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When it comes to festivals and celebrations, Indonesia, a country which is filled with various tribes in each islands in the archipelago, has tons of it. Each tribe has its own beliefs and celebrations, stemming from the ancient beliefs and traditions, which now have mostly integrated in the 6 (or seven?) state-recognised religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian, Catholic, Confucianism, and Bahá’í). Were we to follow all the traditional ceremonies and celebrations, I think every day would be a holiday since we’re just full of these things. Bali, claimed as the islands of the gods, is no exception as well.

Last September up to this early October are important months for Balinese, especially to those living in Ubud. First of all, starting from the 29th of September, one of many major religious festivals, were held in the historic Gunung Lebah Temple.

The religious festival comprises six different major rituals: Karya Mamungkah, Tawur Panca Wali Krama, Penyejeg Jagat, Tawur Pedanan, Ngenteg Linggih and Pedudusan Agung. As part of this, there are large-scale temple dedication and purification rituals coupled with major sacrificial rituals to appease nature’s spirits. In addition, Ubud locals – as the temple’s main custodians – will participate in declaration of faith rituals. All these elaborate rituals mark the completion of the extensive renovation project of the temple and will officially announce that the temple site, which for months was a chaotic construction zone, has been elevated and sanctified to serve its former purpose as the throne of the divine.
Colourful street processions, lively rituals, and captivating performances of unique traditional arts will become a common sight throughout the time of this religious festival. As always, the Ubud community will warmly welcome visitors who want to witness this majestic event. Please, show them your respect by dressing conservatively – wearing a sarong is a must – and donning the traditional udeng headgear will surely win you the locals’ affection. Make sure to ask permission from pecalang, local guardsmen usually dressed in black with chequered sarongs, before entering any part of the temple. ‘Follow what the locals do’ is always a good strategy.
Gunung Lebah was constructed in the 8th century by Danghyang Markandya, one of the most revered sages in Bali. Markandya is believed to be responsible for introducing Hinduism to Bali, opening the first settlement for Javanese migrants in the present-day Taro village, and carrying out the initial works in the construction of the Besakih mother temple. Gunung Lebah temple lies next to a merging of two streams, locally known as Campuhan, thus, the name of the area. Balinese believe that a campuhan has a potent spiritual purification and healing property and to this day the Hindu devotees have still frequented Gunung Lebah and its campuhan seeking that liberating absolution.

(Source: The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival official website)

Gunung Lebah Temple

Gunung Lebah Temple

It was a huge celebrations where people wearing traditional clothes marched on the street every day, bringing offerings and arak-arakan or some kind of statue together to the temple. Streets were closed to all motor vehicles so most people going the same path as these people marching would have to leave their vehicles somewhere and walked.

Tourists coming from across the country and the globe were treated with such spectacles as they swarmed in Ubud. Not only that, another wave of tourists were also crammed up in Ubud as some of them flew to this lovely city to join, participate, and volunteer in a more recently established festival: The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

The official poster of UWRF 2014

This festival, shortened as UWRF, was first created in 2003, a year after the first Bali bombings which killed 202 people and injured 204 others, and was meant as one of many ways to attract tourists into the island again (Bali was like a dead city after both bombings). Yet concerned with the growing pollution and congestion of traffic and trash in tourism spots such as Denpasar, Kuta and Seminyak, the festival tried to attract a whole different kinds of tourists: the supposed literature and culture lovers. Not only trying to invite writers around the world, the festival is also a medium for emerging Indonesian writers to share their works and passion as they submitted their short stories and/or poems to be later published into a book of anthology which would be shared and sold at the festival. It’s a way to find new writers and get to know them as well more closely. As if that’s not enough, every year, the festival also invites people from literally everywhere to join the festival as volunteers. Albeit unpaid (it’s volunteer work, seriously), each volunteer would get a four-day pass which is valid for all main events during the 4-day festival, as well as a meal (lunch) for each time a volunteer is rostered, depends on what position they are volunteering for or what they get.

As one of the volunteer in the Interpretation team in the festival, I was treated with all those stuffs and festivals, which happen to be things I like as well.

Of course, there’s a downside: there were a lot of spendings, and I mean A LOT. Ubud offers many temptations, starting from restaurants, museums, art exhibitions, and temples where they usually held traditional dances for tourists to watch (not free, of course). But I’d say those spendings were worth the while, and the benefits and satisfaction I got definitely outweigh those expenses I spent (yep, I already waved my savings goodbye).

Although you really had to pay for the transportation and accommodation during the festival by yourself, they made it really easy for you to find cheap accommodations through the facebook group specially created for the volunteers. Each year, they would always create a new group for people volunteering at that year’s festival, and that’s where you first got to know them and shared information about anything you need to know: being a volunteer, Ubud itself, transportation in Ubud, as well as accommodation. Therefore, to save some money, most volunteers looked for accommodations with shared rooms, where they then posted the and find roommates through the facebook group. The room I rent costed me IDR 1,200k for 7 nights, and I get to share the expense with my roommate. Oh, and there’s breakfast provided, too, so I didn’t have to pay extra cost for breakfast (sorry to sound a lot like a cheapskate, but I really was on a tight budget–which was very, very difficult to manage as you’d read later). The place was about 20 to 30 minutes walk to the venues where they held most of the events (the main events, the volunteer orientation, etc), and the only thing that’s making it so long to walk there is the terrain which requires a lot of going up and down the hill repeatedly. I had to walk back and forth for two days straight, especially because the road was closed to all vehicles due to the Gunung Lebah ceremony, and I think by the night of the second day my feet felt very sore. I thought it would be a piece of cake, of course, considering my journey to work almost every day also takes 30 minutes on foot. Luckily, though, on the first day of the festival, there would be a shuttle bus, going back and forth from the restaurant called Casa Luna (which is very, VERY CLOSE to where I was staying) to the venues every 30 minutes, starting from 8 AM. I thought I’d treat myself for a foot massage if my feet were still very sore, but by the end of my third day at Ubud, I hardly felt tired from walking.

But that’s not all.

Other than feasting on seeing two major festivals, we were also invited to watch the ceremony of Agnihotra on the night of September 30th, at one of the venues.

Agnihotra is a healing fire from the ancient science of Ayurveda. It is a process of purifying the atmosphere through a specially prepared fire performed at sunrise and sunset daily. Anyone in any walk of life can do Agnihotra and heal the atmosphere in his/her own home. Thousands of people all over the world have experienced that Agnihotra reduces stress, leads to greater clarity of thought, improves overall health, gives one increased energy, and makes the mind more full of love. It is a great aid to drug and alcohol deaddiction. Agnihotra also nourishes plant life and neutralizes harmful radiation and pathogenic bacteria. It harmonizes the functioning of Prana (life energy) and can be used to purify water resources.

Source: Copied and pasted from one of the post from the UWRF facebook group.

Later I found out that Agnihotra is also a name of a caste in India.

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So after being feasted on the spectacles of the marches, the fire purification ceremony, the festival finally started.

Day 1 (1 October 2014) – GALA OPENING

My day started a bit early. Being in the interpreter team, we were supposed to meet the writers we’re supposed to be interpreting for, and their liaisons. I met 4 brilliant guys whom I was going to interpret–three of which write short stories which are published in the festival’s anthology and 1 wrote a play for the theatre. It felt a bit timid and awkward at first (might be due to my poor social skill, partially), but eventually we slowly broke the ice. I was really nervous about my first interpretation work so I asked them to tell a little bit about themselves or mentioned an excerpt of whatever they were going to say in their panel sessions where I would be interpreting afterwards, as practice.

After the meeting’s done, I decided to kill some time in a local café and then visited the famous Blanco Museum which I’ve heard so much but never visited before. A friend told me the entrance fee was IDR 80 thousand, but I ended up paying only IDR 30 thousand. I wandered–a bit lost, to be honest–as I scrambled my directions to decide which paintings I wanted to see first. After some time looking at many paintings already, I heard a group of foreign tourists being toured by a local girl who was ushering at the entrance of the museum earlier, and I thought, “Damn! Should I have asked her for a tour earlier?” Since they simply told me that there would be guides inside and I could ask them whatever I want, I simply thought that I’d just enter and asked should I have a question. I ended up tailing the group every once in a while to eavesdrop the explanations on the paintings. It was a pity to tour the museum unguided. Lessons learned, though.

My feet were awfully sore after going up to the Blanco museum since the path leading there was very steep and most people who I passed were riding a motorbike or driving a car. But it was almost time for the press conference.

I was still quite nervous about doing my first interpretation so I decided to sneak into the press conference room, where I thought I’d see someone from the interpreter team interpreting. But in the end, I didn’t see any interpretation, since everyone there seemed to speak English perfectly, so I got out a bit disappointed. But it was not the real reason why I sneaked out earlier before the press conference ended. It was time for Louis Couperus.

One of the free events offered in the festival were its film events which were played everyday in different venues, where a list of award-winning movies and documentaries were played, and most of these movies are unlikely to be found in any websites providing torrent downloadable files. And the one playing on the first October was a documentary on Louis Couperus.

Who is Louis Couperus?

