Filling the slate

One thing that I have really enjoyed about the experience of moving is that you pretty much start your life here with a blank slate. No one knows who you are yet, and you don’t have too many commitments. It’s quite liberating, having time to think about what you want to do. Sometimes that becomes a stressful thing, but it’s a freedom not many people have.

Over the last months, though, the slate has started to fill. A large section of it is full of gamelan, of course, which was always going to happen, come hell or high water. What started out as an instinctive response to an e-mail Peter sent out in 2011 to join gamelan at the Stadtmuseum has developed into a full-time passion, or obsession, or both. I’ve met new people, practiced in different spaces, traveled to different cities, played music in public. It’s been a mixed bag for sure – Baltimore, Freiburg, Manhattan, Munich, Mureck, Oberhausen. The Untere Waidenstrassenfest, the Indonesische Kulturabend, the Buschenschank, Fat Cat, The Stone, The Met, the Peabody. Have gamelan, will play.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned the past four months here. First because I have an instrument at home, and second, because there is so much new repertoire to learn, and because everybody else is so good, I gotta keep up. Which begot a new and somewhat painful problem – tendonitis in the right arm. Akin to tennis elbow, just in a different spot. It happens to people like me who practice too much and play wrongly (in my case holding the panggul the wrong way), and when you’re getting old.

Speaking of…the other day Alex and I went to check out the Pilsner Beer House. Neither of us got carded upon entering, which was normal but nonetheless quite unsettling because the last time I lived in the States I always always got carded. There is a huge time gap between these sets of experiences, but the little grey cells directly link the two, discarding the almost two decades in between. It’s highly disconcerting. It’s the same disquieting feeling I get when I’m in Jakarta and everyone calls me Ibu. When I last lived there, I was the ten-year old ‘non Pingkan’ running around in a school uniform. Now they call me Ibu? Where did the time go? This does mean, of course, that I spent my more mature years in Germany. Meaning that I’m okay, most of all, with being called Frau Lucas, but not okay with being called ma’am or ibu. Now if that isn’t messing with the mind?

Back to the arm, I started physiotherapy two weeks ago cause I don’t want to aggravate it anymore than I need to. Before Caroline the doctor began the treatment, she looked at me and stated clearly that the massage was going to be ‘uncomfortable.’ I thought of the sessions I had with Suprani, the Thai wünder-healer at Siam Orchid in Munich and said out loud that I thought I could handle it. Which was obviously premature. At one point, I actually said to Caroline, “You know, you could get a job in prison and get confessions out of inmates…,” to which she graciously said “Thank you,” to which I quickly added, “…and bring them to better physical health.” Not that she thinks I was insulting her in any way. She merely smiled and continued rubbing that metal thing onto my arm.

In the patient registration form, they asked how much pain my arm was having doing certain tasks. I should rate the feeling from 1 to 10, 10 being the most painful. I didn’t really know what a 10 felt like. But hey, now I do…

The insurance company wanted to be quite sure that I really needed the treatments. They wanted the doctor’s note, the prescribed plan, the doctor’s script etc. Now, no one in their right mind would make up fake therapy sessions for fun. It’s not a spa, there is no yogi musac or soft sound of a babbling brook running in the background. It doesn’t smell like orange blossoms when you come in, and they don’t hand you a cup of organic lemon grass tea with honey when you leave. I swear to Shiva, if I could reduce the amount of therapy sessions I’ve to complete, I would. The insurance company should focus their efforts on something else. However – since it’s all for a good cause, and as I am already feeling some progress – Om Shanti Om.

The health care situation here perplexes me. Doctor visits are incredibly expensive, I know cause I see the bills. I wonder what in the world can cost $500 in one hour? I had a nose endoscopy that took 2 minutes and that cost $250. And then, from the same doctor, I was prescribed a nose spray that costs $247. Like, seriously? What is in that thing? Gold diamond dust? I asked the pharmacist whether or not I had to take the prescription. She said no, and suggested a non-brand alternative, for $20, which I took home. I also felt that the doctor was more interested in his income than in my breathing problems, so I no longer go to him.

Before you can book a doctor’s appointment here, they ask you about the insurance. Everyone wants to make sure their expenses are accounted for. I’m sure part of that goes to cover all the malpractice insurances doctors have to have to protect their livelihoods. Cause people here are more prone to sue than in other parts of the world. But, I think some of it is just plain greed, with the justification that that’s just how capitalism works. You know, just because you can charge an arm and a leg for a service, that doesn’t mean you should. It’s one of those things that make me worry about the future of America. Is there not a better way of ensuring health? Alex and I are lucky that we have great coverage, but many really don’t, and many go into debt trying to keep healthy; there is something decidedly broken here and it’s disheartening.

As I wrote in one of my earlier postings, this is something that I can’t change. I still find this hard to accept, and am not sure if I can ever think that’s okay.

And as for the not-so-empty slate…The screenwriting course ended in December, and my family has since come and gone. So I registered for a course at the International Center of Photography the other week. ICP is really the most impressive photo school I’ve ever been too. I really loved Brooks when I went there – it was pretty and quaint. ICP is cool and has something a bit intimidating about it. Is it the location, in Manhattan right near Bryant Park? The ultra-modern interior? The huge staff that cater to its students? Or the teachers’ bios? All of the above, I guess.

In preparation for the first getting-to-know-you session, I’m currently going through my library of ten thousand images and am picking, editing and deleting. So that’s been keeping me quite busy.

In general, I guess I never really had a problem filling my slates. It was like this in Tokyo when I was 16, when I was in Orange County in my 20s, and for most of my time in Munich. I distinctly remember one of my dad’s comments: “You’re doing too much, you need to slow down.” He was right. And here, slowly, it’s the same of course. My mom once gave me a philosophical self-awareness book entitled “Wherever you go, there you are.” Indeed. Sure you adapt the color to your surroundings, but it’s still the same scales you’re wearing on your back. And you don’t change much at this age. At least I don’t, so wherever I am in the world, I do the same thing – gamelan, photography, eating, hiking, and sometimes yoga. Soo predictable.

Right, so one of my duties are calling. We have a performance at Bucknell University this Saturday, where I get to meet the talented Ida Bagus Made Widnyana, so that should be exciting! Have to practice, practice! And I gotta do photo stuff as well…

Till the next time!


  1. I understand so very very well. What gets me is reading journals/diaries from way back when I was 12, or 20, or even 30 and the same themes emerge. We are who we are, huh?

    1. yeah right? some things do change, like we’re probably wiser on some things than before… but in general, we are who we are.

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