Being a wordsmith from way back, I’ve trained myself to refrain from dashing about the place with marker pens and pots of paint with which to correct the many, often amusing, errors of English and sometimes puzzling applications of the language on the island’s signs and menus.
Most misguided attempts around the world at an indisputably difficult language, such as the sign in a Legian cafe toilet inviting users to Please Throw the Tissue at the Bin, manage admirably to impart their message and create some humour. Will the bin catch the tissue? Will it automatically open its mouth and gobble it up? Or is it a naughty bin that deserves to have barrages of soiled toilet tissue hurled at it?
Less easy to fathom is the rationale of some business operators in their choice of names for their enterprises, noticeably Wank Internet at Bukit Jimbaran and Jerk Wardrobe at Tuban.
That’s a nice shirt. Where did you get it? Jerk. I beg your pardon? Jerk. What? Jerk!
No need to be so tetchy, pal. I only asked where you got your shirt.
Jerk, you feeble-minded fool! Get lost, Birdbrain. You’re the only jerk around here.
And… a collective staff thought-wave of At Least He Knows It, as the boss just back from Bali drapes his newly tailored jacket over the back of his chair, revealing the large, bright Jerk label.
One speculates that most of Bali’s English-comprehending population would avoid becoming patrons of Wank and Jerk, and that if forced by whatever circumstances to become a Wanker or a Jerker, would do their level best to keep the experience, the receipts and the apparel labels very close to their chests indeed. And it’s hard to see word-of-mouth promotion and third-party endorsement being key marketing tools either.
Then there are menus, true pay dirt for the inquisitive mind. I waited for years for the coffee machine to be serviced at a favourite Nusa Dua restaurant, just so I could say I’d had my caffeine with wiping cream. Wiped with what? I mused. What should one wipe with it? The floor? Or the fake smile from the face of the bumbling, over-attentive waiter?
As a dedicated and non-apologetic junkie of body treatments, though, I’ve found the menus and instructions of the staff at the island’s spas and salons to be a most colourful source of amusing English.
First take shower then take off clothes, ordered the masseuse, causing the Playmate, then only newly and most reluctantly introduced to massage, to proclaim that he would not shower in his clothes and that this ridiculous instruction was good enough reason to cancel the whole exercise, forever.
But, purely on the strength of the delightful description of the procedure, I did once convince him to have a crème bath at an Ubud spa where his hair-challenged head was wrapped in fluffy pink towels in a rather public part of the salon.
And while he has not been gracious enough to forgive me for the embarrassment, the Playmate has sufficiently recovered to again glean a giggle from the start of that particular listing: The therapist run down their crème coats your hair feels cool, clammy, heavy and icing.
What would be achieved by hordes of therapists running down their own coats? Would they rally on their bikes to do it or stomp across the coats in their flip flops? Would our heads be happy to be weighed down and sticky with icing? Would a request for crème fraiche bring a more lighted-headed result?
For the record, it was indeed a very cool experience – probably the best and most hypnotic of its kind found yet.
Still to be sampled is the Bust-up Treatment: “After a bust-up massage has given a masque with her powder useful to open and a waken the skin pores and make soft skin.”
Soft in the head to contemplate it, says the Playmate, suggesting a bust-up might well result from any attempt to involve him in the treatment.
Curiosity will probably see me go it alone, hopefully to be rewarded with a pleasant experience, and a capacity to henceforth confuse anyone willing to listen by announcing, as the Playmate characteristically (in my dreams) and seductively strokes my arm, hangs on my every word and drools with adoration, that I’ve had a bust-up.
Don’t deprive us of this type of fun, I say to all the English-language purists on Bali: Put away those marking pens; if you can’t work out what it means, have a guess, have a go – and have a laugh.