‘What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.’ Werner Herzog
‘What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.’ Werner Herzog
“During my early years, we would go to the North Sea every summer for a long family holiday. I was enchanted from the first moment I laid eyes on the dark blue endlessness. My senses were alert and I felt intensely alive. Nowhere else had I felt so invigorated. Every cell of my small body tried to absorb as much of the beauty around me as it possibly could. I breathed deeply, tasting and smelling the salty air. It seemed to be dense and alive with the power of the ocean.
The sand dunes rolled softly under my feet, making me feel rested and at home. Rabbits bounded around the tall dunes, sea gulls screamed and fiercely defended their territories. Sometimes, when we stumbled unawares into a nesting ground, we had to fend off the enraged birds by wildly swinging our umbrellas. Hildegard would be terrified, Konrad, amused, and I, delighted at the sight of these huge birds as well as the exhilarating sense of adventure. At low tide, we hiked far out into the mud flats, my young soul inquisitive about every tiny worm and crab we encountered. The mud flats felt like frozen velvet, for the North Sea water temperatures were cold even during the warmest months of the year.
Discovering the ocean changed my young life. I threw myself into the cold churning waves, balloon-like arm floats encircling my tiny arms. Goose bumps quickly covered my entire body as I savored the taste and the sensation of a living entity enveloping my body. My soul felt rested and at home while at the same time sensing danger and fragility. Whatever might happen to me in the years to come, I would always draw solace and strength from the ocean. I had discovered the love of my life.”
(Excerpt from Paralian, Chapter 3 “North Sea”)
Bali has always been one of my favorite destinations. Especially Lembongan took my heart by storm when I first visited in 2007 and it has enchanted me ever since.
Last month, I was on my way there again for my 5th visit. After landing in Denpasar, my wife and I, Mr. and Mrs. Klenk, together with two friends, drove straight to Sanur where we stayed the night. The next morning, a driver from the speedboat company picked us up.
He introduced himself with a beaming smile, “Good morning! My name is Gede. You’re going to Lembongan today? I’m here to bring you to the speedboat.”
He then addressed me directly, “Are you Mr. Kleng?”
It was a slightly different pronunciation. The softer “g” at the end felt exotic and gentle compared to the strict “k” people would apply in Europe. Otherwise, it definitely still sounded exactly like my name. I nodded and smiled, “Yes, that’s me.”
Something like a mad sparkle passed through Gede’s eyes for just an instant. The sides of his mouth twitched. Then he said, calmly, “Great, let’s go. The boat is waiting.”
The four of us hopped into the van. Only about a minute had passed when I could hear what sounded like barely repressed giggles or crying coming from the man in the driver’s seat. “You’re really Mr. Kleng?” he asked once more.
“Yes, I am.” I assured him patiently.
Whereupon he began chuckling and laughing uncontrollably. I was amused and getting curious as to what I might have done to set him off like this. After a while he calmed down enough to ask, “Has anyone ever told you what your name means in Balinese language?”
“No”, I said, “This is my 5th time in Bali but no one has ever said anything. What does it mean?”
“Are you sure you want to know? You won’t get angry, right?”
“No of course not. Tell me. I am really curious now.” I said with a smile.
“In Balinese, a Kleng is a bastard, a shit, a dog head. So in our language you are Mr. Bastard.” And off he went again, dissolving in laughter. “I guess nobody dared tell you so far. But I am sure they thought it was hilarious, too, hahahahahaha.”
“Mr. Kleng,” he added again for good measure.
We all looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Seems like I need to have a serious talk with my parents when I get home,” I said, “What were they thinking?”
We all roared with laughter. Then my wife said, “And I am Mrs. Kleng!” which got us all bent over double, gasping for breath, the entire van now surely vibrating from our chuckles and howling laughter.
After a few minutes we fell back exhausted. Then one of our friends became all thoughtful, “Hmmm… and when you have children… you’ll have little Klengs.”
This set us off even harder than before. Five people, barely able to catch their breaths anymore. Eyes sparkling. Our entire bodies aching from the prolonged laughter.
By the time we reached the speedboat office we could barely speak. We stumbled out of the van, weak in the knees, still giggling, gurgling, and chuckling like a chorus of Mad Hatters.
Gede led us into the office, took a deep breath and said to his colleagues, “This is Mr. Kleng and company.”
The lady behind the counter stayed remarkably neutral. “Yes Sir, over here, I’ll issue your speedboat tickets. Thank you.” Her colleagues fared less well and were desperately trying to hide their good-natured, spreading smiles behind the palms of their hands.
Half an hour later, Gede and I shook hands. “All the best my friend,” I said. “It was a fun ride. Take care.”
“Goodbye Mr. Kleng,” he answered, a big grin immediately spreading over his entire face again. “It was a pleasure driving you, your friends, and Mrs. Kleng this morning.”
He turned and walked away. As I looked after him I saw his shoulders were shaking, and even through the deafening noise of on- and off-boarding passengers I could still hear him giggling until he turned the corner of the speedboat office building.
Now that we knew, it was fun to watch people at diving center and guesthouse receptions when we signed in. We made a point of introducing ourselves by name. “Hello, we are Mr. and Mrs. Kleng. Can you help us please?” Each time, the clerk behind the counter managed to put a hand in front of his or her mouth just in time to hide the spreading grins they were barely able to contain.
