Learning to Dive, Or How I Realized It Doesn’t Actually Involve Math – Part One



I was under the impression that scuba diving required mathematical skills. I have always had certain issues with mental mathematics (as diagnosed by highly-paid professionals) and whenever I contemplated taking up scuba diving, visions of me desperately counting backwards on my fingers while 100 feet deep in the wine-dark sea danced into my head.

I imagined sinking backwards into the gloam of the watery black because I hadn’t bothered to get a pocket calculator, doomed to hypothermia and devourment by angler fish with big blinky eyes. Compounded with this was the simple reality that I could not be trusted to follow directions as simple “Don’t walk into that active volcano” on family trips, meaning that the odds of my parents allowing me to take up scuba diving at age 15 or so were roughly nil.

These reasons conspired to keep me away from learning to dive until I was in my 20s — when I realized that dive computers did all the math for you, and that sometime in the ensuing decade plus, I’d figured out how to follow basic directions for at least five seconds a time.

But things weren’t right: I was entirely too busy riding bikes around New Orleans and studying while at Tulane, and the Cambodia dive operators occasionally lost people, and the Thailand dive operators often featured 8 people to a certification course in locations best described as Island of the Bros. I kept putting it off. I’d Do It Eventually.


Then, I decided to do a “Discover Diving” course while visiting Komodo in April, which allows you to go on a guided dive without undergoing full certification. As is usually the case when ones descends into the psychedelic, endlessly fascinating world of the Komodo deep, I was smitten, finding crocodile-fish and shoals of glittering squid and irate clownfish without even having to try for it, transported into some sort of weird real-life simulcran of a Richard Attenborough special. I have always regarded Attenborough as something of a demigod: perhaps this was akin to attending church.

I liked the divers, too: I’d finally found a sport that combined both acute nerdiness, outdoors activity, and weird zoology into a single glorious package, and everyone seemed to celebrate a successful dive trip with beer. Enviable goals and enviable people, decked out in wet-suits with awesome tans, talking in this laconic bad-ass fashion about hanging out with manta rays and flitting through the crevices of abandoned wrecks. How could I not want to be like them?


It was decided: I was in Indonesia, the water was warm enough for my hilariously acute cold sensitivity, and I even had something approximating disposable income for the first time in recent memory. It was, decidedly, now or never.

My friend Robert, who I’ve been staying with in Bali, is an accomplished diver and underwater photographer, who has taken photographs of manta ray hordes, irate looking frog-fish, and the multifarious wonders of the Papuan deep. Looking at such photos is the best sales pitch one can imagine for diving.

He suggested that I take up with Bali International Diving Professionals or BIDP, a dive outfit located in Sanur that has an excellent reputation in the region — and located a convenient corner away from his villa in Sanur.

More to come. Gripping, I know. (I did take these pictures with a camera borrowed from my dive instructor!)

The Eight Stages of Genocide and the Rohingya


The 8 Stages of Genocide Against Burma’s Rohingya

Rohingya Muslim’s in Burma’s Rakhine state have now been ordered to adhere to a years-old two child policy by the government, in what authorities claim is an effort to defang ongoing tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.  In reality, this is ethnic cleansing. And it is ongoing in Burma today.

Restricting the reproduction of a less-than-loved ethnic group is a tactic that’s been trotted out repeatedly through generations of ethnic cleansing and genocide: a bad sign that’s all the more ominous in the face of increasing strife between Rohingya Muslim’s and the overwhelmingly Buddhist population of Burma.

Human Rights Watch unambiguously identifies the Burmese government as complicit in the abuses against Rohingya, calling it a government-backed “campaign of ethnic cleansing.”  Even national icon Aung Sang Suu Kyi has denounced the two-child policy as of May 27th, stating that “They shouldn’t discriminate. This is against human rights” — one of her first statements in defense of the Rohingya, whom she has been largely silent on during the past year.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

Self Defense: Faux Mugging, Paranoia, and Headlocks

This was totally me.
This was totally me.

I have lately been obsessed with the rather murky concept of self-defense, a side-effect of living for quite a while in multiple cities where a statistically not-insignificant number of people are interested in robbing you.