He was said to be one of greatest Dutch writers, who produced what is later claimed to be his greatest work: De Stille Kracht (The Hidden Force). This is what has mainly drawn my attention to the festival and made me decide to join as a volunteer. And I was particularly attracted to this one movie because Couperus’s The Hidden Force tells a story in the Dutch East Indies, depicting a glimpse of what it was like back then in the colonial era of Indonesia. Of course, to ask for a glimpse of the view of the society’s lives, especially the natives in the movies, would be too much, therefore, as I sat nicely and watched the documentary opened with the only footage of Couperus in his old age, I smiled and watched still anyway. The documentary was made by Bas Heijne and was full of quotes taken from Couperus’ works, as well as Heijne’s interpretation of it. It was amazing to see the length of what Heijne did and went to in order to analyse and share his interpretation on Couperus’ works in the documentary. Somehow, Couperus’ visions and narrative, as read in the movie, somehow remind me of Chekhov’s way of thinking about his surroundings and about life. In the end, I got intrigued and put some of Couperus’ books in my wish-list.

Day 2 (2 October 2014) – Custodians, Krishna Udayasankar, The Nine Lives of Cats & Jalanan

The shuttle bus is finally here! Now I got the chance to give my feet more rests. I started my day even earlier because I wanted to attend one of the first main events of the festival, and the one I chose was “Custodians,” where they invited Nyoman Sadra of the Tenganan village and Clarrie Cameron of the Nhanhagardi tribe, a tribe of the Aboriginal people. What interests me the most was actually the fact that there would be someone from Tenganan in the panel. Tenganan is a desa adat (traditional village) at Karangasem Bali, where there live the people of Bali Aga, people who are believed to be the original Balinese (just like the Ainus in Japan). I’ve always wanted to visit Tenganan ever since I found out about the village because it is said that living in desa adat, the people still supposedly live in a traditional way, and they held high their customs and native beliefs, surely something completely different with the continuous-advancing modern world outside. Yet, back then when I was visiting a desa adat in Lombok, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it is actually good for the people themselves to keep themselves from modernity, and whether we all simply let them to live so secludedly to amuse ourselves with the sights and spectacles, just like keeping animals at the zoo (sorry, I know this is not the perfect comparison, and in no way people are comparable to animal, but I couldn’t find any more similar concept). Therefore, I was very much intrigued by “Custodians,” where they would discuss and share their experiences in trying to keep the traditions in their villages, especially with the increasing pressure of modernity from outside, brought into the villages by tourists coming to see the people like an amazing spectacle (yes, me included, since I so badly want to see Tenganan). Both were discussing about how they ended up to where they are now, entrusted to be the “custodians” of the old customs, and I remember Nyoman Sadra was saying that seeing how interested outsiders are in his village and how knowledgable they could be about the people of Tenganan compared to the little information he actually had back then about his own people and village, he was challenged to study his own culture. How could we ever allow outsiders to know a lot more than ourselves when it comes to our own culture and home? I feel exactly the same.

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And Clarrie Cameron–oh my, I was very amused listening to him talking! I know that Aborigines are famous for their oral history and they’re all known as remarkable storytellers, but when this guy opened his mouth to speak, it was like watching one of those Indian movies where they have an elder speaking with… with… with the low, dark and bold tone, and lively intonation, putting music into every word he delivered as he told a story. Even as he coughed, there’s music in it! I imagined what it would be like to be one of his grandchild, sitting on the floor as I listen to him telling me a story. (Happy sigh.) As Cameron listened to Nyoman Sadre speaking, he closed his eyes (at some point I always wondered whether he actually dozed off for a minute or two) and making a nod here and there, and eventually said that he felt and experienced the same thing. And then he went and told stories of his childhood where I just couldn’t miss every single word (though it was actually a bit hard, since her wasn’t speaking in the British/American/Australian-English I’m used to hear, but it was such a delight). I am already a fan and putting his Elephant in the Bush in my wish-list (it never gets any shorter, really).

IMG_8202Then later in the afternoon, it was time for my first interpretation roster. I was interpreting for a Children’s Program where the speaker, Krishna Udayasankar would teach children to write their own fictions using cats and humans as the characters. I only met mrs. Udayasankar earlier that day, so I was a bit worried at first about interpreting for her to children, especially because this would be the interpretation into Bahasa Indonesia. I should’ve been more confident since it is my native language, but still, interpreting to children made me a bit giddy. But mrs. Udayasankar was very nice and easy-going. She told me not to worry about my interpretation and that I’d do just fine, and after she finished briefing me on what she planned to do in her session, a car picked us up to transport us to a Villa Kitty, where apparently they took homeless cats and kittens to be treated and hopefully, later, adopted, into a nice home with a nice family. The journey wasn’t very long, nor was it short enough, so I took the chance to inquire further about herself and her works, and when I found out that she was born and grew up in India, I asked her various questions about India, and we discussed Indian issues, especially the ones I could relate to to my own country: gender discrimination and castes differences.Perhaps this was partly triggered by a TED video I recently translated, where the issue also revolves around discrimination against women, and to be more specific: sexual harassment and rape. This two are ones of the pressing issues in India with more women coming out to speak against or testifying against this horror, as well as male and female figures who were put in the spotlight for their ridiculous and appalling remarks undermining the seriousness of these. And this leads to the hierarchy issue that occur, not only in terms of caste, but also gender. How people there could undermine someone’s speech or works simply because of caste, be it of higher or lower caste, although what is being said is true, or that it speaks for the wellbeing and defence of those of low castes. This partially stemmed from my curiosity of the Dalit caste of India as well (and I blame Mulk Raj Anand for writing Untouchables for this). I also found out that Agnihotra is a caste name as well at that time.

Although we initially expected the local schoolchildren who participated of 11-14 years of age, there were instead younger children coming. But mrs. Udayasankar brilliantly handled the situation with ease, and at some points, I ended up getting drawn into the session where I got very excited upon conveying mrs. Udayasankar’s instructions to the children. Although I was worried about using a more formal Indonesian and not speaking a word of Balinese, the staffs at Villa Kitty were very helpful and friendly, and they helped me convey the message in the local language. At the end of the session, the kids were lining up in front of mrs. Udayasankar, impatiently waiting to be able to read their stories to her although they weren’t asked to. She initially expressed regret of how she might not be able to read their stories, especially since 99% of those would be in Bahasa Indonesia, but of course that didn’t happen. As I interpreted each of their stories, I was amazed by the enthusiasm and the weight of each of the stories, which got me wondered, “How on earth a kid so little as him/her able to write such a story?” In a way, I felt that mrs. Udayasankar was radiating this positive energy and attitude, which the kids (and me) received, and got us all excited.

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I got back from the event tired but I felt so blessed and lucky, and that was only my first roster interpreting! I got curious as to how it would be tomorrow and the days after, interpreting for other writers in the main events.

Day 3 (3 October 2014) – Great Greats, A Human Right, The Iraqi Christ, Tribute Night for Lempad & Lempad of Bali

In “Great Greats”, Nic Low, as the chair of the panel, guided the panels to talk about each writer’s cultural background and the role of elders in each of their cultures, as well as how the way the elders are treated affect them and their works. Each writer comes from a different, unique background, such as Fiona McFarlane from Sydney, Patricia Grace of Ngati Toa, Te Ati Awa and Raukawa iwi, Sulfiza Ariska from West Sumatra, and CLARRIE CAMERON! As I interpreted for Sulfiza from Bahasa Indonesia to English, I was captivated by his passion in writing. In his profile, it was written that writing offers him “hope and freedom from fear,” and all those are obvious as he shared his background. He was one of the Indonesian emerging writers elected for the festival, and in the anthology published in the festival, the short story he wrote is apparently a story of Chinese Indonesian who later got entangled in the horror of the riot in May 1998. And as he shared and talked about why he wrote, very movingly, it was obvious that it was emotional for him, and as I was interpreting, I was a bit worried if I’d get any part missing, especially the powerful emotion he delivered. But then the audience suddenly clapped, and I was crossing my fingers, hoping that that meant the message was conveyed. When the panel was over, people came to him to give their support and words of encouragement, and it was a beautiful sight. One particular person was touched apparently, a Nithya Siddhu, an educator and journalist from Malaysia, who eventually told me about a TEFLIN conference in Solo, which, although very interested, I was unable to attend (i was basically using all my leaves and day offs for the festival!).

IMG_8213“A Human Right” interested me since I thought it would be a session where they would discuss the issue and problems which has befallen the refugees across the globe even until now. Hassan Blasim and Mukesh Kapila ended up debating about the better way to create a better system for the refugees, with Blasim focusing on each refugee (stemming from his own experience as a refugee, I guess, where he apparently experienced tortures before finally getting an asylum in Finland), while Kapila focused more on the better system as a whole, learning from his own experience working for the UN. The chair, Drew Ambrose ended up having to draw André Dao back in the discussion once in a while, since the other two were getting worked up. The only writer I am familiar with is Hassan Blasim, and I only actually know about him when I scrambled through the list of the writers joining the UWRF, which led me to the famous The Iraqi Christ, which is a short, tragic story of a person ended up forced to do a suicide bombing, which is a part of short stories compilation by Blasim titled The Corpse Exhibition. But because of this, I got so excited upon going to hear Blasim for the first time, because when reading his works, I thought I’d like to know what is inside his mind, and then he debated with Kapila and started criticising on the European humanity campaigns in contrast to their negative attitude tendency toward refugees, and also on capitalism, and there he had me. I couldn’t take my eyes and ears off of him. (It’s too bad, really, that his movies aren’t available online and in the country.) I was resolved to watch him read his work, The Iraqi Christ, in his native language, at the Bar Luna basement later that day.

