I’m a Javanese-born Balinese, and about 25% Chinese-Indonesian

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.

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Soegija: A Movie About Humanity

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I watched the movie on the 8th of June, but of course, procrastination always gets the better of me, so here I am, finally writing this post. (SPOILER ALERT!)

The title of this movie is taken from the name of the first Javanese Catholic pastor in the former Indonesia (known as the Dutch East Indies) who was later named as one of Indonesian national hero, Albertus Soegijapranata. Soegija is said to be his nickname. Nevertheless, the movie itself is not actually a biographical movie about him, but instead, it involves around the life of multiple character around Soegija. There were at least about 7 notable characters, including Sogija (played by Nirwan Dewanto) himself, each with their own life turmoils in the midst of a chaotic country, looking for an identity of a nation.

Nirwan Dewanto as Soegija
Hendrick and Mariyem

There were Mariyem, a Catholic nurse (played by Annisa Hertami Kusumastuti) who was entangled in a search of her brother and the pursue of a Dutch reporter falling in love with her, Hendrick (played by Wouter Braaf). Meanwhile, Hendrick himself was torn between his love for Mariyem, passion and pity towards Indonesians’ fate intertwined between one colonialism over another colonialism (the movie moves chronologically forward from the end of the Dutch colonialism, Japanese afterwards, and then the Indonesian independence, and lastly the Dutch military aggression post-Independence day in order to re-colonized Indonesia), as well as his loyalty towards his own country. His friendship with a Dutch soldier, Robert (played by Wouter Zweers) didn’t help either as Robert is cruel and racist towards Indonesian, thinking that he’s way superior than Indonesian (which was a typical mindset at that time). He always looked down on Indonesian thinking of them as nothing but people who ought to be ruled by his country. One scene stands out, though. It was during the post-Independence time, when the Dutch was trying to take over Indonesia once again, and he searched the citizens’ houses to look for Indonesian soldiers, a native man didn’t want to move from where he stood even when Robert and his soldier threatened to kill him because they thought he was trying to hide something or someone. Only when they finally shot him did they realize the native man was merely trying to protect his baby. Then Robert approached the baby, and when I thought he was about to kill him, instead he took the baby into his arms, and then cuddled him. When the baby was crying, he was trying to calm him, and kept on doing so whilst walking out of the house. That scene really touched me, as it shows how someone portrayed as cruel as Robert is also shown to have a gentle, soft side within him.

Wouter Zweers as Robert
Olga Lidya in Soegija

Then there’s Ling Ling (played by Andrea Reva), who got caught up in the midst of chaos in the country as well, as her mom (played by Olga Lidya) was taken away by the Japanese as they took over Indonesia in the 2nd World War. She and her grandfather (played by Henky Solaiman) were forced to take refuge in the Catholic church, and this was where their fates crossed over with other characters in the movie since the church was where everybody else sought comfort and protection as Soegija shielded the people from colonialists. And that was also where Mariyem cared and tended the locals and at the same time tried to look for his missing brother amongst the war victims. Hendrick was also there, trying to help the people and reporting as well, including trying to win Mariyem’s heart. The first time they met, Hendrick called Mariyem as Maria, but she refused and insisted to be called Mariyem. By the end of the movie, though, she addressed herself as Maria. I suppose this would mean that she’d come to love Hendrick, eh?

Another notable character is a Japanese comrade, Nobuzuki (played by Nobuyuki Suzuki), who was not free from conflict as well. Once the Japanese ruled, he captured the Dutch soldiers and killed them, and many times local people also got involved. Every things related to the Dutch were banished and forbidden, and there was this one scene where he met a bunch of musician and prohibited them to play any western song. Then after he asked them whether they could play any other pieces, they played Bengawan Solo, and he grew fond of it. Later I found out from this blog that Bengawan Solo is a famous song in Japan. It is a beautiful classic, indeed.