Now we are back in Zurich. But watch out Bali. The Klengs will be back!
Time to jump in and enjoy being in my element for a couple weeks……… hovering in the deep blue, riding the currents, and gliding soundlessly (except for Darth Vader like noises from my regulator) along coral reefs, in search of elusive creatures.
I came face to face with my first Mola Mola in Crystal Bay off of Nusa Lembongan in 2007. After this photo was taken, the large fish swam past us close enough to touch. I looked into its eye which was easily the size of a small plate. What I saw in there had me spellbound for a moment. An abundance of soul, curiosity, kindness, and wisdom, as old as the ages.
So now I’ll be offline for a bit, off to see if I can find this big guy again (or another one of its kind). All the best to all of you! I’ll be resurfacing beginning of May 🙂
Ever since Paralian was published, readers have sent me photos of themselves with the book. These pics have come in from all over the world and have always made my day (thanks everyone!). Here just one awesome example from Chris Gobine who is currently taking Paralian on a trip around the world and stopped for one of his reading breaks along the coast of New Zealand (wish I could join him in person instead of just in spirit and featured on the cover.)
What better place to read Paralian than on the road, along one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines?
Just put this story on Bored Panda. Have a look at the actual Bored Panda page here and please upvote, like and share as much as you can all over social media. Thanks!
I have always been drawn to water. Any body of water. Oceans mostly. Wanted to immerse myself. Dive in. Explore and discover.
But, as I grew up, I developed a spastic in my legs and couldn’t learn to swim properly. Later, becoming more and more aware of being stranded in a wrongly-gendered body, I felt too shy to take off my clothes and take the plunge. Until my 30ieth birthday it was all trial and error, climbing one obstacle after another. Searching for myself, slowly changing my body so I could truly become one with it, inhabit it, come home to myself.
After my gender reassignment surgeries, I gathered all my courage. Away with the shirt on hot summer days. Exposing ugly scars that looked like tectonic plates had clashed and created a whole new set of tender, jagged mountain ranges in the process.
At 31, during one stormy October week, I learned to scuba dive in the Mediterranean Sea.
One year later, I took swimming lessons, claiming the revitalizing, unpredictable element like I had always dreamt of doing.
In the years that followed, I left everything I knew behind. I lived barefoot on a Maldivian island, spent hours every day in the water – first as a snorkel guide then as a diving instructor. Every fin stroke brought me closer to my true self.
I hovered underwater. Weightless. Effortless. Aware. In the moment. Most of all: Alive.
I navigated pumping currents with the elegance of an adolescent dolphin. I helped people overcome their fear of the deep blue. Taught hundreds of students. Grew as a diving instructor until I finally even trained instructor candidates. Travelled the world. Then went on to coach performers underwater for ‘The House of Dancing Water’ in Macau – back then the biggest aquatic show on our planet.
Bottom line: Live your life. Own it. Dive deep. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do (least of all yourself). No matter how impossible or hopeless something seems at the time, no matter how daunting the circumstances: You can. You always can.
From when I was four years old, I was happiest during vacations, far away from all who thought they knew me. I ran out to play, introduced myself as ‘Stefan’, and no one was the wiser. I would play “Cowboys and Indians” with the boys, roam through the forests or sand dunes and be free… until my parents would come looking for me, searching for their beloved daughter ‘Stefanie’…
I treasured those short spells of freedom. Being Stefan. Those moments during which I reinvented – or rather – found myself.
Back home in our little town, life went back to “normal”…
“Stefanie you have to wear a dress,” I was told.
“You can’t come with us. You’re a girl. They don’t climb trees.”
“You don’t need to be interested in science. Girls rarely are.”
“You have to wear at least a little bit of red and pink.”
Best was when, during the last year of high school, we were given suggestions as to what professional opportunities awaited us.
Being all sincere and helpful, the school counselor said, “Forget about being a game warden in a big national park. That’s way too unrealistic. You’d make a great midwife though.”
Many years later, after I knew without a doubt that I had, in fact, been born into the wrong body, I began hormone therapy. Amazing how with every drop of testosterone my body felt a bit more as if it actually belonged to me.
Yet, already during and after I went through all my gender reassignment surgeries, a whole new set of labels and rules crept up on me.
“You’re a man now, you have to drink beer.”
“You have to carry my suitcase. Men are supposed to do that.”
“When I run towards you and jump into your arms, you have to catch me.”
“You’re too soft spoken. You have to be tougher.”
“How can you not be interested in soccer?”
“You’re too sensitive. Men don’t cry.”
Over the years, facing societal expectations, I asked myself “Who am I?” many times over… and I realized it truly doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.
I am a man. I feel it in every fiber of my body and soul.
Yet I am my very own kind of man.
Growing up in a girl’s body gives me incredible insight I wouldn’t want to be without. I don’t fit many of the stereotypes usually associated with men…
I love my sensitivity, cry openly when I am happy or watch movies; hug and kiss my best friends, have no clue about cars, sports clubs, or beer; don’t get into fistfights, and never whistle after a woman.
Nowadays, when I am out and about and hear people tell each other who they’re supposed to be, I pass them with an amused smile.
We don’t have to conform to any labels or stereotypes. We can just be ourselves.