On Birthdays: Because We Deserve to Feel Special (At Least Once Every Year)

I can’t be the only person on earth who thinks that it’s weird how each of us is too much familiar with a single date, right? If you’re around 20 years old, my closest estimate is that you have put that day-month-year sequence at least a hundred times—on your university applications, visa sheets, identity card form, phone card registration, magazine subscription, online orders, bookstore membership, bank account requests, and the endless list goes on.

Many people indeed use their birthdates as passwords, door sign decorations, or pretentiously engraved on their classic iPods. It appears very natural that we feel so connected with that set of numbers that people don’t really put into account that it is an interesting issue how it’s almost as if there’s an automated machine in our head that tells our hands to write a certain date (in my case it’s January 25th, 1992) everytime we see the word ‘birthdate’ on a sheet of paper.
Frankly speaking, when I actually arrived on that day of the year—four days ago, to be exact—to actually live and experience January 25th, is something funny enough for me to think about on a yearly basis.


This imagined association with the date eventually grows into something bigger—horoscope-based personalities and lucky shios, for instance. I’m a fan of neither but sometimes I find it charming how such patterns do exist around us (and can actually be justified if you can just close your ears tightly against counterarguments).

By the way, those paragraphs are in fact just an irrelevant prelude to my actual points (which are just as useless) on the functions of a birthday (at least according to a majority of pretentious girls—yours truly included). LOL. Enjoy.

1. It’s a Free of Charge, All-Day Pass to “The Land of
Being Romantic without Looking Silly”

And by ‘you’ I don’t only refer to the birthday boy/girl, but also the people around them. Their partners, bestfriends, sisters, brothers, each family member—they are now allowed to display their affection even in the grandest gesture without judgmental stares upon such action. I mean, we wouldn’t normally cook them breakfast (not to mention the room-delivery service stunt) or buy them flowers or hide nice messages under their pillow but hey it is perfectly legal and socially acceptable to do so on their birthdays. Oh and that cute crush of yours might actually be glad to be treated overly-well on their special day.

2. It Scans and Categorizes People Into Boxes of Friends
(Who Actually Care/Not about You)

Less emotional minds would probably disagree and say something like, “Come on, birthdays aren’t the only opportunity to show how much we care about someone,” but I’m one of those reasonably sentimental females who believe that people who don’t bother using their free pass (refer to #1) and actually make efforts to appreciate your special day will never do so in any other day.

Unless, of course, he/she is a natural-born romantic who demonstrates fondness every now and then. Although, logically speaking, a natural-born romantic naturally does not miss annual free passes.

3. It Reminds You about How Much Mark Zuckerberg Has
Changed the Way We Send Birthday Cards

These days, people stay up late on the night of their birthday or one of the days after to reply a long list of one-liner ‘happy birthday’s on Facebook and Twitter. Oh wait this one is hardly significant; let’s just go on to the next point.

4. It Allows You to Make Use of That Exciting
Drama Course You Took in Highschool

Let’s be honest: there are times when we know that our friends are to give us a surprise, but we chivalrously pretend that we didn’t know and make that surprised face anyway. Or oftentimes, when we’re not really in the mood for celebrations, we have to still look thrilled—or at least grateful—that there are people who still care about our happiness. Birthdays remind you to be an adult (and thus wiser)
in such a practical way.

5. It’s a Human-made Marker of Life’s Uncertainty

On a more serious note, of all the things that people can relate to birthdays, I think they simply are nice, honest time-markers that remind us of how far we have gone on the track of life whose end nobody knows. Some people can see it as a victory to pass another year without meeting death, some others become more spiritual as they understand things they previously don’t, but I am quite sure that it shall mean something to reach a particular age.

I’m not sure about how far my life-line is, but two decades is surely a long, long time. This year I commemorate being 21 by having lunch with a nice professor, cooking a super-moderate dinner for (and with) close friends at the hall’s pantry, blowing candles on a surprise cake from two girls who spend hours just to get to my campus, and watching over this sweet video my nice friends made me.

Well. We do deserve to feel special—at least once every year. It’s not about being special—each of us already is, but about feeling so. If any of your friends is having one in the near future, my advice would be this: use your free pass and make him/her happy. It’s a free pass, you got nothing to lose! Oh and happy upcoming birthday, fellow Aquarians. Good night.


3 (Not So) Quick Steps to Self-Discovery

Although the bottom line of this post occurs to be that obsolete you-have-to-get-lost-to-find-yourself wisdom, allow me to offer you a step-by-step guide on implementing such claim.


You see—being exchange students in the 2nd term, my friends and I have to struggle with at least four different challenges: 1) everyone has their cliques-from-last-semester already, 2) even when it’s possible, establishing deep connections would only hurt because you know you’re gonna leave them after a couple of months, 3) (mini) cultural shocks every once in a while—including how people here don’t really speak English, and 4) your peers patronize you because you’re just an exchange student. Oh plus, (this one’s exclusive to weird social science students who hang out with folks from engineering): 5) nobody really cares about philosophy and politics—one of them actually said that I ‘wasted’ my time taking them as an academic focus.

