I just crawled onto my bed when I felt a chronic pain in my stomach.
“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.
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.
I should give credits to three of my good friends, because our conversations have led me to writing this.
* * *
“She tried to feel me,” Sri said with terror in her whole face.
“What? What do you mean with ‘trying to feel’ you?” Christine, who was sitting right next to me, asked. She looked just as surprised as me, but I was too stunned to say anything.
“She… Well, I came to say goodbye, of course… She was out when I came here to give you guys a farewell, so… when I saw her on my way out, I thought I’d give a proper goodbye… And then… she told me to come near her, and so I did. But then… she hugged me. Which, I thought, was not a big deal, until… until she tried to grab my butt, and I felt her lips on my neck and her other hand tried to caress my breast, and…— ” Sri stopped, too horrified to continue.
There was a silence for a short time before Christine finally shouted, “She WHAT??”
Again, I was lost for words, still trying to process what I just heard.
“Are you sure that’s what she did to you? I mean, that she wasn’t joking at all?”
Sri shook her head over and over, as if trying responded to Christine’s question and at the same time trying to forget the unpleasant memory of what she just told us in her head.
“I… I don’t know, but I don’t think she was joking. She looked me straight in the eye, and… she didn’t look as if she’s playing around.”
This time, even Christine was lost for words as well. Another silence filled the room.
“I… I tried to back away quickly, to show her that… that I’m not that kind, you know, but she approached. I kept backing away slowly, and then she… she asked me… She asked me whether I was sure to leave, because… She said she could secure a place for me in this class if I want to, give me a second chance to continue my study here. She’d asked her dad and…” Sri stopped.
“And??” Christine asked impatiently.
“I said no right away. I couldn’t think of anything else other than that I have to get away from her that moment, but she grabbed my arm, and asked me… if—” again, Sri stopped, “…if she could arrange for me to study in another class in this school, would I be willing to accept the offer. But by that time, I was much too scared of what she’d do next already, so I shrugged her off and tell her no for the second time, and then I bolted away from her.”
We gasped in surprise and amazement.
“…Are you… Are you okay, Sri?” I finally found my voice and asked her.
“Well, no. But I have to be okay again soon. I… Now I just want to go home and listen to my favorite music while reading my favorite mangas to cast the unpleasant image and memories embedded in my mind already,” she answered with her eyes shut close tightly.
“Well, okay. You go home, and do whatever you want to forget this. It’s your last day here, and you’re supposed to have a wonderful time,” said Christine while patting Sri’s shoulder. Sri nodded weakly. “You be okay, alright?”
“I’m sorry that you have to experienced this, Sri. I also hope you’d be alright.”
“I hope so too. Thanks, girls. I’ll… I think I better go now.”
And so she left, leaving me and Christine again in silence.
Finally, I said, “I never thought… I never thought she would do something like that, you know. I mean… I know she’s a lesbian, and… I thought they usually don’t make a move on someone with different orientation. Well, that’s what my lesbian friends usually do, I think.”
“Me too…,” Christine responded. “It’s… It’s just so out of line! I know she got quite an influence in this place because of her parents and her connections, but… to do so is just… just…
“I’m just sorry—very sorry that it should happened to her—and on her last day here! I… I just hope she wouldn’t dwell on that unpleasant moment.”
“I hope she wouldn’t be traumatized,” I said, though I actually doubted even my own words. I know Sri was quite homophobic. One too many times already, I came across her facebook statuses criticizing, if not scorning, the gays and lesbians community. I worried that this experience would only confirm further her fears and paranoia. Of all people, why it should happen to her? And of all people, why she should be that homophobic?
* * *
I was right. I didn’t even have to wait for the next day to came across her latest facebook status, blaming and scorning gays and lesbians. Usually I managed to ignore them, but this time, she was different.
“These homosexuals should have been banished. It is such an abnormality and simply causing disorder amongst normal people!”
She was sexually harassed. I understand.
In this country, homosexuality is still something very unusual. Even though more and more people are now more open and more accepting toward homosexuality, I think there are still even more people who oppose the idea alone and avoid the subject. Therefore, being harassed like that might be much too… too terrifying.