Then I headed to the Lotus Stageto watch a documentary of Lempad. To be honest, I’ve never heard of Lempad before. (WHAAAT? | Yep, I didn’t know who he was.) But as the documentary took us back to the pre-colonial times in Bali, the change after the Dutch invaded the island, then post-colonialism, the 1965 tragedy and the years that followed, until his death, relating the history of the country as Lempad and his family intertwined in it, I began to admire this guy. He’d been through a lot, and the way he created arts… He was marvellously talented. (I mean, how could anyone be so VERY TALENTED like him?) He painted, carved statues and building and temples and God knows what else, and he was loved by the people (at least it was depicted so in the movie). I suppose it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Lempad as a man who’d lived his life to the fullest.

Day 4 (4 October 2014) – Korupsi, Secret of the Script, Sokola Rimba & Oceania Under the Stars

One thing that kind of disappointed me in the festival was that there wasn’t seem enough Indonesia-related issue. Of course, the themes picked and the issues discusses are pretty global, since it’s an international festivals, but the whole event was held in Ubud, INDONESIA, in the first place, so I was hoping that there would be more Indonesia-related issue. But then again, if we consider the types of participants coming to the festivals (which were mostly Australians and others from around the world), having too many Indonesian issues might not be appropriate, so this could just be my perspective as one of the Indonesian participants/volunteers. For example, in the event “Korupsi,” Elisabeth Pisani, Jacqui Barker, and Jill Jolliffe were discussing about the acute corruption happening in Indonesia, with Barker focusing on the corruption in the police department and Pisani talking about the issue in general, and at some point, both of them needed to occasionally explained the background of the issues they were talking about to audience who were mostly non-Indonesians. It was appalling upon realising–or perhaps, more like reminded (after all, I think most Indonesians already know how acute the corruptions in the country. We can’t thank Soeharto and the Cendana family enough for this) of how embedded corruptions are in the society. In the police department and army, it was like an agreement or a contract between our late president Soeharto and the army and the police as power and authorities were handed over into their hands, but in return, they ought to manage their own funding themselves, and this, in a way, encourage more corruption, even in a level as petty as in managing traffic, or making a driver’s licence. And what’s even sadder, Pisani supported this statement, making it clear that in her perspective, in some ways, corruptions are what keep this country stand on its feet. Admitted or not, hate it love it, there’s no easy way to put it: in a way, corruptions get our economy going, be it in a small or large percentage of it. And then she talked further about the integrated corruption in the society, starting from taxi drivers trying to charge you more (although I have a feeling that this is most likely to happen in Bali when you rent a car instead, especially if you’re a foreign tourists) into an unconscious act of corruption happening in the family system. Indonesians really make distinction between big time, company and government corruption, and the smaller scale, finger-pocketing corruption. A family would probably try using their connections at work in order to get their sons or daughters a better job, and they never think of it as a corruption. I remember my relatives offering me to have a little chat with someone at a school I wanted to go to, but didn’t get admitted, and none of them would think this as another form of corruption. When Pisani heard a similar story from one of her host family, she innocently and spontaneously blurted out, “You know, in my country, that would be considered as korupsi.” Then she went on saying that there was a long silence afterwards. They weren’t probably offended, or ashamed or anything, but they simply were too surprised to find out this news. It’s not corruption when you simply were trying to help a family member! And this is just a glimpse of how deeply rooted the corruption culture in the country. In a way, KPK ((Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commision) was making the right choice when they focus their cases on bigger scale of corruption, because I guess that’d be more black and white, if that’s even the proper term. What’s then surprising was when an audience was asking a question to Pisani and accidentally mentioned the word “If the Indonesian democracy still lives on in the future.” What’s taken me aback was Pisani’s reaction to it. She took a more optimistic attitude about the Indonesian democracy, believing that we would fight for our rights and that democracy would persist in the country, regarding the interference of the Red-White coalition formed by the losing presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, and his allies, all of whom are entangled in corruption cases. Our newly-elected president, Joko Widodo, dubbed as “the man of the people” would have a rocky path in front of him.

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And then it was time for another interpretation roster, in another main event, “Secret of the Script.” Chaired by Geoffrey Williams, Jill Dawson, Aline Davidoff and S Metron Masdison talked about their inspiration that lead them to create their stories, and especially S Metron, since he was the only playwright in the panel. I ended up being useless, really, since S Metron’s English isn’t so bad, so he just needed me to be there with him as a living dictionary. Then at one point, he read a scene from his play, making it a bit like a readers theatre, with a bit of an act. In seconds, he became a completely different person, as he acted as a pissed passenger who missed his flight. Of course, it was obvious I like his reading in Bahasa Indonesia better, since, even though the translation is just as good, I think nothing could beat the original language in which the play is written. His play was also published in the anthology in the festival.

Then it was time to head for the ARMA museum to watch Sokola Rimba. It wasn’t originally a movie I wanted to watch, simply because I didn’t really know much about this movie, nor did I do any research about it. I simply read the summary and thought I’d skipped it. But then another volunteer friends told me what’s so cool about this movie, and they changed my opinion.

Sokola Rimba is basically a retelling of Butet Manurung‘s story when she was assigned to teach kids who lived in the jungle in Jambi. In a way, the concept was a bit similar with Laskar Pelangi, but just a very tiny bit of it. Besides, both stemmed from true stories. We were taken along into Butet Manurung’s adventure as she discovered other tribes in a jungle with kids who were very enthusiastic to learn how to read. Then we saw how Butet struggled as she faced resistance from the jungle people as they believed that letting the kids study instead of working would lead a curse unto the tribe. But she didn’t give up.

I’m not really sure where I could find this movie, and I haven’t really looked, but I was glad I decided to come and watch. It was worth it, and it was definitely inspiring, especially for me as a teacher.

The last event of the day, which was also held at Arma was a series of performance under the title of “Oceania Under the Stars,” with Ontosoroh (the singer has a beauuutiifuul voice!), William Barton, and Tama Waipara singing in Maori.

Day 5 (5 October 2014) – The Storytellers, Indonesia Etc., A Weapon of Mass Terror, & Wiseracks and Otherwise

I had two interpretation rosters that day, and unfortunately of someone who’s not at all a morning person like me, I started very early that day. In “The Storytellers”, Clarrie Cameron (yes! I can’t seem to get enough of this guy!), Ishack Sonlay, Jared Thomas and Patricia Grace were talking about their cultural background and how they infuse it in their stories and poetry. Sonlay was the only poet in the panels, and in the session we got to hear him recited his poem in Bahasa Indonesia (with me interpreting the meaning afterwards), but what’s unexpected was that he did this alongside a background music–a traditional music sung in his native language. The music was taken from his phone, but it added a nuance into his poetry-reading. It was a simple poem, about the local people farming on their land, and Sonlay shared his native musical culture, where people would infuse music in almost everything they do. As they worked the land, and even when they tried to get rid of the crows, they’d sing, and they did it in rhythm.

Then it was finally time for another awaited event: “Indonesia Etc.” The session’s title is literally taken from Pisani’s new book of the same name, and this is probably the only event with the fewest people in the panels: There was only Elisabeth Pisani and Step Vaessen who chaired the discussion. Basically, Pisani talked about her travels in Indonesia (whom she keeps referring to her “bad boyfriend”), and she actually brought a map to show where she’s been to (she’d been to places I’ve never been, of course), and how she got to know Indonesian culture as she moved from one host family to another, and she observed and integrated herself in the culture. Of course, eventually the discussion would lead to the Indonesian history and the hot issue of the Indonesian democracy in the present days. Again, she restated her optimism on Indonesian democracy and how people would eventually fight for their right. In the end, I did managed to ask her how she could be that optimistic, because from my perspective as an Indonesian myself, despite the developing democracy and the growing political awareness and boldness of the people, I keep meeting and seeing people (especially young people, of course) who couldn’t care less about who’d lead the country, or people who’re easily manipulated by the issue of race and religion (take the case of Ahok vs the Islamic Front Defender, for example)–in short: a floating mass. But then she pointed how different the people she met outside of Java, and that they are not so easily swayed, actually, which is why, although it’s worrisome, she’s hopeful. I guess I’m just reading too many worrying news updates and probably meeting different kinds of people.

Elisabeth Pisani & Step Vaessen in "Indonesia Etc."

Elisabeth Pisani & Step Vaessen in “Indonesia Etc.”

Pisani praised Indonesia’s democracy in a way that it keeps growing. Even the way the Red-White coalition tried to tackle Jokowi in the government even before he was inaugurated is completely democratic (which makes it even more frustrating), so she’s positive that our democracy would not die so easily. Another thing she praised is the Independence Day proclamation, which marked Indonesia’s freedom from the colonial Dutch rule. Although what followed afterwards was indeed another military aggression and a still long struggle between the Dutch Royal Army and the guerilla Independence fighters, we managed to declare independence first. Back then Soekarno, Hatta, Sjahrir and all their followers didn’t back out simply because they didn’t have the official state yet (well, the youngsters did kidnapped Soekarno and Hatta to Rengasdengklok prior to the proclamation), they just declared it first! And this is worth noting so Pisani actually took the last part of the proclamation, “Hal-hal jang mengenai pemindahan kekoeasaan d.l.l., diselenggarakan dengan tjara seksama dan dalam tempo jang sesingkat-singkatnja” (Matters which concern the transfer of power and other things will be executed by careful means and in the shortest possible time), in short: ETC., as an inspiration for her book title.