I have lived in Washington DC and New Orleans, two of the more notoriously crime-ridden US cities, and then of course most recently in Phnom Penh, Land of Smiles And Also Purse-Snatching. In recent months, I’ve had my phone stolen from me in tricky snatch and grab incidents more time than I care to relate (though never, I should admit, in an even vaguely threatening manner).

It wasn’t just me: seemed like every week that one of my friends in Phnom Penh would come forth with a new and increasingly grim mugging story, showing off scars or sadly lamenting their brand-new laptop, cellphone, or handbag. Soon after I witnessed a violent attempted-mugging than retaliatory beatdown on a busy Phnom Penh street a month and a half ago, I realized that I’d become distinctly jumpy.

I’ve never been a paranoid type, but suddenly, all the signs were there: locking doors behind me obsessively, peeping out from behind curtains whenever I heard a funny sound, carrying my switchblade with me at all times just to make myself feel better. A strange lizardy part of my brain suddenly understood those conservative wing nuts who wish to be allowed unfettered access to automatic weaponry: well, of course you’d want a personal Uzi! They’re coming for you, aren’t they? Aren’t they?

I needed to do something to make myself feel better. And since getting a Uzi might be possible in Phnom Penh but isn’t exactly suggested, I was happy to enroll in a recent self defense seminar at the newly minted Phnom Penh community college.

Why self defense?

I figured my berserker rage technique of defending myself, while making guttural and horrid canine noises, is probably reasonably effective but perhaps could use a little bit of delicacy and refining.

Self defense courses are a weird beast. Thanks to a common compulsion, you find yourself amidst a bunch of friendly and socially normal people standing around a classroom blinking at each other, about to engage in acts of the most heinous of simulated violence. There’s a lot of awkward giggling.

It was pretty much like this.
It was pretty much like this.

Mild-mannered types especially seemed to be attracted to this Phnom Penh session, perhaps sensibly aware they could use some advice on the age-old topic of Avoiding Getting Your Ass Kicked. One woman was a schoolteacher who needed to know how to break up the occasional schoolyard fight, another a very gentle-appearing former schoolteacher who’d soon be opening his first Phnom Penh bar.

Me, I was worried that the course would conjure up some strange interior bits of my soul, where all that paranoia and fear and latent aggression churn together into a dark and rather distasteful soup. I rarely get this existential with day long adult learning workshops.

The instructor was an expatriate who does jiujitsu and wished to try out the self-defense teaching thing. He was fit and was named Lance – as would be expected — but thankfully didn’t bring that sort of swaggery kung fu attitude to the table that I’ve witnessed in some similar contexts. For this I was grateful. The class began.

First we simulated a mugging, in an exercise where one person was sent out of the room with a handbag, and a random member of the class would be selected to hold a wooden knife and “mug” the victim.

Most people, quite rationally, approached the “mugging” as a mere simulation and delicately thrust the wooden simulated knife in the general direction of the victim, with a few apologies. This was supposed to teach you how to respond when something surprising and aggressive is directed at you.

All robberies in Asia look just like this.
All robberies in Asia look just like this.

I mostly learned from this experience that I should consider taking up mugging as a secondary career, mainly because I was surprisingly good at it, stalking around somebody’s back then directing a frightening slash right up against the eyeballs. I’ll admit that I rather enjoyed being a simulated mugger — finally experiencing some hint of what it was like to not be the gazelle-like urban prey but the urban predator, stalking and waiting and taking.

Suddenly no one wanted to be my partner. I realized I should not grin when pretending to mug somebody. I had looked into the dark recesses of my psyche all right, but the answer was a bit unexpected.

We simulated a number of other attacks, and soon discovered a flaw of a group class like this: most people are terrible at simulating aggression and rage.

Socialization and a functioning society demand that people get along and not derive pleasure from violently kicking the shit out of each other, or even pretending to — a pressure that’s especially strong on women and girls.

