Out in the Cold

By Richard Boughton

Having a cold in Bali is not fun. I’m not saying that having a cold anywhere is fun, but it seems, in my limited experience anyway, decidedly less fun in Bali than anywhere else in the world. Maybe this is because a cold seems so out of place in the tropics. And maybe that’s why they don’t call them colds here, but the flu.

It is not, after all, cold in Bali but hot, and so they should rather call them “hots” if anything; but then that would likely lead to further confusion over terms. Can you imagine people going about saying they have the hots? And so they call a cold the flu instead.

It is not the flu that we know in western countries, for the flu where we come from is something significantly more than a cold and is attended by pyrexia, myalgias, arthralgias, nausea, emesis and, of course, coughing and sniffing and hacking and blowing.

Having the flu – the real thing, that is; the all-American flu – would be immeasurably worse than having a mere cold, which I have said is not fun; and it is on this count alone that we can be thankful for the typical Balinese cold, otherwise wrongly called the flu.

You may have guessed by now that I have a cold. What you probably would not have guessed, however, is that I have had a cold for a long time. About two years, I reckon. As far as I can place the thing, on a rough timeline, I contracted this cold just after arriving in Bali in February of 2010. I suppose many will accuse me of gross exaggeration in this, but I am convinced that it is so, and as a witness call I my nose and the testimony of a persistent congested cough — or for that matter my wife, who in all respects is dead sick of the thing. My cold, I mean.

People will say that one catches more colds here in Bali than in America or England or Italy and so on; but I disagree. We catch but one, and only shortly after our arrival here, but that one on its own is good enough to speak for many. Mine, as I have suggested, has been perfectly long-winded without needing the help of any other cold, and I may as well say prolific and eloquent as well where the common characteristics of a common cold are concerned.

One cold, two years. How is it possible? I’ll tell you how. It’s because the thing settles in, makes a home in the cosy rooms and corridors of your lungs and the various branches of the respiratory system and then actually rolls over and falls asleep now and again, rather like a noisome beagle who tires of barking for a time, only to awake again when the spirit beckons and start its barking all over again. It sleeps; it rests; it gathers new strength. It burrows in somewhere – the spleen, the oesophagus – quite enjoys itself for a period of a week, or even three weeks, or four, and then leaps back to troubling you all over again, and with renewed vigour, like a persistent sprain or an ex-wife – in no way diminished by its brief vacation, or rather that of its victim.

Over time we come to count on this cold with a sureness exceedingly rare in this life. It will not leave nor forsake you, nor fail ever to be present, especially at the most inopportune times, for which you had, perhaps, other plans.

There are medicines for this cold, available at any drug store or Circle K, each brand concocted of mysterious ingredients guaranteed overall to make the symptoms of the cold considerably worse. We take these medications religiously during the more active periods of the illness, desperate wretches that we are, and enter thereby a singular state of dull somnolence quite beyond the symptomatic talents of the cold itself. One amazing side effect of these pharmaceutical inventions is the onset of clinical narcolepsy – an aptitude of medicine not known by any other science to date, though of dubious worth. Nonetheless, it is clear that where medicinal decongestant modalities are concerned, Eastern medicine has far outstripped the feeble preparations available in the West.

If you go to the doctor for this affliction – not the medicinal one, but the viral – you will invariably be told you have “masuk angin,” meaning literally “entered by the wind.” This will make you feel somewhat better for a time, as it is rather poetic, and is certainly preferable, for all concerned, to being exited by the wind. You will come away feeling special somehow, as if you had something with a bit more pride, like consumption for instance, or high-functioning autism. Anyone can have a cold, and often does. But this is not a cold. It’s masuk angin!

Enjoy therefore, and relax; don’t hurry. You and your Balinese cold will have the leisure of a lifetime together.

Richard can be contacted via richybeester@gmail.com.

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Practical Paradise

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