I looked up to him and my mom standing together, as we roamed around the city. He had his DSLR as usual, and mom equipped with her smartphone to take videos. I remember going shopping for souvenirs and other window shopping.
We had a chit-chat and he took a video of me and mom as we goofed off. We went together to take pictures around town.
And then I opened my eyes.
I looked around and realized I’m back in my room, laying on my futon.
And before I could anticipate it, the tears fell down on my face, then rolled down to my pillows and futon.
With my left hand still injured, I tried to suppress the pain while wiping my tears away. My eyelids hurt and sore by this time from crying non-stop in the past few days, ever since he said his farewell, and then his funeral.
And then I felt the pain.
Not the one on my left hand. Not the one on my eyelids.
It hurts, waking up to the realization that he’s not back for real. It was just the dream. I woke up to my reality and he’s still gone.
I remember his happy face and my mom’s in the dream. There we were, back together and happy again. It was so vivid.
Then the regret and guilt came back.
He’s still gone.
I should’ve valued him more.
I should’ve treated him better.
He’s been so good to us.
I never realized how selfless he’d been while he was still alive.
I forced my eyes closed to go back to sleep. Otherwise, I knew I’d go back crying the whole morning again.
I managed to sleep.
When I woke up, I looked upon my smartphone on the floor next to the futon and realized it’s still 8:30 AM.
The tears didn’t come back. The crying has stopped this time.
Sometimes all you had to do to get someone to talk was to be silent.
And so Kevin did, as he listened to Wang Di’s accounts on her experience during the World War II, as the Japanese imperial army invaded her homeland Singapore and took her away from the comfort of her parents’ home.
I already know how gripping this book would be as I first read the book’s summary–the main reason why I bought the book. The main protagonist, Wang Di, was taken by the soldiers to serve as one of comfort women in her homeland Singapore. It became a very painful memory, one that has taken her a long time to finally open up and talk about, long after her husband’s death, even though he’d been patient enough to wait for her to tell him herself.
Comfort women is a euphemism used for sex slaves, which refers to girls and women forcibly taken by Japanese soldiers in East Asia and Southeast Asia, to provide sex for Japanese soldiers at designated comfort stations across the occupied territory during the World War II. The Japanese government sanctioned this action to prevent further atrocities such as the mass rape in Nanking and prevent venereal diseases amongst its soldiers, to maintain Japan’s image to the international community. The fact that this has done little to prevent diseases from spreading and the length the Japanese government would do in order to maintain their image alone makes me feel sick. They care a lot about the latter including during pandemic, by the way, so is it a surprise that I’m not really surprised by this?
Wang Di’s recollection of her rape after she was taken is disturbing and surreal at the same time, yet I am left thinking over and over how much worse it actually was in reality for survivors.
I would not be able to go back. I would not be able to look my mother or father in the eyes again.
That is what I was thinking about when the third soldier came in, the fourth and fifth. I made myself stop counting after that and kept my eyes closed all the way through each of them, their oil and dirt and rumbling, until they eased their weight off me and left the room.
I learned that many of these girls are between the age of 14 to mid-20s, some of whom had yet to menstruate. And the repercussions for the victims were too great for any compensations that the Japanese government could ever give. Many become sterilized as their vagina tear and could not bear children, many remained unmarried, for being too ashamed of what had been done to them, even if it were being done forcibly. They faced death threats, violence, and starvations. Even doctors assigned to them would rape them, and they were forced to abort if they got pregnant by accident. Despite enforcing precautions such as condoms, as resources become scarce, the sex slaves needed to clean and reuse them, and in Lee’s book, Wang Di recollected soldiers threatening them with pistols and knives for reminding them to use the condoms.
Soldiers made payments in the form of ticket, and many of these girls were tricked into signing up for the work by being told they would work in factories or as nurses for the military, if not being kidnapped from the street for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, these women had hoped that they would receive money or their families would, at least. In reality, it is doubtful if they ever got any.
As if those are not enough sufferings, if death had unfortunately passed them by, and I said this because many considered and committed suicide for the tortures they received, they were either left with nowhere to return to after the war ended and they got liberated, being already too far away from home after being transferred repeatedly to another country, or too ashamed to return home thinking of their supposedly shameful past.