Then I stayed at the NEKA museum where they held “Indonesia Etc.” previously, to watch another panels with Mukesh Kapila, Deborah Baker, and Anne Ostby in “A Weapon of Mass Terror,” chaired by Ashwini Devare. The so-called weapon discussed in the panel referred to the mass rapes happening in conflict zones and wars, though it wasn’t limited to just mass rape. What’s sad was that as Kapila observed the places he’d been to when he was working in the UN, most societies are indeed patriarchal, and especially in war zones, women are usually the target for rapes. Although not talking about mass rapes in times of war, Baker supported this negative attitude and discrimination towards women in the US just as well. In the end, Kapila shared an experience he once had where a woman came to him and told him the horror stories of the rapes she experienced, and the reason she did this was because she knew he was from the UN and she wanted him to share this stories to turn the world’s attention to the seriousness of this issue. Although initially confused, I think he finally took this experience as an inspiration for his book, whose excerpt he finally read in the session. This persuaded me to finally purchase his book, Against A Tide of Evil.

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“Wiseracks & Otherwise” was the last panels where I had a writer to interpret for. Presenting Karim Alllam & Greg BlondiThe Muslim Show‘s creators, Sacha Stevenson the YouTube sensation, and Fadel Ilahi El-Dimisky who was one of the Indonesian emerging writers in the festival, Wayan Juniarta asked each one of them what made them decide to go to humours and satires to talk about important issues and how they embedded the message in such a serious medium as literature. Most of them said that initially they never intended to create such works, but they found out that people like it, and they realised that they could deliver good messages in it. Fadel emphasized on how it would be better to simplify the literature works he was making in order to get people to read them and receive the message he got. And although Stevenson did got backlashes from her YouTube audiences once in while, the majority of the responses she got convinced her that the message was conveyed anyway. Then The Muslim Show guys were asked if they ever received any problems or threat from the government because of their work, or whether they ever got their works rejected in a specific country. Humorously they answered, “Israel.” And another person asked whether they would want to reach out to different kinds of readers who, in a way, might be more sensitive or narrow-minded, to get them to be more open-minded to the critics and satire they were trying to deliver.

Before I started interpreting for Fadel, I did read his work first, and the short story published in the anthology is probably one of my favourtie. His work is contemplative, about a guy who kept getting confused, and through confusion, he made sarcasm on why people do bad things even though they know it is bad, and even during the panel he discussed this. “I was confused why there are people who pay so much attention about table-manners, yet pay so little attention to the traffic regulations. And this is only trivial matter, but what about bigger matters, such as corruptions?” Those were parts of his “confusion speech,” which got us all to think. In the end, he shared another short story that he made, A Love Letter from Mount Bromo, where the mountain wrote a letter to the central government, asking to move out to the capital because the regional government didn’t do their work properly and so it was fed up. Since it didn’t receive any response from the government, mount Bromo was annoyed, and so he exploded. Afterwards, the government finally responded, allowing it to move in, yet they were confused: should it move into the capital, where would the place be? And what would happen to the presidential palace with a volcanic mountain now being so close? What would happen to Monas? On the other hand, mount Bromo was able to move out of the region. It hated the corrupt regional government. But if even a mountain could be fed up with its government, then could we imagine how fed up the people would be?

* * *

The UWRF as a whole provided me an escape and a retreat, where I could really recharge myself through meeting so many amazing people and writers, and where I got to talk to some of them, discovering the wondrous of their mind and heart, and by the end of the festival, I was completely overwhelmed that I didn’t think I could take it anymore. It was definitely worth it, and I was already thinking of going back next year…

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Enter the world of mice and bears, where there could be no more prejudiced race/clans/animals–however they’re classified as, except for the two main characters: Ernest & Celestine. The rule is simple: Bears live up on the ground, while the mice underground, each race build their cities and feeding their children with stories full of overgeneralization and stereotypes of the other living on the other side of the ground, scaring them so they would always fear one another, if not hate, never allowing them to break the prejudice and live side by side as friends and companions. Again, all of them basically obey this rule, except for the two main characters.

In the beginning of the movie, we are taken to Celestine’s childhood, where apparently she had already been against the current mindset that bears are scary enemies who’d crush and eat mice at the sight of them. She adorably drew a picture of a bear and a mice together, smiling to each other while her friends were busy telling her that such thing is just impossible. Not the mention the adult mice who kept brainwashing them with scary stories of the “Big Bad Bear.”

IMG_0137.JPGNevertheless, Celestine grew up and maintained her fascination toward bears as she roamed the city of bears, to collect the bears cub lost teeth, just like the “little mouse fairy,” to bring those teeth back to her city where apparently these teeth are extremely important for a mouse’s wellbeing, as they lost their inability to talk comprehensibly should they ever lose any of their incisors. Bears’ teeth are a perfect replacement for these missing incisor because they’re apparently very strong. This explains why basically most mice live to collect teeth and later become dentists. This is also expected of Celestine, of course, but, as usual, against all odds, she never wanted to become a dentist because she’s too busy and too fascinated observing bears and drawing them.

IMG_0136.JPGThen she met Ernest, an aspiring musician and entertainer who barely had enough to live by to from becoming a street musician. Contrary to what his real desire, he was also expected to be something else: a judge.

So these two find each other, sharing the same unfortunate fate, fighting against the two societies’ expectations and stereotypes, to show that a bear and a mice truly can be friends with each other.

Ernest & Celestine is adapted from a children book of the same name by Gabrielle Vincent, and later made its way into one of the 2013 Oscar nominations for animation film (not really sure if this is exactly the category). The movie itself is entertaining and (as for me) engaging as we are drawn into the world of Ernest & Celestine, and follow their adventure as they were chased by the police force from both worlds.

At the same time, being a children story, it is also quite reflective, in my opinion, because the stereotypes between the two races also remind me of similar phenomenons that could still (and still does) happen in the current society system with their expectations and overgeneralization. I might be overthinking it, but the story itself is, I think, quite thought-provoking. Of course, this does not make the story itself too heavy and difficult for children to follow, unlike another animation I’ve watched earlier a couple years ago, The Painting (Le Tableau). Another strong point of this movie is also, I think, the animation style, presented like sketches and pastel colors, simple but attractive, which is quite different from most animation movies these days. A unique and interesting find, I must say.

Watch the trailer here.

All That Is Gone is another masterpiece by Pramoedya of short stories compiled, said to be adapted from his own childhood. Although I initially thought that this is supposed to be the English translation of its Indonesian title Tjerita Dari Blora (Stories from Blora), later I found out that only seven out of the original stories are included in the book, added with an additional short story originally appeared in another work by Pram, Dawn. As for whether the other three short stories from Tjerita Dari Blora are also translated or what happen to the English translation of those three, I have no clue yet. In the preface by Willem Samuels, it is indeed said that this selection was by the Pram’s personal favorites themselves.

The original story, Jang Telah Hilang is literally translated into All That Is Gone, and become the first story in the book itself. The story itself is full of nostalgic note of the main character’s childhood, and hence the title: All That Is Gone. The story is presented from the point of view of a child, not yet fully comprehending the political tension and situation which was happening at the moment of the story, which, at that time was the Indonesia-to-be, still was the Dutch East Indies under the rule of Dutch colonials. Not only that, it also presents the culture and belief of the Javanese at that time in the perspective of a child still very naive. All these are set in the house of the main character, near the River Lusi which personified in the author’s narrative as the witness of all that has happened—all that is gone. To me, this serves as a perfect beginning of the book, welcoming the readers into the author’s world, and perhaps one of the strongest stories in it. I say one of the strongest, because as expected of Pram, he didn’t stop there to get you book hangover.

Another favourites of mine are two stories titled Acceptance and Revenge. The first one is a story of Sri’s family, who’s been forced to leave Sekolah Rakjat  (the elementary school at that time) at a very early age in order to take care of her younger siblings after their mother passed away, while their father and three other older siblings were too occupied with their own jobs and political involvement, neglecting four children with little to care for their health and securities. This one is probably the longest stories in the book, following the struggles of Sri to provide for her brothers and sisters, and at the same time, trying to make their father and eldest sister who lived closest to them at that time, to understand Sri and the younger children’s situations, but then left herself to become submissive to her elders. Following the political turmoil and ever-changing power on the throne—the Japanese occupation, the independence day, the invasion of the Red Army and the coup afterwards—the kids were neglected further to accept their fate, unable to do much about it, and hence, teaching them very well the meaning of acceptance itself. Probably the most heartbreaking story, it’s easy to believe that Sri’s story depicts the chaos happening back then and the impact it has on the common folks like Sri and her younger siblings. This is exactly like one of the saying we have in Indonesian: “Gajah bertarung lawan gajah, pelanduk mati di tengah-tengah” (Elephants wage war against elephants, deer die in the midst—taken from wikiquote.org).

