The airport and the orchid

Because I am going to be in this airport for the next 17 hours, now is a better time than any to get down my feelings about my last day in Bali. Granted, this last day will be spent leeching internet, chugging coffee, avoiding the pestering of taxi drivers, and smoking the occasional stress cigarette, and I will probably sleep on the ground at some point, but I like airports. I like that they are always busy. I like that there are a lot of bathrooms and places to eat. When you are obsessed with food, it only stands to reason that you will make it your business to know where food is in any given setting. This is not in case you get hungry and want something to eat. It’s actually about keeping your enemy close, because of course you are always hungry and because of this you are always afraid to eat. Incidentally, depending on the kind of eating disordered person you are, it may also stand to reason that you will also make it your business to know where the bathrooms are in any given setting.

Before I came to Bali I predicted that a drastic change of scenery would have an effect on the way I organize my life around food, and I was right. I also hoped that being in a new environment, one full of more and different stimuli than I can expect to find at home, would reduce the amount of bingeing and purging that I do, and I was wrong. These statements should be antithetical to one another, but they aren’t. I’m learning that the subtleties of consumption and nourishment make it a more complex matter than calories in and calories out, and while in a sense your mental illness will insist on this as dogma, it will also convince you that there is more to weight gain and loss than mere physiology (transgression, culpability, guilt, purity, intent, desire, etc.). Which is to say, your ED is always lying, and because of this saddles you with a lot of contradictions. Losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you consume, it will tell you; but then it will insist that losing weight is simultaneously reliant on other practically metaphysical criteria, and is governed by your value as the person who is Bad.

I don’t know if I am communicating this very well. This was supposed to be a post about Bali, and how I am not sure if I would ever come back, and how would just really love to sleep in my own bed right now, and how the orchid at this table is that fuchsia that only tropical organisms seem to be able to express. Except for its clitoris — the two small wings gathering around it, attached to the corrugated tongue at its low center — its petals are uniform in their coloring. The orchid’s sexual organs, such as they may be, are of a darker shade, a true purple, the kind that might possibly exist in cold climates as well as the subtropics, its striations melting away into the yellow throat, over which is peppered that same, almost hiemal, purple.

How, if you hike the hills around Ubud, the insects in the tall grass through which your trail winds buzz like video game jewels.

How teenagers sprawl among them, smoking cigarettes and listening to bad music on their Blackberries, but how even over this bad music, though, you can still hear the insects, trilling like a prize.

How if your avatar sprinted through the grass, or clambered up bamboo latticework, or shimmied to the very top of the lone coconut tree to be gratified by the klaxon of a coin absorbed into its purse, its achievement would make those same sounds.

But I am too busy thinking about my body to focus on my departure and What It Means and What I’ve Learned. This fixation can cause the most intense sensations of unreality, despite the fact that there is nothing more real than the body in which I live and move. I very often wish that I could experience this fixation in a more useful way, but I guess that is the nature of neurosis. I may regret having come here under these circumstances, for reasons that probably won’t interest other people, but I can’t say that it hasn’t done anything for me. For one thing, I’m fairly certain I know what form my thesis will take. Culture shock has given me the opportunity to observe my addiction from a different perspective, and this fresh vantage point has allowed me to more or less gather my thoughts. It could just be though that the isolation has forced me to be more productive.

Over the course of writing this post, I’ve whiled away eight hours. It’s finally dark outside, and the airport has slowed down some. I will probably go outside to stretch my legs soon, to smoke a cigarette and wander around the shitty gift shops. I still have another twelve hours until my flight. I am still very far away from home.

Nothing Sweater: Survival In The Age of Chivalry

“Nothing sweeter,” he said. I was sitting behind him on his motorbike. Touched by this poetry, I agreed with him: it did seem that there could be nothing sweeter than this, than riding in the morning on the dirt road, for a distance too short for helmets but long enough that the wind cooled your neck and hands, wrapped around the waist in front of you.