Some things that I found really heartbreaking about their stories are these:
1. They faced stigma wherever they are. If they’d stayed in the country they ended up stranded in, or if they’d gone home, people thought of them as Japanese discards, whores, or pariahs. When I first read this part in the book, I got so shocked, only then to rationalize it by remembering what a different time it was back then. People didn’t seem to care that they’d been either tricked, or taken by force. They only saw what had been done to them, and either thought the girls had done it willingly, or just didn’t care thinking about anything at all. Some got lucky to find men who would understand their pain, but some remained unmarried, thinking of themselves as worthless and as a discarded woman. The treatments they’d received from the people around them breaks my heart, but it’s even more crushing to learn how they viewed themselves. One survivor in Indonesia mentioned how they were taken because they were considered beautiful back then, and after the war, people would say no matter how pretty they were, they’re still the Japanese’s used stuffs. And then she’d wish she’d been ugly, for the ugly ones were sent back after one or two days. Having already been raped, I doubt they’d face less of a stigma but then it also means they wouldn’t be stuck for months or even years at their comfort stations. No women should ever wish they’re ugly because they fear for their lives and future.
2. The outrageous denial that was (or still is?) persistent in Japan. Ultranationalist groups and the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had repeatedly deny that these comfort women were forced, and after a painstakingly persistent demand, the Japanese parliament started to issue an apology. Yet this has repeatedly caused tension between Japan and South Korea in particular. One former Osaka governor even mentioned how comfort women had been a necessity during wartime. This not only downplayed the importance of acknowledging the existence and pain of these women, but enforced the propaganda from the far-right groups that these comfort women are lies and fabrications to bring down the Japanese government.
I never really understand how people could blatantly deny historical facts when it’s right there in front of their eyes, and their persistent insistence on ignoring them is just amazingly unbelievable. The holocaust has become a widely known fact within the history of World War II and there is a serious repercussions for one to deny its existence, and museums and monuments have been built to commemorate the atrocities against Jewish people by the Nazi Germany. Yet we don’t see any serious repercussions for these people denying or downplaying the comfort women’s issues until today.
3. This is probably the most frustrating one of all: No compensations or issues of comfort women has been highlighted by the Indonesian government. One of the most frustrating things I read is how the effort to demand apologies and suing the Japanese government for compensations have progressed more rapidly because of the local government’s support, but the Indonesian government couldn’t even tracked down most of them since it is deemed too difficult. Eventually local legal organizations tried tracking them in Yogyakarta and found 14 of them but compensations for the Indonesian comfort women were re-directed to build facilities and elderly houses to house senior citizen who lived under the Japanese military occupation, these 14 women included. It breaks my heart every time I read about comfort women and they are mostly represented by China and South Korea. Granted, South Korean and Chinese women made up for the majority of these comfort women, but there had been little discussions and highlights on the struggles of the women from Indonesia, with the exception of Dutch women taken from Dutch East Indies (former Indonesia under Dutch colony).
The Indonesian government does not have a good track record in acknowledging ugly history, so this, unfortunately, does not surprise me anymore, but they certainly has not made enough effort to accommodate and helped these women.
I am glad to have come across Lee’s book, though. It is a beautiful and painful narratives on Singapore’s history during the World War II, and it has encouraged me to read more about the history of comfort women. I had expected it to be a difficult reading since the issue of comfort women is not an easy subject to read and talked about, but Lee’s skillful narrative has eased my reading experience.
Now, whenever we think about Japan and Singapore, as the two countries discussed in this book, we usually think of modern, developed nations, and both have indeed come a long way ever since the war, to become a powerhouse economy in Asia. Yet especially in Japan, seeing how much they have advocated about their own painful history of the Atom bombing that eventually sped up the end of World War II, erecting museums and monuments to commemorate the tragedy, whereas the A-bomb survivors continuously and admirably advocate for a peaceful world free of nuclear bomb, I feel it’s just unfair that no same effort was ever allocated to address the issue of comfort women. It’s such a shame that they force the world to acknowledge the atrocities done to them and their people, but they don’t exert the same effort towards the atrocities committed by them in the past. Yes, it’s a different government back then, and it’s a different situation. It does not mean it should not be addressed. In no way, of course, I am condoning the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No one should ever undergo such sufferings ever again, in the future (looking at you Saudi Arabia in Yemen), but we should owe it to the younger generations to continuously inform them of what happened in the past, to ensure that the future would never be as painful, especially for women. Stories like this, even if it’s fictional, could create a powerful narrative, and a pathway for us to remain curious so we dig deeper to find out about the past that should not be forgotten but learned. And Jing-jing Lee’s book is one that provides that path.
