Monday, 28 September 2009

Lookalikes - 2

Have any other readers of this blog noticed the uncanny similarity of my boy Guthlac and celebrated monorchidous anti-Tziganist Austrian lance-corporal fuckwit and mainstay of the GCSE history syllabus Adolf Hitler?

Adolf Hitler


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Grammatical lunacy - a view from between the coconut palms

Regular readers of No Good Boyo's erudite blatherings will recently have been entertained and/or baffled by a mind-warpingly detailed discussion of the relative ease-of-use of Latvian and Polish. And lest there are any monoglot Brits out there saying to themselves "So, do all these foreign languages come draped with unnecessary and impossible-to-memorise grammatical fripperies?" I say unto them "No, indeed not."

Indonesian (or Malaysian as the Malaysians insist on call it. Or Malay as the Singaporeans insist on calling it... Or indeed Melayu as the Bruneians insist on calling it*) is a wonderfully intuitive tongue, which does away with articles, tenses, cases, and - largely - the verb 'to be'. So, for instance, to construct the statement "I am a teacher", one need simply say "Saya guru" - literally 'I teacher'. Whatever the head word is comes first and modifiers follow; so 'My teacher' would be "Guru saya". Neat, eh? (Unfortunately it also means word order is sometimes flexible and sometimes critically important - I once intended to ask someone the time and instead asked them how many watches they were wearing ["Jam berapa?" vs "Berapa jam?"])

This makes Indonesian in general a delightful language for grammarphobes (they say it takes 2 months to learn it passably; and the rest of your lifetime to learn to speak properly). However, when grammarphobic students get to lesson five or thereabouts and have to start forming transitive verbs, many of them start whimpering as it is discovered they are also morphology-phobes. Like all Austronesian languages (Tagalog, Malagasy and Maori to name but three), Indonesian is agglutinative, meaning that forming sentences may be easy but forming the words in them can sometimes be bafflingly hard.

This is partly because prefixes not only slot onto the start of roots, they cause the initial consonants to mutate into homorganic nasals (so 'p' and 'b' become 'm', 't' and 'd' become 'n', 'k' and 'g' become 'ng' and so forth). This means that untangling prefixes and their warping effects is a critical skill to acquire before you can even use a dictionary - you'll find 'pengecilan' (diminution), for instance, under 'k' for 'kecil' (small) - a letter under which the uninitiated would never think of searching since it doesn't appear anywhere in the word. On the plus side, learning a few comparatively simple roots and add-ons makes learning vocabulary comparatively easy.

There is also the excitingly randomising feature that while most words with multiple affixes (the catch-all term for prefixes and suffixes; and in some Austronesian languages infixes and simulfixes, which are even more fun) can be built up lego-like from their constituent parts, occasionally a word can acquire an unexpected meaning that can throw you off.

I once encountered an American who had attempted to translate the English word 'shyness/emabarrasment' from the root adjective (or stative verb, depending on which side of that particular grammatical controversy you place yourself) by taking the root word 'malu' ('shy, embarrased') and adding the ke-****-an simulfix, turning it into an abstract noun. Unfortunately, 'kemaluan' is a common euphemism for genitalia. What he meant was to say he was very diffident about doing something (making a speech, I believe it was). What landed in the ears of his Indonesian listeners' ears was "I have an ENORMOUS todger!" ["Kemaluan saya besar..."]

Someone else of my acquaintance, when on a language course in Bali, found the window of his boarding-house room stuck and wished to open it. Unfortunately, he had confused the word jendela (window) with celana (trousers). Add to which the curiosity by which the same verb - buka - is used both for 'to open' [a window, door, box etc]and 'to remove [an item of clothing]', and you have the ingredients for classic comic misunderstanding. He sought out the landlord's 17-year old daughter and asked what he thought was "Can you help open my window?" What came out, inevitably, was "Can you help me remove my trousers?"

