Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Happy Birthday, Dear Bruvva
My bruv is working towards his black belt in jujitsu and he rocks! With mighty fists of steel.
This is going to have to wait until I get home. But it will be fun. Oh yeah.
The Story of Ganesh
Once upon a time, there was a god called Shiva. His nickname may give you some idea of his character - "The Destroyer". And he had a wife called Pavarti. Now Pavarti was pregnant with their child. When the time of delivery came, Shiva wasn't there. He was off fighting demons - or so he claimed. More likely he was sinking a couple of schooners of soma with Vishnu. Anyway, Pavarti gave birth to beautiful boy, who being a god was born fully formed (not an easy birth but that's gods for you).
Anyway, Shiva came back tired and emotional from "fighting demons" and what happened next is not really clear. Some say that Shiva walked in a found Pavarti in bed with a strange young man (her son) and went wild with jealousy (and possiby a little guilt), drew his sword and cut the luckless lad's head clean off. Shiva then kicked the severed extremity over the horizon. Others say that this is sub-Freudian bollocks and that what really happened was that the young man was standing guard at the door whilst his mother rested when he was accosted by a strange, three-eyed gentleman wearing a snake as belt who demanded to see Pavarti. The lad demurred whereupon the furious god unshealthed his blade and decapitated the object of his wrath. Either way, the baby deva was without a bonce. Pavarti was furious. "Not only were you absent from the birth, Shiva, but you have just beheaded our child. Get him a head. Now."
Despite being called the Destroyer, Shiva was a good husband and aghast at what he had done. So he rushed out and, lo and behold, the first animal he should encounter was an elephant. He pleaded with the animal for its head. The elephant informed Shiva that it needed its head at least as much as he did but that seeing Shiva was a god and all, it would help him out. Shiva returned with the pachyderm's head and attached it to the lad's body. And that is why Ganesh has the head of an elephant.
Why do I like this story so much? Coz if you go into any Hindu home, you'll probably find a statue of Ganesh there. They call him the Remover of Obstacles and the Lord of Boundaries. If you want something sorting out, Mr G may be able to give you a hand. Coz if you have the head of an elephant due to parental decapitation then everything else must seem like pretty small potatoes. There's always a way out but it may not be the obvious one.
Overpaid, oversexed and over here
"Bule (Western) women are just about OK. They can be reformed. Bule men are beyond the pale however. Probably all drug-addicted sex maniacs. Most of the Bule guys have trouble getting a relationship here without an imediate promise of commitment. Some of the office girls were told by their parents not to talk to the English teachers. They were terrified of us."
I have to say that on the whole, the Javanese are some of the most helpful people I have ever met. If you look lost, people will come up to you in the street, take you to the place you want to go and even work out itineraries for you on the spot (you should go here at this time coz you get the best views and then go there coz there are fewer people around and be sure to avoid there coz its full of touts and so on) with no outside agenda of their own. How lovely.
Solo vs Jogja
These 2 central Javanese cities apparently have a long-standing rivalry going on as to who is the real home of Javanese cultural. Soloeans say they have the better Gamelan players, the better artists and dancers but they get poached by better-known, fly-by-night Jogja. They mutter darkly that this wouldn't have been the case if the Sultan of Solo hadn't supported the Dutch in the battle for Independence. The Jogjeans say this is all sour grapes. But then they would say that.
Solo has 2 Kratons (royal palaces). In one they have museum with pretty much everything the royal family has ever owned (including chastity belts based on the principle of magic rather than locks/keys).
I imagined everything I had ever owned being put on public display. It wouldn't really amount to much. A few hundred tapes and CDs. Some books and clothing. A 1983 vintage Raleigh BMX burner.
That's about it really.
Big up James! I spent the first half of last week in Solo staying at his place. J teaches English to bored Chinese-Indo young people and is good vaue. For Christmas we went to Jogja and staying with Ker and Odie - who also rock.
Many thanks to you all for your hospitality.
Happy New Year to you all. I went to Kuta, Bali for NYE. Now, I can see all you hardcore travellers at the back turning your noses up - "But.. but... it's a tacky beach resort." Korrectamundo. And therefore has good restaurants, nice shops and a fair few scantily-clad young people.
As 2003 became 2004, I stood surrounded on a beach by people blowing paper trumpets (these are de rigeur on NYE in Indonesia and have been on sale for weeks) with a bunch of guys drumming for their lives and young tykes letting off extremely powerful fireworks all around me.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
There is a monkey forest in Ubud. At the end of Monkey Forest Road oddly enough. And it's full of monkeys. With mohicans and bad attitudes - so punk monkeys in fact. And around them there are statues of monkeys - one notable one with a big grin on his face. Whythe grin - well, maybe the large erection he's holding in one prehensile fist is reason enough.
