Friday, February 15, 2008

In the Hall of the Mountain King, Pt.6: Barney the Bear

Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Ami steps up to the large wooden door and knocks, while Rob and I stand one step behind and below, mute.

What can you say?

It’s like lining up for a caning at school, back in the days when they cured naughty boys like Rob and myself of over-indulgence with a swift whack on the behind.

It’s odd, though, how naughty boys seem to be the ones that end up in places like Kalimantan either saving humanity or living a life of a dissolution, or both.

It’s just a question of what you find to believe in, but then as any good naughty boy will tell you, nobody can actually hand you belief, you’ve got to find it for yourself.

So you’ve just got to go on being naughty until you find something real enough, true enough, and God help us all, beautiful enough, that will bring you in from the cold, of its own accord.

(That is, if you keep honour with yourself, and don't succumb to the yapping of Poodles along the way, which is easier said than done. There are a lot of Poodles, and their logic is so poodle tight...)

As Jesus said to Thomas, in the Gospel of Thomas: I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.

... which does, if you think about it, put it beyond the reach of a lot of the known world.

("How freakin' far have I got to reach, Lord?" asked Thomas.)

Ami’s wearing her inscrutable ‘one size fits all’ Asian Happy Face, a great skill, and something that is impossible for Westerners to effect, no matter the effort.

Her face, even before the door opens, is radiating complete non-threatening, compliant tidak papa, ‘tidak papa’ being bahasa Indonesia for ‘no worries’, and ‘she’ll be right, mate’, as we say in Australia, and ‘it’s cool’, as they say in America (there being no equivalent in German.)

The Happy Face is not genetic, but simply a social skill that requires years of training, but you have to start early, like Tiger Woods or maybe Evel Knievel.

In fact, Ami’s in such top form for the big occasion that she looks like she’s stuck one of those small, round Happy Cushions on top of her shoulders, and it’s impressive. (You can buy them at the market in Palangkaraya for a dollar. They come in red, pink, blue and yellow.)

Yeah, the Happy Face...

The big white Mickey Mouse eyes and the ludicrous Gavin Jenkins’ smile* say ‘I want to play’ and ‘I have a very small brain’, which could be rather boring, except that in Ami’s case, being female, there’s an unmistakable subtext of lay down your sword Achilles, rest your troubled head on my welcoming breast and I will transport you...

*Gavin Jenkins was a fellow pupil in primary school, and he was perhaps the dumbest human being I have ever met in my sorry life. When in trouble, he smiled like a Happy Cushion, believing that this most guileless of facial gestures would win him through even the most critical of situations, ones that Jesus Himself would have had trouble with. The day Gavin took my beloved marbles, and I confronted him about it, was the last time he ever smiled like that in my presence, at least until they replaced his front tooth, at great expense and flowing of blood. As you can imagine, I got an awful caning for that little episode, from the very formidable Sister Marguerite, our school principal, viz;
“Felix,” said Sr. Marguerite, looming over my tender 10 year old self with the cane, “that was not a very Christian act!”
“Yes, Sister,” I replied, “but Gavin took my marbles and wouldn’t give them back! And then he smiled at me!”
"He smiled at you?"
"Ah, yes..." I said.
“Oh, for the love of God! What are we ever going to do with you?" she said. "Now, bend over!" which I did, knowing the game was lost.
“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you,” she added, flexing the cane.
“Then don’t do it, Sister!” I replied quickly, and quite reasonably I thought, but which, I can tell you, was not the right response.

Yes, the Happy Face, what a formidable weapon it is.

Of course it's fine if it’s working for you, on your team, so to speak, attending your every need, molding itself effortlessly like Plasticine around every jagged edge you call an issue, massaging every Engram out of your colon with strong, soothing hands, sending you blissfully unawares into the Land of Forgetfulness.

But of course, everything in this dualistic universe in which we reside has a dark side, skills just being skills, massages just being massages, so it all depends on who is driving, and what they want.