But then I put his words into context. We had been talking about a sweatshirt that one of us had forgotten at a friend’s house. “No,” I corrected him. “In English you say ‘No sweater.'” Putu repeated my words after me, pushing out the altered vowels with more care than he gave to skirting potholes. We had agreed that I would help him perfect his English, and that he would teach me Bahasa.

For me, the silliness of barely speaking another language, of grasping for clarity through the long-suffering of bilingual friends and the awkward pidgin cobbled together by tourists and the people — the valets and hiking guides and waitresses — who accommodate them, retained its novelty longer than the island of Bali itself. Wifi permitting, we communicated best through Google Translate, god bless it. It was during our first real conversation that he said: I want you to belong to me. He typed it into the text box and Google hesitated a moment as it configured, before giving me the sentiment in words I could comprehend.

I don’t belong to men, I typed back to him. I tried to memorize the words that came out on the other side, the fragments that made up a thought, which then became a thought of Putu’s own, for his own digestion, his own paradigms. My reply confused him. He typed another question: So you belong to many men? he asked, his eyes uncertain.

“Tidak,” I said aloud. No. Nobody, I typed. Contrition overtaking him, he began to apologize, but I waved it away. I care for many people, I typed. All are my friends. I do not have one pacar. I wanted to be frank with him before we slept together, so that neither of us would have expectations the other couldn’t fulfill. Still, I worried how he would respond. I wondered if this description of my sexuality would make him see me differently; or perhaps I was not giving him, and the entire Balinese culture (as if this single 20-year-old boy could represent all of it) enough credit for its modernity. I had (have) these ideas, you see, about my Westernness, about my freedom.

He took my answer with grace, it seemed, and we asked each other more questions about our respective cultures, confessing the assumptions we’d made about one another since the soccer field in Gobleg. Because of my hair, he told me, he had feared that I liked girls. When I told him that I did like girls, as well as boys, he seemed confused again. The stereotype of bi/pan people, that we fuck indiscriminately (I leave for you to unravel the value judgments attendant to this generalization, of course), did not seem to be something with which Putu had heretofore been familiar. Rather, it was his initial assumption. He began to quiz me with a list of men and women that we both knew, asking if I was sexually attracted to each one. Between my miserable Bahasa and some frantic typing, I managed to communicate to him that while in the past I have had male & female pacar, this does not mean that I want to fuck everyone I know. 

Putu and I met at a soccer game held for a group of American volunteers who had come to save the Balinese with donated tube socks and teamwork drills for young children. The first game the Americans played, however, was with a group of teenage boys gathered by our organization’s Balinese liaison. She and I watched them, the American men and the Balinese boys, playing on the small, grassless field, which had been carved into the side of the mountain and ringed with makeshift netting. Balls that escaped it were retrieved by the younger boys who watched the game. A few mothers watched the game, too, but women and girls did not play. As a rule, they were too busy working at home for the masculine pastime of soccer.

Putu was tagged out of the game at some point, and that was when I first noticed him. Had his wink been superimposed on an American boy, its cheesiness would have been awful, unforgivable. But he had a broad, friendly smile, and beautiful lips, and when he drove me back to the volunteer house over the slippery concrete trail that bound his forest village together, he drove slowly so that I would not be afraid. “You are safe with Putu,” he told me over his shoulder.

And I felt safe with him, far more so than with the American volunteers. They were the type, I had learned very quickly, that I try to avoid. Rich white cishets with jobs in finance and law and film, the type of men an Oakland queer like me becomes used to mocking, even mythologizing, on Tumblr and in “radical” IRL spaces, especially if you don’t associate with their kind on a daily basis. And I don’t, if I can help it: I am lucky enough to work from home, free, for the moment, from the semi-corporate environment for which bros of a lower socioeconomic strata than the American volunteers are bred to work. I attend a private women’s college, with an atmosphere that is more “liberal” than these Americans, casual homophobes and thoughtless, ridiculous racists, were accustomed to. 

