the bright, clear line

April 16, 2012

I stare at the two foreigners, demonstrating my ability to rubberneck and drive at the same time, as long as there are no other vehicles on the road. He’s wearing a green t-shirt; her shoulders are sunburned. Yes, I can see her shoulders.

It’s a bit strange to see foreigners in my neighborhood, stranger to see them turn down my street. I pull into my driveway, pull off my helmet. They don’t look at me.


I put the attendance sheet in its plastic holder, swing my backpack on, and head outside where I find my Shansi mentor. He’s smoking a cigarette and standing by his car. The blue of his shirt stands out against the car’s darker shade.

“Sudah?” he says.

“Sudah,” I reply. I’ve finally finished my eight-hour stint in the office.

“Pulang, tidur,” he says.

I agree, but I feel my legs beginning to sweat. Really, what I’ll probably do is go to the grad school’s office—where there’s air conditioning and wireless—and hide there until the sun goes down.

I shake his hand and go off to find my motorbike. My back is sweaty and all I’ve done is stand outside for three minutes. I take this to mean rainy season is over.


When I go out for dinner, I put my grandfather’s 1955, Hong-Kong-issued shirt on as a jacket. I’m already wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Another layer is superfluous, but it’s what an Indonesian would do.

I slip my helmet on and drive to my favorite vegan restaurant.


I’m leaving office number two when someone calls my name. I turn, see my Shansi mentor’s daughter, go over to say hello.

I’m rarely completely frank with people in Indonesia, afraid that I might be too frank about the wrong topic. Gossip around the office—gossip that’s gotten back to me, anyway—is that I’m quiet. I don’t say when I’m hungry; I don’t say when I’m tired; I don’t say anything. Then again, I never said much in the US either.

She raises a hand to brush back her hair. Red bracelets clink at her wrist. I brought those back for her from Little India in Penang.


My mind wanders now when I drive. I know the roads, even some secondary roads. I anticipate drivers. I’ve stopped being hyper-alert every second, worried that someone in front of me will do something crazy. Few traffic maneuvers are crazy anymore, and I drive slowly enough that I can react to whatever happens in front of me. So I spend my time reciting poetry in my head: sometimes hate calls itself peace on the nightly news.

Or I compose stories.


Loving Hut was founded by someone who calls herself the Supreme Leader. She’s vegan and spends a good deal of her time philosophizing on topics such as the possibility of human life in other galaxies. I emailed a friend a link to her webpage. At first, he said, he thought she was just another Asian hippy. Then he realized she was completely crazy. His exact words were, Are you sure this is a restaurant and not a front for the Asian version of Scientology? Please clarify immediately, and please don’t get brainwashed..


We leave the grad school together, stop at her motorbike. She asks me about a performance day that the Vocational School may or may not be having. “Did they ask you something?” she says.

I tell her they asked if I would teach dance to some of their students. I also tell her that I said I was very busy.

“So you told them no?” she says.

I shrug. “Did they ask you something?”

They asked her to organize her class to perform something. She told her class to figure something out. They decided to do a play. She told them to practice; she wasn’t going to try to teach them anything new like how to dance.

I nod, say that was the problem with teaching dance: What kind of dance? When? Was anyone actually interested in rehearsals? You don’t learn to dance in two months.

Before we drive out, she puts on a jacket. “Hati-hati,” she tells me.


There’s someone new working at Loving Hut. I can tell he’s new because he doesn’t actually listen to my Indonesian. Two portions of broccoli is not hard to say, and I’ve been saying it for about eight months, but he goes for the leafy greens instead.

“Tidak, tidak.” I point. “Brokoli.”

He asks me what I want to drink.

I give him my standard order: tea, with just a little sugar. I enunciate.

He turns to the cash register, tells me the price, turns to the drinks.

The girl who’s helping him has already gotten my tea. She places it on the counter next to the box of spoons. We smile at each other.


5 thoughts on “the bright, clear line

  1. I just realized I’ve been an ass this whole time and haven’t checked out your blog. That’s changing immediately. First, you guys have a vegan restaurant?? Not many people know about tofu here so the vegan scene is prety non-existent (or at least in Madurai in my experience).

    Also, I know what you mean about spotting foreigners around the city. It’s always really amusing when you drive by unnoticed, that and I feel like I give the cold shoulder to other foreigners I spot. I don’t know if I do it on purpose or not (I guess I must) but it seems more odd to randomly go up to them versus just passing right on by.

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