many parties receiving seats based on votes, and then forming coalitions once seated. There is an upper-level advisory body that acts like a cross between a Senate and a Cabinet. These ministers advise and enforce policy. One advantage of the system is that it keeps the number of laws passed to a minimum because of all the disagreement within the House. This is in stark contract to the US where both parties trip over themselves to pass laws, if for no other reason than to show they are doing SOMETHING. The Indonesian laws that i have read seem fairly clear and concise, without all the mumbo-jumbo lawyering and obfuscating that goes into US law. Yes, there is indemnic corruption at all levels of government here. Every official is on the take and even competing branches feed each other. To my point of view, this is refreshing, as it is open, obvious and everyone knows it. In the US, they spend inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to legitimize the whole thing, ehich really just makes the situation worse. About the only thing that can get you in real trouble here is terrorism and drug-running, and the drugs can go away also, for a large enough sum.

The list of good and bad goes on and on. Indonesia has its problems, like any other country. As a whole, it has an inferiority complex, though. They have been told for so long that they are a third-world or developing country, that they still think there are better places "out there." Many are surprised to hear that the US and Europe are not all that different, and in recent years the gap has narrowed significantly. Part of it is also due to hundreds of years of servitude to wave after wave in invaders. They are still opening their minds to the possibilities of freedom, even as the West is selling itself into slavery.

It is exciting to live in a country where there is still a future and where people are just starting to dream really big. Here on the eve of 65 years of independence, and with a newly invigorated sense of Self, Indonesia is poised to be a powerful influence in the coming 100 years. It's wealth and creativity make it a powerhouse, if it doesn't squander the opportunity. Its internal differences are a strength, if harnessed for ideas rather than divisiveness. It is one of the few countries worldwide that is experiencing vigorous grouth right now. So the cards are stacking in favor of Indonesia. All that remains is to play them well.

Happy Birthday, Indonesia! And many happy returns.

12.8.10

Nihil Novi Sub Sole

Yup, nothing new under the sun.

Once upon a time, there was a great stand-up philosopher (sorry Mel) by the name of Tom Lehrer. He was known for putting complex ideas into simple, and hilarious, focus. Exemplii gratis:
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
It's National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It's only for a week, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!

I used to live in a predominantly Jewish country (Merica), but now I live in a predominantly Islamic country. So I think that gives me a rather good perspective when it comes to today's topic: Ramadan.

Before I start my rant, I just want to say that I have no horse in this race. What my beliefs are, are strictly my own. From what I see, all major religions have, at their cores, the same ideology and more or less the same roadmap to getting There. They all preach love, peace and brotherhood at the point of a sword, as far as I can see (with the possible exception of Buddhists). They all idolize one or two people who achieved apotheosis using their roadmap. They all sponsor a priefcraft and have secret rituals and handshakes to distinguish themselves from the Others.

For the sake of disclosure, I was raised Roman Catholic (different from those Other Catholics), and they worship a guy who is God On Earth through the sacriment of pedophilia. You can see why I got out of that one.

Anyway, I am happy to let everyone believe as they please as long as they don't force it on me. For that reason, I take some exception with groups who aggressively try to make me see their basic goodness. I have been to churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. I have listened to the arguments and I have a few good ones myself. As far as I can see, they all exist for two reasons: to take your money, and to convert more pockets.

With all that being said, I find Islam to be one of the noisiest religions around. During most of the year, the local masjid broadcasts the prayers and sermons from loudspeakers six times a day, beginning at the crack of dawn and going until sundown. However, during Ramadan, there is a new level of noise that is positively off the scale.

Don't get me wrong. Christians are pretty darned noisy. At their quietest, the churches ring bells during the day, but somehow that just doesn't rise to the level of off-key, half-asleep croaking voices amped to Kingdom Come and bellowing at 4 a.m. for half an hour every day. And yes, there are the Benny Hinns and Pat Robertsons who worship the god Media, and its Only Begotten Son, Wealth. They are a noisy lot, but they come with an off-switch, or at least you can change the channel, because most folks have long since forgotten there is an off-switch.

Jews are pretty danged noisy, as well. When no one pays attention to the them or thinks their whole 'Holocaust' thing is wearing thin, they start lobbing bombs around. They also innundate Merican media. You can't watch a single show without a token Jew making self-depreciating jokes. But, I have never found anything quite like Islam.

