Published On: Mon, Mar 23rd, 2020

Be like Oblomov

Same dog - different hat - Hilbert Haar - 20180912 MJGHBy Hilbert Haar

Amazing the things you discover when you are locked up in your house. It’s not that I’m bored but I found out that the balcony in front of my bedroom is 22 tiles long and ten tiles wide. Each tile measures twenty by twenty centimeters. Do the math: my balcony is 8.8 square meters.

In the living room and kitchen area the tiles are 30×30.  With 34 tiles in length and 12 in width this space is almost 38 square meters. And then I have a bedroom of – wild guess – 20 square meters and a bathroom of roughly 8 square meters. Altogether it adds up to almost 55 square meter.

I know: useless information. From my balcony I look down on a beautiful blue-tiled swimming pool that is also completely useless because at the orders of the Malaysian government it has been closed down until the end of March.

In my temporary apartment in Johor, at pissing distance from Singapore, I sometimes wonder why the hell I had to start traveling under the conditions that currently have the world flat on it back. Then it starts raining and I remember: the climate here is much more bearable than in Siem Reap in Cambodia, the place where I have lived for more than a year and where I plan to return (if it is at all possible) by May 1. The temperature in Siem Reap goes through the roof this time of year – easily reaching 42 Celsius and even slightly above – while in Johor I’m blessed with a mild 30 degrees and soft afternoon rain.

That heavenly water does not bother me: I’m not allowed to go to the pool anyway.

St. Maarten’s birdwatcher Binkie van Es gave me an idea when he posted on Facebook that he is learning Portuguese with an app called Duolingo. Hmm, time to throw myself on Khmer, the language of the Cambodians? No cigar: Duolingo offers free online courses in thirty languages but Khmer is not one of them.

And so I remain stuck indoors. The Dutch consulate in Siem Reap mails regular updates for expats wanting to return to the Netherlands. Great service but it is not important for me because I do not intend to go to that country.

I read books, mostly brain-dead fiction, to pass the time. I don’t have to buy them or even go to a library. My Kindle holds more than 45 pages of books I bought in the past and I find rereading them from the bottom up a rather pleasurable experience.

Every now and then we call a Grab for a ride to the Midvalley Mall in Johor, a huge shopping paradise. Most stores are closed of course but the Village Grocery – a huge supermarket with an incredible assortment of organic produce – is open. Those Grab-rides are ridiculously cheap if you keep in mind that a trip to the airport in St. Maarten quickly sets you back, like, $25. Here I pay for a ride that is maybe a bit shorter just 6 to 10 ringgit – anywhere from $1.44 to $2.40.

What else is there to do? My mind has been crawling towards a work in progress: Kill Steve Miller, the already announced sequel to my first thriller The Ultimate God Conspiracy. The story is well underway but somewhere along the road I dropped the ball. I comfort myself with the thought that it took the Russian writer Ivan Goncharov ten year to complete Oblomov back in 1859.

As a writer I am not in Goncharov’s league, far from it, but as far as taking my time one could argue that I’m a close cousin. And I like Oblomov-character: in the first fifty pages of the novel he moves only once from his bed to a chair. That’s my guy! I thought when I read the book for the first time.

In these challenging times (sorry for the cliché) it behooves people to be like Oblomov. You don’t have to stay in bed all the time, and you don’t have to write a book (you could always learn Portuguese), but for God’s sake, stay home if you know what’s good for you and your fellow earthlings.


Oblomov cover

Click here to order Ivan Goncharov’s book “Oblomov” online