“Their laughter brought some respite from hunger but also the knowledge that they had learned to resign themselves to the situation, that they had come to accept things as they were. This was no crime, they had decided. Acceptance was a tool for survival, a means to get by.”

The latter one is the most unforgettable story, actually a story taken out of the three original stories from Dawn, also by Pramoedya. The title Revenge depicts the desire of most Indonesians at that time, tired of colonisation and oppression, hence trying to get revenge on just anyone who looked suspicious enough. In this story, the unfortunate revenge was done to a pilgrim accused of being a British spy. Being a soldier himself, the main character described with horror and tremor what his comrades did to get the suspected pilgrim to confess, at the same time, coming to a conclusion that being a soldier was not for him.

“It dawned on me that torture was the only thing these people were capable of doing. It was their second nature, no different from the pickpocket with his innate skill of lifting wallets, the lawyer with his gift of gab, the accountant with his ledger, and the doctor with his cures. And this was the verdict handed down by a court whose members were intoxicated by their own sense of intoxication. It was a court whose members despised the police for never having protected them and who hated informers for revealing to the Japanese their hidden supplies of food. Experience had taught them nothing about the proper role of judges.”

* * *

Only after some time that I got my hands on the original 1952 publication of Tjerita Dari Blora, still written in the old Indonesian spelling, undergoing a change only in the spelling of “oe” into “u.” The rest of the spellings themselves appear the same to me (do correct me if I’m wrong.) This book is supposed to be the original version of All That Is Gone. As I have never checked the newer version of this book (already using the New Order Speling—Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (EYD), hence the title is written Cerita Dari Blora), I am sorry to admit that I don’t know whether the number of stories included is the same, as well as the stories in it, but this older publication has the original 11 short stories (Jang Sudah Hilang, Jang Menjewakan Diri, Inem, Sunat, Kemudian Lahirlah Dia, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, Hadiah Kawin, Anak Haram, Dia Jang Menjerah, & Jang Hitam). Initially unaware that the English version, All That Is Gone, contains of only 7 stories and one additional story not from the Indonesian counterpart, I ended up disappointed not finding the Indonesian version of Revenge. However, I didn’t let myself be disappointed for too long, since I get to read four new stories I haven’t read in the English translations: Jang Menjewakan Diri, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, and Anak Haram.

Out of these four, two of them stand out the most to me: Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari (Unseeked Runaway—rough translation) and Anak Haram (Illegitimate Child—rough translation).

The first one tells a story of Siti, a witless country girl who married Siman who were just as stupid as her. Because of their stupidity, unfortunately, their situation soon changed. Siman was unable to get a lot of money to provide for his family, and when one of their children got sick, Siman was ready to sacrifice his kid due to the lack of money, causing a quarrel between the couple which later led to violence. This soon triggered Siti’s runaway.

Siti was stranded and finally ended up in a warung located between Blora and Djepon. The need for money to provide for herself finally forced her to use her youth and charm to the customers coming to the warung. Although finding it hard in the beginning, she soon got used to it, and the memory she has for her neglected family was slowly fading out.

Meanwhile, Ahjat in the story Anak Haram, suffered from bullying from his friends and teachers in his school, being the child of a father who once turned his back on his own country. A traitor. Therefore, Ahjat seeked for comfort in music. In fact, he doted on music very much, and he played the instruments just as well. Contemplating of his own situation, with only Mini and his music teacher to console him, he went home to seek tranquility in his piano. But that was not enough. Ahjat liked the piano, but not as much as the violin, so he asked his parents for one. Little did he know that the violin and the very sound of the instrument itself was closely intertwined with his father’s dark past, but Ahjat was sensitive enough to understand his father was not fond of his favorite instrument nor did he fulfil Ahjat’s wish to own the instrument. So, trying to be agreeable to his parents, he vowed not to play the violin again, especially in the house, with his father around. And he succeeded. At least until his music teacher finally decided to give him a violin.

* * *

One of the thing I really like about most of Pram’s work is how the theme in each of his story never really shows any allegiance toward a specific side of religion or allegiance. Instead, he tried to show a strong message of humanity, which to me was shown strongly especially in Revenge, but not neglected as well in his other stories. What he shows is not which ideology is right or wrong, but what happen to those who got tangled in the middle of the clash of ideologies, the helpless folk who are only able to be swept aside back and forth, and many times, suffer and died out in the midst of it. It shows the multiple face of those people holding on to certain beliefs—how they seemed to appear to one side, but so differently towards the other side as well. This was shown in the story Acceptance, where the family was entangled between Nationalism, Communism, and the remnants of the colonialism who still tried to fight back. We also see a different side of this through Ahjat’s father who happened to be someone who decided to put his allegiance on the “wrong” side for the means of survival, and later suffered and punished because of this misdeeds. Unfortunately, the punishment also extends to his offspring. And in Revenge, Pram couldn’t be clearer when showing the sad human nature which could come to the surface when the soul is fed with hatred and disappointment for too long, which indeed, still happen as long as the human race exist. The 1740 pogrom, the 1945 “Bersiap” and the 1965 coup have proven this to be true. In the end, there are always at least two sides of a coin instead of just one. But many times, only one side appears, that is, the side of the winner, and this is not always the right one.

“There is nothing more disastrous in life than a stupid judge. The same kind of stupidity that was evident here had also killed Socrates, Giordano, Bruno, Galileo, and Jesus.” —from Revenge, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Please keep in mind that the thoughts and opinions written here are my own interpretation, which might differ from others.

Sugiharti Halim: What’s in a name?

An interesting video, looking back at another long-put discrimination against Chinese Indonesians in terms of names.

Back then, in the New Order, a decree was made to get Chinese Indonesians to choose their allegiance, whether they are going to stay true to their Chinese inheritance and deny Indonesian citizenship or instead become the latter, forcing them then to adopt Indonesian names.

The video then contemplates on its implications on the children of those first generations who experienced name-changing policy and decided to get Indonesian names, as well as naming their offsprings with Indonesian names later on.

My family from my mother’s side is a long-line of generations of Chinese Indonesians. Though unfamiliar with its history, I know enough that my grandfather underwent this period. I also know that my maternal family line is of Hokkien Chinese and that my granddad’s Chinese name was The Oen Siang (although, do pardon me, I might misspelled the last name). He later adapted the Indonesian name Untung Gunawan. My grandmother herself is a Klang Chinese who was adopted into a Hokkien family, and her Chinese name was then changed from Siek Ngo San to Kwee Kien Nio. Later she adopted the Indonesian name Haryani Tedja Mertadiwangsa. From my mom’s faint recollection of her childhood, she did acknowledged that 6 of her elder siblings still obtain Chinese names from my grandparents and that my mom did, too, although her name was not recorded officially and later unused and forsaken. All that remains is a distant, meaningless name of The Poe Liang. Afterwards, none of the grandchildren I know have Chinese names. Now, only my cousins’ children would get Chinese names if they got married to someone of Chinese inheritance as well. I know for sure two of my nephews have Chinese names and their parents use the names frequently at home.

No doubt, this is one of the domino effect of the 1965 coup and one of the worst massacre in the Indonesian history.

As a child of multicultural identities, I spent quite some time in my teens struggling with my own cultural inheritance and identity. My parents’ separation and, later, divorce, did little to help. Not that I think had it not happen in the first place it would be easier for me to obtain a sense of ethnic identity.

My paternal grandfather himself is a Balinese while my grandmother is a Javanese, making me, technically, a Balinese as well since the line passed down from my father.

Growing up mostly in Jakarta, initially, I didn’t even realise that this struggle of identity exists in the first place. I spent most of my childhood in my paternal grandma’s home in Jakarta, where, fortunately, I was either too ignorant or simply never experienced any discrimination being partially Chinese Indonesians. The fact that I don’t at all look Chinese physically did crossed my mind, too, but at the same time, I barely understood the word “discrimination” and “racism” in the first place back then. Although my grandma’s household carefully shows a slight, faint gap of the hierarchical structure of race (e.g. Javanese vs Chinese Indonesians), religion (e.g. Islam vs Christian), and even of master and servant, they never showed any discriminative attitudes toward people whom I’ve met who are different. I spent my childhood in an elementary school, where most problems revolved around my flunked grades and ranking, and trivial friendship problems. I never noticed any of my friends whose races are different, and I distinctly remember getting confused over a friend’s statement who said that she didn’t want to be friend with someone because this someone is of different religion. Seriously, that didn’t make any sense to me.

Then, back at my grandma’s home, I’d spent the rest of my day playing too much with the babu‘s kids who are of my age. I remember playing badminton too much, losing way too many shuttlecock somewhere in the field, and buying too many rackets and shuttlecocks replacements. I didn’t even understand why my mom wouldn’t let me transfer to the babu‘s son’s school which is much, much nearer to my grandma’s house (which means I wouldn’t have to wake up very early anymore every morning, only to get to the school late every single day). I didn’t realise that she (and maybe my grandma, too) minded because the school she sent me to is a more expensive, probably better, private school. No one made me feel different there. In fact, now that I think about it, they perhaps pitied me and spoiled me too much because I’m a broken-home little brat.