What brings all this up, besides my profound lack of sleep right now, is that Ramadan began yesterday, and in a country composed of about 80% muslims, that means we are all part of the fun. Why, just last night, there was a quiet parade of drummers through the neighborhood at 2:30 a.m., chanting and banging up and down the alleyways. Just as I was dozing again, the loudspeaker came alive, though the voice on it sounded like he could use a little sleep, as well. That was followed by the 5 a.m. round, which will be followed in turn every two hours today, and repeat again tonight for the next 30 days.

I'm all for fasting and purification. Do it myself, but I keep it to myself. The Christians have Lent, which is basically the same thing, but it's up to the individual and they don't spend a lot of effort telling everyone about it. Heck, here the restaurants cover their windows during the day with curtains and people avoid eating and drinking in public. Even bars, where no self-respecting muslim should be anyway, they serve in coffee mugs this month, in case the door should open and a thirsty muslim should happen to catch a glimpse inside. All they would see is a bunch of people sipping tea.

If you want an idea of what it's like, go into a traditional Catholic church on Good Friday and notice all the idols are covered in purple cloth. Now imagine that throughout an entire country, only with food.

Jakarta is pretty cosmo, so there's still pockets of normalcy around, but places like Aceh are off the scale. There, the police go around and check that NO ONE is eating or preparing food before sundown. If they find someone eating, they check your ID. If you are muslim, Allah help you. If you are some other word, they tell you to beat it. Outside the big city, most food places just shut down during the day. There are a precious few where you can get some vittles and the way you tell is by looking at the door. If it is just slightly ajar, you can grab a bite there.

Here's how it works. Muslims begin fasting with the helical New Moon using some ancient formula to calculate the month. By the Gregorian calendar, that month changes each year, but it's generall around the second half of the year. From the minute the sun peeks over the horizon (you know all those minarets around mosques...yeah) until it sets again, the muslim may not eat or drink for 30 days. That extends to swallowing your own saliva.

In practice, that also means that no one else may eat or drink either, since they don't want to see the rest of us enjoying our lives at this time of solemnity. The whole thing culminates with Idul Fitri, which I'll get to in about 28 days.

It makes teaching just a little challenging. I usually keep a bottle of water handy, because when you talk for 8 to 10 hours a day, you need a little lubrication. I have to invent all sorts of novel ways to drink without drinking. Also, you are facing a room full of kids who, well you know the Roadrunner cartoons where Coyote looks at him and he turns to a well-roasted and garnished dish? You get the idea.

And yes, even kids are expected to follow the program. Not to mention, we are all seriously sleep-deprived, so if I manage to say something coherent, the chances are it doesn't stick to anything in the audience.

So, to say I am a little annoyed as I write this should be, at the least, understandable. I like my sleep and I like to eat and drink and be merry (if at all possible). Islam was forced on Indonesia a few hundred years ago by Arab invaders, so it's not like it's a home-grown religion or something. Granted, I could live with the Hindus in Bali or the Christians in Sulawesi or central Sumatra, or I don't have to live here at all. For the that reason, I just keep my mouth shut and do as the Romans. To each their own.

What's interesting to me, though, is that even though everyone is supposedly fasting, the parade of food vendors continues, even now, hawking bread and soup and vegetables. It reminds me of an anecdote from years ago in another lifetime.

I had gone to a cousin's wedding, who happened to be Baptist. I was joined by my rather brash Wife #2. At the reception, she rather loudly queried, "What? No beer?" To which my aunt replied, "Honey, we're Baptists. We don't drink in front of each other."

And that pretty much sums up how I see the whole religion thing.

I do have one last point though. What is it with Jews and Muslims? They both regard Abraham as the father of their peoples (OK, different sons, but c'mon), they both have elaborate genital mutilation rituals (circumcision), they both wear beanies and shawls to pray, and they both shun pork and other critters as food. In fact, about the only substantial difference is the name of God/Allah/Yahweh. So for that reason alone, the rest of the world has to put up with all the saber-rattling and name-calling. Can't we all just get along?

As John Cleese might say at this point, "And now for something completely different."

