Thursday, May 25, 2017

Toilet Paper

While I was in the bathroom today, I could not help but think of my old friend and former Bali resident, Rosemary Barnes.

Now, hold on. I can explain.

We were talking once about various irritating things associated with Bali, things that just don't seem to function appropriately, and Rosemary happened to mention new toilet paper rolls that cannot be unraveled. No matter where you try to start, you run into a dead end. You manage to tease out a crease in the paper, tear out a thin strip, but find yourself back where you started. You start again. The same thing happens. Time passes. The roll will not be undone. I mean, if I wanted to spend this much time in the bathroom, I could have brought along a Rubik's Cube, or a copy of Les Miserables.

Of course, eventually one ends up destroying a portion of the roll so that he can be done with the business and get on about his day. And perhaps this is the plan of the manufacturer from the outset, given the portion of each roll that ends up shredded and disgarded in the course of one's efforts.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Repo Man

Happened to talk with a guy up at the neighborhood Circle K this morning whose job here is to repossess cars and bikes on which the payments are derelict. A "repo man", as we say in America - a term that he was happy to learn. Somehow, I never pictured the existence of repo men here, although it certainly makes all the sense in the world that they have them, given that people are likely enough not to have even a licence or a registration. In fact, I have wondered often enough how it happened that so many people here could afford brand new Jeeps and Land Cruisers and such-like. Well, I guess driving them is one thing, paying for them is sometimes another.

This was a big man, with arms thicker than my thighs, and I certainly would not want him showing up at my door, nor would I dare to try to impede him from taking unpaid-for property. Nonetheless, he mentioned that many people will want to fight him, outraged at the the thought that he could just come and take the car they were not paying for. One man pulled a knife, he said, another a Samurai sword!

Do you carry a weapon? I asked.

No, no. Just use my fists.

Hebat, ya?

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Whilst Googling around today, I was surprised to learn that there are only about 400,000 people in the US with multiple sclerosis. For some reason, I thought there were several million. Apparently, I'm more special than I realized. Clearly a rarity among 324 million Americans. My parents always said I would be special someday.


Happened to see some video coverage today from my home town of Portland, Oregon. Indonesians and other concerned residents there were supporting the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Ahok, who was just recently sentenced to a jail term of two years for the crime of blasphemy. 

Yes, you heard that right. Blasphemy. This is bound to sound very strange to most Americans (at least, I hope it is), but here in Indonesia, blasphemy is a serious crime (blasphemy, that is, against Allah or the Koran; blasphemy against any other religion or God is okay). 

What did Ahok do to deserve imprisonment? Well, there is where we see the real blasphemy behind the blasphemy, for, as far as any reasoning person would be concerned, he did nothing at all. It was charged by members of an organization called the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), an extremist organization here in Indonesia, that Ahok had blaphemed against the Koran by saying that it could be misinterpreted in order to incite violence or unrest. 

Indeed, the Koran can be misinterpreted in such a way, as we well know; as can the Bible or any other holy book. It's kind of a no-brainer. 

But in a society like Indonesia, where small extremist groups like the FPI can exert pressure on weak and corrupt members of governement and the court, blasphemy is a convenient tool for use against a progressive governor who is 1) Christian and 2) Chinese/Indonesian. That's two strikes against him from the outset. 

Millions of people here in Indonesia and around the world have protested this kangaroo court and its shameful decision, which has, nonetheless, already been carried out. 

Let us hope, in our own strange times, that America will remain forever a free nation devoted to real justice and liberty. 

Friday, May 19, 2017


Another big day in Bali. Everyday is a big day in Bali, even if sometimes it is just big on its own and has nothing to do with me. Anyway, let's start with my tooth, which fell out. Actually, that was a few days ago, but it counts as part of today because I finally got to the dentist today. 

I wouldn't mind so much if it had been any old tooth, although I don't have that many to spare anymore (and those that I do have are all old, for that matter, like me), but this was one of my front teeth. And it's not being unable to chew that I mind so much as looking like Alfred E. Neuman (for those who remember Mad Magazine). 