That, my friend, was more than enough to strand me in an isolated island, let me double-observe my surroundings, and give me the privilege to greet that old, frightened little girl inside me, with whom I decided the area where I will stay throughout my temporary journey.

Again, these are not guiding points to ‘settle down in a new environment‘, but more like a sneak-peak of what it would be like to discover that usually inaudible genuine voice inside your head. Something today’s sophisticated society calls as ‘self‘ (note that I prefer to deliberately use a singular form of ‘self’, appreciating each’s distinct uniqueness).

1. Give Up Your Identity

One of the reasons why it becomes harder for us to listen and understand our ‘self’ nowadays is because there are so many external noises coming from people’s perceptions and expectations towards our being. These dins are loud—very loud in fact, so loud that you cannot really hear any sound produced beneath them, concealed by layers of social consciousness.

Back when I was ‘Afu’, for example, I wore this heavy rucksack of ‘what people want me to be’ that sometimes I automatically chose an option based on the prejudices I assumed existed and denied option B, C, or D when, come to think of it, they actually made more sense.

The first step to self-discovery is then to enter the room of complete silence. Shut all these rackets off by starting new. Let that ugly rucksack go. Be selfless. Don’t bother getting a new rucksack by bragging to your new friends about what you did, loved, or hated. You used to tell everyone you’re an introverted avid reader? Put down that ideal self-image for a while. Instead, just be present, participate, and give spontaneous responses. It would make you feel alive.

Constructivists always say that we’re a blank slate after all.

2. Experiment with Different Personalities

Now that you’re practically nobody, it wouldn’t hurt to experiment with different personalities and see which one appears more natural to you. Indeed, inventing a completely new persona requires imagination and ability to improvise, but it’s fun especially when you get used to it after a while. Of course: do not fake anything. The point is to experiment, not to play a drama or play a phony role just to pointlessly impress new friends.

Put on some new types of clothes—skirts if you’re too comfortable with pants, and T-shirts to replace your collection of laced tops. Do some sports, take yoga classes, visit a museum—experience. Hang out with the kind of people you wouldn’t have otherwise (in my case: engineers completely unaware of Indonesia’s current political situation). Pretend not, however. If you’re dead sure that you hate partying all night, why waste your time doing it?

What I’m saying is, maybe the person you have been is not the person you’re supposed to be. You might be missing out some great things because you stay in that box of ‘who I am’, defined excessively by your family, or worse, your ego.
So fear not—try things out.

3. Listen to the New Voices

Now that you have the access to a complete database of possible personae on the table, your next mission would be to have an open mind and listen to the new voices that resonate consequently. They might be very subtle, at first—like a muffled whisper; but trust me: as soon as you’re aware of its existence, you become more and more sensitive. In the end of the day, you would be able to listen to even the most quiet sound.

I’m not merely talking about the voices inside our head, by the way. Of course being a stranger in a new place will provide you with this chunk of time to contemplate and listen to the ‘self’ that talks back to us at times (these things aren’t for you—oh wait, look, I knew eating alone was fun), but making new friends also means listening to new, honest opinions (that aren’t ad hominem).

I myself have been spending the week with a bunch of male engineering students (mostly Agi and Iip‘s friends-slash-flatmates), none of which cared about ‘democracy in the third world’ or other immaterial (thus irrelevant) concepts. Although I really enjoyed being around them, most of the time I had to be the clueless-when-it-comes-to-science Penny who, clearly, didn’t understand what the guys were talking about (especially when it comes to computer codes, DotA, or Yu-Gi-Oh cards). To my surprise, these people actually gave me new insights about who I really am and what I really like doing.

(FYI it doesn’t involve engines nor laboratories. Obviously. LOL.)


The first nine days had been new and strange in a good way. I wonder what the city-state (of torture to grammar nazis) would bring me in the next months.

I’m not sure if I really made a point here, but surely anyone who made that ‘get lost to find yourself‘ line—a psychologist, I believe—put it forth better. Cheers.

P.S. Education-wise, Singapore doesn’t seem to favor the Socratic, western way of stimulating insights through questions. Instead, they go with the Confucius, eastern way of internalizing values through repetitions. Which is interesting,

What It Really Takes (for Indonesia to Reemerge as the Third World Leader)

[An essay I submitted to the G20 Youth Indonesia selection committee.]