11.8.10

Livin' the Old West in the New East

OK, so I go on and on about how much fun Indonesia is. Sure, it's pretty damn cool and there are lots of things, like personal freedom and the complete lack of surveillance cams, that make this a damn fine place to live. There's even the bit about how, short of murder and drug running, there's pretty much no crime that a little well-applied cash won't cure.

But...

One thing that really weirds me out is the Supreme Act of Buying Booze. To get a bottle of Absolut, we're not talking handle here...just a fifth, is like walking into Spec's and asking for a few g's of sinse and a couple of Buddha balls. Just ain't gonna happen.

Imagine, if you will, walking into the corner store and whispering to the clerk that you want a bottle of booze. They look around and reach under the counter and pull out a wad of newspaper that disguises the occult treasure. Thirty bucks for a fifth of Absolut! No tax stamp or anything, like it just fell off the duty-free delivery truck.

Oh sure, you can get the local rot-gut from Manado, Mansion House, for three bucks a pint. It has all the flavor and panache of colored water, though five or six pints will cop a buzz. The vodka is made from manggo juice, which pardon me for pointing this out, but vodka is made from starches, like potatoes.

If you're lucky, you have a rich buddy who runs to Bali on a regular basis and brings you oleh-oleh of arak, which tastes like Gran Marnier. I mean, have you ever tried to get drunk on Gran Mariner? You start to feel like Anita Bryant after three or four shots, singing, trashing gays and pitching Florida oranges all at the same time.

Bali and Manado are the two places in Indonesia where you can enjoy yourself openly without 30 people standing around tsk-tsking and taking notes for the local morality police.

You can get local brew, which amounts to two kinds of red wine aged about ten minutes. One is anggur merah (red wine) that is basically drinking Welch's grape juice with a hang-over. The other is anggur orang tua, or old man wine. It is a spiced wine with a licorice flavor that is mixed 50-50 with lager. Both are considered VERY low class and no Indonesian of stature would be caught drinking such things. Another one is cap tikus, which more or less means mouse piss. It is distilled coconut milk and has a proof of around 100 (hard to say for sure since it's moonshine). The real stuff is imbued with a fetal deer, something like the worm in a bottle of mescal. Let's just say that after a few rounds, you'll eat the deer and just about anything else in sight.

So anyway, what this was all about in the first place are the Nazis in Singapore. There I was in the Singpore airport for six hours and all I could think about for a month before was buying a decent bottle of Absolut (a handle, no less) to take back to Jakarta for my 49th birthday. Keep in mind it has been about two years since I had a decent bottle of world-class hooch to play with here. Wanting to make sure I didn't forget or run out of money before I got my prize, I bought the bottle on the way out of customs. I carefully loaded it in my day-pack and proceeded to enjoy the airport amenities.

After escaping the BOHICA, I went to the huge tote board at the front of Terminal 1, where I learned that my return flight to Jakarta was leaving on-time (har har har! an Indonesian flight going to Indonesia leaving on-time) from Terminal 3. I jumped the scooter train and landed at T3, where I checked in early, got my boarding pass and all was right with the world.

I wound my way to Harry's Pub, which is the free (non-first class/club member) watering hole and met Brian, a 20-something Aussie on his way to Greece for two weeks to enjoy a woman. Things must really be bad in Oz to go to all that trouble. We gabbed over a couple of delicious Tiger beers, alternating rounds.

At one point, I looked at my watch. 8:15. Still had an hour to get to the plane. Time for one more.

"Are you sure," Brian asked. "I have 9:15."

Oh SHIT! I had forgotten to set my watch for Sing time, which is an hour ahead of Jakarta. I now had 5 minutes to make a mad dash to somewhere, since I didn't really know where the gate was. I had planned on a leisurely walk there, not a panicked scramble across the sterile rabbit warren that is Sing airport. When I made it to the gate, sweating and out of breath, I noticed that passengers were still disembarking from the previous flight. Why had I run? It's an Indonesian airline flying to Indonesia. We'll be lucky to get wheels up 45 minutes late.

As I stood in line to go through the Nazi scanning device, I cooled down and started thinking in Indonesian again so that I would be prepared to return home. I clutched my precious bottle and smiled.

I passed through the radiation zone and was about to take my bag and wait well past the posted time to board the plane when an attractive, uniformed Indonesian woman said, "Is that a bottle of alcohol in your bag?"

"Oh, yes. It's just one, so I don't need a customs slip right?"

