I’ve calmed down a lot, but there was a stage when I feared for my blood pressure on hearing any one of a group of especially frustrating Bahasa Indonesia words or phrases. The main offenders are:
Besok, meaning tomorrow, which does not necessarily mean the day after today but rather at some undetermined time in the future.
Nanti, meaning later; sometime in the future. Belum, meaning not yet. And mungkin, meaning maybe … or maybe not.
Habis, meaning finished; unavailable. Mati, meaning dead; broken; inoperable. Rusak, indicating broken, perhaps beyond repair.
And then there’s tidak bisa, meaning cannot, but often more accurately interpreted as the speaker deciding that your request is just too hard or that he cannot be bothered, or that he thinks you are mad.
And, finally, lupa. This is usually said with a great big smile to indicate the speaker has completely forgotten what he was asked to do and has the attention span of a dead ant. There appears to be no shame in this; and it is immortalised in song: Indonesians and foreigners alike love to groove to the catchy but trance-inducing tune whose chorus is Lupa, Lupa, Lupa.
As well, there are the pitfalls of Indonesians being confused and confusing in their highly commendable efforts at English. Look out for Tersday, which can mean either Tuesday or Thursday, which for Indonesians are hard to distinguish.
Today may not be used to mean this day, but in two days’ time. Friday, often pronounced Freeday, may mean in three days’ time; it may mean on the speaker’s next holiday (free day). Then again, it may mean on some Friday somewhere in the future.
Our thoroughly nice Nyoman, who comes maybe once a week to relieve The Playmate and me of chores such as vacuuming the pool and changing lightbulbs, scatters the word “bai” through his English like a wound-up robot with confetti at a wedding.
He insists on calling us Mummy and Puppy, which gives The Playmate many opportunities to paw the ground, whimper, growl and threaten to bite Nyoman on the ankle, just as he does when, while Nyoman is cleaning the pool, I ask him to fix the leaking kitchen tap.
Ya Mummy, Nyoman bai check, the chap responds brightly, causing me to wince as he bends unnaturally backwards over the eight-metre drop from the edge of the pool.
One hour later he attempts an escape: Okay Mummy, I go home now. But did you fix the kitchen tap, Nyoman? And through his big, wide smile he emits a dreaded “belum.” Puppy paws the floor.
It is big leaking, Nyoman, I persist. If you have time, can you please check now? Now, Mummy? Yes, please. Big leaking; big money. Oh ya. Nyoman bai check now. Good.
He takes a look and then smiles as he delivers a negative verdict: Sorry, Mummy, tidak bisa. What is the problem? I probe. Waser rusak. Well, could you please get another washer, Nyoman? Okay, nanti Mummy. Uh oh.
Would that be today, Nyoman? Ya today. Would that be “hari ini” (today)? Two day, Mummy, he grins – a little wickedly, I fancy – and thrusts two fingers into the air.
I push on. Please can you do it “hari ini” Nyoman? Maybe big water coming. Okay, Mummy, I go bai toko (shop) now. Whew. Puppy goes to shave but quickly returns baring his teeth. Nyoman has forgotten to turn the water main back on.
Two waterless hours later be bounces back to announce: Tidak bisa. Puppy snarls and is sent to his corner while Nyoman explains. Waser habis. Mummy hab old-model keran (tap). Tidak bisa beli (buy) waser. Mungkin Mummy like beli keran baru (buy new tap)? Yes, Nyoman, and can you please get it today?
Ya, two day. My heart sinks. “Hari ini,” please? Sorry, Mummy, Nyoman hab roster. (He has to go to work). I am defeated and foolishly resort to: “Bisa besok?” Ya besok. Uh oh, bad word.
I try again: I mean “Selasa.” (Tuesday and in this case tomorrow, the day after Monday, which is today.) I am very happy if you have time “Selasa Nyoman,” and please buy a new-model tap.
Blank look. But three hours later he creeps back in with a mysterious packet (we hope it is a new-model tap) and proceeds to work at the sink while shielding his doings from our view. He steps aside, and there is a fabulous new tap on a flexible hose with an optional shower function.
He has a receipt from a hardware shop, but the tap has a gold stud on one side and a silver stud on the other. We suspect it’s been cobbled together from “spare parts” at Nyoman’s place of employment, where it must be a very slow day as he is here with us.
The new tap works wonderfully (soon, though, the shower setting is the only one that works; luckily we like that one) and the whole exercise including the labour and parts, “shopping” and delivery has cost us about 10 percent of a similar exercise in Australia not so long ago. And it was funny, but only nanti.