But should she harbor so much hatred?
“They’re no different from you and me, you know. They’re humans, like us. They eat the same food, they harbor same emotions that we have, and they do the same things we do: go to school, study, work, and such. The only thing different is their sexual orientation.”
Words of a good friend of mine said long time ago flew back to my mind.
Yes, they’re blood and flesh just like me. They’re humans too. They’re not handicapped, nor are they abnormal. They just happen to like those of the same sex.
“Just because they’re homosexuals, it doesn’t mean that they will fall for anyone from the same sex, you see. It’s just like straight people, if a guy is straight, does that mean he would fall for any girl he sees? And will a girl who’s straight fall in love with every guy she meets? They have types and preferences, too.”
This was also said by another good friend of mine. I chuckled hearing that at that time because I remember one time in the past time of that past, when one of my gay friend told me how the guys in the same vocal group avoided him once he joined because they were afraid he would fall for them. I remember him laughing about that instead and said, “Seriously, do they really think they are all that attractive?” and then we laughed together.
I used to wonder as well whether my view could form like this simply because no lesbians ever fell for me, so I feared nothing. I wonder if that’s the case. But, if a guy I don’t like fall for me, wouldn’t I reject him all the same? It’s not like I would like anyone just because I’m straight and it’s a guy, right? Perhaps, then, that’s not the case.
* * *
“You know, I really do regret what happened to Sri this afternoon. I think it’s just unfortunate, and it was so out of line. That moment depicted exactly what homophobic always depicted of gays and lesbians, which is a pity. And Sri happened to be homophobic, indeed. But what she just wrote in her status made me feel sad.
“Maybe… Maybe I was being too sensitive about it, but… still, I couldn’t help feeling sad upon reading it. Should we really treat homosexuality as abnormalities or illness, or something disgusting?
“The problem is not in the sexual orientation, right? It’s not that, but basically it all comes back to character, right? If you’re such a mess, then you’re a mess despite your sexual orientation. And homosexuals can be pleasantly nice too if they are genuinely nice, right?” I talked to the person in mirror in front of me.
“I have nothing against homosexuals. I have plenty of friends who are homosexuals. In the end, it’s her opinion and she is entitled to have her own opinion.
“It is, indeed, a matter of sexual orientation, but she couldn’t really be blamed as well because what she just experienced today is just very traumatic to her.
“It all comes back to each one’s character, I suppose. Straight people could also be very frontal and out of line, I guess… But society just don’t bother too much about them, probably because they’re more socially accepted.
“The point is, as long as people don’t make such a fuss about it whenever they meet homosexuals, I think everyone can be civil about that.” It feels like the person inside the mirror is responding to me.
“I suppose you couldn’t really judge those homophobic just as well, because to them, we’re the ones who do the wrong thing by accepting homosexuals. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective,” the person in the mirror continued.
“Sometimes I feel really offended whenever I came across homophobic people because many of my friends are homosexuals, but after a while, even my gay friends admit that some gays could be very aggressive without putting the other’s sexual orientation into consideration.
“Well, Homophobic people are not the ones defining what homosexuals are like, right? Besides, people here mostly grow up with the idea that such things are just not right, and it’s hard to put such notion aside if you’ve been told that way since you’re little.
“It’s no different, I guess, from making such a fuss about race or religion… There people who also discriminative against the Chinese-Indonesians, or those against Javanese, and so on…”
I sighed. “Well, I don’t think it’s my place anyway to even bother with that, or trying to change the perspective. I can’t tell people what to think, can I?” I asked.
“Well, everyone would think that their opinion is right. It’s not easy to change such thinking. In that sense, then…, there would be no correct answer. No one would be 100% correct. It would all depend on each person’s opinion and each choice we make to believe in which view,” answered the person in the mirror.
“Yeah…, that makes sense.
“I suppose that’s just how the society works,” I said.
“Exactly. It’s usually the majority’s opinion which would later become the acceptable norms and considered as ‘normal.’ Minorities are usually thought as odd, or abnormal, and such.”
“I guess it would then creates stereotyping and overgeneralization, wouldn’t it?”
I passed her by again today.