"May I see it?"

"Of course," I said, opening my bag and showing her the contents.

"Oh, I'm afraid I have to confiscate it."

"W-H-A-T??!!"

She pulled out the precious bottle, still SEALED, nestled in its nice little plasic souvenier shopping bag, with the receipt resting comfortably at the bottom.

"Sorry sir, I have to take it."

"W-H-A-T??!!"

"It's not in a sealed bag."

"The bottle is sealed. See?" I pointed to the factory wrap still staunchly in place around the cap.

"They're supposed to put this in a sealed bag when you buy it," she offered.

"This is how they gave it to me!"

"Then I'm sorry, I have to take it."

"W-H-A-T??!!"

Noticing a disturbance, a stern Chinese woman with a butch haircut came over to inspect the goings-on. I explained that I had purchased the bottle at duty-free and was taking back for my birthday celebration and that it had been since I had enjoyed such fine quality hooch and surely there must be some mistake here. She was unmoved.

I explained how I had bought it at duty-free on the way in so I didn't forget it and that it was the only oleh-oleh I had purchased. I mentioned how the price was the same coming and going and how the bottle had never been opened and look, the receipt shows I bought it only hours before.

"When you bought it, it was expected that you would consume it in Singapore," she replied in a perfect cartoon Asian accent.

"W-H-A-T??!!"

The stern Chinese woman returned to her post and I was left facing the Indonesian woman. I offered the obligatory bribes and gave her my cell number promising a wild night on the town when she got shore leave. I begged and pleaded and did my best Tiny Tim act. I could see that she was ready to relent and was looking around for some way to take me up on my offers, being Indonesian and all.

"Can I just drink it all right here?" I sobbed.

At this point, the Chinese woman reappeared and said that I could, but then she could not let me on the plane because I would be inebriated. Keep in mind that I had spilled a beer on myself at Harry's, so I already smelled like a brew pub at closing time. I didn't like the Chinese woman. To her credit, the Indonesian woman would have taken the bribe, I could see it in her eyes. But, in Sing, she would have lost her job. At home, she would have gotten a promotion.

Finally, they were calling my flight and I had to relent. Other than grab and run, nothing short a good distraction was going to help this situation, and no distraction was forthcoming.

Some damn agent with airport security got my bottle. The bastards. i hate that. They take it from you because you were going in the wrong direction when you bought it, and then they take it home and enjoy it while laughing at you for buying them a drink.

I've never liked all the asenine rules about customs and I certainly have no love lost with anything calling itself an agent. I do, however, appreciate the Indonesian acceptance of bribery. You see, if I pay a bribe and get what I want, it's so much better than having something confiscated under some obscure rule and then used by an agent. All that means is that I paid a bribe for nothing, so they can enjoy my booze, pen knives and lighters. In the end, bribery keeps things more on the level and there is no pretense. There's a reason 'force' is the root of 'enforcement.' At least with bribery, there's no force, everyone's happy and the general bullshit level stays pretty low.

I shoulda been born in the Old West, but at least I have Indonesia.

10.8.10

Escaping A Run-Away Train

So, you've decided that now is the time to leave Merica and see how the rest of the world lives.

It's not enough to want it, you have to figure out how to do it. You need income and usually a sponsor to get work visas in other countries. Most countries are not as tolerant of illegal workers as Merica has been for many years now. Some countries actively recruit workers with specialized skills, while others make it almost impossible to enter the workforce. If you are at retirement age and have the where-with-all, there are some countries that have special visas just for you.

This article is intended to be the opener for a series that will detail what I know and have learned of Asian opportunities. Some of the resources provided will help with other regions, as well. All of this is intended to be a guide, but by no means a definitive source. You will have to perform due diligence. Immigrations laws change constantly and I have enough work just keeping up with Indonesia. You must do your own research, too. There is a relatively large community of ex-pats worldwide, many of whom write blogs and sites to help others make the jump.

My advice will, of necessity, be focused on Indonesia, since that is where I have chosen to live and because I have nearly three years experience getting around here. Where possible, I will provide more general information and links to other sites with more resources than I have.

I will state this again...YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. MILAGE AND RESULTS WILL VARY. Moving overseas is not easy, especially with families and it takes planning and careful study. It is not, however, impossible.