Interestingly, as a sort of a side note, it has been suggested by some researchers that brittle teeth have an association with MS. That makes sense to me, since my teeth are either brittle or gone, and it does seem that they began to fall out with increased regularity after I was diagnosed with MS. On the other hand, some researchers dissent, saying that there is no relationship between MS and teeth that absent themselves from one's mouth. I prefer the former view, of course, as it acquits me from personal responsibility. (My wife says the problem is because I eat candy before going to bed, but that's neither here nor there. In my opinion). 

So anyway, I finally managed to hook up with the dentist today and schedule an appointment for 6 pm. 

Before describing that appointment, however, we will set this aside for a moment in the interest of chronology. 

Earlier on in the day, my wife suddenly decided that we could no longer live without a more sturdy board beneath the cushion on our sofa. Actually, I shouldn't say "suddenly", because, in all fairness, she has mentioned this in the past. The existing support board is quite thin and tends to crackle and snap rather ominously when people sit on the sofa. Happily, most of the people we know are pretty light in weight, as Indonesians tend to be, and so nobody has actually fallen through the sofa as of yet. I suppose that I'm the heaviest person hereabouts, so if anyone had fallen through, it would have been me. And so I would have known. 

Nonetheless, this was something that needed repair, or, rather, correction. Now. Today. 

To that end, we went looking for a shop nearby that might have "boards". And I'll be damned if we didn't find one just a few blocks from the house (damned because I had confidently claimed that there were no such shops nearby). 

The shop owner showed us some boards, and my wife chose one perhaps 3/4 inch in width. Nobody is likely to fall through 3/4 inch of solid wood (unless, of course, they happen to be falling from a great height, and I can't really see how that would happen). 

Now, the man had many boards of varying thickness, but they were all one size, and we were told that one has to buy the entire board, not slices of a board, to the tune of 200.000 Rupiah per board (around 15 dollars). 

Well, okay. In the interest of sofa safety. 

Will we want to take the pieces, too?

Well, why not? One never knows when pieces of a board might come in handy, to be used as ... I don't know ... weapons? Cushion supports for other sofas that we don't have?

But the thing is, we had neglected to measure our board needs before visiting the shop. Therefore, we drove on home to do so; and, instead of measuring, as it turned out, I just loaded the old board (roughly the weight of styrofoam) into the back of the car, and trundled on back to the board shop (sans wife). 

This worked out just fine. The man and his two helpers placed the old styrofoam board on top of the thick new board, made some measurements, and drew some lines. One of the young helpers then went to his truck and came back with a saw. A handsaw. You know, the old-fashioned sharp toothed sort for which you add your own sweat and muscle power. (Or, as I understand, you can also make music with these saws). 

The two young men went to work, and the shop owner said, "You want a beer?"

Although I very rarely drink alcohol of any sort anymore, this seemed like such a pleasant, friendly offer, and I agreed. And so the owner straight away sent one of the young men (the sawyers) to purchase two bottles of beer. Upon delivery of these, I was invited to the shop owner's office (a little desk tucked between paint cans and tools and drums of plaster and nails and screws, and boards) to sip and talk. After all, it was bound to take the sawyers some considerable amount of time to cut this 3/4 inch board into several pieces. 

"So, where are you from?" the man asked.


"Ah, Donald Trump!" 

Instantly, I gave the thumbs down sign, even as his own thumb just as instantly went up. 

"What! You like Donald Trump?" 

Hearing the disbelief in my voice, the shop owner answered in the negative, and his thumb floated unceremoniously into his pocket. 

"No," he said. "No Donald Trump. Barack Obama!" 


We exchange a high-five. 

"You should have a power saw," I suggested. 

"Yes! Those are great. Zzzzzzz! But, we're not that kind of shop."

So we talked on about personal history, and background, and family, and number of children, and number of wives (I had him beat by one), and it was all quite relaxing and enjoyable. He showed me photos of a house he is building in Sanur ('Maybe you want to rent it?') and photos of his children, and a video of his 6 year-old daughter learning to speak English. 

About the time we finished our beers, the sawyers finished their sawing. So we talked to the sawyers for a while, and now we are all good friends. 

"Come by any time," the owner (Komang by name) said. "If you're walking, just drop by. I like to speak to Americans.

"And I like to speak to Indonesians." 

"But I am Balinese."

"Well, even better, then." 

Now about that tooth. 

I showed up at 6 pm sharp. The dentist, who knows me from previous visits, and knows my poverty when it comes to teeth, had a look and, yes, a little laugh. 