If you’d like to read more about comfort women and their histories, please check these sources I used:
I believe in times like this, I’m not the only one. Some people are better at controlling it. Some people are worse off. Some people I know, are like a rock. They’re championing this and managed to ignore the anxiety. Or, even better, they’re defeating it. Unfortunately, that is just not me right now.
Well, I’ve been meaning to write down a list anyway even before my last post, either as a reflection in my digital journal, or also as a blog post. My therapist seems to agree that writing up journal has done me good, as I’ve also long suspected. Whenever I feel emotionally overwhelmed, my go-to act has always been jotting down some random stories, or just venting on my digital journal, because otherwise, my mind would just went wild with all my anxieties fueling my brain.
My current situation has been: Working from home for months now, at least since last year, I’ve been staying at home more often, and focusing on getting my anxiety level at an all-time low, wanting to spend more time for myself, whatever it is I want and need doing, work and e-learning included.
But either because of the panic attack that triggered me to stay home more often and spare more time for myself, I have basically been socially distancing even before this whole outbreak started. I still go out and meet up with friends, to catch up with them over a cup of coffee, of course, but all in a very slow paces.
What I usually tell people when asked is that I think I am getting a lot more introverted recently, and I reason that maybe it’s because I am getting older and so social interaction with too many people tire me more. But to very few close friends, I also posed the question of my panic attack triggered it. I spent more time asking myself if I want to get out and meet people to socialise these days, while at the same time, I am perfectly happy with just staying in, especially if I was in the mood to clean up. It always lifts my mood to tidy up my tiny 17 sqm apartment just a bit, fold up my futon, and then sit on my floor sofa, with a cup of Earl Grey on the floor next to the sofa and open up the book I am currently reading. Or if it’s office hours then finish whatever task I have on that day. Even just picturing the scene always makes me feel more content, thinking of how cozy it would feel for me.
I remember a friend asked me if I ever feel lonely because I have been spending so much time by myself (well, with my books too) at home. And I told her I have always ask myself this question too, oftentimes. And the fact is, I have felt loneliness sometime in the past 31 year of my life, of course, and what I usually do if I try to observe my own feeling is to compare my current emotion with a similar one I felt in the past and then make a self-evaluation or a diagnosis if it is the same feeling, which could mean I am feeling that way. That was how I guessed as much that I was feeling anxious when I started grad school and not depression, like what I used to feel back in college.So I have previously asked myself if I am, or ever, feeling lonely, spending so much time at home. And the truth is, I am not. When I was depressed back then, I felt miserable thinking how invisible I feel even among people, while at the same time wanting to shut down. But now, I take comfort in being invisible and just being able to do my own stuffs, knowing that no one would bother me because everyone else is also living their life and preoccupied with something I hope makes them happy too.
So all those long paragraphs of introduction preceding this one basically lays out the background of my current state of emotion, and personality, that I hope also helps explaining why now that everyone is basically recommended to self-isolate and socially distancing themselves, I felt it affects me little, at least in terms of my mental health. And since I have really tried to make my tiny 1 room apartment as comfy as possible for me, I found myself having more time to:
Read more books. I just bought like 3 more books, on top of 5 that I already bought earlier in Istanbul, and finally managed to finish Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence sometime last week, and now I’m halfway through Michelle Obama’s Becoming. After this, however, I might not want to read anyone else’s autobiography anytime soon and would want to switch to the good-old fiction book.
Practice strumming my ukulele. Basically that also translates as disturbing my neighbors with my ukulele practices. I tried learning more songs the moment I found one that I want to learn so much, provided playing the chord isn’t too difficult. After endlessly hurting my fingers trying to play Carrie Underwood’s Love Wins and Don’t Forget to Remember Me, I think my strumming has gotten better.
Working. Considering the privilege I have to be able to still have a job and got paid in times like this, and even being able to do it from home, I should consider myself lucky to still be able to ask for more tasks to do instead of sitting at home feeling anxious of how I am going to pay next month’s rent. Fingers crossed that I will ever have to.
Online courses. This is definitely the time to do them. I remember when I was between job and I ended up enrolling for a free course on Coursera, a Basic Philosophy course from the University of Amsterdam. If I got the time back then, there’s no reason I cannot do more now. All I have to do is to get my hands off Moana (my ukulele) or move my ass from my comfy futon.