And thru some odd, associative train of thought I remembered Monkey Mafia. In 1998, they released their only album "Shoot The Boss". They were lumped in with yer FatBoy Slims and yer Chemical Bros at the time, but MM didn't do so well and disappeared shortly after this.
Shoot The Boss is not a Big Beat album - if anything it's the estranged half-brother of Basement Jaxx's Remedy.
Clue: Packaging. Open up FatBoy Slim's #1 album and you get a pair of tits. Open up StB and you get pictures of the Watts riots. the vibe is militant from the get-go. Somehow, Jon Carter has been possessed by the rudeboy spirit of Jamaica. Rather than make some awful roots reggae record like all the other whiteboys, he's gone dancehall instead. The opening three tracks ("Jah Music", "Blow the Whole Joint Up" and "I am Fresh") smash into you like the bullbars on an SUV. The version of "Lion in the Hall" isn't as good as the one off "15 Steps", and we'll skip Steppa's Ball. And I have to take a cold shower after listening to "Work Mi Body". Then it all gets a bit weird. Ward 10 has seen something nasty in the dancehall, the Whore of Babylon is an evil electro nightmare and Metro Love sounds like a nervous breakdown. Things look rather bleak at this point but the 7th Cavalry appear in the raggatastic Healing Of The Nation. The last two tracks are gorgeous. Retreat Wicked Man is an exorcism of the preceding nastiness. The organ glows like raindrops in the afternoon sun and the sampled vocals make you happy to be alive. As Long As I Can See The Light is a Credence Clearwater Revival cover. And is a blinking lovely.
Coz StB is a redemption album, a Pilgrim's Progess/Divine Comedy in slack dancehall clothes.
Who would thunk it?
It is dark. It is raining. And worse, it is 4.30am. I have left the hotel at the crater's edge and slowly navigate my way downwards with the aid of a torch. I do not know where I am going. The path is steep but soon ends on a flat plain. Where do I go now? There is a light in the distance. "Go towards the light I think". There aren't mainly other options. I trudge on. The sky is getting lighter. Thru the murk, a man on horseback gradually appears. It's all rather like Lawrence of Arabia - but set in Whitby rather than, er, Arabia. "Transport?" he says. I decline the horse. I've walked this far and dammit I'll continue on foot. I pass a temple shrouded in mist and reach an encampment at the foot of a hill. I follow a crowd of Javans up the hill. I am wearing Timberland boots, they have flipflops. I feel like a big Western wuss. The hill is not a hill. It is the caldera of a dormant volcano, belching sulfur into the sky. The sun rises over one side of the volcano and the rain stops. The walking and rain have been worth it - and how. Trying to capture the view in words would be futile. I walk round the rim of caldera. The surprising thing is how soft the cone is - it's all volcanic ash which melts away when presure is applied.
Bromo. Cool as.
Friday, December 26, 2003
I spent Christmas Day cooking pasta for Javanese skate punks.
My list of top Christmas treats:
1. Bread fried in bacon fat.
2. The doll-based video for Sum 41's Hell Song.
3. Garlic potatoes.
4. Bribing security guards with alcohol.
5. Watching toodlers fight with dogs (no betting took place unfortunately).
I Say, I Say, I Say
Just as the speed of light is constant in a vauum, so watching person A kick person B up the arse on stage is universally funny. For want of something to do last Saturday I went to a Javanese music hall night. Well, it was free and out of the rain. The band were gamelan and after a bit of floaty dancing a middle-aged man and woman duo took to the stage (and to the kicking also). I had a vague feeling of deja-vu. The action then moved to a Javanese royal court where the bickering couple reappeared and the slapstick repetoire was expanded to include hitting each other with shoes. I'd like to tell you what happened next but I went home to bed. Sorry.
I have been in the waiting room for an hour - only three more to go before the train has come. It's not so bad, the air-con and MTV Asia are keeping my spirits up. My idyll is shattered as three of the campest Javanese men I have ever seen enter the room. One of them speaks English and we get to talking. He's a pharmacist turned barman (just moving from one form of pain relief to another kids). We talk a lot. Then he tells me a secret - he's bisexual. I am too exhausted to feign surprise. I assure him he's far too well-dressed to be straight and catch the sleeper train.