Over the four days that I spent with them, I grew to marvel at their ability to simultaneously ignore and objectify the poverty of our Balinese friends, their playful riffing on child labor and sexual slavery always, of course, in good fun. In praising the humility and hardiness of the Balinese, they condemned them to filthy drinking water, to prohibitively expensive education, to a medical industry run by a mafia of grease-palmed professionals, as if the circumstances of capitalist neocolonialism were the natural order of things. As is typical of these sorts of men, the dictates of their common courtesy were somewhat unpredictable: it was only “chivalry” to carry a small bag for me if they had a free hand; and yet it was also acceptable to crack wise about brutalizing women, about inflicting brute head trauma so that they could rape their (/our) unconscious bodies, over a cozy meal of nasi goreng.

Putu knew about the Western notion of chivalry, too. “Ladies first,” he would say, stepping aside so that I could precede him along the foot-packed trails rimming Munduk’s terraced rice paddies. He insisted on carrying everything for me, and would take none of the money I offered for petrol, even when he drove me to another town for no other reason than that I wanted to go (the volunteer house where I stayed was forty-five minutes from the nearest ATM). He described himself as shy, embarrassed to speak with me in his rough English, as if my meager Bahasa could even compare. I am just a poor man, he explained through Google Translate. And you are a beautiful rich girl

How mightily identity shifts under our feet, I thought. In California, I am a blue-collar white boi on the track to the middle-class by way of academia. In Bali, however, I am a wealthy American woman whose bottle-blonde is as natural as Barbie’s. Like Putu, at his age I was gathering early morning and late-night shifts as an “unskilled” laborer in retail and hospitality and health care, working to make payments towards those things for which I was willing to become heavily indebted (my schooling and my medical expenses; his motorbike and his family) in hot pursuit of, someday, a better life. Here I was, a rich, white American citizen, with all the gravity of stars & stripes & drone strikes, Obama and liberty and Gay Marriage ™, behind me. Which is perhaps why I felt — why I perhaps still feel — I couldn’t really blame Putu for what eventually happened: his marriage proposal, his paranoid jealousy, his refusal to take no for answer, and all in less than a week of meeting him.

I had thought I was safe with Putu. He did not joke about raping me, like the American volunteers did. He did not leer at me, or touch me without my consent, at least not until he didn’t have it. Now, for whatever reason, I’m having this debate with myself: who is better? Or, perhaps differently, who is not worse? Forced to choose between sharing a hypothetical bed with one of the American volunteers or with Putu, with whom would I take my chances? It’s always this dichotomy with me, I guess; the alternative, to share a bed with no one at all, only emerges every once in a while, when I am especially introspective. But now that I have told Putu that I don’t want to see him again, I have a lot of free time on my hands. I don’t leave for Sideman for another three days, and until that time, I will be hiding out at a small homestay rather than stay in the deserted volunteer house, avoiding going outside so that I don’t risk seeing him on the street, the only one that wends through Munduk, a tiny town with many tinier villages surrounding it, each a clove-scented satellite of mildew and incense. 

I wasn’t even raped, only frightened and groped and pushed, by Putu; only threatened and intimidated with subtext, by the Americans. I know that I am lucky to have made it this far without worse, and as I write this, am thinking about the women and genderqueers, the trans* folx and homos, the POC and PWD, the fags and dykes, the neuroatypical and the poor, and all the permutations thereof, that I know who have lived it. The injustice lies in the imposition of this binary, and yet it is perhaps more choice than many people are given. Even this written rendering of it, done by reflex or instinct, feels futile, like time wasted doodling on scratch paper.  

Putu just texted me, asking for the umpteenth time where I am, what I am doing, if I am still his pacar. I won’t respond, of course. It’s the right thing to do, and yet it feels like the easy way out.   