She is someone unknown to me, and what makes her very noticeable is her deformity, if I’m allowed to use such expression, causing her to limp when she walks, and even that is a mild expression. To be precise, she is actually dragging both her feet in order to move around, probably due to broken bones in her legs, resulting in one leg bending forward and the other behind.
I saw her once in a while, on my way to school in the morning, and just like every passerby on the street, whenever I glimpse her from afar, I would prepare myself to keep walking straight and avoid looking at her direction.
Whenever I look at her, I can never be sure of what I feel toward her, or how I should just as well. Most of the time, it would be pity I feel, but would she feel insulted or hurt by that instead? In movies I’ve watched or books I’ve read, whenever they have such characters, they either beg for pity and even much more, or instead, loathing pity that they would scold or hate the person looking at them with such emotion. Of course, real life is completely different, but usually stories are drawn from reality, aren’t they? And what if I do feel pity? When it comes to pity to those unfortunate, I always wish that I am filthy rich that I have enough money to send them to the doctors or hospitals, and have them treated properly or operated so someone like her could walk just like everybody else. Sadly, just like in most stories, this is no more than just another empty, bulshit talk. I only got so much money to pay for my tuition fee and my monthly allowance. And even if I saved a lot, it would still take years to pay such a lot sum for an operation or proper hospital treatment for them. I could probably pay as much as the down payment and that would hardly be enough. I suppose I could save enough to donate to a charity sometime soon.
But in the end, I simply passed her by, making sure to avoid her gaze and walked past her. I suppose it’s no different than what every other passerby do. I keep thinking that perhaps this is better. If I show her pity, she might not like it. Yet, deep down I know that I tell myself such bullshit because I’m just too afraid to do anything.
Suddenly my mind jumped to a sample novel I just read last night. A work by Daniel Wallace titled The Kings and Queens of Roam caught my attention the other day, and intrigued me enough into reading a sample of it in my Kindle. It’s a story of two sisters, Helen and Rachel McAllister, who were unfortunate enough to have both parents died, and born as orphans in the city of Roam. As if that’s not enough, Rachel was born blind, but she was said to be very beautiful. On the other hand, Helen, though physically healthy and was able to see, was very, very ugly. Rachel was said to be loved by everyone in Roam, and they loved to see her as well because she was so beautiful, but Helen was a terrible sight. People avoided her gaze, and her altogether because they simply couldn’t stand to look at her horrible face. In short, they prefer to consider her invisible whenever possible, and this has caused her a deep grief. She imagined how ironic the situation was: her sister, beautiful but blind, and her, healthy but ugly.
Of course, I know that Helen’s situation was completely different to the woman, but in my mind, I was wondering whether she and Helen would think alike when it comes to how different kinds of people look at her. Then I thought about how I behave and felt very ashamed right away. I was doing exactly like what the people in Roam was doing: I was trying to pretend she’s invisible by avoiding her gaze as well as interaction with her. Then that thought trigger another thought, which then led to me wasting to much time simply wondering what to do next. Even with other physically healthy people around me–in schools and neighborhood–I had trouble socializing with them, pondering too much of what to do and what to say in order to start a conversation or interacting with them (yes, I’m that awkward), so that time, I was spending even more time thinking of whether it would be better to turn around and… and then, what? Greet her? But then, that would be awkward, wouldn’t it, if I simply greet her and then walk away? Give her money? Would food be better? How would she respond, then? Would she be offended, or would she be grateful?
So there I was, wasting my time thinking and thinking over what I should do or say while I kept walking. In the meantime, our distance became longer and longer, and I was more and more further away from her.
Then I continued walking.
In the end, I didn’t do a thing.
In the end, I’m no more than a coward.
How familiar are you with that TED? This is not Ted from the movie Ted, for sure. In case you’ve never heard of it, TED that I’m writing about here is a non-profit organizati
on that holds conferences to spread ideas and information involving the fields of technology, entertainment and design. They usually hold 2 annual conferences (which unfortunately, despite being “non-profit” is REALLY expensive and definitely unaffordable for me and many people I know), and as the TED animo’s spreading across the globe, each country and region can now organize a TEDx event, “x” here meaning the event is local and can be organized independently. In Indonesia, I’ve known of TEDx Jakarta, Ubud, and Surabaya, and there are probably other Indonesian TEDx in other regions which I haven’t known already. The conferences and events are usually talks from invited speakers all over the world (and local speakers, probably, on TEDx event), which then would be recorded in a video and uploaded to YouTube, hoping that others unable to attend the event could still watch and get the same information and ideas previously shared.