And everybody, except Lord Buddha (Peace be upon Him) wants something…

We reach into the dark, past the phantoms and the feints, searching for a handhold, a foothold, a corner of earth, and further, down through the fissure in the rock, deep into the cave where the Genie lies, and then, and only then, can we see what animates the heart of that which we face.

At that point, we’re either home, or at war, and it doesn’t really matter which. The main point being that we know where we stand, and can act.

But as Ringo (Peace be upon him) tells us, it don’t come easy…

Rob’s gone ‘Turtle’, which may be the Western equivalent to the Happy Face Defence Strategy, but that is, I will admit, a little like comparing a World War II German Tiger Tank to a Stealth Bomber, or perhaps Celtic Bonfires to NORAD.

‘Turtle’, with its distinctive raising of the shoulders, withdrawal of the head and a field of vision narrowed to the circumference of a Vegemite jar, radiates more of a ‘I don’t want to play’ and ‘fuck you’, with a strong subtext of 'I can’t handle this.'

In a word, it radiates ‘fear’, which is definitely not the same thing as the tantalising promise of balmy evenings spent imbibing gamelan music while your small brained but highly pliable seven veiled companion attends to your every fantasy.

I know which one I prefer, but it’s a dangerous game.

In fact, Rob looks for all the world like he’s expecting the thudding of trolls and the resounding rumble of a Fee Fye Oleh Oleh! I smell the blood of a Rich Bul-e! and you’d have to mad to offer up your body to that, so hence the Turtle Pose, I guess.

(Oleh oleh: presents, souvenirs. Bule: albino, whiteman)

My own fear is sudden and outrageous possession by Barney the Angry Bear (in an Enclosed Environment.)

Yes, Barney, I know him well…

Still, let’s face it, it’s not my money, and even if it was it’s only 500 dollars and at the end of the day it might sting but it’s not going to bring the house down.

Not so Barney, though; he can bring the house down right on top of me.

But then again, when it’s all said and done, who gives a shit about the mewang and the polisi and all the bullshit rules from Lilliput?

But then the Lilliputians do seem to have us well tied up, and as much as I attempt, through objective logic, to deny the existence of all the little strings that bind, I have to admit that this whole thing has gotten to me, and I’m feeling emotive.

Barney may be, as we speak, prowling the plastic bag strewn streets of Lilliput in search those that heap injustice upon me, his beloved master.

Barny loves me, this I know,

‘Cos more than once I’ve let him go.

I’ve watched him rend, I’ve watched him tear

the head off a Care Bear.

An abridged scientific note on Mechanisms of Emotion from the Kiev World Book Multimedia Encyclopaedia (which comes free with your Mac):

Someone who encounters a bear in the woods would probably interpret the event as dangerous. This sense of danger would cause the individual to feel fear. Thus, a person who met a bear would probably run away, which would increase his chances of survival.

Which is fine, but what about if the freakin’ bear is inside of you, Mr Kiev?

You didn’t think about that, did you?

Now moving on, while Mr Dunderhead Kiev has a bit of a think, let’s take our Scientific Bear Story as a kick off and look at the situation from the bear’s point of view:

Barney the Happy Bear goes to the Zoo!

There was once a naughty, happy bear named Barney, who frolicked the day away in the cool, wide and salmon-rich spaces of unfettered Tundra Land.

One day he went to sleep, and woke up inside a cage in, in a zoo, in Lilliput. (It happens.)

Inside the cage was another former Tundra bear, Bobby, who was at that very moment having his peanut butter sandwiches confiscated by the zoo-keeper as punishment for rutting on Ami, a local she-bear (also in the cage), in full view of the zoo-going public, which, it seems, is against the rules.

(Notwithstanding the fact that the zoo-going public can often be seen at the zoo rutting on each other, this being Lilliput, and it’s hard to find a place to do your rutting in private.)

Now, the zoo-keeper, just to be safe 'cos you never know with Tundra bears, had brought along an armed security guard.