This is all understandable, but it also meant I never felt particularly intimidated when a sweet schoolteacher was delicately pretending to choke me out while apologizing profusely about it. One woman suggested “Imagine she’s stealing your boyfriend!” to get past the mental block. I found it hard to imagine people of such staggering niceness even doing that. Maybe accidentally cutting in front of me at the supermarket, or accidentally stepping on a ladybug.

No, the class needed a few trained martial artist types (male and female!) to actually shake us up a bit, or perhaps someone with a face and attitude that demanded a good roughing up. Simply put, the trainee sharks were lacking chum. 

I really want one of these, but they don't travel well.
I really want one of these, but they don’t travel well.

Thankfully, my friend Mary and I are both little lady heathens and were perfectly capable of roughing each other up — although as amusing as simulated-mugging and assault of a good friend IS, perhaps not the most realistic of scenarios. She’s probably unlikely to steal my liquor or my car in the near future.

Truth is, when it comes to primal rage, I never really needed lessons. I sometimes just lie in bed staring at the ceiling and being insufferably angry for no particularly reason: although I’m usually able to be a pleasant sort of individual in modern society, I tend to turn into a small blonde incarnation of Satan when confronted with airport delays and annoying bureaucratic types wearing glasses who don’t want to let me do something.

The majority of any reasonable self defense course is actually defensive tactics: basically, one wants to do your damnedest to avoid a scenario where you’re going to have to fight, which can mean anything from avoiding strolling down dark alleys to 2:00 AM to (borrowing a scenario Lance trotted out), avoiding entering into committed relationships with world champion kick boxers who really like to drink and do meth.

Downtown Phnom Penh's mean streets. Well, sorta mean.
Downtown Phnom Penh’s mean streets. Well, sorta mean.

The course also got into the more interesting aspects of the Cambodian aggressive psyche, largely the fascinating phenomena that is Khmer crowd mentality.

If you’ve spent much time in Cambodia, you’re likely aware of this curious cultural quirk: if you’re robbed from in a public area, one needs only to shout JAO (thief) really loudly a few times — and watch the locals suddenly emerge into the daylight with less-than-gentle intentions.

Then, there’s the classic Over Confident White Boy trap: assuming that since you’re a big six foot tall guy from England who took karate in middle school that you can totally take that wiry little Khmer motodop who’s getting in your face about 2000 riel.

This is an unfortunate logical fallacy, as many white boys have discovered to their own detriment that if you take a swing at one Khmer motodop, you have suddenly angered multiple motodops, many of whom were probably waiting all week for some idiot to try something. Your odds in this scenario of getting knifed, or at least curb-stomped a bit, are rather painfully high. Don’t do this.  

We learned how to escape from a headlock and avoid having a beefy forearm get up under your chin, cutting off your windpipe. We practiced escaping when someone has your arms pinned behind your back, and how to use the force of someone tugging away at your handbag or smartphone against them.

We also learned how to throw someone off you who is attempting to rape you using merely the surprising power of your thighs, which was an incredibly awkward classroom exercise but was a rather cool jiujitsu technique.

Don't think the look suits me.
Don’t think the look suits me.

No, a self-defense course will not turn you into a super warrior, and you should really distrust any ostensible instructor who claims he or she can render you a Rambo in the course of three hours. The point of this is different: confidence building, awareness.

“I don’t actually think this class will make me able to defend myself,” observed my friend Mary as we walked back from the course. “But it’s definitely made me feel more confident.”

That’s really the point: not creating super warriors, but giving people a sense that they actually can do something against aggression and violence that doesn’t involve curling up into a ball on the floor. That’s why you should take a self defense class.

Things I Ate in Jakarta

As is usually the case when I travel, I ate some things in Jakarta.

I regret not taking photographs of the kamping satay and the utterly bizarre but curiously awesome garlic bread, chocolate, and cheese satay the friendly owner pushed on me later in the evening. Nor did I photograph the rather tasty sushi rolls I consumed at one of Jakarta’s multifarious Hip Little Japanese restaurants (blooming like mushrooms after a hard rain), or a Bento box, or even the aggressively cool coffee shop with tasty Sulawesi brews and a menu made out of a very well-chosen typeface.

Moving on. We all have our regrets in life.