With all that said, what is the first step? Easy! Remember what Yoda told Luke? "You must unlearn all that you have learned." Merica is not the greatest country on Earth, nor the most free, nor does it have the best of everything. The voice in your hear that keeps telling you that is a script that was implanted back in elementary school and reinforced by daily propaganda from the boob toob. You also need a sense of adventure and a willingness to take the Leap of Faith, because even with ample preparation there is always an element of risk in every choice. I jumped with one carry-on bag and one checked bag and a thousand bucks in my pocket. It now takes a truck to move everything I have after less than three years. So don't worry about what you leave behind, only about what you will do when you land.

Which means you will need a plan. Not just any plan, but one with several layers of back-up. I am on Plan G right now, so don't stop with Plan B or C. Think of at least three things you can do for a living and begin by applying for jobs in those areas. Target about three or four different countries that you want to live in. Sure, you can jump first, but why deal with more variables than you have to, right?

And don't forget the Traveler's Commandment: Figure out how much stuff you need and how much money you need. Double the money and divide the stuff in half. It works pretty darned well, in my experience.

I have traveled quite comfortably for three weeks in Europe with a camera bag and a carry-on. You can always do laundry, so minimal clothing is required. Some items that are indispensable are a towel, a can/bottle opener and a knife. You can always buy clothes as you go, so just enough for the expected weather and one good interview/work outfit will get you started. In other words, think small. You can also have things shipped over after you get settled.

But the big question remains: How do I get going?

Glad you asked. For starters, there is a very good book called,"Reinvent Yourself Overseas" by Scott McDonagh. A great website to go with the book is Escape Artist. I have personally used and benefitted from both resources. Between the two, you will find scads of links, articles, books, and official information on living and working overseas.

You will also want to visit the official government sites of your target countries. I have linked the Indonesian site on the sidebar of this blog. This will give you the latest official information concerning immigration laws and other laws affecting foreigners. For instance, in Indonesia in the past couple of years, they have changed the laws to allow foreigners to own apartments and houses, but they cannot own the land under them. Foreigners can also wholly-own some types of businesses, but the taxes and fees are onerous. If you have trusted friends in-country, you are better off going that route, if you want to start a business. Depending on the type of business, you may find that your destination country has certain benefits and supports, if it provides needed skills and jobs.

An absolute necessity is to thoroughly research the culture of your chosen countries, including rituals, beliefs, practices, and manners. The old maxim of "when in Rome, do as the Romans," applies in all cases. One mistake Mericans tend to make quite often is expecting everyone to accept and act like they do. This is called the Ugly American Syndrome. Symptoms include expecting everyone to speak English, only eating McDonald's and KFC, being oblivious to local manners, and trying to enforce Political Correctness on other cultures. Thirty years ago, when the dollar was king and everyone wanted to be Merican, you might have gotten away with it, but now it can be downright dangerous to your health.

Keeping a low profile is always advisable. Don't advertise that you are Merican and certainly don't rub people's faces in it. Learn the local language, don't go around telling everyone how you do it at home and don't try to convert everyone to Mericanism. After all, if it was that great, you wouldn't want to escape now, would you? Slow and easy does it. You can celebrate Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, just do it quietly in your home. I even go so far as to avoid places where foreigners gather, since those places are prime targets for more radical elements. You get a lot more respect and protection by mixing in with locals and spending your time down at the neighborhood watering hole. The more you show appreciation for your host country, the more backup you will have should problems arise.

In this part, I have talked about some generalities and best practices. In future updates, I will go into actual jobs and skills that you can use to break out, including one you were born into that is quite salable anywhere in the world. All you need is a little certification and a whole set of opportunities open up. I'll also go into some of the complexities involved in visas and work papers. Stay tuned!

6.8.10

Pig in a Poke

Man Faces Jail for Taping Pig
'It's something you might expect in America'

If you look up in the federal statues the definition of a gang member, you'll find that they wear emblems, colors and clothing that identify them with a group, as well as using coded slang and jargon unique to their group. Hmmm...sounds like cops to me.