So here’s the set up: Two tundra bears and one local bear in a cage, one zoo-keeper reaching in to take the peanut butter sandwiches, and outside the cage, a security guard with a gun.

Keeping in mind that the zoo keeper and the security guard, not having ever watched Animal Planet, do not realise that bears have feelings too (and I’ll bet you three bowls of rice to a peanut they've never seen Free Willie I, or II.)

Barney does, indeed, have a decision to make, and he worries me more than the mewang, more than the polisi man and even more than standing in Starbucks with my fly undone.

Keep in mind, also, that although I’m Barney’s master, I may not have complete control over his actions.

I wish I did, but I'm beginning to wonder whether I have any control over Barney.

Yes, control, what an interesting thing it is; how we slave for it, work for it, hold on to it as though our lives depended on it.

Sit down Barney while I dope you up and stuff you in a cage.

Yes, you can bring Barney in, beaten and bruised, cowered and clipped, but as any good naughty boy on a bike will tell you, he either comes in of his own accord, in full splendor, or forget it.

Yes, Barney loves me, this I know,
'Cos more than once I've let him go...


Anonymous said...

Hello from California, Senior Felix- (or should I say feliz, as in happy..)

You know, you and Sr. Pumpy inspired our Thailand trip back in '06-
Well, we joined up with, offering our tiny abode as a resting place to traveling cycle tourists. Our first guests were a couple of young women from Toronto, cycling from New Orleans to San Francisco. When we offered to show our pictures of Thailand, one of them said, oh, did you follow Mr. Pumpy? Their aunt had cycled Viet Nam and apparently was quoting what 'Mr. Pumpy' said.

In some ways, it's a small world. Still. Best wishes to you and Mr. Pumpy, wherever he is...

Felix and Mr Pumpy said...

Hi Jean.

Thanks for the comment, cheers.

I'm back in Kalimantan now, after 3 months in Bangkok and hence no blogging or emailing, the internet here being wonky.
Nice to hear the Toronto/Vietnam story... excellent.
In fact, as I write, Mr Pumpy and I are working on our first Ride Report for about 4 years... the Kathmandu to India run we did in '04, a great little ride indeed.
So yes, Mr Pumpy is alive and well, here in Kali with me, although we did have a few personal issues there for a while, and if truth be told, came within a spoke's width of breaking the partnership.... but then it did strike me; who the hell is gonna read about Mr Felix's ride adventures? Nobody, that's who.... and Mr Pumpy, well, he's just so Mr Pumpy, that he can't stop whichever we clawed back from the brink, made the necessary boundary changes - mainly 'expansion' - and we're cooking again, although as usual, I do most of the 'work', he does most of the 'glory'... that hasn't changed.
I hope to have the Kathmandu ride up within a month - which does sound like an inordinate amount of time, I know, but...
1. this is Kalimantan, Indonesia, where things happen at the speed if a Blind Man crossing the road, if at all, and
2. Mr Pumpy and I are actually leaving here in 2 weeks after 2 1/2 years residency, and will be riding up the East Coast of Malaysia in May, to Bangkok, where our next project will begin.
We hope to be in Kashmir in August/September.

Yeah, it's small world in many ways, I agree... and actually the "cycling community", this loose affiliation of folks who like the feel of the wind in their hair and the smell of benzine in the mornings, is actually pretty small.
I'm still often surprised at how few cyclists I meet on the road out in Asia.
Ok mate, best wishes to you, and Aunty Whatever Her Name Is, if you ever meet her.

Felix and Mr Pumpy
Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Anonymous said...

Great-looking forward to more of you and Mr. P. A blind man running across the road, eh? That could be fast, too, couldn't it? Still, I think I get what you mean.

As far as Aunty Canada, we may well see her sometime this summer as myself and Mr. Ross are planning to cycle from the Atlantic to Pacific, brushing by the Niagra falls area where we are told Aunty would be happy to let us pitch a tent in her yard.