I first knew of TED from a lecturer and a senior sharing the videos through Facebook, and later, I began to look for the videos myself. I love TED talks and have been inspired by it until now.
Which is why, October last year I decided to join the TED Open Translation Project. Although hesitating at first, I finally joined the translation project after some glitch in my application.
TED Open Translation Project is actually a volunteer work (which means it’s unpaid work) to translate TED videos to a different language (in most cases: to your native tongue), hoping to expand the ideas and knowledge sharing from TED talks to those who don’t speak languages other than their native tongues, or simply prefer to read in their native tongues through subtitles translated into their languages by the translators.
The concept is simple: the video is translated by one person from the original language to other language (native tongue, L1), and then reviewed by another volunteer-translator of the same language before finally approved and published in the TED official website. When you apply as a translator, usually they would ask what language do you want to translate from and into, and how fluent are you with those language, as well as whether one of the languages is your native tongue.
In case you’re looking on the information on how to be one of the translator, you could:
- Go to the official website, and then find “Translations” on the header of the site.
- Afterwards, you could find on the sidebar the option to join the Open Translation Project (or simply skip the first step and click here). The translation project is using a website called Amara, which you’d be redirected to when you join and want to translate a video.
- You would have to fill out a form, basically your identity, and, as I’ve written above: the languages you want to translate from and into, how fluent you are with those languages, whether any of those is your native tongue, and you would have to explain why you would want to translate TED videos. You should get an email after some time (I’m not sure exactly how it would take, but I suppose it shouldn’t take long) confirming the application process as well as confirming you as one of the translators, finally.
I wrote there that I wasn’t sure because I met a glitch when I applied. I might have accidentally sign up to Amara prior to applying, and hence, I could not join the translation project because to do so, I have to actually sign up from TED’s website, which would then allow me to join the TED team on Amara. Therefore, I ask for help from the Open Translation Group in facebook, in which afterwards, one of them invited me through email to join one. Strangely, I was still unable to apply, so consequently, the administrator finally sign me up manually by sending me some questions from the application form to my email. After several emails, I was finally (FINALLY!) able to join.
In translating the video, you actually have the option to either translate the videos, or to review the ones already translated. If no one has translated the video, you’d be able to translate it, but if someone has beaten you to it, you could only review the existing translation. That’s basically how the system TED used, I suppose, to make sure that the translations are not messed up and understandable by those who speak the translated languages. They would give you deadlines when you first decided to translate or review a video (about 3 weeks to 1 month, if I’m not mistaken), and if you missed the deadline, basically you would have to ask for the task again by clicking the necessary links, unless someone’s already taken over the job, so you could either start on another video or wait until the video translation is available for review.
So far, I have translated 10 videos, all from English to Bahasa Indonesia, and I have to say that most of the time, I enjoy translating it better than reviewing it. I once tried to create the English subtitles for a video that didn’t have any English subtitles yet, but I found to be even more challenging, and after some time, I’m usually stuck with either unclear or unfamiliar words, which, in the end, afraid of creating misleading text, I gave up the task, and told myself that it’d better off with someone who knows English better than me.
I suppose translating TED talks gives you no external rewards other than personal satisfaction, because it takes up your time and patience, I’d say. Whenever I translate the talks, I would always cling on to my the internet connection because I would then use the online dictionary, google translate and google itself to make sure my translation doesn’t sound awkward in Indonesian, which is why I never do the work offline. But it comes with, well, personal satisfaction of completing the translation–yes, getting the work done–and the hope that someone speaking Indonesian (or prefer to watch the video with Indonesian subtitles, or don’t speak any English) would eventually be able to watch and indirectly, me and the other translator finally able to spread and share the ideas. I found TED talks really inspiring, and I would want other people to be able to benefit from it just as much as I do. I suppose that’s where I got the personal satisfaction from. Of course, there’s no way to check whether anyone really watch the videos, but well, I’m crossing my fingers.