When she recoiled in confusion and embarrassment, he effortlessly made the situation far worse by saying "Just come to my room - I'll push from the inside and you can pull from the outside!" It was at this point that he had an opportunity to reflect on what a graceful thing a Balinese girl's running action is when seen from behind to the accompaniment of melodious shrieking.

*The number of native speakers is consistently underestimated owing to the consistency with which the countries where it's spoken happily chat to each other perfectly well and then insist vehemently that their languages are mutually incomprehensible (see also Czech vs Slovak, Hindi vs Urdu, Serbian vs Croatian, Norwegian vs Swedish vs Danish...)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 3

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight. Chapter 3 - March 1911

William of Orange Polder Windmill Rotterdam Pancake Li hit his little brother, Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Dream-of-Independence Batik Li, over the head with a Dutch toy train.

"I tell you b'fore, 'Ruk, native not allowed in First Class'!"

"But why, elder brother? Is the native less of a man than the arrogant European? Is his money somehow tainted by being offered in a brown-skinned hand? Do we not ourselves have the blood of native royalty running through our veins, and must needs feel ourselves at one with the benighted peasantry of our homeland? I may be only two years old, and you may be older and wiser than me from your education in a Dutch kindergarten, but this book sorely needs some rousing speeches in defence of our oppressed native folk, to give them hope that one day we may cast of the yoke of oppression."

William hit him with the train again, and went off, smirking, to find his father to have a Dutch storybook read to him. In Dutch.

Hayamwuruk shed tears of despair and frustration thick and fast now, like rice flour pouring into the bubur ayam pot - there to be soaked in the resentment of economic and political oppression, raised to boiling point by growing consciousness of his national destiny, garnished with the chicken shreds and onion flakes of dreams of independence and served up to an overweight British tourist at a breakfast buffet in a four-star hotel, only to be proclaimed "a bit bland" and left largely uneaten.

He toddled into the servants' quarters to find his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native mother, Raden Roro Royabot, who was making a meringue.

"Why are you only keeping those egg-whites, mother?"

"It's for you 'Ruk - remember how you made that speech earlier urging me to cast away the yolks of oppression?"

"That's yokes, mother."

His mother looked at the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry, son. I did not know, son. And in any case son, that gag doesn't work in Javanese, as you should know by now from your extensive reading of the works of Ronggowarsito."

She looked at his disappointed but sympathetic face and forced a smile. "But come, my darling boy - let us sit together and read endlessly impenetrable passages from the Babad Tanah Jawi together, telling of the glorious deeds of your ancestors before the Dutch ever arrived."

"Yes mother, I would like that very much."

Sometimes, she thought wistfully, her beloved younger son reminded her not of her evil, rapacious husband but of the only man who had ever moved her heart with kindness - Min, the simple village goat-carrier.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had delivered his last passenger of the day when he heard sobbing from a satay stall at the side of the road. He left his horse eating grass at the roadside and went to investigate. The satay seller was sitting alone in tears.

"Wah - I am but a poor old man who is unable to sell any goat satay. Why will people not buy my delicious charcoal-grilled meaty skewers?"

"Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver and know nothing about these things, but I know a little about goats and even from here I can see that you have cut the meat longitudinally along the grain of the latissimus dorsi, but then at 45 degrees downwards from the line of the spinal column along the gluteus maximus. In both cases, you have the main muscle fibres running along the length of the satay, making it difficult to chew. Were you to cut across the grain to start with - laterally away from the spine for the latissumus dorsi and then upwards at 45 degrees along the gluteus maximus - the grain of the muscle fibres would be cut into easy-to-chew mouthfuls and the satay would be more appetizing."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be the satay seller and I will drive the dokar. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

An opportunity sadly missed

Driving home the other day, I spotted fraudulent stage conjurer Mr Uri Geller wandering along looking like the tragically new-age pillock he undoubtedly is. (No, this wasn't someone who looked a bit like him, I do actually drive past his house on a daily basis. Like most rationalists, I love honest stage magicians like Penn and Teller, James Randi and Derren Brown - all of whom are far better than Geller has ever been - and have the deepest, most bilious contempt for exploitative fakes like Geller.)