Then in middle school, I started to experience identity crisis. In my small hometown, there is a stark difference between being a Chinese or a Javanese , a Christian or an Islam, and a master or a servant. Oh, but actually, I need to correct on the religion part. I didn’t see or experience any religious discrimination, really. The friends I’ve met and known are tolerant and very polite, so I should cross that one out. But it became clearer to me, first of all, what it meant to be someone of a more well-off family. We’re not filthy rich, no (some family members might), but my mom and I were definitely not rich enough to own anything fancy. But our family is rich enough to pay for servants.

My cousins’ first reaction upon seeing me kissing a little babu‘s daughter on the cheek was terrified. In a surprised tone (and not in a good way), I was asked why the hell I would kiss a servant’s daughter. In return, I was too surprised of the question itself to give any answer. That was the first time I understood that as one of the “masters,” I was not supposed to kiss them.

Another thing that was clearer to me is the gap existence of those of different race. Amongst my Chinese-looking cousins, strangers would think that I am their babu. When my mom knew, she was furious. That’s when I realised that having a different skin tone could account to something. People would be genuinely surprised when they found out that the Chinese-looking person next to me is my kin. That they are really related to me. And the fact that apparently I wasn’t adopted.

Although ignorant at first, slowly, I started to feel inferior of my skin colour. I hated myself because I was dark-skinned. I hated God because there are people of mixed inheritance, but their inherited genes allowed them to inherit their one of their parents’ narrow eyes or fair skin. I used to hate having wide eyes. And some boy-classmates’ mockery of how big, electrified-looking my eyes are did little to elevate my moods. I thought the way people discriminate me was because I didn’t look Chinese enough. Or perhaps my stupid inferiority made the discrimination exist where there were actually none. And I blamed my not-looking-Chinese-enough for it. I walked home from school one day, taking a shortcut through an empty alley when a guy riding a motorbike came from behind and stopped to squeeze my right boob so hard and then left me stunned and speechless. As I continued walking, an old guy apparently stood nearby and saw everything and said that he didn’t do anything initially because he thought the guy was my friend. Later, I felt very ashamed and humiliated, and again, I blamed my look which is not Chinese enough. I thought if I looked more Chinese, if I had fairer skin and/narrower eyes, if I didn’t look like a babu, this would never happen to me. He wouldn’t dare to touch me had I look like a Chinese nonik.

Only when I entered university and met a lot more people of different cultural background did I realise that not all Chinese Indonesians are discriminative towards those of non-Chinese. It took me quite some time until I finally stopped hinting to strangers that I’m actually partially Chinese because I was afraid of discriminations. Yet what happened next was the complete opposite. As soon as I found out that I could claim my Balinese inheritance (at least until I probably marry a guy of non-Balinese inheritance), I started telling people that I am a Balinese, who was born and raised in Java. It was easier, though, really. No more shocked responses and disbelief statements, although I still did smiled when the old Chinese lady who opens a warung with a tasty Chinese food called me “nonik” instead of “dek.” Only recently did I finally admit to people who ask that I’m also partially Chinese. Back then, I would deny it until my co-worker who found out then told those who asked that I’m actually partially a Chinese Indonesian, too.

I was really surprised upon reading an article by Vltchek who tells a story of a Chinese Indonesian who experienced sexual harassment and later felt ashamed and humiliated, then instead blamed her Chinese inheritance. I thought that those stuffs only happened because you don’t look Chinese enough. That was a significant eye-opener for me, because that’s when I started to explore further of the horrible, discriminative history of the government, from the colonial era up to now, against the Chinese people. How people could hate the Chinese because back then people assimilate Chinese with communism. But even that is only one of thousands of reasons to discriminate Chinese, and some of them are ridiculously fabricated. And the very sad thing is, how easily some people in the country could still be manipulated by racism.

When I watched a family’s story in the documentary film “40 Years of Silence,” I began to understand even better why Chinese Indonesians could be very discriminative to non-Chinese. I wouldn’t blame them, really. Not to mention the racist comments uttered to Ahok who’d become the first Chinese-Indonesian governor of Jakarta, it’s just appalling how shallow the comments uttered and that’s maybe an understatement. But then again, I think now more and more people are becoming more combative against racism, and care less about it. I’d like to believe that more people are beginning to value people more on their personal qualities and performance and characters, and not on their race or religions. Also that those with the racist comments are decreasing in number and who knows, they might be paid to utter such comments.

As I was too spoiled and inferior about myself, not to mention ignorant, I was too focused on my own identity crisis, never thought that the similar things, if not worse, could also happen to others (aside from the calamities of the 1998 riots), but now that I know more about it, I wonder whether all these are simply trivial matters to be shrugged off, compared to those who might have experienced much, much worse discriminations growing up.

P.S. I’m thinking of writing another post someday when I found out more of maternal family’s genealogy because after talking to my mom after writing this, my mom just mentioned another family history, saying the the Javanese inheritance in the family is actually passed down from my granddad-____-‘ It’s just getting more complicated.

Gasping for breath, he ran as fast as he could, but the bus had already left.

“Is that… Is that… Is that the bus to Salatiga?” he asked the old man waving to the bus on the sidewalk while catching for breath.

The old man’s speech was unintelligible, but he figured he said something like, “Yes. My god, you just missed it!” He felt mocked at first, but then he politely asked the old man again, “So that was the bus to Salatiga? Do I wait for the next one here?”

Again, the old man responded in unintelligible way that he barely figured out what was being said. At the same time, he finally got a good look at the old man and realised that the man was barefoot, and far from looking neat and sensible. He was holding a stick that was used earlier to wave at the bus that had already left.

Only then that he finally wondered whether the old man was in his right mind, and now he worries whether he just missed his luck by talking to the old man. No one else was around.

Deciding that the man might not be sane, he decided to ignore him as best as he could, but still trying to smile politely whenever the man seemed to talk to him. Since he barely could figure out the words said, he simply nodded and smiled to avoid being rude. The old man was pointing across the street and, when the road was empty, crossed the street. He breath a sigh of relief, thinking that he was finally free from the old man. At the same time, he noticed a group of youngster approaching his location as well, and looking at the way they dressed, he figured that they were going to wait for the bus just as well. He thought that his luck finally arrived and decided to ask them instead.

“Hi, I’m sorry, but I’m new here. I was wondering whether this is where I should wait for the bus to Salatiga.”

The looked at him judgingly, but then kindly pointed to the opposite directions of the street, and said, “Oh no, this is the opposite direction. You should cross the street and headed that way–” the guy pointed to the right, “and walked along the street until you reached the traffic light there. Then you could wait for the bus to Salatiga there.”

“Great. Thank you so much!” His heart sank upon hearing that, realising that the old man earlier was probably crossing the street to show him the way. Even though he understood the old man’s intention, he partly worried about having to deal with the old man again, and another part of him felt guilty for feeling that way.

He crossed right away when he saw that the road was safe enough for him to cross. And he was right, the old man was waiting for him. And even though his speech was unintelligible as usual, judging from his face expression and intonation, the old man was probably laughing at him, scolding him–though half-jokingly–because he wouldn’t listen to the old man.

He didn’t want to be rude, so he said again, “I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! I didn’t know the way earlier! I’m really sorry! Is it that way?” he asked.

The old man said something again, but he didn’t understand what is being said, so he smiled politely again. He silently cursed his fate when he realised the old man was walking him.

“Hey, I’m asking you!” He stunned when he catch the old man’s hardly-intelligible-words.

“I’m sorry! I was not listening! What did you ask, sir?” he asked again.

The old man repeated his question and he finally figured–partially guessed–that the old man was asking whether he was a student.

“Oh no! I’m working already. I’m going to Salatiga to visit my friends. I was studying there, though,” he answered, trying to be as polite as he could.

He suddenly felt grateful of his dark skin, thinking that no one would realise how embarrassed he felt when he realised people on the street was looking at him and the old man, and he thought they must felt sorry for him for bumping into the old man, or probably wondering why the hell he would stick to the old man. The answer was, of course, because he couldn’t, or that he didn’t dare, but he tried not to think about it and focused only to walk to his destination. But at the same time, he felt more and more of the people’s gaze at him from inside their cars as he was approaching the traffic light.

“Oy! You, there! Where are you going?” He heard another man’s shout. He looked ahead and saw a bus “conductor,” who was trying to fill the bus with as many people as possible.

“I’m headed to Salatiga! Is that where the bus is going?” he answered, wishing so bad that would be the bus he’s going to take.

“Yes it is! Hop in!” the man answered. An answer he was gladly, and thankfully, waiting for.

Still trying to be polite, he turned to the old man, “That’s my bus, sir. Thank you so much for walking me. I could go there myself from here. Thank you so much!” He was trying to rush his farewell, hoping the man would simply nod and smile, but he did more than that.

“Do you have any money for the bus already?” he asked.

This time, he felt really touched by the old man’s question, although he very much doubt that the old man has any money.

“Yes! Yes, I do! Don’t worry about me! Again, thank you so much!”

Although he still felt embarrassed and ashamed of being seen with the old man, at that moment, he couldn’t help but feeling overwhelmed with wanting to take the old man with him, and help him in any way possible–which is, at that time, impossible. He felt like he want to hug the old man as a gratitude, and wished the old man the best of luck. But he realised at the same time that he would feel better if he could just get away from the old man. He realised that he also felt disgusted with himself and the way he felt. But what’s most urgent is that he got a bus to catch.