Binge-watch all those movies I’ve downloaded but never watched. I got addicted already to This Is Us and there’s no turning back. I am on the third episode of Herrens Veje because I have a celebrity crush on Lars Mikkelsen and I have a few more episodes to go. And then there’s a list of movies and series I’ve saved on my Netflix but never got to watch even though I promise myself I would finish watching Contagion sometime this month. The list just never ends…
Write more. I used to write plenty short stories back then, just for fun, and realised that I never really do it anymore. I can’t even think of any story right now. Back then even the most bizzare dream I have when I slept would wake me up. And despite the urge to go back to sleep, I know that as soon as I do, I would never remember the crazy story I had in the dream once I woke up the second time. So I would force myself to grab my phone, and typed down the story. Because of that, I remember I dreamt once being chased by a T-rex which came and destroyed my hometown, I remember I dreamt being chased by Death Eaters in a dark, empty building, who detected their prey when you breath near them so I was terrified to breath when I got trapped in the same room as them. I remember I dreamt living a double life where I had a husband, and I was living with his family. I remember all these because I forced myself to get up to simply type what the dreams were. Then of course I went back to sleep (because sleep is the best thing to do).
Stroll around in an empty, less popular garden to practice shooting motions, or just a random objects and practice finding the perfect composition. Afterwards, I could always just take my books out and just read it there in the garden. Or simply relax and enjoy the view while chatting with my friends. Or write them another series of postcards.
Go back sketching. I have been drawing ever since I can remember. One of my earliest recollection of me starting to draw something is on the wall of my very first home when I was in kindergarten. My mom and dad arrived home to find our home’s wall have basically been “decorated” by me, and on top of that, I did it with pen. I might remember it wrong, but I think the wall remained the same by the time we moved out of the house. These days, I almost never drawn anything anymore and my past sketches were mostly burned because I was too embarrassed to show anyone of my silly sketches from when I was a kid, but somehow I never really delete the ones I uploaded on this blog. Maybe someday I will, but I can see why now could also be a good time to pick up sketching again.
All these makes me feel like winding down more, and just… be in the moment and re-discover myself to find my own voice. Or maybe see the things I have so far missed for missing a very nice garden near my place.
Having been working for about 2 months from home exclusively, and seeing and reading stories from friends worldwide on social media, I realised that despite the virus outbreak, not every company/employer and employee have the luxury like me. It’s definitely one of the things I usually take for granted, being a very introverted person (and even more introverted in the past few years), I secretly realise how much of a relief and something to be grateful for that my bosses seem to never mind me working from home ever since I started working for them. Going to the office became a strange experience for me instead, knowing very little of my co-workers aside from the people I have exclusively worked with, and my bosses. Happy as I am, the combination of my work flexibility and my introverted, shy character seem to be the perfect combination during the COVID-19 outbreak that keep me from going crazy spending day by day in my tiny 17 sqm Japanese-style apartment. I am not sure if this categorises as one of the “privileges” I am having, but here are some of it:
Remote working flexibility–as mentioned above, I have been exclusively working from home in the past few months, but I have long been doing it even before this outbreak started. Aside from keeping my anxiety at an all-time level, this also reduces the risk of me having a full-blown panic attack like one that I had last year, in which a few of my close friends know about. This is the foremost privilege I can list, considering many people I know still need to get out of the house, risk being in a crowd (and hence risking infections), to go to the office. Rush hour here in Tokyo has not seem to change drastically, and some people I know can’t even afford missing a day’s work even if they’re sick or afraid of being infected or infecting other.
Having internet connection provided from work and for working from home, without having to pay out of my own pocket. I know that this seems to be the rule of cribbage, and that if our employers want us to work from home then the question is: Shouldn’t they facilitated it for you in the first place? But having worked as a freelancer for about a year prior to moving to Tokyo, and reading a friend’s story on facebook how some people actually had to pay for their internet connection out of their own pocket despite having to do remote working, I decided to put this as one of my privileges. I remember that when I was freelancing as an English tutor back in Jakarta, I had to collect teaching materials and design lesson plans all by myself, which oftentimes require internet connection. My students’ age and background range diversely and so were the classes. And wanting to build a good reputation as a teacher, I would not like to rely solely on the materials that I already have offline and would also like to check for updates in terms of materials, or would like to vary my lessons, and part of it is also learning and discussing with fellow teachers online. Since I was living with my lovely grandmother back in Jakarta who doesn’t have nor use much of internet connection aside from her own smartphone, I either had to look for internet providers or stuck myself in various coffeeshop or any other places that have internet, and either method would require me to pay for those access with my own money, and when work is scarce, this is a luxury I did not always have, were it not for my friends’ generous assistance as well to let me use their internet when needed.