I haven’t been translating again since 2 months ago, and only recently taking a break from
speed-reading The Social World of Batavia procrastinating to translate a touching video I’ve already watched a couple months ago and by now is already available with English subtitles. It tells a heart-breaking story of Eleanor Longden, who got diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffered because of mistreatment, but in the end, she survived, and is now even able to help others who experience the same. I find it amazing how she could turn the tables around and even make me wish that I have voices in my head who could support me like they do hers. Well, of course I don’t mean it, but I ended up thinking that she’s very lucky to have the voices that are able help her express her repressed emotions. Most of us I don’t usually do. (click here to see the video on TED website)
Aside from all these
nonsenses rambles, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite videos that I’ve translated below (if you got some time to watch them, I hope you do, and that you enjoy the videos as much as I do). Let me know what you think in the comment below if you don’t mind :)
I had only had a few hours of sleep when I felt someone’s holding my hand tightly. Half-dreaming and half-awake, I saw in front of me the beautiful aging face of my grandmother. She was looking at me, smiling, and asking me questions in language and words I couldn’t comprehend. Partially because I was still trying to be fully awake, and partially because basically, it’s hard to understand what my grandmother is saying most of the time ever since she’s stricken with dementia.
Most of the time, she’d mumble something in Dutch, a language which, sadly, none of her offsprings understand. We would simply reply back in Indonesian whereas she would reply back in Dutch. It’s like she’s only speaking Dutch and that we’re from two very different worlds.
At other times, her mind would wander back to her younger days. She would call me “mother,” or she would call my mom so. And then she’d spotted her oldest son and perceived him as someone else, someone from her past, who are mostly dead and gone now.
All these time, I’ve been writing continuously about my paternal grandfather and his intriguing, but dark past. But recently, I’ve been hanging out with my mom and her family, and watching how my mom taking care of my demented grandma makes me learn, even just a little bit, of my mom’s past and my grandma herself.
Apparently, my grandmother was a refugee in the Japanese-colonized Dutch East Indies when she met my grandfather. She was under my grandfather’s protection, to be precise, living in his house. My grandfather himself was a wealthy Chinese widow, his first wife deceased, leaving him with his children. Despite the age gap, my grandmother being only a few years older from his firstborn, my grandpa and grandma got married anyway.
Whenever I visit my grandpa’s house at Purworejo, Klampok, Central Java (now occupied by one of my cousins and his family), I never ceased feeling awe and spooked at the same time. The house is the very depiction of an old Chinese family house (I’d say it’s resembling the typical Balinese house) where there are small houses inside those wide acres of land. There were remnants of the past, where apparently my grandfather grew and sold some fruits and vegetables to earn the household incomes back then.
One time, when I was visiting one of my aunt’s house, she and my mom gathered in the dining room, talking about their past. Despite being wealthy, my grandpa never stopped pushing my grandma to earn her own income, so she had to work on her own, selling things to the traditional market (I forgot what she sold exactly) to earn extra money. My grandma herself was quite proud, never begging for money from my grandpa. She worked hard, even when the family when bankrupt after my mom was born. I always heard that my mom was born during the most difficult times. My grandma’s oldest son had to left his study in the university to help the family with the newspaper agency business. And even then life was still difficult. They used to eat rice with salt, or soy sauce, and having a salted duck egg for a meal was already considered a luxury for them, and even then they still had to divide one egg into four to be divided for my grandma’s 8 children.
But life is just like a wheel. Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down, right? And despite the hard and struggling past, most of my grandma’s children are now successful, and my grandma got the chance to enjoy the wealth before she’s stricken with dementia.
Now my mom is taking care of my grandma, who, consumed with dementia, is still pretty robust and strong physically, but whose mind is already eaten away and turned into that of little kid. She becomes very dependent of everyone, especially my mother, and perhaps my mom’s the only person who understand her best.
