A Rotten Stinking Place To Die

Kinda busy today. In lieu of a regular post, here’s the first chapter of a new novel, “A Rotten Stinking Place to Die,” first draft actually nearly finished. Then starts the revision. Any and all comments and criticisms welcome. That’s the point of first drafts.

Chapter 1

I didn’t see the body at first.

It’d been a rough night crossing, the Orient Star plowing into thirty knot squalls with driving rain and corkscrewing seas. We finally dropped anchor after two a.m. in the lee of what boat skippers in these parts call Thank God Island and collapsed into our bunks.

I woke by long habit shortly before dawn. Despite only a few hours of sleep, my consciousness returned full and instant. I have never been a sleepy-head. The rain had stopped. The single-berth cabin held steady. The air conditioning unit hummed, the red numerals of its temperature display reflected backwards off the porthole’s glass. I am accustomed to equatorial heat, but I’d indulged my Nordic genes by dialing it as low as it would go. Kicking off the blankets, I swung out of bed to dress in a sarong and long-sleeve blouse. I crammed on my cap and grabbed the prayer rug. Outside the galley, I used the freshwater hose to rinse my face and hands and feet in the ritual ablution. That done, I went up the metal stairway to the upper deck, treading softly so as not to wake Alexandra, who slept with her captain’s ear alert to the ship’s noises.

By the upper landing was a small hydraulic crane used to hoist the inflatable dinghy into its cradle. The body dangled only ten feet away, but was shrouded in thick night shadow. I walked past without noticing.

Beside the salon door, rungs led to the top of the wheelhouse, festooned with radar and satellite domes. There was no moon. Tattered clouds strung across the star-dusted sky, shedding enough light to silhouette the island. A breeze carried the iodine scent of reef and the murmur of surf.

On the eastern horizon, the night began to thin. I placed the prayer rug toward Mecca in the northeast, which meant I was angled towards the ship’s stern. The body was below me, out of my line of sight. I performed the ritual dawn prayers, and added my personal ones, for my ailing mother in the care facility and my sister in university and for patience and grace in dealing with the ship’s guests.

When I was finished, I rolled up the rug and stepped toward the ladder. A swell curled into the anchorage and ran under the ship. In the darkness below me, something swayed. I noticed then that the crane’s boom was extended over the water. As I peered, whatever dangled from the boom swayed the other way and then hung still again.

The head tilted at an ugly angle. The chin flopped onto the chest. The arms fell straight. The toes drooped toward the water. I might have thought it all an illusion, a shape fashioned out of the night like a cardboard cutout, without depth or detail, except another swell rolled into the bay. The body swayed again. A stray beam of anchor light fell on the face. Dried blood crusted under the nose. A swollen tongue protruded between puffed lips.

That made it real as hell.

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Bali Surf Report for 21 March (Nyepi) with surf photographs!

In case there are a few readers who don’t know, each year Bali goes on shut down for a full day, sunrise to sunrise, no lights no play no work no surf. One is supposed to remain indoors, or in the case of tourists, on hotel grounds. No surfing either, but I bet you somewhere on the island some foreign fellow paddled out and then tried to plead innocence.

But the webcams remained on their diligent duty (next year the Balinese pecalang might twig and shut these down too). Here are some screen grabs of a very rare sight – not a single surfer or learner or school pod in the water.

It’s been a while since there’s been epic surf on Nyepi — if we had Sunday’s swell on Saturday, oh the insufferable frustration.

canggu nyepi

impossibles nyepi

kuta beach sepi2

keramas nyepi

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Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi (and no, you may not go surfing)

To our Balinese brethren, Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi, which falls on March 21st.

To surfers: it shouldn’t need saying, but somehow every year it does: the surf is off limits. It used to be that one could paddle out and in, as Nyepi was more relaxed, but these days the rules are strictly enforced. Be respectful.

But take a look at this (I’m not in the habit of posting surf forecasts but it looks like Nyepi will be a good day to rest up for what will appear on the dawn’s horizon — and remember Nyepi is enforced until sunrise, so no sneaking out at 4:30 am to get to your spot:

surfs up

Many people don’t know that ogoh-ogoh are a recently new cultural phenomena. Banjar Taman in Sanur always makes a good one:

ogoh 2

And since this is Bali, where earthiness is an art form, the pig is anatomically correct:

ogoh rear

(The bottom wording says “1 percent art, 99 percent haram”. Written along the bottom of the side shot and not in the picture is the warning “This pig eats genitals” although the wording used is a lot more earthy”

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Sick day

Flat, too.

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A most sensible way to stand in line (or on line, if you are from New York City)

Waiting in line, or queuing as our British friends would say, is not something that has ever come naturally to Indonesians. I speak from a lifetime of living here. Airline counters, bus stations, ferry terminals, market stalls selling hot cakes…the process that comes to mind is not queuing, but more akin to mobbing. Shove your way to the front and shove your money at whoever has the goods. A good-natured mob, hardly ever any snarling or dirty looks, but most certainly not organized. Kind of like the local traffic, come to think of it.

I remember some 20 years ago when I entered my bank (now defunct, thanks to corruption) and lo and behold, all the customers were seated! Waiting their turn! Some new electronic ticket gizmo system! And it was working! The security guard showed me to to get my ticket from the dispenser, and since I was number 28 and I no longer could shove my way to the front of the line, I left and returned in the afternoon, when there were only a few customers.

Apparently this photo was taken in Hawaii. It works just as well as a fancy electronic ticket system, I reckon.

wait in line

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Ketut Denda redux, Canggu, 1982: What we had once upon a time, what we’ve lost

After last week’s post on Denda, Peter Neely of Indosurf fame and early Bali pioneer sent me this photo of Denda at Canggu, early 80s, solo session (that means alone, by himself, nary another surfer or surf school in the water, with only cows and Peter with his camera in attendance — although Peter says Denda wasn’t alone for too much longer, for shortly after this photo was taken the crowd doubled in size).

denda canggu

PS Peter has a terrific 1.2 meter map/poster of the Indonesia archipelago, done by artist Guy Hastings, for very reasonable price.
Check it out

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Ketut Denda, early Kuta surfer and one of Bali’s first aerialists

In the mid-80’s, I used to work for a friend’s home-grown Bali clothing company with its main office located in a Kuta Balinese family’s compound on Gang Poppies 1. Ketut Denda was one of the sons, a local beach kid with a big smile who ripped in the surf. He did things I hadn’t seen before, like shooting his board high over the lip, grabbing the rails while he was in the air and somersaulting backwards with the board and landing it back on the wave and on his feet to keep riding. He wasn’t copying anybody, or imitating any video clip, he was just having fun.

I only have one photo of him in my albums, at Labuhan Haji in East Lombok. Mike, me and Denda were getting on the good ship Hati Murnih (which we’d sent ahead and then flew to Mataram and rented a taxi for the cross-island ride to Labuhan Haji). This was pre-forecast days, and as I recall, we didn’t score big, but had fun waves here and there.


denda hm

Denda lives in Japan now.

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