So he ran into the bus, and quickly settled himself in one of the empty seats inside. He felt the old man was following him and he wondered whether the old man was trying to make sure that he was okay. He wondered as well, and worried, too, if they’d let the old man inside. What would he do, then? People would laugh, that’s for sure.

So he took a window seat, and he tried to look down into the street.

He saw the old man nearby, although–thankfully–he was not looking or searching for him. But he saw the old man tried to talk with a lot of people around, and was being ignored.

Some sellers went inside and outside, trying to sell the magazines, or toys, or street snacks they have. Then one of them passed him by, and he heard the seller chuckling, making a comment about the old man. He felt grateful when one of the passengers asked the seller what happened.

“Oh, it’s the old guy. I think he was trying to get in, but of course, no one would let him. He’s not in his right mind, you see,” the man still chuckling, and now he’s shaking his head in disbelief.

He realised he felt a slight of anger towards the seller, and towards everybody else. Can’t they see that he’s only trying to help? For heaven’s sake, he helped him before, guiding him and making sure he reached the right bus! In his imagination, he saw himself went out of the bus and defended the old man. But of course, he never had that much courage. So now, his anger is mixed with a bit of sadness, and guilt, and disgust. And when the bus finally started its way, he tried to relax. Perhaps by the time he arrived in Salatiga, he’d forget about the old man already. But instead, he found himself pondering and wondering about the old man. He wondered how he turned that way, and whether the man was really insane, or whether he stupidly thought the old man was, and whether he had someone who would take care of him, whether he had any family left and how they had treated him. He wondered whether he would see the old man again one day.

“I just want to shut down.”

There was a long silence in the room until the professor finally spoke, “I thought you’d be happy now that you’ve seen the outside world for yourself, Nina.”

Nina, to whom the professor was talking, avoided the professor’s gaze deliberately.

“It’s… It’s different from what I thought it would be,” Nina finally answered.

“How different?”

Nina was again silent, and she took a deep sigh before she finally continued,

“Well, humans… People weren’t like what I thought they would be. They’re… they’re just so… confusing.”

The professor did not say anything and retained his gaze on Nina.

“Well…,” Nina continued, noticing the professor was waiting for her to continue her sentences. “There were so many different types of people. Some were nice at first, and some were not. And I thought… Well, it wouldn’t be a problem, because then I’d just hangout with the nice ones. They were be very helpful at times too; whenever I was confused with something, they would help me. I mean, I read a lot of books–you programmed me that way, and I can’t help but to love reading books. And because of you, everything that I have read all these time is stored in my memory and they never left. I never forget a thing nor I miss a thing. So I know how to behave like humans. But there were also times when something confused me–simple things that even books sometimes forgot to describe, so I asked some people about it, and they kindly helped me.

“I made friends, too, Professor. Some were becoming closer while others took their distance, and we simply became acquaintances. But I enjoyed the whole experience up to that point.”

“So what went wrong, Nina?” The Professor asked.

Nina sighed again.

“Well…, it’s just that… Up to a certain point in their life, there would be a time of conflict and disagreement, and when that time happens… They just changed completely and turned against each other; only very shortly after previously showing their love and care for one another. Even the nice ones, too. And it got me really confused… How can they be so affectionate at one second, and so full of hatred the next second? If they genuinely love their friends, why would they speak so many bad things about them behind their backs instead of confronting them directly? Or if they hate their friends instead, why would they pretend to be so nice when they meet each other? Was there even an ounce of sincerity when they smile or was there real resentment when they speak ill of others? I just don’t understand them.”

The professor smiled.

“And the more I tried to understand it…, the more I don’t understand it. And now I’m not even sure I want to understand. The more I tried to understand, the more despicable they seemed to me, and the more I want to stay away from them. Why do they do that? Why can’t they just be honest and show their feelings to those they call friends? Or if they hate them instead, why still call them friends?

“And… when I finally got away from them, shut myself from them, doing just like what you did here, exiling myself, I… I found myself feeling depressed.”

The Professor, previously bowing his head while listening to Nina, now lifted up his head. His eyes showed grief and sadness.

“Why are you depressed, Nina? Those are the creatures, the very beings you’re very excited to meet with, aren’t they?” asked the Professor. He approached Nina slowly. “Don’t say you’re depressed, Nina. Please don’t say that,” he added.

“I don’t want to feel depressed anymore, Professor. Just shut me down.”

“Don’t take the easy way, Nina. Don’t you always aspire to be like one of those people that you love?” the Professor asked.

“Yes…, but that was before I met them and actually lived with them for some time,” answered Nina. She looked at the Professor and continued,

“Tell me the truth, Professor. Was that the reason why you live here all by yourself, with only your inventions–your robots to accompany you? Was that why you exile yourself so far away from other people?”

The Professor seemed to be at lost for words. He avoided Nina’s gaze this time.

“Tell me honestly, Professor,” Nina insisted.

The Professor still didn’t look at Nina.

“Professor. I’m right, am I?” asked Nina.

“Yes, Nina. You’re right,” the Professor finally answered. “I got scared. …and depressed, just like you right now. I felt so frustrated and also felt so much hatred seeing how people can be so full of love for others and the next second… they just seem to declare war against one another. I didn’t like that. Plus, there were other people–people who I disliked–who wanted me to invent something I didn’t want to invent to aid their war and dispute. I didn’t want to do it, but they were very persistent, so I ran away. I built this place as a place for my exile, to shelter myself from the outside world. And I cut the ties of communication with other human beings–I only met them or contacted them when necessary. I invented many, many things here, and built many robots. I perfected the imperfect ones, hoping that one day, each of my creation could do much good and be useful to other people who are in need. But I never got out. So they stayed here.”

“Why did you never get out of this place?” Nina asked.

“I… I got too comfortable inside here, and… And when I finally decided to go out, I got scared. What if the world out there has become an even scarier place? What if people become even more and more despicable? So… I stayed in. And so did all my inventions.”

“But Professor… does that not mean that you’re… you’re being a coward?” asked Nina.

The Professor didn’t answer right away. This time, he avoided Nina’s gaze, and after some time, he finally answered, “Yes, Nina. I am. I’m a coward.” Then he sighed, and turned his look back to Nina. “That’s why… That’s why, Nina… Don’t be like me. Don’t just choose the easy way. Don’t tell me you want to shut down.”

Nina was speechless for some time. “But… But weren’t you so strongly against me going out there, meeting people? Didn’t you oppose it in the first place?”

“I did. I did, Nina,” the Professor answered. “I was trying to protect you from harm. I didn’t want you to be disappointed, so… so I was afraid for you when you asked to be permitted to explore the outside world. But then… when I saw you returned and depressed… That’s not what I want for you, Nina. When you were gone, I was partially hoping that you would eventually return, telling me that going out there was a mistake, but at the same time… I hate to admit that deep down, I also wish that you’d find the outside world has become much a better place. That people have become kinder and more honest toward each other. I want you to return here, but not like this. I’d prefer you stay out there and be happy than returning here, sad and depressed. You always long to be one of the people you usually read in books. You want to be… You want to be one of us.

“I did. It was before I finally see them for what they actually are.”

“Don’t give up hope, Nina.”

“Well, you did.”

“Yes, I did. Don’t be like me.”

“Professor, I’m no more than a mere creation of yours. Surely shutting me down shouldn’t be a big problem. I want to shut down and you could do that in a single click of a button.”

“Not like this. I created you because I got bored here, having no one to talk to. I didn’t create your brothers and sisters with the ability to think and feel like humans, so I created you. And when you aspire to become like real people, I was happy and afraid for you. I programmed you as my companion, and I become very protective toward you. But even that couldn’t stop you from going out there.”

“And I regret it so much,” said Nina bitterly.

The Professor sighed.

“You know, in reality, it’s not so easy for us humans to just shut down like you. In real life, we have to deal with it–I know, I didn’t deal with it very well, and I’m  not proud of it, but shutting down could mean suicide. And it can be very, very painful.”

Nina didn’t say anything and stood still.

“And Nina…, you do realise that in life, there are more complicated problems than this. We humans are despicable–we can be so many times, but there are much more good in us as well, you know. And sometimes… Perhaps we’re just confused about choosing to do better things when we’re faced with reality. And that’s how we ended up doing something bad. That’s how hatred was sow and grew, Nina. But it doesn’t mean that the kindness and goodness altogether disappear.”

Nina looked at the Professor this time.

“Perhaps some of them were bad. Perhaps they were all confusing, but maybe that’s simply because they themselves were confused, you see. And that keeps happening all the time as long as we live. Eventually we did bad things, and we regret them–or not,” the Professor quickly added. “But remember, Nina, there are still more goodness out there.”

“If that is so, then how come you’re still afraid? And how come you’re still here?”

The Professor was silent for a while.

“Well, you know what? Maybe I’ve finally decided to go out,” he said.

Nina was stunned this time. She looked at the Professor, searching for signs of lies. But the Professor was looking at Nina resolutely.

“I’ve told you that there are still a lot more good out there. We just haven’t discovered it. And now that I think about it, at the same time, we also need to be good as well. That way, perhaps we could attract more goodness around us. It all need to start from ourselves as well. Who knows, perhaps that way, we could find new hope as well.”

“Yes, let’s go out there once again,” said Nina.