Javanese overnight trains are rubbish and I hide in my corner until the train pulls into Surabaya at 5.30am.
so I'm in this minibus with a middle-aged dutch bloke called bill and bill's violently sick and blames it on my face and i tell him it's his own fault for being an old man and with this spirit of bonhomie he asks me if i want to check out this hotel run by a dutch couple that's been recommended to him and i go along for want of anything better to do then go down the beach which is about an inch wide and covered in grey sand i meet bill and he begs me to save him from the other dutch people apparently they all sit around and talk about the state of the roads back home so we go to the hot springs where dragons puke green, sulphurous water on your head and then we hunt for dolphins in tiny boats but THE DOLPHINS ARE TOO FREAKIN' CLEVER then we hide from netherlanders in bar deserted except for javanese idol wannabees and then i get the hell off bali in search of punctuation
Monday, December 22, 2003
Ubud is where you go for a bit a kulcha on Bali. You can get to see various forms of Balinese dance: including the Legong, the Barong/Rangda amd Kecak.
Legong dances are essentially the dances of the Hindu Balinese/Javanese royal courts. Like most aristocratic types, they are elegant and extremely neurotic. Posture and expression are everything.
The Barong (yay!) is a big cuddly thing somewhere between a chinese dragon and a pantomime horse in appearance. The Barong is symbolic of all that is good in the universe. The Rangda (boo! hiss!) is an evil witch that does battle with the Barong.
For my money, the Kecak is the best. Dancers performing the Ramayana are accompanied by a 50-strong chorus of men who provide a hypnotic rhythmic accompaniment.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Thursday, December 11, 2003
I didn't know what to do for Christmas until a few weeks ago. I was sitting in a hotel bar in Double Bay gossiping with a colleague when all of a sudden it hit me: I loathe Christmas.
Now Christmas is fine if you are a kid. It may even be bearable if you have kids but as a single man with no offspring, it offers little in the way of pleasure. Everywhere is shut and everything has tinsel wrapped round it.
Having reached this epiphany, others swiftly followed: I had 4 weeks of holiday left to take by the end of Jan 2004. It might be best to spend Christmas in a non-Christian country. The nearest such country is Indonesia.
Two days later I had a return ticket to Bali (leave on Saturday) and a replenished stock of imodium.
I have spent the last month irritating the hell out of my friends and colleagues about this trip.
As this trip was paid for by somebody else, I was staying in plush hotels rather than the dives I normally frequent. The whole experience is rather underwhelming. It's nice having somebody fold yer towels for you and getting to open a fresh sachet of soap every day - but apart from that? Nah - gimme back the sleaze.
Korea used to have its own monarchy. Who lived in palaces. Then the Japanese came and did away with that in the early years of last century. The palaces are now shells of their former selves - and altho simple and beautful, have a melancholic air about them. In the National Museum next to the main palace, there are two large scale models of the palace - one before and one after Japanese occupation. A big sign said all but said: "Look what you did, you Jap bastards, look, just f***ing look!!!!"
Seoul was actually quite interesting. It's 40km to the DMZ with North Korea. So on a day off, I went there.
It was cold and pissing down with rain - appropriate Cold War whether. I was on a tourist bus with a bunch of Hyundai workers from Alabama. Apparently this was a month long training course / holiday for them - although most had elected to go home early.
The best bit was the tunnel. You get to go down the tunnel in a little car like a rollercoaster for midgets. You then walk along the tunnel - which ends abruptly before the DMZ.
"I know guys, we'll build a tunnel under the DMZ and send our glorious troops through. The running dogs of capitalism will never suspect a thing!" [cue much evil, manical laughter]
I know it's supposed to be serious, but it's kinda hard to take the whole thing seriously.
Japan and Korea
I spent a hectic week visiting Tokyo and Seoul at someone else's expense. However, I don't have that much to say except that I ran a course with a Vietnam vet who roadied for Sly Stone.
Oh and this guy writes about Japan in a very funny way.
I learnt to drive when I was 17. The instructress was this Hyacinth Bucket-type woman who slapped the dashboard to make rhetorical points, almost causing me to crash. For one reason and another (mainly laziness) I haven't been behind the wheel of a car for nearly a decade. As most of Australia is only visitable by car, I decided it was time to get a vehicle. But not wanting to kill the innocent, I got some lessons first.
My new instructor was a talkative, pendantic pom of whom I grew strangely fond over time. Apparently I have problems looking attentatively at the road. It is a good measure of my inattention that it took me over month to notice that he only had one leg. Eventually I steered the conversation round to enquire how he lost said limb.
"In a car crash", he replied.
I asked him how he felt about the loss of his leg. "Best thing that ever happened to me", he said before outlining the benefits that had accrued to him since.
Gotta admit that I like his attitude.