Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Eye of the Day (Bhina Ria, 1993)

The per diem nurse’s name is not Lisa or Diane or Stella. She tells me her name and I make no special effort to make it stick in my brain, instead focus on chewing the rice. The love letter from Suki is folded in her shirt pocket.

She will be gone in a day.

A group of shirtless boys from Bhuana Sari walk by on the way to the beach, shouting their hellos. They hold folded banana leaf triangles, nasi bungkus they bought from Made Sari who is sitting toothless and cross-legged by the side of the road. The boys are going to the beach where they will stand in a cluster near their sampans, until they fan out across the beach to talk to the tourists who come to see the dolphins.

I do remember Jennifer, whom I met last week in Malibu Restaurant & Pub. We bought Bintang beers for a few of the local thugs, and picked from a shallow bowl of salted peanuts. Jennifer is a theater major from Oberlin who has been diagnosed with MS but so far has had no symptoms. She knows my friend Dave from Taipei. The night I met her, she let an Irish guy take her into the Java Sea under the moonlight and suck her toes.

“Erotic!” Jennifer told me the next afternoon.

We didn’t see each other in the morning as she was writing her play about expat Americans teaching English in Taiwan. One of her main characters was a single mother from the States who was living in Taipei earning money teaching English in order to pay off a debt. There was always easy work if you spoke English.

I don’t remember if Jennifer was talking about another character in her play, or if it was her real friend who had been offered five hundred dollars to sleep with a rich Chinese man. Good money and she probably would have slept with him anyway, just out of curiosity.

In Taipei I was paid to sit in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant near Shida and converse in English with a twenty-eight-year-old virgin whose English name was Theresa. I forget her Chinese name. She lived with her parents and hadn’t dated much, so English class meant her asking me about college dorm life in Boston, and me telling her, with a bucket of greasy fried chicken between us.

Jennifer was very disciplined, even here with the mornings so noisy with roosters crowing and motorbikes speeding and the swish swish swishing to the beach to sell and massage and row boats out to the dolphins. She sat on her hotel balcony with her notebook in her lap, a bowl of gorgeous sliced papaya and banana on a little table next to her collecting flies. She spent all morning ignoring what was going on around her, but she was making progress in her writing.

I wasn’t.

It’s morning and I wake entangled, long arms, sweaty mattress, smell of frangipani and a coconut oil musk, no urge to rise, only covering my ears to not hear so many roosters crowing.

They crow. They keep crowing. The sun gets brighter. My hands fall from my ears and reach again to my side, to be completely entangled and not be able to move unless it’s our collective will to move. I hear water pumping, bicycles, a high-pitched laugh, a dog yipping. The heat is pushing through the cracks in the door, the day rushing in.

We are all whores, Jennifer says.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Food (Bhina Ria, 1993)

I am sitting with an American, a nurse who works per diem, from Miami. Travelling around the world. She has long wavy blonde hair and we are eating nasi goreng at Suki's restaurant. It is okay but kind of bland, made for the tourists. Garlic but not enough chili. Not the original Balinese rice, which is expensive to buy in the market these days.

I haven't wanted to talk to fellow Americans in weeks, or even speak English. But for some reason I am down here by the beach and am drinking ice tea and playing with the ice cubes that no longer make me sick. I am bored at Suki's restaurant and she gives me a shy smile so I ask her to sit down.

Sit down she does, and we order the rice and beers to go along with it and then she is telling me about the love notes she received today from the restaurant owner (handsome: long shiny black hair, rich brown angled face, regal nose, tall). She looks American in that way that if she stays in Asia any longer she will be telling stories about being hired off the street for a low-budget Hong Kong movie to represent America, blue-eyed.

I like her. It is good to speak a little English. I can feel my constructions are a bit awkward, following Indonesian syntax though the words come out in English. A large white cockatoo clings to a wooden perch near our table.

"Where you going next?" I want to know.


"Easy travels in Thailand," I say, as the cockatoo squawked. "Except riding the elephant hurt my butt."

She nods, slipping a spoonful of rice into her mouth. Everybody goes to Thailand, the hill tribes, the elephant training camp. Patpong Road.

"How much time do you have off from work?" I ask her, wondering how the fellow escapee did it. I always ask this.

"Well I work per diem, so I can take off when I want," she tells me.

I contemplate nursing school.

Suki is over by the open-air kitchen, saying something to the cook who is his aunt. I know his aunt from the village, and Suki is Pasek's cousin.

"Do you know if he's married?" she asks.

I know. I am deciding whether to tell her.

"Tomorrow come up to the village and have a real Balinese dinner," I offer, as if I am inviting her to my own home.