Only after passing him did it strike me that I had just missed a glorious opportunity to run the smegger over, or perhaps shout hurtful abuse from my car window.

And then it occurred to me that the two beautiful things about running over Uri Geller would be:

1) You wouldn't hurt him, since he has miraculous healing powers, apparently. So you could do it on a daily basis and never feel guilty.

2) Think of the fun you could have with the police interview:
Inspector Knacker: Now then Gyppo, you say you didn't ram Mr Geller with your car.
Me: That's right, bor.
IK: But there is clearly a Uri Geller-shaped dent in your front bumper and bonnet.
Me: I didn't touch him - he did that from a distance with his mind-powers, just like he does with they spoons.
IK: Fair enough, You can go then...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Punfight at the OK Corral

It is a matter of public record that No Good Boyo and I are both - for better or worse (usually the latter) - gainfully employed in the same organisation.

It may have occurred to some readers to wonder what, exactly, we get up to.

Well for a start, I am in the habit of sharing particularly entertaining worky-nuggets with like-minded colleagues, of whom Boyo is one.

Today I came across the appealing Malaysian headline (while reading up on the latest moves in the ongoing Malaysia-Indonesia bitch-slapping festival):

Malaysia: Minister Says Government To Review Levy Charged on Indonesian Maids

I pasted this under a subject line musing that this was a piece of good news for Captain Scott "Scottie" Scott.

Boyo promptly responded with:
Somewhere in the Irrawaddy Delta: Burmese Minister Says Government to Construct Levies from Indonesian Maids

Not to be outdone, I parried with:
Somewhere in Israel: Levy overcharged for Indonesian maid

Boyo was not done yet:
Somewhere in England: Lord Levy Questioned in Indonesian-Maids-For-Honours Scandal

Scraping the barrel somewhat, I moved on to:
Somewhere in Hollywood: Indonesian maid removes Levis

Boyo then added a rather soiled cherry to the top with:
Somewhere in England: Lord Scott of Quetta Renounces Title in Honour-For-Indonesian-Maids Move

And there matters would have rested, but for the fact that a North Korean headline then caught my eye, which suggested a natural response:

In Pyongyang:
Korean Central News Agency: Floral Tribute Paid to Bust of Kim Jong Suk

In Reading:
Rrom Peripheral News Agency: Floral Tribute Paid to Bust of Barbara Windsor

Boyo always rises to a challenge (see "Red Hot Amsterdam Video Productions Ltd vs Boyo, Aberyswyth Assizes, 1992"):
In Wales: Government Grant Paid to Bust of Charlotte Church

Unwilling to let him have the last word, I returned with:
In LA: Hugh Grant Paid for Bust of Divine Brown

The bit firmly between his few remaining teeth, Boyo shot back:
In the past: Cary Grant paid to squire bust of Marilyn Monroe

At which I responded desperately with:
Shortly after: Arthur Miller paid to bust Marilyn Monroe's squire

It was enough. Boyo's final e-mail:

I win game, set, match and managerial reprimand!

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Have any other readers of this blog noticed the uncanny similarity of my boy Guthlac and Captain Yoshimoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy's air arm?

Capt Yoshimoto:


I wonder if they could be related. Should I hire a private detective?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 2

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight. Chapter 2 - September 1906

Ho Li Kow put a Dutch record on his Dutch gramophone and took a sip of his Dutch beer.

How perfect life could have been had he but married a Dutch woman, he thought; but here he was - running his family's successful rice-lending business and already in the contention for the "Mr Exploitative Bastard" contest of the Dutch East Indies, to be sure - but married to a native woman.