If you or senior Pumpy's ears are burning sometime in June or July, you will know it is us somewhere around the Great Lakes recounting our Felix/Pumpy inspired adventures.

Long may they continue!


M L Jassy said...

Just to think I have all this ahead of me. In my broadest ocker drawl, "I'm excited" is an understatement of choice. Prior to a durian soaked odyssey I embark on pretty soon, I've been cyberscoping other people's ideas and experience to generate unpurchased advice (so I can have experiences of my own.)
It's the likes of Mr Pumpy and company that set us ragtag travellers on the path to hoped for enlightenment, not just from the western turtle fear shell, as mentioned in your blog, but also of the panniers due to frequent food stops as advised.
As to the question, "who the hell is gonna read about Mr Felix's ride adventures?", look not much further, you have got yourself a readership.

Felix and Mr Pumpy said...

Hi Mitzi,

"I'll have the Mitzi Burger, please!"

Now, apologies, but I simply couldn't resist... notwithstanding the fact that this ah, joke, is right in the hole of the 'Mr Smoke-too-much' Monty Python skit, which if you don't know it Mitzi, you must see it. It will help you in life, a lot.

Thanks for the comment, although I can't see the date... when was this? The point being I have not been blogging for some time, although wanting to, but that's how most people live their lives, isn't it?

Last blog I was down in Kalimantan, but after my visa finally ran aground down there, I came up to Thailand,

I cycled from Singapore, up the east coast of Malaysia, a ride I've done a few times before, so no big deal. This time however, speaking the language did open a few doors, and I enjoyed it more than ever.

The most surprising part of the ride was the south of Thailand, where LO! the local Muslims speak Bahasa Melayu (same same bahasa Indonesia, which I speak). What a surprise!

Of course, there was hardly another tourist to be seen, what with the bombs et al, except for one Texan girl on a bike (see link off the front of the blog).. and yeah, small villages with the locals in full purdah - I kid you not, and in-depth discussions on the state of the world (well, more or less)... hmm, it was an eye opener.

Re people actually reading my blog.. yes, some do.. although it helps if I actually update it.. which I intend to do soon, see above.

Right now I'm in China, having come here to work on some video stuff, and then got stuck here teaching English... oh, let me tell you about China.. it is NOT my cup of tea, but I head down to Kuala Lumpur in a few days time - Dec 1 08 to be exact - to see about gainful employment there, or will it be Botswana? I'm not sure just yet, but pygmies are cool.
Anyway, roll on vast world... and I'm just managing to keep my head above water.

I really could use a floaty, though. Maybe I;ll find one in Malaysia.

And I hope AirAsia out of Shanghai aren't gonna make a fuss about the bike.

Cheers, best of luck,
Felix (aka Pak Peelips) and Mr Pumpy, Lu Xu, China, near Shanghai.

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know, I still check here from time to time and hope that you will find the time to continue your story,(I also hope that your journey through life is going smoothly but my motives are selfish so I add this as an afterthought).

Anonymous said...

btw, if you click on
"Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)"
(it appeared at the bottom of
you should be able to see the dates when the comments were posted.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post as for me. I'd like to read a bit more concerning this theme.
By the way check the design I've made myself A level escorts

Adam said...

Hi Felix & Mr Pumpy,

Your blog and website have inspired me to see some of the world by two wheels. That Cambodia ride in the Monsoon you wrote about is the best cycle blog i have read. We the people, your loyal readers, need your talented scribe. Write soon.

thaonguyen said...

Felix, it's me Thao Nguyen. It's been a long time since the last time we meet (6-7 years). Now I come back to Ho CHi Minh City to study Master of Philosophy. My dream come true. I miss you. and hope that you still remember me. this is my number 01235867999, and email

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Felix and Mr Pumpy said...


Cheers, thanks for the comment, and my tardy reply.
I never did finish this blog...
however, I have started a new one:
Cycling in the footsteps of Jesus to India!

This time I promise to reply to the comments section. :)

Felix in Amman, Jordan