Two Weeks In Bali: Celebrating With A Cockfight

Everything that I know about cockfighting — and this body of knowledge is really very small — comes from two sources: Alex Haley’s Roots, which I read way back in elementary school, and what I think was a short story, set in the Caribbean, by Truman Capote. In both texts, the cockfighting takes place in the Americas, and decades or even centuries in the past. Although I’m sure the sport, if you’ll forgive the term, continues to happen in my hemisphere, including the USA, I can’t imagine anywhere that it is more normalized than Bali. But then again, I haven’t been to many places.

From what I’ve observed in the two weeks I’ve been here, roosters, like hens and chicklets, are generally permitted to roam courtyards and rice paddies at will. Unless, of course, they are slated to fight. From Denpasar to Singaraja, you will see on what seems like every roadside lines of baskets, each with a with rooster inside. The roosters must be kept separate, to keep them from killing each other outside the arena. The Balinese version of the chicken is a lot smaller than the kind you’re probably used to seeing waddle around in the USA, but what they lack in size, they make up for with agility. These bantam-weights do some parkour shit to dodge motorbikes and dogs, their ridiculous, flapping comb be damned. I can only imagine what they’re capable of armed and pissed off.

Like many illegal activities, such as not wearing a helmet on your motorbike, or permitting a 9-year-old to drive said motorbike, cockfighting in Bali seems to done pretty openly and without fear of reprisal. If you think the function and application of a state police force is inherently oppressive, as I do, then you already know that Balinese cops, like cops the world over, are corrupt motherfuckers (although I get the impression they are easier to bribe here than in, say, the United States). The Balinese I’ve spoken to talk openly about this corruption, although they seem to mind it more in their politicians than in the polisi.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time being ferried around between cities, and since drivers tend to have better English than most Balinese, I’ve gotten the most variety of information from them. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a good listener, or that I am at least willing to listen, but a certain type of person finds it easy to talk to me, and for this type of person, I find it easier to just sit quietly rather than respond. However, today’s driver, a mustachio’ed middle-aged man named Rama, was not as big talker as other drivers I’ve met (which I appreciated: the guy that drives me from Ubud to Munduk never shuts up. Two-and-a-half hours of him testing your Balinese or Indonesian vocab would make anyone’s brain ache). We struck a good balance, Rama and I, between comfortable silences and polite questions about one another’s family and culture.

Rama has been driving for 37 years, since before there were many cars in Bali. Cars were so rare, he told me, that you didn’t even have to know how to drive. Back then, “you just drive all over the road,” he told me, cheerfully pantomiming over the actual steering wheel. I didn’t point out to Rama that this sounds an awful lot like how people in Bali drive now (not that driving in Bali, especially urban Bali, is not a fucking art form, but no one would accuse them of staying in their own lane).

While unerringly polite, Rama didn’t seem to really listen to anything I said to him. After decades of driving yappy tourists around the island, I can’t blame him for not caring how many sisters I have. It makes things simpler, too, when you are talking with someone that is only listening to their end of the conversation. You know how it is: personal questions tend to start with observable differences, and my short hair being one of them, icky gender&sexuality questions come up that no one wants to deal with. After asking Rama’s advice about finding a place to get my hair cut in Ubud, the topic of conversation turned to Balinese hairstyles, and the fact that almost literally all Balinese women have long hair. Rama noted that in Balinese culture, women with short hair are assumed to be lesbians.

At first I was concerned that the conversation was going in a bad direction, but Rama’s ensuing tangent about gay people, (un)luckily, never touched on me personally. Rama began talking about transgender people, and a told me “humorous” anecdote about a Balinese man who marries a woman only to learn that she is “actually” a man, hilarity ensues, etc. Preferring not to out myself, I waited for him to drop the topic. Frustratingly and surprisingly, he didn’t. I think he read my lack of response as a lack of understanding, due to the language barrier. When it didn’t look like the subject was going to die a natural death anytime soon, I decided to go ahead and put it out of its misery. A row of rooster baskets on the side of the road caught my eye, and I interrupted Rama mid-tangent to ask about cockfighting.