As if on cue, his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native wife Raden Roro Royabot tottered painfully into the room.

"You sent for me, husband?" she asked, in the demure tones of one resigned to her terrible fate.

"No I didn't, but the plot exposition clearly demands your presence. And why are you tottering?"

"It is these clogs, lord. I cannot walk properly in them. Please stop making me dress like a Dutch woman."

"And you are bare-headed. I explicitly told you to wear a Dutch cap. And why haven't you borne me a child yet?"

Royabot looked at her clog-shod feet in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry lord. I did not know the difference, lord. And in any case lord, that gag doesn't work in Javanese. And why would you want children who, after all, will be half-native and therefore disgust you?"

"It is necessary that we have two sons for the sake of contrast - an older evil one who will take after his father and be obsessed with European culture, and a younger, sensitive one who will side with you and through whose eyes we will see the events of the next few decades. And if we don't hurry up, he will be too young to attend the 1928 Youth Congress in Batavia, as Djakarta is currently called, where he would allow readers to see an epochal event in the history of the independence movement through the eyes of a sympathetic character. Now leave!"

As Royabot turned to leave, tears poured from her beautiful native eyes like chopped chilis into gado-gado sauce, to be ground by the pestel of loveless marriage into the stone mortar of European disregard for the feelings of native royalty, blended with the peanuts of political powerlessness and poured uncaringly over the steamed vegetables of cruelly oppressed indigenous cultures, before being tasted yet almost immediately discarded as being too spicy by an overweight British tourist in an overpriced cafe.

She thought longingly of the only man who had ever spoken kind words to her, Min, the simple village goat-carrier.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had put down his last goat of the day when he heard the crash of a badly-driven horse-drawn dokar colliding with a carelessly placed house. He sprang up to help, but already the poor, wizzened old dokar driver was looking in despair at the damage.

"Wah - I am but a poor old man whose hunger and sickness are a crude metaphor for the plight of the peasantry labouring under an uncaring colonial government. And look at my horse - if either of us knew anything about bread, it would put us in mind of a toast-rack because I cannot afford food for it!"

"But Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier and know nothing about these things, but surely horses eat grass, and if you were to let the horse graze on the grass growing freely at the side of the road, it would be healthier and stronger; then you could take more passengers in a day and have more money for food for yourself."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be the dokar driver and I will carry goats as much as I am able. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Sunday, 13 September 2009

That Malaysia-Indonesia spat - a bluffer's guide

As Malaysia and Indonesia get into yet another diplomatic spat over cultural identity, many analysts across the region are asking the question "F***ing Malaysians -what are they like, eh?"

So in the ever-helpful spirit regular readers have come to know and roll their eyes at, Last Django is pleased to present an in-depth analysis of the issue:

Malaysia and Indonesia are two countries sharing a common language, and are thus destined to engage in endless low-level nastiness as a matter of course.

Malaysians see Indonesians as a bunch of chippy peasants incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery. Indonesians regard Malaysians as a bunch of stuck-up bastards with no culture of their own. Malaysians frequently employ semi-literate Indonesian peasant girls as housemaids and a small minority mistreat them cruelly. The two countries are also in dispute over the Amabalat sea area and its underlying oilfield. Malaysia has previously claimed the Reog folk dance and the popular song "Rasa Sayang" as Malaysian (both are Indonesian in origin). Every time there is a dispute, EVERY bone of contention gets dragged up and hurled violently at the other side.

This time round, the Discovery Channnel (Asia) - which has no connection with the Malaysian government - put together a cut-n-paste ad for a series called "Enigmatic Malaysia" which featured a Balinese pendet dancer.