This is a hefty portion of Mie Aceh, a spicy noodle dish hailing from the northernmost tip of Sumatra. My former colleague Christi suggested I check this Mee Aceh joint out in the Benhil district of Jakarta, and I’m glad I did.

One of the spiciest dishes I’ve tried in Indonesia, these beef noodles have a potent chili kick and are offset with pickled shallot, cucumber, and the omnipresent emping crackers  — I would have liked some lime. It’s filling, oily, and unsubtle: I can see this being an excellent and odiferous hangover addiction.

There’s two kinds of Mie Aceh by the by: Mie Aceh Goreng (fried and dry, like the dish above) and Mie Aceh Kuah, which is a spicy curry soup. I want to try the second variety next time.

Try it here: Meutia Rumah Makan – Jl. Bendungan Hilir Raya No. 60, Jakarta.


The Natrabu chain of restaurants specializes in Minang style food, hailing from the highlands of western Sumatra and typically served in a curious sort of personal buffet: you sit down and waiters bring small plates of around 8 to 15 different specialities, all served in a dining room that’s an amusing hybrid of golden and red Minang finery and the latest in early 1970s decor.

You pay only for what you eat, which is eyeballed by waitstaff after you finish. It’s a cunning ploy, as it’s hard to resist nibbling at something tasty that’s been placed directly in front of your nose. Thankfully, the food is quite good and covers a wide gamut of the usual good, spicy, oily Minang eats: beef rendang, squid cooked in coconut milk, tiny fried fish with sambal, a surprisingly tasty slab of fried beef jerky with sambal, chicken with chili and soy sauce and water spinach cooked in coconut milk, among other stalwarts.


This spicy, gloriously unrefined joyride of a cuisine will never in any rational universe be mistaken for health food, but a meal at this chain — which has been plugging along since 1967 — is a rather amusing look at Jakarta Business Lunch Culture, as people hobnob and devour copious amounts of beef over warm glasses of tea, the local stand-in for a 12:00 noon martini.

The staff seemed rather excited to have an American in the house (at the branch nearish the National Museum), and as I ate, I was presented with a small American flag on a bamboo tray for my table. This was, I feel I don’t need to add, absolutely charming. They also were quite eager to pose for a mugshot or two.


Yes, this is real.

The food selection actually looks good — heavy on the burgers — and they have some sort of mysterious drinking game neither myself or my friend could figure out on the back on the menu.

Maybe they think this is still a thing in America, and cool people like Justin Bieber and Barack Obama are wandering about saying it all the time, sometimes quietly to themselves when no one is around them, even. Because YOLO is that cool.

 Someone maybe should tell them.

Jakarta’s National Museum: Not Half as Musty As Anticipated, Either!



I just read an article in Tempo, Indonesia’s major English-language political magazine, about the neglect most museums in the archipelago suffer from.

This is perhaps true, but I was more impressed than I expected to be with Jakarta’s National Museum, a considerably more polished affair than the mothballed and distinctly chloroform-scented halls of other Asian museums I’ve visited.

It’s not exactly the Smithsonian Natural History Museum — although that old US stalwart is also showing signs of age and wear — but what with the remains of Java Man, many and sundry monumental structures culled from all over the nation, and an interesting ethnography section, it’s worth a few hours wander. Another plus: there’s air conditioning.

Statue that appears to be culled from a Buddhist temple.
Statue that appears to be culled from a Buddhist temple.

I’m in the beginning stages of familiarizing myself with Indonesian history and culture, but I’m enjoying tracking the influence of Hindu and Buddhist art styles and schools of thought here — similar in some interesting ways to the Khmer and Thai art I’m more accustomed to thanks to my time in Phnom Penh, and wandering around Angkor Wat on a fairly regular basis. Borabodur is next on the agenda.

Although the sculptures are not labeled — a serious omission — the experience of wandering around looking at them is something of an art history textbook made flesh, which does have a certain appeal. They get damp when it rains and collect moisture, which may not be good for the artwork but has a certain aesthetic appeal.

papuaancestor.jpgI like Papuan art because it is savage — yes, I used that adjective — and has a bizarre, irreverent feeling, that doubtless scandalized legions of Texan missionaries and likely still continues to do so in some remote pockets. Papuan art merrily portrays gigantic elongated penises, breasts, and violence, and is also quite content to incorporate the remains of venerated ancestors into powerful sculptures.