"Terlihat benar-benar konyol, ya?" (Looks pretty ridiculous). 


Well, it was decided that I would need a crown and a bridge, linking the appliance to an intact tooth some teeth distant. Two million Rupiah. Good Lord. And I had been worried about a 15 dollar board! Could she maybe make wooden teeth? We have several sections of pointless board at the house. 

Ah well. 

The remainder of the front tooth had to be pulled first, and now I'll have to wait about 10 days for the site to heal. Which will give me plenty of time to think where the two million Rupiah might come from. 

So ends, as I write, this big day in Bali. 

Tomorrow, I'm sure, will be another. 

New Badge and an Update

Proud to be listed among Healthline's Best Blogs of 2017 and sport my new badge. 

Whenever this happens, I feel especially obliged to say something about MS, which I don't very often address in the blog. There are several reasons for this. One is that I'm kind of marooned outside the MS community, in that very few people in Indonesia even know what MS is, including the doctors. For this reason, I no longer bother seeing a doctor for problems that seem related to MS - a frustrating waste of time and money. Instead, I do my own research, experiment with the medications that are available and try to arrive upon something that is helpful. These would all be symptomatic medications, as I have not used the "interferon" type category since around 2009. 

When one is not involved in the routine of doctor visits, diagnoses, MRI's, and treatment plans, one finds himself outside the mainstream - and occasionally feels rather stupid for being so. On the other hand, the alienation from the medical community decreases, in some ways, one's awareness of the disease on a daily basis. 

To be honest, my "Plan A" had always been to return to America once I was old enough to benefit from Medicaid; however, this seems anything but certain in the current political climate, with proposed cuts to Medicaid and the possibility that MS will not even be covered as a preexisting condition. So, I guess Plan B is to just stay put for the time being. 

I continue to struggle with what I take to be neuropathic pain in my shoulder and back. I have addressed this at earlier dates, but, to summarize, what first seemed to be a case of cervical radiculopathy has turned out to be associated with MS, in my opinion, rather than with any mechanical injury - having persisted since last August. Given that the pain is mitigated, to a degree, by neurontin and methylpredisolone, this would seem to incidate the neurologic connection rather than radiculopathy. And, of course, I suffered no traumatic injury or mechanical back or muscle injury at all, which made cervical radiculopathy rather unlikely from the outset. 

Other than this, I find that I go through periods of time where my deficits from MS will appear more pronounced than usual, and then will eventually recede. Cognitive dysfunction, for instance, seeems to come and go. At present, I seem to be in a period of greater mental sharpness - more able, less confused, less forgetful. Another symptom that varies is the numbness in my feet and legs. Sometimes this will be quite pronounced, and sometimes, as at present, it is barely noticeable. The same pattern is evident in the degree of fatigue I experience. Sometimes, I will want to fall asleep during the day, and then sometimes I feel energetic and have no need for extra sleep. 

I have also started to exercise in the form of daily walks, usually in the evening when the temperature has cooled down. I find that this has already strengthened my legs and that I am able to walk farther and faster as the weeks pass. Although certain problems with balance remain, these seem to be lessened by the strenghthening of the muscles in my legs. 

So, that's kind of where I am right now. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bakso and Etc.

Walking on Jalan Badung this evening, I caught up with a bakso seller pushing his cart along. Of course, he wanted to stop and talk.
"Where are you from?" he says.
"Originally from America."
"No, America. You know, the United States of. USA."
"Oh, America! Barack Obama."
"Well, no. Donald Trump," I say with regret.
"No," the man returns in a definite tone. "No Donald Trump. Barack Obama."
I'm with ya, brother.
So I walk on, but by and by the bakso man catches up to me, along with his cart.
"Wait here, Pak, he says. "This place, drinking drinking, very pretty girls. Lima puluh lima ribu."
"What, for the drink or for the girl."
"The girl, Tuan. They very pretty girl."
"Fifty-five thousand? Five bucks?"
"Yes, very, very pretty."
"No. No thanks, Pak."
"Yes, you try."
"No, no. I already have a very pretty wife."
"No tell wife, Tuan. No worry."
"But that's not the point, Pak. I mean ... Oh well, never mind. Have a good night. Good luck with the bakso."