Easy access to clean water and hand sanitizer.
Again, probably something I would usually take for granted, but I know that in comparison to my friends in other countries, when it comes to hygiene, I am grateful for the fact that living in a major city in Japan has its perks, even when it comes to something that seem to trivial. Despite not being able to find any hand sanitizer anywhere ever since the outbreak and panic-buying started, I know for sure that almost all public buildings here, which include office buildings, restaurants, and cafes, will all provide a huge bottle of hand sanitizers at the entrance, in addition to the ones they already have been providing in the toilets. And me and my friends have been taking advantage of this by using the alcohol hand sanitizers whenever we want to hang out and enter a restaurant/cafe.Also, earlier today, I came across a New York Times article about the situation in refugee camps on how they couldn’t even bathe themselves, let alone worrying about washing their hands. Response have been slow especially since the outbreak and the main concern is that once confirmed that someone in the camp have COVID-19, containing the disease would be difficult.
Being able to self-isolate and self-distancing. So following up what I mentioned earlier about refugees in camps, another thing I realise is a privilege is being able to self-isolate and self-distance from others, since in the camp, this might not be possible at all due to the limited space that cannot cater to the overwhelming amount of people in the camp. Being able to self-distance protects us from getting the infection and also infecting others more vulnerable than us, especially people with pre-existing conditions and the elderly. Were I in cramped spaces and did not have the option to move out, I probably couldn’t even be bothered thinking about these preventions, and this makes me realise how having the option to self-isolate itself is also a privilege I have over others.
(Updated on 2019/03/24) Another privilege I realise I have and should be considered as a privilege in times like this is: Time. Time to sleep. Time to rest. Time to even read my book. It came to me only a few days ago after watching a news clip of team of doctors and volunteers in the epicenter Italy. Many doctors and nurses are now facing more threats of infection and their lives are a lot more at risk due to overworking and being exposed to the hospital environment full of sick people. This is their job and their commitment, and something that I think is truly admirable. We have options to shut ourselves in and hope that we are safe, but these people do not. It’s their profession and their duty, and therefore this becomes another reason I think I should really be grateful for. (On another topic, a lot of hospitals now are short on supplies. I don’t know where to find the supplies they need, since they would need surgical masks and not the regular paper mask sold in drugstores for other people, and even here in Tokyo I can barely find any in drugstores nearby, but at the very least, we can consider helping financially, so please also consider to donate to help them get supplies. WHO and Oxfam are some of the NGOs I know that take donations to provide for medical supplies for health workers, but you might be more interested in donating to somewhere more local, e.g. hospitals near you, so I’m pretty sure plenty fundraising are set up on facebook or other social media too.)
Toilet’s bidets. The panic-buying and hysteria have caused scarcity of another stuff here: toilet paper. Luckily, as in Indonesia where we are taught to always wash our bum after business is done in the toilet, I have never been more grateful to the existence of bidets in most public toilets in Japan.
Being able to continue working and have a job in times like this. I have heard of a few people not being able to continue working and not even able to have any work at all because of lockdown, and being forced to self-isolate, and therefore lose the financial security they had. As uncertain as I am with my own future, but I can at least be rest assured that I would get paid and still be employed in the near future and still be able to resume work as if nothing changed (although this is in part because I have been doing remote working almost exclusively since last year).
So far those are the things I could think of as things that I should now not take for granted anymore. Will add more to the list if I find more stuffs.
It’s been quite a while since I last wrote and posted in this blog, especially since I wrote more private stuffs as a personal (and definitely private) diary to alleviate my anxiety.
I was finishing packing, making sure that I wouldn’t get delayed too much and missed my bus to the airport while discussing many thought-provoking stuffs with my friend who has graciously hosted me for the whole trip and prevented me from starvation (just kidding), when she asked me what has been the most memorable thing, or what stood out the most from the trip, and what has been my impression so far.
I like to get lost in thought, and for the better or worse, I got lost and confused in my own thoughts and the dialogues in my head so many times, I admit, but these questions are definitely welcome, since it usually leads to a very reflective discussion.
