Friday, 5 June 2009

Bungklang Bungkling: INTOXICATED

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Punyah’, featured in Bali Post, Sunday, 31st May 2009,
a column
by I Wayan Juniartha

Translated by Putu Semiada


Oh, so drunken pigs can fly!
The hospital is getting more popular than even the most delicious palm-toddy shop. Like termite moths flocking towards the light of a strongking lamp, members of the local drinking club are rushing to hospital. More than 30 in-patients at Sanglah (Hospital) already, and 18 have already passed on to the next level of their existence after an abrupt introduction to the God Yama.

Balinese are scared of nothing, its not enough for them to drink ordinary Arak, they must have the super-fuel arak oplosan*. Just as if they are sick of eating rice, they are now trying out meths, mosquito repellent and even detergent! So their kidneys scream out, their eyes drop out, and even their souls check out and head straight to heaven. That’s if Swargaloka (heaven) really exists. If they’re not welcome there, then their souls just have to hang out under the banyan tree near the graveyard and spend their time scaring passers by.

It looks like it will be the end of the palm-toddy shop (warung) owned by Ni Luh Rubhermore Shelovesit. Her warung is as quiet as a haunted house. The only customer left sitting in the shade of the shop veranda is old I Pekak Nod-off. Not because he is braver than the others, but it because there is nowhere else for him to go.

“Luh, a small bottle of water please,” he orders.

Even I Pekak now only drinks water. Water used to be priority number ten on his list of drinks. Number one was Arak basa (the strongest arak), second came tuak jaka (sugar palm toddy), third palm toddy, fourth was palm toddy mixed with Kratingdaeng energy drink, and fifth soda gembira (soda mixed with milk).

Ordering ‘aqua’ in a palm toddy warung is about as strange as ordering rujak kuah pindang (spicy Balinese fruit salad with fish sauce) in a Javanese warung.

Ni Luh is in a world of her own. She doesn’t seem to even hear Pekak’s order.

She doesn’t understand why she has lost her customers just because of that problem with the poison.

“My warung is legal, I only provide pure arak (rice spirits) and tuak (palm toddy). Nobody has ever died just from drinking arak and tuak. They just get drunk,” she says.

“Luh, a cup of coffee,” I Made Dopy Spicy appears.

Ni Luh ignores him as well. Her thoughts are all over the place. She is thinking of so many things, like how she will manage to pay off her mobile phone, the washing machine and the fee for the night watchman and what she will do with the 5 gallons of arak she has stocked in her warung.

The drinkers are just scared of nothing these days, why on earth would they mix arak with meths, rinso, or liquid mosquito repellent? It’s not even like drinking, it’s more like committing suicide” Ni Luh repeats herself.

Made nods at what she says. As a senior drinker he feels he has to stand up for his fellow drinkers.
“May I interrupt” he says.
“These days life is really difficult, Luh.
So many young people don’t have jobs, those who have work barely earn enough for food.”

The unemployed ones are giving up, they want to have everything, but can’t find a way to do it. And those with jobs are in a similar situation, they want to have everything, but their wages don’t seem to ever be enough. So they both need entertaining, they need to escape from their problems.

“Watching TV also makes them miserable, showing the life of rich people every day. If they go and sit in the bale banjar, they will be asked to help the ‘new’ village head realise his ambition to turn it into a 4-storey building. If they read newspapers, their headache gets worse, as its full of stories of people talking, but doing nothing.”

So in the end, it’s arak that gives them their escape. When they are drunk they manage to forget about things for a while—they can forget their wives, school fees for their children, paying off their loans. When they are intoxicated they can say whatever they like and make silly jokes with their friends.

When you drink arak, it takes time to get intoxicated. But if you mix it with methylated spirits and detergent, after just two shots you already forget everything. You get drunk quickly, and it costs less.

“Do you call this suicide Luh? Well, you know very well, in truth our people have been dying a slow death for ages now, and they have no hope left. They feel as if they have no future, as if they can no longer compete in their own world. How can dead men commit suicide?” I Made ends his lecture.

Oh dear, it’s a really heavy problem. It’s more than just the problem of arak oplosan, this is a problem caused by the world being way too drunk, way past remembering.

  • *arak oplosan is arak (rice whiskey) mixed with stronger alcoholic ingredients
  • Luh: used when addressing a girl.
  • Ni Luh Makin Digosok Makin Sip: actually means “Ni Luh More ‘ready’ when more rubbed. Or “Ni Luh Rubhermore Shelovesit.
  • I Pekak Ongol-Ongol: Stupid-looking but smart grandfather.
  • I Made Nyem Lalah: Someone who doesn’t really understand what he is talking about, a mixture of cold and yet spicy hot!