Fortunately for me, he seemed even more interested in cockfights than in gender reconstructive surgery. It just so happens that Rama moonlights as a rooster salesman. He has even built an arena at his house so that he can stage fights on sacred or lucky days, of which the Balinese have many. “To celebrate?” I asked.

“Yes, after ceremony,” he confirmed. Ceremonies are a big deal, and during and after everyone enjoys themselves and makes food and hangs out. They’re sort of like big block parties but in the jungle or a temple. I asked if people bet on the birds. Yes, he said, sometimes. How many fights does the typical rooster have in him? I asked. “Sometimes two, sometimes four. Maybe more. Depends on if he gets hurt.” Rama nurses his roosters himself, giving them “injections” (he didn’t say of what) and stitching up wounds. This makes sense, considering that the GSP of roosters costs something like one hundred million rupiah, or $10,000.

“That’s a lot of money for a bird!” I exclaimed. Ten grand is a lot of money in the States, but it’s even more here, where a dollar can buy you a full meal. Rama laughed and honked his horn at a dog dolefully considering crossing the street. A motorbike approaching from the other side honked, too, and the row of baskets behind her began to crow. Head down, the dog slunk back to the warung from whence it came, where an old woman in a sarong looked on with impassive gravity.

NB: I suppose this is the part of the post where I say that I think fighting animals is abhorrent and abusive (though I do eat them, so it’s kind of rich of me to point that out), and I do think that. Many Balinese feel the same way (no island is an islande, etc). 

Ubud – Day Four. Preparing for Munduk.

Just like at home, the best time of day here is the morning. I slept in until 5am today, which is right around when the roosters start getting really loud. I think it’s the humidity that makes it slightly misty, especially when the sun is about halfway over the horizon. There are mo(u)rning doves, which look a lot like the ones at home, and chickens, which are only slightly bigger (they are much smaller than American chickens, even home-raised & non-hormone-pumped American chickens). I often also hear a bird that I haven’t identified yet. It has a short, two-screech call that has, I’m sure, some metrical equivalent (an iamb? a spondee?) that I can’t remember because I took Intro To Poetry like seven years ago. 

That last post was a little dark, but I feel better, though I am sure that are plenty of meltdowns to be had in the coming weeks. I am delicate but I’m also persistent — and now I’m thinking of my nana, who read the Bible every day over her breakfast of a banana and Cheerios, or toast, and always tea. With seventy-something years between us, I didn’t yet like drinking it, so she always made me what she called baby tea: milk and honey with a splash of Earl Grey — and I like to think that the two balance one another. Or at least cancel each other out.

At any rate, there’s nothing like a change of scenery to get you writing about daily things. I used to keep a regular journal, but I haven’t done that in years, not counting blogging and notes scribbled during boring classes or at work. I wonder what my nana would think of me being here.


Ubud – Day Three

Today a taxi driver recommended to me that I go visit the coffee plantation right outside of Ubud, where I could, for a rather exorbitant price, have a taste of “animal coffee.”

“The animal has a body like a cat and a face like a dog,” he told me, fumbling under his seat for a laminated brochure with a picture of the luwak, otherwise known as the Asian Palm Civet. “It eats the coffee beans and then when they come out, they wash them two, three, times, and then roast them, and then you have animal coffee.”

“Does it taste good?” I asked him.

“Oh, it’s the best,” he assured me. “That’s why it’s so expensive. Here it is not so bad, but in Australia a cup is twenty-five of their dollars.”