The statue is meant to serve as a mediator between the earth-bound family of the deceased and the spirit world, and can bring rain and good fishing if treated nicely, among other boons. You can’t see them in this photo, but the statue has carved wooden arms and legs, the skull meant to symbolize the head.

I have threatened to do this to my family. They all seem curiously fine with the idea, which makes me think I could start a new millenial trend for disposing of one’s venerated ancestors. I guess I could pray to them for more Twitter followers.



A lovely Papuan urn meant to resemble the head of a cassowary, those enormous and occasionally homocidal birds that still stalk bits of Papua and Papua New Guinea. I am absolutely terrified of them.


I recall this is Balinese, but can’t find any information on the Internet about it, which indicates I should do a better job of photographing labels. In any case, I think she’s excellently weird.



Here’s another Papuan ancestor statue, which is impressionistic and something I can see perched on the mantelpiece of a sensitive oligarch. Maybe I should do this for my ancestors instead of the skull thing.

ladiesatthemuseum.jpgLadies taking measurements of things. The museum was distinctly quiet on a Saturday afternoon, but there were some scattered tourists. Perhaps more people need to come.



Jakarta: Surprisingly Tolerable!

Sukarno's Last Erection.
Sukarno’s Last Erection.

Jakarta must have one of the more loathsome reputations in Asia. When I mentioned I was thinking of going to Jakarta, most of my Asia-veteran friends reacted as if I’d cheerily informed them I was thinking of nipping over to Hades for a bit of sightseeing.

“Why would you want to go there?” was the general consensus  “It’s the worst place in Asia. There’s traffic, smog, nothing to see, and also a lot of traffic. People have actually starved to death in their cars in the traffic there. And then the smog gave them cancer.” (I may be exaggerating slightly).

This was not exactly a great sales-point, but I also knew that if I had the slightest desire to work in journalism in Indonesia someday, I’d likely have to reconcile myself to the seemingly nightmarish prospect of living in Jakarta for a stretch. And so I bought a cheap Lion Air ticket over from Denpasar and gave it a whirl.

A former Cambodia Daily colleague of mine has been living in Jakarta for two years now and suggested a nice bed and breakfast to me, which definitely helped. I believe that my virulent hatred of Kuala Lumpur derives at least in part from the fact that I was unable to find anywhere to stay there that wasn’t a shit hole, thanks to the cruel machinations of delusional or paid-off TripAdvisor reviewers.

Apparently there is NEVER this little traffic. But it was also Sunday.
Apparently there is NEVER this little traffic. But it was also Sunday.


Meanwhile in Jakarta, I had a nice man meet me at the airport sent by the hotel, holding a sign with my name scrawled on it — who thought he was waiting for three people, one named Faine, one named Elizabeth, and one named Greenwood, and appeared surprised  to instead get a single slightly undersized American instead. “Are you sure it’s just you?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied. And then we immediately got into our car and encountered the Dreaded Traffic, which was indeed extensive, but not really that bad at 9:00 PM, and it did give me a chance to take a sedate look at the city — note North Jakarta’s slums strung up with pretty lights along the river, many and sundry mega-malls, and a lot of extremely expensive lighting blotting out the stars for miles in every direction, as is standard for aspirant Asian metropolises. All this was fine.

The Bangka Bed and Breakfast turned out to be in a fairly sedate South Jakarta neighborhood, and I was shown to a windowless but comfortable room in a house that I pretty much had to myself, which included a lot of nerdy books the journalist owner had accumulated. There was even a nice lawn and a sitting area outside if one wished to brave the supposedly carcinogenic Death Air, which was a far cry from the deeply distressing and thin-walled place I’d booked myself into by accident in Kuala Lumpur. So far. So good.

More on the museum and some noodles I ate tomorrow. Gripping stuff, I know.