As I got older and become a lot more introverted, I found myself liking to travel even slower (and I already prefer slow travel since I first began visiting neighboring countries all by myself). 1 week in Ho Chi Minh, 5 days in Singapore, 7 days in Gävle, and then Helsinki, and now 10 days in Istanbul. These aren’t even slow enough since it allows me to be the relaxed tourists to explore the surroundings I’m in, but never to really understand the culture and the society deeply enough, and the only things preventing me from staying longer have always been my budget and work (to an extent). But it’s slow enough to prevent me from place-hopping and rushing from one place to another before really knowing what the place (oftentimes are touristy spots) are about. It’s also slow enough to allow me to take breaks in-between places and write my postcards, my journal, read my books, and observe the surroundings. Except for the tiring, restless long flight, I am usually well-rested throughout the whole stay.
Back to the work questions. My impression of the city itself. I am well aware that my observations are those of the visitors and tourists—someone who stay for a while, but not long enough that I would claim to know the city well.
One thing that got my attention right away is noticing how similar Istanbul is to Jakarta. It’s another metropolitan city, with malls as one of the destinations for fun and relaxation, hang out places, and basically everything. Malls after malls after malls after malls.
And then I heard the call to prayer and it threw me back right away to Indonesia.
The mixes of fashion—especially the women, since this is where any differences tend to stand out more: Some chose to don hijab, some even don a burka, some wear tights, skirt—it really is a combination of things.
Cars, cars, cars. For convenience, you do want to travel with cars. What I took comfort in, however, is the whole other options to walk and could still feel safe to walk despite the challenging terrain. Comparing it to Jakarta or Surabaya, I found more civilized driver who would wait for the pedestrian to walk (unlike Jakarta where you wave your magic hands and dare them to hit you because they wouldn’t—but please don’t try this), or the lack of motorbike drivers who would ride on the sidewalk in times of traffic. Traffic is much less crazy than Jakarta and sidewalk is still very pedestrian-friendly.
2. Landscapes and architectures
I’ve always wanted to visit Istanbul and I think to some extent I used to view the city with some exoticism, thinking of its beautiful mosques, and somehow my image of this got a bit mixed up with Morocco, which is also in the list of country I would love to pay a visit to. I am now ashamed of this ignorance I used to cling on to. I realised this, of course, and I would say that I am well-informed by now, but only to a certain extent. I also know that traveling also feels a lot better when there’s a certain familiarity to it–at least for me, or if I know better what I am going into. I want to know more about the city before stepping in, instead of simply stepping into the unknown. Some people prefer this, and I could see why there’s some joy in it, too, of course.
But then, for this mission to get to know Istanbul better, I started with purchasing two fictional books on Istanbul, and I went for Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, and The Museum of Innocence. I understand that the hype to his authorship and his works is somewhat mixed–some people love him and his works, some people don’t. Prior to this, I have only read his book Silent House. Afterwards, in the middle of reading it, a dear friend of mine, who’s also my photography mentor and my host, and currently living in Istanbul, also advised me to read Strolling in Istanbul as the perfect guide to the city. I ended up getting a soft copy of the book, but never eventually managed to read it prior to my trip. Even after the trip’s over, I am still trying to finish The Museum of Innocence.
Thankfully, I love the sentimental feel of A Strangeness in My Mind, and the historical background Pamuk would insert throughout the story, and I have mixed reception so far, halfway with the other book, but we’ll get to that one day.
Then after googling more about places to visit in Istanbul, I was captivated by its complex and rich history, where different cultures, civilisation, and religions seem to mix altogether in that one city. It appears initially to me as a bit of a mess, (then again, which country isn’t a mess?), but I come down to think about it as a beautiful mess. It leaves them with beautiful landscape to admire, and amazing architecture to visit, and grand history to reflect. I believe these are always the thing that shape one’s society, and I could see that reflected when I see such contrast between one area to another, despite being in the same city.
In Istanbul where you could look to the other side of the Bosphorus sea and pointed out that that’s Asia while sipping out your beer or maybe a glass of rakı (Turkish arrack) in Europe. The area I was staying at is this modernized apartment building with lines of malls adjunct to each other, and then I went and visit the old city wall and the beautiful Chora church, and old houses (sadly, some are dilapidated as well) where architectures from the 20’s remain intact. It gave me a glimpse, albeit just a bit of a glimpse, of the different demographics, and possibly the economical situation of the two different areas as well.
3. The animal and the smell
Another thing I noted about Istanbul is how much they love their animals. Stray cats and dogs are everywhere, but you can see that no harm is coming to them. Either people leave them alone, or they take care of them. One time I actually see this one lady walking around with her tiny cart containing a large bag that I suspect contains cat food. And she literally walked around the neighborhood visiting the stray cats and making sure they’re all taken care of and fed. Tokyo people took care of stray animals as well, but I’ve never seen anyone do that.