Having read the Wiki page, it looks like animal coffee, like a lot of other — arguably gimmicky — “luxury” products has led to increased rates of abuse of the luwok, and may even be endangering the species. Of course, homie was just singing its praises so I would let him drive me out there and charge me up the wazoo for the pleasure. At the time, I still high from having bargained him down from 50,000 rupiah to 40,000 for the trip to a small village outside of Ubud, where I was to have an administrative meeting. I didn’t even mind that he did that taxi driver thing where he asked me a lot of invasive questions about whether I was married or had a boyfriend, and if I wanted to get a Balinese boyfriend since I did not have an American one. “It is very bad, not to have a boyfriend,” he told me.*

But I had a lot of time to think about the driver on the way back home from my meeting: the administrator I met with was a half-hour late, gave me five minutes of her time, and then gave me bad directions back to my homestay. I generally don’t mind walking a few miles, but I was feeling bad about the meeting, and my job, for which I came to the other side of the fucking world, and so at the time the prospect of getting lost in the jungles of central Bali just sounded like another in a long list of personal failures. With a little time to stew in all my own bullshit, getting creeped on by yet another icky man finally got to me.

As a result of the administrator’s directions, I wandered around in some (albeit beautifully tranquil) rice paddies for a while, following a narrow, winding concrete path that eventually ended in the back yard of a villa with laundry hanging out front. There was no one around except for a farmer several fields away, and while I was fairly confident I could ask for directions in Indonesian, I was also fairly confident that I wouldn’t understand anyone’s response. I considered wading through the rice to where I was fairly certain there was a road that led back to Ubud, but I nixed the idea. I told myself I didn’t do it because I wasn’t sure if it would harm the rice or something, but it was actually that I was just grossed out at the thought of being calf-deep in eel-y, manure-y mud. A white duck with a cowlicked feather paddled through the slop as I made my way back down the path into the jungle, and I wondered how it could possibly stay so pristine.

I don’t know why I’m complaining about walking through this, or this. But like I said, it’s amazing how reflecting on your inability to handle what ought to be reasonable levels of anxiety can make the most gorgeous, peaceful trek over stone bridges and down hand-carved stairways and past rotting jackfruit, split on the roadside like severed heads, and the mangy, bloat-teated street dogs that shit in doorways, and rows of condemned basket-caged roosters screaming at nothing, and puffy white tourists dressing up their children in kamen as if it weren’t silly at best and disrespectful at worst (their presence also reminding you of just how arrogant it is that you, another white and often-puffy tourist, purport to work for an educational non-profit, as if you have anything to offer), can just really kill your vibe, you know?

*At this point in my life, when I get questions of this sort from men (and it’s almost always from men), I don’t disclose that I am queer. I used to have this out n proud attitude about it, especially when I was being hit on, but more often than not it just encourages them, or angers them, or gives them an excuse to grill me about who I choose to have sex with. One man, upon hearing that I was gay (which I’m not, but cishets get the general idea), simply just looked completely shocked, like I had told him that baloney grew from where my genitalia should be and I farmed it out to a local deli for sammich discounts. He really did not seem to understand what I meant, and then proceeded to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. 

The #PornTrial reveals the prejudices (and possible peccadilloes) of the CPS


when fisting is outlawed, only outlaws will fist #fistingsaves #fuckyeahfisting #haveyouseenmyhands

Originally posted on Another angry woman:

Today, a man was found not guilty of a crime which harmed no-one, and should never have been considered criminal in the first place. His offence? He had some porn in his email which involved scenes of consensual fisting, urethral sounding and a man wearing a gas mask. Oh, and he’d pissed off some cops by prosecuting them for disciplinary offences, which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with the decision to prosecute him.

It seems ridiculous to prosecute a person for this in the first place, especially considering the last fisting trial ruled that fisting is not obscene. Like bluebottles bashing their heads against a window, the CPS decided this time to prosecute under a different act relating to extreme pornography and harm. Despite evidence from two medical professionals describing the minimal harm involved, the CPS still insisted on pushing the harm line.

The risible excuse…

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