The word 'cop' or 'copper' is general assumed to have come from Chicago in the late 1800s, deriving from their use of copper buttons on the uniforms. In the 60s, they earned the term 'pigs' as a description of their general behavior towards the more long-haired members of society. Now-a-days, they wear para-military clothing, including GI boots, jodhpurs, and tight shirts with the sleeves rolled crisply over their bulging biceps (male and female). They wear Bat-belts hung with every type of weapon and immobilizing device that is man-portable. They bark orders at 'civilians' (no longer citizens). In other words, they look, sound and act like thugs and mercenaries. And somewhere along the way, they changed from public servants to 'officials.'

Gone is the cute Norman Rockwell image of the neighborhood cat-catcher, and here to stay is the jack-booted 'authority' who acts with impunity, regardless of the legality of his or her actions. As Ovid put it centuries ago, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?" Who watches the watchers?

In fact, isn't that the whole problem with government? We, the people, put some folks in charge of watching the store and then go on vacation. Come to find out they are hauling the goods out the back door while smiling at our faces. They all seem to develop that 'cop walk' thing where they mosey around like the cock of the walk, strutting their tail feathers. They all start to look self-important and take on this air of 'authority,' even though we are, ipso facto, the authorities and they serve our interests.

The whole thing is fed by cop shows on the plasma-screen god. These shows depict cops with virtually limitless powers, able to torture, break and enter, capture and detain. The cops don't need warrants, they act on hunches and step outside the law because it is expedient, and we all know the bad guy is guilty, so we can forgive a little fudging on the rules, right? It's not just us normal people watching those shows. The cops watch too, and the shows feed that sort of god-like status that surgeons develop. They think because the boob-toob shows them at work that they are a sort of celebrity class with magical powers.

The whole mess is fed by DAs who watch their own shows about god-like lawyers, and courts presided over by judges who, by virtue of their positions, think they are omnipotent. Plus, the judges and lawyers who get reputations as being cop-friendly receive get-out-of-jail cards, so they can break the law with impunity, because there is no one else to watch the watchers. And then the whole damn bunch of them want to be CONgress-critters, and so create the onerous laws we live with while they skate around with their little cards, doing what we all wish we could.

The whole thing is a vicious circle of crony-ism and ego feeding, run by a bunch of cowards who need the 'power' of the law to fill their empty souls.

I have personally seen cops pull up records in the cruiser because they take a shine to the cute girl in the car next over. I have sat in the car while they tear 80 mph down the street in a 35 zone because, well, who's gonna pull them over? I have borne witness to cops violating dozens of laws but none are punished, or even reprimanded. Not even the slightest tap on the wrist. As Mel Brooks observed in Men In Tights, "It's good ta be da king!"

So, how do we stop this crud? Easy...as the article linked above shows, they are all terrified of unvarnished truth. Cameras and the internet have a way of leveling the playing field. If just five people stopped and recorded every traffic stop and 'police action,' and then posted the results of misdeeds on the 'net, I just betcha things would turn around in a hurry. And if the cops start taking heat to be on the level, then you can bet the DAs and judges will start flying right because the get-out-of-jail cards will dry up. If they can surround us with cameras watching our every move every minute of every day, then it's good for the gander, as well. It's such a simple act and really wouldn't take that much effort on the part of any given individual. Just imagine what could happen with an empowered citizenry. Why, there'd be civil liberties again and false prosecutions and incarcerations would disappear almost overnight. Suddenly, the cops and the rest of their ilke would have a little respect for us 'civvies.' After all, who pays their salaries, pensions, holidays, and other benefits? Yup, you and me.

We've been lax. We let the servants take over the house. The time for revolution has come. But, how many people have thought that you don't need guns and bloodshed to revolt? All you need is 300 million people with cameras who are willing to take a couple of minutes any time they see cops in action. The effect would be almost immediate and not a shot fired. Just a few shots posted. It's so simple. Don't let all the bluster about throwing people in jail deter you. First, if everyone does it, they can't stop it. Second, how can it possibly be illegal to record public servants, acting in their public capacity, doing something in public, be illegal? If 300 people showed up to every trial like the one above with cell phone cameras and recorded the DA and judge in action, what're they going to do about it?

You can still have the cop cups at the local Stop n Go. You can still have the free donuts and cop plates at the local diners. You don't have to give up the soft bribery to change the offensive behavior. Heck, even take some shots of the nice cops who don't look like Nazi brown-shirts and post praising videos of them to reward good behavior. And stop with all the cop and lawyer shows, or at the very least, show them acting in a manner consistent with the constitutional limitations on their 'authority.'