Ruminations on Mantis Shrimp

I was inspired to ruminate on Mantis shrimp because I’m learning how to scuba dive in Indonesia, and these crustaceans are some of the most beloved denizens of Asian tropical reefs.

Also, I’ve loved them for a long time, and the realization that SOON I WILL BE ABLE TO GLIDE AMONG THEM AS A MEMBER OF THEIR KIN is sort of intoxicating. (Not because of the Oatmeal. Really).

Anyway, here are some Mantis shrimp videos.

I don’t have any pictures of Mantis shrimp because 1. I do not actually know how to scuba dive yet, or at least I’m not certified and 2. Purchasing a casing for my trusty Canon DSLR will cost as much as the annual GDP of Albania, or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. So don’t go expecting that any time soon. Someday.

This makes me wish I was a Mantis shrimp. Consider: the life of a Mantis shrimp consists of: burrowing quietly in warm dens, then leaping out to grab and messily devour crabs and shrimp.

These are all things I like doing: lurking in warm places, eating seafood, and startling people. And being a jerk.

I would be a great Mantis shrimp.

As I’m not going to become a Mantis shrimp anytime soon, I propose a chain of novelty seafood restaurants, where waiters will dangle hamburgers and chicken legs from fishing lines over a series of holes cut into the ground. Patrons will be encouraged to leap out of them and seize their food, then bring it back into their temporary lair for messy consumption. Also their will be fountain beverages.

Yeah, I know, I’d better make sure I get that licensed immediately.

I had no idea that a long-standing deathly enmity between octopi and Mantis shrimp exist, but apparently it does, and even a blue ring octopus isn’t able to withstand punches-to-the-face that are delivered with the force and authority of a 22. caliber pistol. I should also add that this is among the most beautiful death matches I’ve ever witnessed.

I would totally watch more MMA if it was this pretty — although WWE wrestling does have a certain amount of remarkable, staged natural camouflage and pageantry as compared to its more austere and violent cousin.

There’s a really obscure masters thesis in there somewhere.

At 4:14 and onwards, I feel the translated Mimic Octopus dialogue would sound something like this:





some fucking people, man


Date A Girl Who’s A Traveling Cynic

The beverage of romance.
The beverage of romance.

I have a certain amount of self-interest at stake when it comes to People Dating People Who Travel. I travel an awful lot and would like to date attractive men (or at least men who smell OK and like to talk about subjects other than football): ipso facto, I logically hope that attractive men find my stories about Komodo dragons, Cambodia, and oddly-advised drinking choices in India are alluring, or at least amusing.

However, I just read this piece, entitled “Date a Boy Who Travels.” And now I’m worried. Worried that I am the earnest, boring-story telling, pain-in-the-butt who wears Angkor beer t-shirts in perfectly respectable US bars.

Am I the horrendous female equivalent of this supposedly sexy manchild the piece describes in prose lifted from a compilation of Chicken Soup for the Travelers Soul? Is this me? I hate that guy!

“Buy him a beer, maybe the same brand that he wears on the singlet under his plaid shirt, unable to truly let go.”

Specifically, I hate this guy.

I became worried about my own welfare when I read this paragraph:

“He’ll squeak like an excited toddler when his latest issue of National Geographic arrives in the mail. Then he’ll grow quiet, engrossed, until he finishes his analysis of every photo, every adventure. In his mind, he’ll insert himself in these pictures. He’ll pass the issue on to you and grill you about your dreams and competitively ask about the craziest thing you’ve ever done. Tell him. And know that he’ll probably win. And if by chance you win, know that his next lot in life will be to out do you. But then he’ll say, “Maybe we can do it together.”

That’s me, I’ve realized, and as I now admit to the public. I’ve done that before. The National Geographic thing. The craziest-things-you’ve-ever-done thing by way of an icebreaker. Competing with random strangers for WHO’S THE MOST EXTREME, lubricated by a few…wait for it…exotic Angkor beers. I am this person. Well, perhaps more cynical. I am the World Traveling Cynic.

But still, I am this person.


I think I even own some version of the outfits those douchey tanned European girls in the picture attached to the article are wearing.