When interviewed in a corner of SOAS bar, Indonesia expert Dr Terry McCassey said "You have to remember them Malaysians is thieving gits, bor. National Flag? British East India Company ensign with an extra bit sewn on. National Anthem? Indonesian popular song with the words changed. Language? Indonesian as spoken by someone going over a cattle grid in a sled. Top entertainer Mr P. Ramlee? Indonesian, from Sumatra. Largest city? Declared 'F*** this for a game of skittles, we're declaring independence!' in 1965 and hasn't looked back since. Manages to annoy all its neighbours and exports terrorists. Tastiest birds? Chinese - look at that Michelle Yeoh, eh? Eh? And now they're claiming the Balinese pendet dance as Malaysian."

In response, Malaysian cultural attache Mr Muhammad "Muhammad" Muhammad struck Dr McCassey forcibly on the head with a carved Iban rice-mortar. Dr McCassey was heard to murmur "That's Indonesian too, bangsat!" before passing out in pool of Filipino beer.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

When we announced to Djangolina that this year's holiday would be in Indonesia (again), we offered her by way of consolation the chance to propose one holiday visit or activity of her own choosing. She had been hinting for ages that she really wanted to swim with dolphins, so we were unsurprised to hear that as her choice. And so we duly booked a long weekend in Bali (the next island over from where we were going anyway) at a hotel and wildlife park which has its own dolphin pools and, indeed, offers swimming with dolphins as its main draw.

For some reason, swimming with dolphins is one of those things that keeps cropping up on various lists of "things to do before you die". It is, as they say, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you think about it, the phrase "a once-in-a-lifetime experience" implies something that you wouldn't want to do for a second time. And this is pretty much what swimming with dolphins is.

The hotel's brochure chooses its words carefully, always referring to "the dolphins playing with you". And within seconds of entering the pool, it became clear why. The dolphins do play with you. They use you as the ball. Furthermore, the two dolphins involved are young male rescue dolphins previously abused by a cruel circus owner (allegedly). An honest description would be "swimming with psychologically disturbed teenaged boy dolphins", but for PR reasons they keep these facts as part of the small print.

The nearest I can get to describing it in words is this: Imagine donning a lifejacket, climbing into a swimming-pool full of salt water and then being batted about with giant rubbery sausages the size of pillar-boxes. That's what swimming with dolphins is like. Glad I did it once, wouldn't want to go there again.

And that set me to thinking of a few things I've done once in my life which I wouldn't want to repeat ever:

1) Having bacillary dysentery
2) Having a full-blown unmedicated asthma attack
3) Spraining my finger
4) Waiting on Sheffield station for 4 hours
5) Being hit from behind while stationary by a Ford Sierra driven by a total plonker who failed to notice the red light because they were on a mobile phone at the time
6) Sitting an O-level German exam
7) Being trapped in a corner of a pub by an obsessive New-Age nutter who "recognised me" as a fellow Atlantean
8) Going down the 'Boa Constrictor' waterslide at Coral Reef pool the wrong way up
9) Falling off a cliff
10) Watching a really piss-poor B movie called "Drug Smugglers" on video at full volume on an Indonesian overnight bus

In the interests of starting another blogosphere meme, I hereby tag Boyo, Gadjo, Scarlet, Inkspot and Daphne to produce their own similar lists.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel

For the few of you out there who haven't, at some point in your past, been compelled to read the Great Indonesian Novels of Abdoel Moeis, Mochtar Lubis and Pramoedya Anantar Toer, I now offer you the chance to read one single, compact Great Indonesian Novel as a series of easy to follow (or indeed easy to ignore) blog postings. This work - to be entitled "This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight" - will encapsulate the entirety of modern Indonesian literature, and add some sorely needed gags.

Chapter 1 - May 1905
Ho Li Kow lit his Dutch pipe with a Dutch match, shook the match out, and blew out a cloud of Dutch tobacco smoke. He didn't want to be here at home; he would far rather have been back at the Dutch school, learning Dutch like a modern, civilised man should.