Seagulls, pigeons, and ravens are everywhere. So are their shits. They’re beautiful sights to behold, and perfect moving objects for my photography practices, but from time to time I mumbled my prayer that they wouldn’t shit on me or my camera while I was trying to also capture them in motion, flying above me.
Locals love and feed them, and tourists also want to pet them. That’s probably why Istanbul has this mixture of smell. Of the sea, and the fishy smell of its marine life, of course, of cat and dog food and their shits, of the birds and their shits, too.
4. The people
In so many ways, Turkish people remind me of my own people, Indonesians. In a good way, they’re warm and generally nice. They seemed to love to make a conversation, although I’m unsure if that’s because I’m obviously not a local or because they just love to do so. In the more touristy place, they always love to ask where I am from, before later on trying to probably impress me by saying thank you either in Indonesian or in Japanese.
At the same time, knowing full well I’m a tourist, there seem to be an endless lines of people (and by people, mostly men), trying to talk to me. My friend warned me nice and early that despite the good intention I also need to be wary of people trying to scam me and then got into the tourist trap. I came from a culture that also has people doing this to tourists, so it was not at all a surprise to me, of course.
While I appreciate the nice greetings they seem to really like doing, I also realised that they might simply want to promote their shops/restaurants, and if I stop by each time someone talked to me, I may not even managed to go anywhere else.
And then there’s the stares, like seriously people stare at you. I was told that they do this to everyone and not necessarily because I’m a tourist, though I suspect as well me not looking at all like a local also has a part in it. Regardless, it took me a couple of days to get used to it and just ignore the awkwardness I felt, having acclimated already to the Japanese culture of not staring at other people since it would be rude and embarrassing.
But I also found some general kindness, people of genuine curiosity and just sweetness, things that I have come to really value and remember most whenever I met a random encounter of kindness.
4. The power of smile
This one part is not going to be a nice bit, and while I am afraid some people might find it offensive, it is still a part of my reflection to the trip itself.
So, men stares. And Turkish men can be really charming, in my opinion. The way they flirt is different from some other cultures I’ve encountered, and I could see how in other cultures and context, can be viewed as downright aggressive.
Yet, what I found to be a bit disturbing is when I found that merely smiling could be possibly seen as an invitation, for a romance talk, allure to sex, and unsolicited message on social media. One of this happened only with a smile. Not even a chat, but a smile.
While I consider it polite to simply smile as a nice gesture to one another, and who knows, a smile could go a long way and make others feel welcome (I do feel less inclined sometimes to enter a restaurant when traveling when everyone’s looking with their resting bitch faces), but when that could also be misinterpreted as a welcoming invite to unwelcome attention, it could instead make one feel less inclined to smile to just anyone except for the people they already know, so at some point in my trip I just tried to smile when I only had to.
Yet, in spite of the bad, and most definitely, because of the good as well, I consider it to be a good trip and a good experience. I do not believe that by now I have understood Istanbul well, and I don’t think I would ever claim so, and certainly 10 days would not reflect that at all, so visiting again is always something I would be looking forward to, especially when I believe that there are still plenty of room to explore. While visiting ancient fortresses are always nice, and plenty more modern art museums were left unexplored yet, but I wold also love to come and sit down in one of lovely bookshops I found in Beyoğlu, for example, or just getting more midye dolma somewhere around Şişli.
I had to stop writing because I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. I’ve been crying for a while now while reading Gaël Faye’s Small Country as his main character, Gabriel, was writing his letter for his late-cousin, Christian, who had become one of the many unfortunate victims of the Tutsi genocide. Faye’s eloquence in describing the lost innocence and childhood as Gabriel’s got slowly entangled in the Rwandan genocide, although far away in Burundi, from a privileged perspective as a mixed race kid with a French father and a Rwandan mother who was lucky enough to escape her homeland to Burundi and sought asylum.
Initially, of course, Gaby’s innocence is shown all over from his privilege and ignorance of the world and the people surrounding him, the privilege that makes me want to slap this kid for real if I ever encountered one. Then again, when we were kids, how could we not be ignorant? We were born ignorant in the first place–a blank piece of paper only to be written by the environment and the people we’re living in and with.