The main character himself didn’t really stand out to me. I mean, it was clear that he was trying to protect the people as a pastor and as an Indonesian as well. Since he was an important person, the people looked up to him and listened to what he said. And as a pastor, he was having the privilege to do certain things that others couldn’t do. For example, when both the Dutch and the Javanese were trying to take the church down, he defended the church because it was actually a refugee for the poor and starving citizens. And he cared for the people. When people were trying to give him comfort (since, of course, he’s no ordinary person), he told everyone to care for the people first, and not him. One line that really touches me is when he said that whenever there’s food, pastors and evangelists are supposed to be the last to eat and they are also supposed to be the ones to starve when food is scarce. Touché. Then during the aggression by the Dutch, he seek recognition for Indonesian independence from Vatican right away, and Vatican was amongst the first countries to acknowledge and admit that Indonesia is one free country.

The movie itself is very good and vivid portrayal of Indonesia at that time. We know that many, many people lived under poverty at that time, and many times they got killed for no reason. The movie gives a very good depiction on how difficult that time must seemed, and the cinematography is awesome. At least that’s what I think. There’s one scene where people were marching at either dawn or dusk (I couldn’t tell the difference, sorry) and it shows the silhouette of people lining up. It was so beautiful.

Yet, I hate to admit that the movie itself looks like nothing but a documentary with a very good cinematography to me. Watching the movie from beginning to end, I felt like I was merely shown an event over another event in history chronologically. It lacks heavy conflicts and climax, and if it’s line graph, it would be a flat line to me. Of course, this is merely what I think and it might differ greatly with others’ interpretation. Despite showing how significant Soegija’s role at that time, his image throughout the movie felt to me like someone so far above the people, where, in contrast with the citizens’ struggle with the situation at that time in the movie, he looked well-fed, healthy and always at peace to me. I mean, if he was fighting for the people, sure he couldn’t look that good! He was mostly siting, writing, walking around, thinking, and constantly in comfort behind the walls and under the roofs. There was even a scene where he got his servant cut his hair while he was reading the news paper, and they looked so relaxed talking to each other and even joking around. It was completely different with the depiction of other characters’ conflicts.

Another thing is the act. I mean, they acted well, but nothing too wow to me, except for Wouter Zweers’ act as Robert, perhaps, because his portrayal of a loony, cruel, yet somehow with little compassion left in him looked so convincing to me. And some scenes looked too staged for me, like when Mariyem was trying to sent the Dutch soldiers away from the hospital when they were looking for Indonesian soldiers. As Soegija pointed out, she told the soldiers that everybody in the hospital were patients, not soldiers or anything else, and as a nurse, she and the doctors ought to do their job that is to care for them. Then suddenly she simply crouched, on her knees, and tending an old woman lying sick on the floor, yet that old woman barely did anything significant. She looked like she was sleeping to me, so what on earth did she crouched for, out of the blue? Or when Ling Ling was praying in front of Mary’s statue, and then out of nowhere, she just slowly (veeeeery slowly, and, of course, very dramatically) turned around, only to found her mother was standing behind her. Wow, did she have a sixth sense? The next thing that happened was even more dramatic as Ling Ling and her mother were running toward each other, and there was this slow motion until they finally hugged, cried, and laughed.

Again, that’s just my opinion.

Nevertheless, I think the movie is worth-watching. What really excites me throughout the movie is how each character switched from one language to another. I mean, the Dutch were speaking Dutch, and sometimes speak Indonesian a little, and most Indonesian in the movie speak Javanese, and the Japanese speak Japanese. It was really fun watching how the movie depicts a radio announcer reporting events in a high level Javanese (we called it “Krama Inggil”, a Javanese language used only when talking to noblemen, royalties, and elder people; see, Javanese has three different kinds of language for talking to people with different social class and status–the Ngoko, Krama Madya, and Krama Inggil). Since the movie was set in Central Java and more specifically Semarang and other regions near Semarang, the dialects used are mostly of Semarang dialect (I didn’t say Central Javanese dialects since the dialect from my hometown which is also located in Central Java is completely different).

All in all, this movie was not one without controversy. Even before it got premiered on June 7th, a group of a hard-line Moslem, famously known as FPI–Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front)–(and news about them never fail to piss me off) protested that this is a Christian movie and meant to change people’s belief. Even Garin Nugroho (the director) commented that this is a movie about humanity. Whatever it is, the protest itself sounds ridiculous to me, for it sounds like nothing but FPI people’s insecurities that Moslem people would convert into Christians or Catholics. What the hell is that if not insecurities?