So, one problem solved. Anything else you need from the Far Side, while I'm here?

The Truth Will Out-Some Banky Panky

You've been had by a banking cabal

The above linked article is from the Bloomberg News Service. It is not some wild-eyed, lone blogger in the wilderness. It is not some Mel Gibson-esque Conspiracy Theory. It is, in fact, Congressional testimony. Not that coming from Congress makes it any more true, God forbid, but it does give it an air of seriousness.

What we are told in the article is that AIG (American International Group, Inc), whose imminent failure over credit default swaps, was the impetus for the multi-trillion dollar bailout of the banking system. It is revealed that AIG was in no way in danger of failing, but the collapse of the swaps would have given the Federal Reserve a black eye in the credibility department.

So, to clarify, a private corporation (The Fed), which owns our money (The Dollar) was about to have a serious crisis of CONfidence because of the imminent failure of another private corporation (AIG) to back its BullSh*t. They then engineered a tax-payer-funded bailout where the Fed bought up the swaps using our taxes to ensure that the truth would not come out, to whit: it's all a huge scam.

And people wonder why I left that God-forsaken country.

Cut to the audience (the American People) sitting hypnotized in front of their God Boxes (TVs) having intellectual pablum shoved into their fluoride-addled brains while gobbling McPlastic food. For some reason, they aren't lamp-posting the whole lot. Can't imagine why. They have been mass-media-ed into a devolutionary stupor, unable to provoke, much less feel a strong emotion, such as outrage. In fact, the image is not unlike those characters we make fun of who sit transfixed by the Benny Hinns of the mediasphere and blankly hand over money whenever it's requested.

"In God We Trust," and by the way Brother, could you bail out AIG while you're praying to the plasma-screen god so your humble masters...I mean servants bravely battle the forces of darkness who want to lower your standard of living.

Oops, that ol' standard of living just got shot in the back and the last man standing works for the Fed.

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, you have been horn-swaggled by a bunch of crooks who looked you square in the eyes and told you the "End Is Nigh," while taking every last penny from you and your progeny.

But, don't be upset. It's for your own good. Here, we'll give you free health care and a life-time supply of anti-psychotic drugs to make you feel better. Where have I read this before? Oh yeah, Aldus Huxley's Brave New World.

If you screw your eyes and furrow your brow just right, and stand over here on The Far Side, you can almost see the humor in it. From the Founding Fathers to George Orwell, from the Elders of Zion to conspiracy nuts, the whole danged thing has been telegraphed for at least two centuries. We have been so bamboozled that we are incapable of, 1) recognizing the situation, and 2) doing something about it. Granted, without training, you always experience a certain amount of shock when you come upon a traffic accident with mangled bodies, but it's time to snap out of it.

Is it too late? Well, do the math, shall we. Cabal=couple hundred thousand, people=7 billion. Nope, looks like a slam dunk to me. Just have to wake up long enough to get mad about something.

The information in the above Bloomberg article is Lassie, and we are Timmy. We are unconscious and Lassie is barking her fool head off to wake us up before the train squishes us like a bug. She pulling and tugging at our limp body, licking our face, doing anything to get us off the tracks. Good ol' Lassie. Wish she had someone to run to, to get help, but there are seven billion Timmys out here and not many Lassies around.

So, just to review, the Federal Reserve is a private corporation, and if you pull out your last dollar there and look at the top, it says Federal Reserve Note. That's right, you don't own that dollar. You are a slave to the company store and that company store is foreclosing on your future. Doncha think it's about time to fight back? Doncha think you and me should own our money, like it says in that nasty ol' Constitution?

The Far Side ain't so much a place as it is a state of mind. All it takes is just a cup of cosmic Java and a pastry or two and you can see it too. Like good ol' Rod Serling used to say,

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Far Side.

OK, so I changed it a little.

Hope to see you here soon.

3.8.10

Far Side Waxing

Dengue Fever in Florida
Lazy-ass Do-Nothing CONgress
Fiddling While Rome Burns
More Fiddling About While Pompeii Burns Too
A Trillion Here, A Trillion There...
What's A Little Extinction Among Friends?
Creating the Self-Fulfilling Prophesy
Americans Quittin' n Buggin' Out
The Great and Powerful Oz



The first thing you should notice about the above links is that they are not wild-eyed bloggers (like me), conspiracy nutjobs or 'fringe elements.' These are 'mainstream' media outlets talking about America's long dark tea-time of the soul (sorry Douglas Adams).

