Lake Chini Travel Blog› entry 28 of 47 › view all entries
"This is where you are," says the Malay anthropologist in charge of studying the area. He is pointing to the "X" marked on a large local map that's pinned to the restaurant wall. But when he stands in front of the map his shadow rearranges the details of land and water; hinting at new borders. My eyes warily trained on the shifting shadows, I listen to stories about the anthro- the archeo- and the mythico- background of this Malay region. There is a legend about an old woman who lived in the forests of the area. It seems she was angry when the aboriginal nomads encroached upon her territory. After twice firing them a warning, she flooded the place. Making them pay for their usurpation.
Behind the man's shadow I see the resulting lakes are splashes of blue on the map. Reminds me vaguely of the great lakes dividing
...& the Malaysian goes on to outline the mysterious introduction of Thai (
& yet another story suggests the indigenous people of this region share physiological characteristics with the Bataks of lake Toba; or even further to the point: together their languages share a common root of 35 words with native inhabitants as far away as the Australian aboriginals.
"Pieces are fitting together," I think
...then Johnny shows up
as if i didn't exist. as if i wasn't there.
Hop jungle river boat. New video camera in hand.
I am playing Coppella.
...the muddy river slices thru choking rainforest vegetation. Liquid machete. An eery steam rising from the water's surface as it would over an open wound in the chill of a Canadian December.
I record the steam
...& our boat slices thru the water. A scalpel betraying the water's surface, leaving a long, tho momentary, scar.
I record that too
A surgeon of sorts, intent on a mechanical retina transplant, my camera is my laser. I slice thru moment. Recording for playback over and over: this was my incision. My decision.
"This is where we are"
& while Johnny (armed with his own video recorder) is seated at my shoulder during the excursion, my gaze is lens-trained to the jungle, fabricating a here and now that refuses to see him.
Tonight, "now" is invaded by layer upon layer of "then."
Last night is catching up, for instance, like super-imposition:
Not able to see anything in the tropical canopy of darkness. Stumbling blindly about the jungle. hot. hot. can't sleep. get up. no flashlight. now what? I am too far away from the camp and, before I know it, I am lost. Taking refuge on a broken-trunk perch, I listen to the night voices; focus on the moon between shadows; contemplate life (or my navel, variously); then move on. Unsteady footsteps without concrete sidewalks. Scratch and snap of a living floor. "Should I touch that tree?" Can't remember which ones he said are poisonous. "Is that a path?" "Now this is adventure!" Finally, the glow of an all-night candle in a deserted loseman leads me to a little cove hut with--of all things--a television set! (Some of the more up-scale cabins of the camp have a TVs here, tho the generator only works for about four hours each day, and they are having trouble keeping supplies of running water.)
But, hey, who am I to complain? The shelter means I am able to pass another two hours watching the hypnotic flicker of the candle. The hypnotized ants and moths offering their worship like me. I stare at the blank television screen, willing it to provide answers, despite the lack of power. I will it to generate scattered images, fusing them with its perfecting points of light. Until ...giving up... I let the loseman cats chasing crickets, and the (still various) paths of my memory take me to other jungles
then the all-night candle guts
before all the night is gone
& i am stumbling about the rainforest, in the dark, again
Tonight, we are watching that same television as it plays Johnny's video of everything I've seen and done so far. Bromo. Marapi. The markets. Bukit Lawang. He has a natural's eye for detail and contour. A steady hand. But, even seeing what I have already witnessed, this time thru his eyes: none of the images tell me the story behind his running. Not the denying, nor the drinking. Why they have led to, and veered away from me. Or why there are ten empty beer bottles in the three hour space of his place at the table. Every second night the bottles record a new story, rewriting the past.
There are many ways to edit, to re-arrange, and to forget.
Swimming this evening,
to the tune of a sunset able to scatter old memories like abandoned photographs:
sunsets over an open road
...all stirring up dust
Returning to the truck, dripping and context-exhausted, I run into Johnny. A puppet. A silhoutete. Standing in the near dark. Leaning against the cab door. His hand gripping the handle
...still as a photo...
enuff to fill a blank screen
sometimes i think of coming home
but mostly i am lost in this elsewhere,
& my identity--fragile as it is--
keeps getting thinner and thinner
until you can see right thru it;
& it was only a figment anyway,
tatoo pigment of the imagination
painted on, if unwashable