Raden Adjeng Kartini, or more known now simply as Kartini, is one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed heroines prior to the country’s independence day. Every year on 21 April, local schools usually commemorate the image of Kartini by having female students to dress up in batik kebaya and sometimes having traditional competition in schools. Back then, I learned about Kartini simply as a heroine who was among the first to fight for women’s right, especially for education, because my history books and my teachers said so. I did remembered one of my history teachers said that it was thanks to Kartini that we girls are now able to pursue education up to that level. However, outside Indonesia, she was famously known by those familiar with Indonesian history or the Dutch East Indies back then, even during her time, through the letters she wrote to many of her friends, where she really dedicated her time to write down her thoughts on various things related to her motherland and, of course, on the native women.

She was born on 21 April 1879 as the fifth child and second eldest daughter in an aristocratic Javanese family. Her father was a regent of Jepara, a government official, and from the letters, we could deduced that even back then, Kartini’s family was a bit different than most families in Java back then, because dating from her grandparents’ time, each children in the family, especially the boys, were all sent to schools and encouraged to read a lot, and hence, to study and to learn. Yet, even then, when they reached a certain age, the girls would then be called back home to continue their education to be a good, dutiful housewives until they were taken to their future husbands’ home. (Read more of the biography in the Wikipedia.)

I never really thought about the significance of Kartini’s letter or her contribution to her country until I read Letters of a Javanese Princess.

The book is a compilation of her letters written to many of her European friends during her lifetime, and published about 15 years after her death in 1904. The Dutch title is Door Duisternis tot Licht and translated into Indonesian as Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang.

I just finished reading the whole book the day before yesterday, and it gave me a book hangover.

I read her first letter in the book and fell in love with the book right away. Throughout the book, I could see and feel her passion and energy toward learning. She wanted so much to continue studying in schools, and later, to pursued her passion further in the Netherlands—but alas, it was very uncommon back then for women to continue studying in schools after the age of 12 because by that time, they needed to start focusing on preparing themselves to be a good wife-to be and daughter-in-law-to be. But she tried to fight this tradition, and eventually, her father allowed her to go out occasionally during special events. It looked as though, despite Kartini’s protest on her seclusion, she was actually among the few lucky ones who were allowed to do so, and were even still allowed to continue studying by herself at home. It was quite obvious from the letters how much love the father and the daughter shared for each other, up to the point where Kartini was ready to give up her dreams if it meant sacrificing her father’s happiness. But she managed to learn many things through reading during her seclusion anyway. I took down as many titles I could find in the letters and googled the free e-book versions later. At a very young age, she already read a lot of books about her country and she was probably one of the most modern, open-minded women at that time. I got so excited upon reading her letters and her thoughts, and wondering what she would say if she could see the present-day Indonesia. I think that even in the present, if Kartini was still alive, she would still be considered very modern (especially looking at how, as time goes forward, this country seemed to go backward, becoming more medieval instead), and even put together with a lot of leading minds and women leader in the country, perhaps not even they could produce the same thought and ideas. I felt so in awe with Kartini after reading this book.

She hated the tradition and the culture that seemed to determine the fate of many Javanese women without considering their thought on marriage, as well as because the two also hindered her path to pursue education further. She said:

I would still go further, always further. I do not desire to go out to feasts, and little frivolous amusements. That has never been the cause of my longing for freedom. I long to be free, to be able to stand alone, to study, not to be subject to any one, and, above all, never, never to be obliged to marry.

I didn’t think, however, that she, in particular, was against marriage completely. I thought she was more against the tradition of having marriage as the only highest and noblest goal women back then could have, especially when the men they were marrying were the ones simply decided by the family, without having to have the women’s consent or even presence during the betrothal arrangement.

And about her seclusion, she shared her feelings through this:

Gone, gone was her merry childhood; gone everything that made her young life happy. She still felt herself such a child, and she was that in fact too, but the law placed her inexorably among the full grown. And she to whom no ditch was too broad to be leapt, no tree too high to be climbed, who loved nothing so much as to run like a wild cold in the meadows, must now be calm, composed and grace, as beseemed a Javanese young lady of a high and noble house.

As much as she longed to continue staying in school and learn, she did not keep this dream only for herself. She also longed to have other women to long for the same thing, instead of being like another obedient little daughter, like a “wooden doll”, only doing what is told and expected of them. She wanted others to have the same chance, just like the boys, and she was more than ready to help her fellow countrywomen to learn. She inspired her younger sisters, Kleintje and Roekmini to do the same, and together, they wished so much to open a school for girls, and were even ready to “work for it in some other way, ask our friends to subscribe, start a lottery or something,” should the government against their plan.

I know that the way I wish to go is difficult, full of thorns, thistles, pitfalls; it is stormy, rough, slippery and it is—free! And even though I shall not be happy after I have reached my goal, though I may give way before it is half reached, I shall die gladly, for the path will then have been broken, and I shall have helped to clear the way which leads to freedom and independence for the native women.

And just as much as she hated the way old traditions treated native women, she felt the same toward religion, although in the end she managed to regain her faith upon finally realising that it was not the belief or the religion itself that kept disappointing her, but its massive followers. Yet she kept calling out for peace and scorned the misdeeds done in the name of religion.

O God! Sometimes I wish that there had never been a religion because that which should unite mankind into one common brotherhood has been through all the ages a cause of strife, of discord, and of bloodshed. Members of the same family have persecuted one another because of the different manner in which they worshipped one and the same God. Those who ought to have been bound together by the tenderest love have turned with hatred from one another. Differences of Church, albeit in each the same word, God, is spoken, have built a dividing wall between two throbbing hearts. I often ask myself uneasily: is religion indeed a blessing to mankind? Religion, which is meant to save us from our sins, how many sins are committed in thy name?

We think that love is the highest religion, and must one be a Christian in order to love according to that Heavenly command? For the Buddhist, the Brahmin, the Jew, the Mohammedan and even the Heathen can lead lives of pure love.

However, the chains of old traditions which shackled her didn’t, surprisingly, lessened her love and passion for her land’s cultural art and customs. She loved the music—the sound of gamelan in particular, the paintings and literature made by the natives, from the most educated minds to the ones less educated, and she thought highly of her native Javanese language.

Have you any desire to learn the Javanese language? It is difficult—certainly, but it is beautiful. It is sentient language; often the words seem to be conscious, they express so much. We are astonished sometimes, own children we are of the country, at the cleverness of our fellow countrymen. Things of which one could never imagine anything could be made, they express charmingly. Name something in the dark, give out a subject at random, and a simple Javanese will immediately make a rhyme that astonishes by its aptness and clearness. This facility belongs peculiarly to our Eastern people.

I remembered back in elementary school where my English teacher was teaching us new vocabularies of animals and that not all little, younger animals who haven’t matured yet can be called differently, just like “dog” and “puppy,” and then compared it with the Indonesian language and Javanese. He eventually admitted proudly how rich the Javanese vocabularies are.

Did a dreamy song never reach you then? the song of a Javanese, who sings to his family and to his neighbours—of love—of heroic deeds, and glittering pageantry—of beauty and of wisdom; of mighty men and women, princess and princesses of the long ago. It is that loveliest hour when the Javanese, tired from the hard day’s work, seek rest in song, dreaming all his cares away, wholly lost in the singing far away past, whither his song leads him.

I wonder where have all these old customs gone. An article which is related to the 1965 tragedy brought my attention a couple days ago (click here to read it in Indonesian). In it, the author talked about how imaginative and culturally rich Indonesian people back then prior to the mass killings—especially those from lower-income class like farmers. It was a custom for farmers to actually dance and sing to celebrate the harvest, yet now… there’s the harvest, and that’s it. How I long to be able to see such thing. (Sigh.)

Another thing that caught and crossed my mind when I was reading this book was, other than the letters which made me in love with the book right away, is the language style used in the letters itself. I suppose I can’t help noticing, even though it’s the English translation, how strong the emotions shown with each words, especially when it comes to expressing love to the recipients of the letters whenever Kartini wrote about how much she loved him or her, and how she longed to be with them, to kiss their cheeks, and care for them. I know that it’s a translation, and I wish so bad that I could read her letters in the language in which the letters were written, except that I do not know any word of Dutch—even though some Indonesian words are adapted from Dutch, yes—so I could only imagine how it was written and expressed in its original language; I could probably look for the Indonesian translation, but it would still be a translation. However, what crossed my mind whenever I read such emotions strongly expressed in the sentences is the question whether back then every one actually expressed things similarly. And one thought lead to another, so I wondered again, since I do not know many people who do the same thing in the present days, whether the communication between one another now is becoming less intense and personal because we now have sophisticated technology to back us up such as Instant Messaging, SMS, emails, telephones and video callings. If I were born in that much older eras, would I write in a similar way?

But now I’m starting to ramble again. I would definitely recommend this books to my feminist friends, as well as my male friends—well everyone who might be interested in reading more about the past Dutch East Indies from the perspective of Kartini, if not about Kartini’s life itself. She was definitely an exceptional figure, and I wish I could have a time machine to transport me back to that time so I could have a chat with her. (Stop being delusional, Dian!) Back then, I simply considered this as something of the past—a part of the past that has shaped the present days, but still a part of a distant past, and not significant enough for today. But I suppose this book has helped me to appreciate Kartini’s effort more.

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