And now his parents were compelling him to marry a native woman. The shame of it! He had always dreamed of marrying one of the Dutch women whose pictures he'd seen in his Dutch magazines. His ideal wife would be one of them, not brown-skinned with splayed feet thrust into peasant sandals, no; she would wear proper European leather boots - also fishnet stockings, latex corset, fluffy handcuffs...

His reverie was interrupted rudely as his mother stormed into the room. He pulled himself together and placed his hat before his groin to conceal his thoughts.

"She is here, Number One Son. You will do the right thing by your family and marry her!"
"But mother - she is a native."
"She is minor royalty. Her family have fallen on hard times. By marrying her we will gain the privileges of royalty."
"And what privileges do native royalty have, mother?"
"Not having their houses burnt down every time there is a riot, idiot boy. Your father may be the second-biggest rice lender in the province, but people still hate us because we are Chinese. You will marry the girl, and you will like it."

Before he could answer, the bride that had been chosen for him walked demurely into the room and knelt before him, trembling slightly. Raden Roro Royabot was but 15 years old, and beautiful as only a native woman could be in this literary genre. In contrast to the pretentious Dutch furniture and European-style clothes of her prospective husband's rich Chinese family , she wore a simple kain panjang and kebaya, her hair arranged in a plain bun and a frangipane behind her ear.

Ho Li Kow looked her up and down dispassionately for what seemed like an age.
"Why do you have a cake behind your ear?"
"I beg your pardon, Lord?"
"You have a frangipane behind your ear. Shouldn't that be a frangipani?"

She lowered her beautiful, dark eyes to the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry Lord. I did not know the difference Lord. I have only had 10 minutes education, and that mostly at the hands of dyslexic Japanese biker nuns. And in case Lord, that joke doesn't work in Javanese."

"TEN MINUTES?" Li Kow's mother's screech startled them both. "SO SHE IS AN EDUCATED WOMAN! SHE WILL BRING NOTHING BUT TROUBLE!"

Tears began to well up in Royabot's eyes. She bit her lip, determined not to cry. She remembered what her father had told her: "As number 14 daughter, your role in the plot is to be sold to an uncaring husband to pay off our debts in a crude and obvious allegory of colonial economic exploitation. And above all don't cry - if you shed a tear in the rice-lender's house we will be liable for tear-tax which we cannot pay, and we'll have to offer another of your young brothers to Mr Piedovijl in the Provincial Administration in lieu. And we need all your brothers to hold up the roof because we can't afford walls!"

Li Kow put his hands on his hips, looked off to one side and laughed harshly in a way that suggested a cameo role for a superannuated Hong Kong action star in the film adaptation.

"Very well mother - the path of duty is clear. I will marry her, but then mistreat and ignore her in an ironic parallel to the Dutch colonial government's treatment of native people."

Royabot thought longingly of the only man who had ever been kind to her - Min, the simple village goat-carrier. Her tears fell thick and fast now, unheedingly, like chocolate sprinkles onto a kue bandung; only to be smothered in the condensed milk of Chinese pretention, hidden by the chopped nuts of economic necessity and finally folded into the pancake of historical oblivion and scoffed uncaringly by an overweight British tourist on the rain-soaked, night-time streets of Kota Baru. It was all so hideously unfair, just like Dutch rule...
[to be continued]

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Back from my little jaunt

Well, I'm back. Anything interesting happened while I was away?

We've been on the once-every-two-or-three-years trip to Indonesia to pay respects to Mrs Byard's extensive family. Young Guthlac met his relatives for the first time and is now going through attention withdrawal at only having his parents, big sister, neighbours, child-minder and grandparents cooing over him. Djangolina has acquired a Chinese name and had her ears pierced, and we got to do some apparently quite desirable holiday things, of which more anon in future blog postings. So much to blog, such rubbish internet connections...

The soundtrack to the holiday was Indonesian pop phenomenon Mbah Surip, the reggae-singing tramp. Sadly, after decades as a street busker - often living rough - Surip achieved belated stardom this year and then died suddenly at the age of 60.