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12.9.10

In A Pig's Eye

A thousand years ago, there was a comedian named Yakov Smirnoff, whose famous tag line was, "I loaf dees cone-tree."

After my last nemesis, I mean wife, stole everything I ever owned, destroyed our family and strung herself up to the shower head, I pretty much lost my sense of humor. There was nothing left to laugh at and my insides just withered and wasted.

Thankfully, there was a place in the world called Indonesia. Sometimes this place can be a laugh a minute. If there's a labor-intensive, illogical and strangely effective way to do something, then I can guarantee it's being done right now in my neighborhood, and in neighborhoods all over the country.

Maybe it's the fact that I am like Gandalf in Hobbiton; a giant hulk of a man wandering blindly around a world made of and for short people. Certainly I provide endless fodder for the local folk as I nearly knock myself out on overhangs or the chain of broken chairs and stools in my wake as they collapse into their own footprints without resistance of any kind.

Maybe it's the guy burning the trash down the street complaining about air quality in Jakarta, or the folks who buy motorcycles to get around the city more quickly and end up becoming the reason why traffic here is such a nightmare. Perhaps it's the way folks complain about how dirty Jakarta is as they mindlessly toss their wrappers and plastic cups on the ground as they speak.

It could be the way someone will spend 70,000 rupiah to take a taxi across town to save 40,000 on an item that is on sale. Or the sign I saw a while back: Rp.15,000/each or 2 for Rp.35,000. The really funny part was the people buying two. Certainly, watching a woman haggle for an hour with a vendor in the market to save Rp.1,000 (about 10 cents) on a hand of bananas. The best way to get an Indonesian's attention is to say something is free. The second best way is to say it's on sale. Even when neither is true.

It's always a good laugh to see skin-whitening products sold here in the diametically opposite way that tanning products are sold in the states. I'm trying to think of a way to open whitening salons. I'd make a gajillion bucks, trust me. Of course, cigarette ads are infinitely humorous. They are still advertised on TV here, but you are not allowed to show anyone actually smoking. So, you get streams of images of people doing really healthy things followed by the brand logo. Kinda like beer companies sponsoring race cars.

It definitely includes the Indonesian version of the Physician's Desk Reference, which lists only one malady, masuk angin, and only one cure, tolak angin. This literally means "the wind enters," and is blamed for just about anything that makes you uncomfortable. The cure means "to push away the wind." What makes it more humorous is that Indonesian humor is very broad and slapstick. They don't have stand-up comedians, and certainly have never considered word-play as a form of humor. So when I come along and change things around by saying, "masuk anjing" and "tolak anjing," (the dog enters and push away the dog), it takes them about 15 seconds to register what I just said, and then it becomes a running joke. There's an expression, "Okelah kalo begitu," which translates as "alright if that way," or "whatever." So I turn it around as, "Okelah kalo begini (alright if this way). The room full of RCA dogs always tickles me as they ponder the reversal. I could be the Indonesian version of George Carlin if I get an hour-long routine worked out.

One thing Indonesians do that just mystifies me is unplugging everything all the time. Not that the action alone is humorous, but the explanation is that electricity will leak out and cost money. So I just ask a simple question. If that is true, then why do open wall sockets not leak? Stops 'em dead every time.

Indonesians are penny-pinchers to the point of pathological obsession. They make Dutch and Scots look like profligate spenders. When you point out the illogic of their actions, they just walk away shaking their heads as if thinking, "What a dolt. I just saved Rp.35,000 by taking a taxi across town."

Certainly the complaints about corruption make for good entertainment. An Indonesian will rue the rampant government corruption while paying bribes and accepting kick-backs. In fact, it's so ingrained in the way business is done that no one even thinks about when they are doing it. They just complain about some theoretical thing that exists "out there." The dichotomy makes for great theater of the absurd.

Something that tickles me to no end is the fact that millions migrate to Jakarta because this is where the good jobs are, and once they arrive they start complaining because there are so many people here because this is where the good jobs are.

The Indonesian brain must have no bridge between the left and right hemispheres. Nothing else could explain the way one can hold opposite and conflicting ideals, and yet not see the simple contradiction. One thing I will give them, though. At least I found my laugh again.

Thanks! I needed that.

I Loaf dees cone-tree.

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