To wantonly paraphrase Nietzsche, I have stared into the Lonely Planet abyss….and it is staring back at me. To an extent.

Perhaps if applied to me, the article title should be amended. It should be “Date A Girl Who Travels But Is Really Cynical About It, Because She’ll Never Ask You To Do Yoga And You Won’t Have To Talk About How Sunsets Make You ”

Or “Date A Journalist Girl Who Travels So You Can Both Sit At Bars And Sneer At Backpackers Approximately Your Own Age, While You Both Read Difficult And Horrifyingly Dry Political Science Books.” 

Even: “Date A Girl Who Travel-Writes So You Can Expense Account Stir-Fried Ants And Complain A Lot For Pay.” 


Don’t rush all at once.

Actually Relaxing For Once in Bali

Kuta Beach on a quiet day.
Kuta Beach on a quiet day.

Bali is relaxing.

Sure, it’s annoyingly hard to get around sometimes as ojeks aren’t lurking quietly on every street corner like they are in Flores or in Cambodia, and you’re forced to resort to those Blue Bird Taxis, which are actually almost always OK and feature cab drivers who like to have chats. Mostly the thing to do in Southern Bali is wander around on beaches until you get tired, then sit down. Sometimes you sport in the waves and the surf, at least until the waves turn into horrifying two-story monsters (to my eyes) and you decided it may be better to sit on the sand and work on your increasingly formidable sun burn. 

My distrust has been carefully honed in Phnom Penh and in Washington DC and in other places with a highly-developed and artistic rip-off culture. Fault poverty and worry for these things, and not exactly the people themselves (most of them) — but still, you don’t walk at night and you keep your bag close to you and you wear an ugly backpack and you assume a friendly person on the street is trying to game you for something.


This is largely not true in Bali (with some exceptions in heavily touristy areas) and is very not true in Flores.

My defenses are impressive but I am OK with having them taken down a notch. A few days ago, I was at Kuta Beach and I bought an early morning Bintang and I wanted to swim, and so in what for me was a shocking moment of trust, I asked the drinks guy to keep an eye on my camera and my purse. He did. No problem.

Sanur Beach.
Sanur Beach.

Then I chatted with a nice bar girl about my age and she wanted to go swimming with me, and my mind went in the place that people who read too much TripAdvisor does, which is  “They are convincing me to go swimming so they can rifle through my bag! And maybe drown me! But I must go anyway! To be nice!”

So I told my carefully honed watchful psyche to shut the fuck up, and I went and bodysurfed with this girl and her friend from Jakarta, and we had a lovely time, and I came back and sure enough my bag was untouched. And I felt guilty.

I have in Indonesia Trusted People to: give me a ride home in the dark on the back of their scooter because they were the brother of a restaurant owner I knew, trusted an Australian miner guy to give me a ride to Kuta on his scooter because he was going the same direction and why not, and various examples of getting people to watch my stuff for the price of a cold Bintang and a few friendly remarks about how lovely Bali was.


Also have trusted a small and noisy man who lives in the jungle and owns a huge machete to lead me down a forested slope to his off-the-grid home village, and a girl I’d just met to take me on my Very First Ever Scuba Dive And Oh Shit The Bends And Sharks, and various drivers of various stripes who are keen on reggae music and telling me about their fondness for local rice whiskey while driving.

All of this I have accepted with much less of the usual strum-und-drang and Xanax fueled anxiety that accompanies some of my other endeavors in rougher places: mostly I have decided to cede power to the universe, and make my peace with the eventualities of Dengue fever, crocodile attack, or being suddenly sold into the multiculti harem of the Sultan of Brunei.

None of this has happened yet. And if it will, I suspect I will greet it with better-than-usual fortitude. Or at least, that’s what I hope.

I must face facts: I came to Bali as an avowed cynic about this arsehole of Australia, this blot on the face of tourism, and am now definitely converted. I am reminded of this song, which is insufferably cheesy, sung by Peggy Lee, and thus resonates with me on a somewhat embarrassing level. As a youngster I was in love with Tiki bars and the curious tourism fantasies of Paradise (half believing them) – as an adult of sorts, it appears nothing has changed.