And even as Gabriel slowly realized the reality of the war entangling his mother’s homeland in Rwanda and his own in Burundi, he still somewhat insist on escaping it, finding refuge in Madame Economopoulos’ books he frequented more and more in the latter chapter.
From the very beginning, we already see and feel the stark contrast of what I, again, see as a privilege, in the background of Gabriel’s parents. His father, Michel, eager for more adventures in the exotic African continent he’s built his life on, and his mother, longing instead for a life free of fear, and home of safety, for herself and her children, in the utopian European continent.
Where you see gently undulating hills, I see the poverty of the people who live there. Where you marvel at the beautiful lakes, I’m already breathing in the methane that sleeps below those waters. You fled the peace and quiet of your France to seek out adventure in Africa. You came here from Europe in search of a playground where you could eke out the dreams of your spoiled childhood in the West…
It wouldn’t be fair for me to overgeneralize, but I can relate as much as hearing the same things from Europeans coming over to my own country sometimes, which oftentimes puzzle me and my friends who mostly dream of leaving the country instead and build our future in the utopian America or Europe (well, not so much for the former anymore now…) Somehow in the midst of chaos that me and my friends usually try to escape and avoid, they see the beauty in it instead, and the chaos have given them the adrenaline rush they feel they need, something that seems to be lacking from their neatly ordered home country in the West.
Yet even his parents’ connections and wealth could not protect Gabriel forever from the turbulence coming to his neighborhood, and they seeped deep not only into his family, but also his childhood friends. Slowly his relatives are either killed or missing, even when initially things seemed to be looking up. The rift between his parents that was brought up in the earlier chapters now seemed like a trivial matter in comparison. The loss affected them, but especially his mother.
Genocide is an oil slick: those who don’t drown in it are polluted for life.
It broke up the brotherhood he’s built with his childhood friends and they slowly took side and forced him too as well. And when Gabriel chose the world inside his readings, he not only managed to tune out the disorder of his now broken world, but it disconnected him too from his friends.
I was from a place, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances and by warmth. I have found that place again, but it is empty of those who populated it, who gave it life and body and flesh.
It’s a sad and heartbreaking recount of a lost childhood, in a very twisted turn of events because of the ethnic conflicts, and only because, as mentioned by Gabriel’s father: “Because they don’t have the same nose.” And it is unfortunately true in other parts of the worlds, not only in Rwanda. When I think about what Faye had written there, my mind somehow jumped instead to the current mass protests in Hong Kong. Of course it is not a war, but the current political protest itself has divided the country and generations–putting it very generally: between deciding who started the violence and riots first, was it the protesters or the police? Parents fear for their kids’ safety (I believe the young protesters too), but at the same time worrying about their future. Or those who think that this protest simply causes more harm and that it should stop anyway. Of course, this is a different level to the Rwandan genocide, but at its core, war itself is a conflict, and conflict is caused by many different reasons, sometimes something very trivial.
In Indonesia alone, many conflicts has risen due to the differences in ethnic or religion–oftentimes, these two causes are intertwined.
I ended up googling about the genocide itself (putting them on the list of place with museums I’d like to visit, of course, maybe in the next lifetime), and I don’t know which one kills me more: The recount of the genocide itself, the details of the atrocities happening, the sexual violence, or the fact that by now, the genocide is commemorated in the country, wept, and acknowledged. Yes, I am comparing to the massacres happening in my own country following the 30 September Movement, the anti-communist purge that took place between the course of 1965-1967, killing 800,000~2 million people, a figure that no one, until today could really put a pin on, because eventually there are just so many murders, mass graves, brothers killing each others, neighbors turned on one another, shifting allegiance, and killing under the pressure of you kill or be killed. In the Rwandan genocide, however, I read even in Faye’s book on killings that I’d perceive as revenge killings (this then brought to my mind Bersiap, of course, where prisoners of wars and people of Dutch origins in Indonesia, of Eurasian descents were killed in retaliation after Indonesia declared independence–and still not many Indonesians are even aware that this event ever took place).
Yesterday marks the day the first time Tokyo was hit by a heavy snow since 2014… And by god I swear it was cold. As beautiful as it looks, it definitely doesn’t feel as pretty with my legs freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers even with my gloves on…
I guess I am just not made for the cold, because when everyone else get excited upon having their first snow, my reaction upon seeing the weather forecast yesterday morning instead was…, “Well, fuck.”
May tomorrow be magically warmer than today (I tend to doubt it, of course…)
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