The last time I came home, I already expected the same thing I’m becoming used to expect of my grandmother these past few years: That she wouldn’t have the slightest idea of who I am, that she’d mistake me as an outsider since I’m her only grandchild with dark skin and doesn’t have the slightest Chinese look, that she’d sleep most of the time, that she’d keep asking the same question over and over, and that she’d mumble either unclearly or in a language I don’t understand (Dutch). Funnily, since she’s Chinese, it would only be logic if she also mumbles in Chinese as well, but I’ve never heard her say anything in Chinese. It’s usually Dutch, or Indonesian, or Javanese.
In the old days, when she was younger, I remember my grandma talking to me gently, kindly, and tried to protect me from anyone or anything who tried to harm me. I remember her wearing kebaya, the Javanese traditional dress, and chewing betel, or sometimes smoking (yes, she smoked). Whenever any of her children or grandchildren was tired, she’d offer to massage us.
I’d chuckled and smiled every time one of those memories crossed my mind, and I can’t help but miss those days. I wish I could turn back the time, and saw another glimpse of my younger grandmother, because those images of her has started to be replaced with her current image: fragile and demented.
There would be stories which, luckily, my mom could laugh at instead of feeling stressed with, of my grandmother. Because of her demented mind, the first days and months she stayed with my mom, she could barely sleep, and that caused my mom to be lacking of sleep just as well. Or sometimes, my mom would wake up, finding my grandmother’s already gone. We’re very fortunate that the neighbors already knew us pretty well, so one of them would find her and guided her home. Once, there was even a pedicab driver who found her astray. All she said at that time–and even now, actually–is that she wanted to go home. All she remembered is her home back then in her childhood and teenage years.
One of the few memories I got of my grandmother that still touched me until now is when her mind was starting to become demented, she’d told me not to go out for too long, or that she’d told me to come up early, because to her, every second could suddenly passed to 6 PM, where it would be dark already, and there would be very few lights on in the streets. One day, she gave me Rp 500,- for my pocket money. At that time, all Rp 500,- could buy me was one cheap candy. I felt choked since I felt like scolding her to correct her errors, yet at the same time tears were already filling my eyes. I managed not to cry in front of her.
My family’s history is really complicated, both from my maternal and paternal sides. But then again, whose family history isn’t complicated, eh? I used to hear that my maternal ancestors were somehow connected distantly to the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, but none of us have any exact idea how it could be anymore. A part that I remembered is that one of our ancestors was actually a child, or perhaps a relative of Hamengkubuwono, who got adopted by one of his Chinese close friends who were childless, and then moved back to China. After he grew up, he returned to Indonesia as a Chinese, and married another Chinese, and then produced more Chinese offsprings (or Chinese Indonesian). No one can really confirm now whether the story is any true or not, and I merely took it a a kind of tale from a distant past, not really caring whether it’s true or not. I could only trace my maternal family line as far as my grandfather, and even I never got to know him. Because of the age gap (about 20 years) between my grandma and grandpa, he was old enough to be my mom’s grandfather when my mom, his last child, was born. My mom was 2 when he passed away. All my mom remembered was that once, he beat up my mom because she was being naughty. But many of her brothers and sisters would remind her how my grandpa used to carry my infant mom on his shoulder whenever he walked around his massive garden where he would sell the fruits and vegetables to feed the family. I remember seeing his photo only once, and all that’s left in my head is merely a vague picture of an old Chinese man. Whenever I heard my mom and her sisters and brothers talked about their past, I kept wondering what kind of person my maternal grandfather was.
Ever since knowing that I can rightly claim my Balinese heritage through my paternal grandfather and my father, I never tell people that I’m Chinese. Partially perhaps because I don’t look like one, and perhaps because I always thought that I cannot tell people so because I’m not 100% Chinese since I don’t look like one, and I don’t speak like one, nor do we still embrace the Chinese culture. But it’s there, and I can’t just shrug it off no matter how disconnected I sometimes feel with it. It’s a part of my family, and a part of my mom that she still holds dear. I suppose now I could say that I’m a Javanese-born Balinese, and about 25% Chinese-Indonesian, despite not speaking any Balinese or Chinese. Well, basically, I’m an Indonesian.