In fact, America has been in decline for a long time. I was aware of it somewhere around the Reagan Administration. At that time, I pointed out to my father the old wisdom that the hunter must become the hunted. By extension, America must become like Soviet Russia and vice versa. It would seem that my observation was somewhat precient.

The above articles document Americans changing nationalities (defecting), living conditions devolving to 'third world' standards and a growing revolutionary fever. Does this sound like the richest, most powerful nation on Earth? Or a tin-pot poseur with a microphone and amplifier?

Outbreaks of dengue fever and epidemics of bedbugs sure sound like the kind of conditions we used to point at 'lesser' countries and snigger at how backward they were. We were so proud of our progressive welfare state that turned an entire nation into a bunch of teat-suckers. We had all the latest toys and geegaws, while those 'lesser' nations were still mucking around in the jungle. Hell, just watch any version of King Kong, which all begin with the capture of the beast on Borneo (Indonesia). Notice how the natives are depicted. Now take a clear and serious look at American cutlture and lifestyles. From over here on the Far Side, I don't see much difference. Even has the sacrificial female re: Congresscritter Waters.

When the Financial Times headlines that Americans are bailing out, then you can smell a trend. We're not just talking ex-pat status, but throwing out the citizenship baby with the burdensome-taxes bathwater. Remember all the stories and movies about Russian defectors? Remember how we would point to that as proof that we were better than 'them?' Remember when being anti-government was simply unthinkable? We couldn't imagine someone not liking America or wanting to be an American. The whole world wanted to be American! They all wanted dollars and McDonald's. Well, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wants dollars now, and gosh, McDonald's is about as healthy as eating raw plastic, except the plastic doesn't come with artery-damming fat. In fact, America's veil of bullsh*t has grown so thin that even the Mexicans are running the other way across the river. The image of rats from a sinking ship comes to mind.

When all you have left is jingoism, then the game is up. Insecure and inwardly weak, the bully boasts loudly and protects his piece of turf against all enemies, both foreign and imagined. The dying power resorts to slogans and invading ill-prepared countries in order to display the tail feathers of past glory. Sadly, America has completely lost sight of what made it great. It wasn't the ability to reduce other nations to rubble. it wasn't the nanny-state welfare system that encouraged sloth. It wasn't even its industrial might. It was one very simple act. So simple, in fact, that it has become almost invisible, yet the implications of this one act are so profound as to be Earth-shaking. The original idea that made America great was that government stepped aside and let people build themselves up. But once regulations and laws and fees and taxes and agencies and authorities (when did they go from servants to authorities?), all was lost. It was only a matter of time before the bloated, rotting carcass would collapse on itself and belch forth streams of maggots.

I am reminded of a famous quote. Who was it? De Tocqueville or Tyler? "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."

It would seem that dictatorship has decended upon America.

Things don't look good for America from here on the Far Side. We have about the best perspective one can have, whether physically, culturally and psychologically, that can be achieved on the surface of Earth. What we see here doesn't look good for America's future. Oh, sure...you can argue semantics or say that it ain't so bad "'cause ah live here an' things is jes fine." Hard to see the forest through those darned trees.

My father had a sign on his desk when he was in the Texas Legislature. It read, "When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember that your first thought was to drain the swamp." When Clinton was in office, people looked fondly back at Bush the First. When Bush the Second was installed, people actually thought Billy wasn't so bad. Now we have Bammy and folks wish that we could have Bush the Second back in there. The line of outrage always moves forward, and the trailing line of nostalgia is in lock-step behind it. Remember Nixon? People beat their breasts and lamented the end of the Republic. Now the Watergate break-in seems insignificant to the level of crap flowing from the Beltway.

Two and a half years ago, I announced to my circle of friends and family that I was moving to The Far Side. The most common response: "Indonesia...is that in Bali?" Most others thought I was just plain crazy moving to the Third World from good ol' Merica. Now, many of those same people want to know how they can move here too. Such is life. A visionary is always considered crazy until he is proven right.

A little perspective goes a long way.

And such is Life on the Far Side.