Indonesians are trapped in historical romanticism for a reason: this archipelagic country was once indeed a great nation who stood up against post-colonialism inequality while promoting cooperation in order to accelerate the accomplishment of post-World War II development agendas. The establishment of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the success of Bandung Conference and consequentially Non- Aligned Movement, as well as Indonesia’s victory over the Netherlands in the case of West Papua; these three cases are enough evidence to demonstrate Indonesia’s outstanding performance back then. Not only were we the pioneer of great initiatives in the region, Indonesia was also respected as one of the game- makers during the Cold War era—hence validating the claim I made in the beginning of this essay.


Having undergone over 67 years as an independent republic, however, it is essential for us to stop glorifying the past and question our current standing: where are we right now? Have we lived the pride our Founding Fathers had about a harmoniously prosperous people they dreamt of? If not, what went wrong and—more importantly—how could we fix them? These inquiries are very pivotal drivers for today’s young generation lest this nation seeks to move on from exalting the past and start being proud Indonesians. Deep down, I always believe that if we manage to unleash all of Indonesia’s potentials, this country will not only reemergence as the leader of the Third World: we can be one of world’s greatest state-actors both in economic and political sectors. The following paragraphs will explicate further upon the foundational strategy that is deemed essential to achieve such an ambitious notion—each of which covers both national and international aspect of the policy.

I. Open Government: Bureaucratic Reform as the Backbone of Change

Blame the game, never the players. I believe that it is not impossible to change the behavior of individuals as long as an effective system is in place. All the issues coming from Indonesia’s bureaucrats, thenceforth, should also be dealt using this intelligent postulation: that the rules and regulations need to be frequently monitored and evaluated more than the countless problems themselves. In other words, the leaders of this country should utilize a helicopter view lest they wish to mend the republic holistically. So before Indonesia continues with big ideas on international standing and foreign policy recommendations, the issue of open government (i.e. transparency and accountability) needs to be addressed immediately— both as a domestic matter and a universal currency.

The story of Indonesia’s struggle in improving its bureaucracy has begun long before the 1st Open Government Partnership meeting was held in New York, 2011. But taking co-chairmanship with the United Kingdom this year, Indonesia has made a global commitment to enhance its checks and balances mechanism paralleled with national endeavors to increase society’s participation in the process. The year 2011, 2012, and 2013 are stated by the official Secretariat (under the President’s Delivery Unit of Development Monitoring and Oversight) respectively as the ‘commencement phase’, ‘breakthrough and innovation phase’ as well as the ‘expansion and intensification of public participation phase’. The year 2014, therefore, is a critical period that will determine the success of Open Government Indonesia’s four- year national roadmap as well as its bargaining position internationally.

If I were the next president of this republic, I will firstly ensure the continuation of this initiative. Domestically, a more open government will not only effectuate a better coordination as well as decision- making process amongst the cabinet and ministries I lead, but further it will also enhance the quality of public service units, eradicate corruption, restore society’s trust in the government and, in return, build stronger political participation. Internationally, Indonesia will gain more respect because, despite being a developing country, it dares to prove its consistency in promoting a more open government that adjusts with the advance of technology and innovation—which is still a difficult mission
for Third World countries.

II. The Archipelago Economy: (Agricultural) Growth for All

Having repaired the government’s home-performance through bureaucratic reform, my next focus would go to our economic growth. Above everything, we need to realize that Indonesia is one of a few countries that are bestowed with rich natural resources. To list a few, Indonesia is: 1) world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, 2) second-largest exporter of coal, 3) second-largest producer of cocoa and tin with 4) fourth- and seventh- largest reserves of nickel and bauxite. November 2012, however, marked a historical wave in the course of Indonesia’s economic performance, when the country’s top 1.500 leaders gathered in a visionary meeting to discuss how Indonesia can boost its potentials even further. In this meeting, a report on The Archipelago Economy: Unleashing Indonesia’s Potential was presented and the findings were rather a shocking one: Indonesia was predicted to surpass Germany and the United Kingdom as world’s 7th largest economy by 2030.The analysis highlighted how it was pivotal to safeguard stability while promoting diversification of economy in order to invite more investors as one of the key factors in the country’s overall development. A thorough and meticulous management is then mandatory in order to deal with this once-in-a-century economic transformation. As the leader of the country, I would ensure that all of the participating parties in the national meeting to harmonize and accustom their respective institutions to take part in this astonishingly stimulating vision.

Among others, my priority would be set upon increasing the country’s national productivity in agriculture and fisheries. One of my most elementary reasons will be the apparent rise in the number of middle-class consumers in the emerging markets such as India and China. Domestically, the increased demand is predicted to take place simultaneously with giant migration of countryside citizens to the cities. According to the report, to meet domestic demand alone, Indonesia’s farms will need to increase productivity by 60%—making it imperative for the government to anticipate and ensure significant improvements in agriculture and fisheries sector. All of these efforts should aim at well-distributed growth throughout the archipelago, accompanied by adequate skill-based
investment in our youngsters.

III. Take Big Jargons to the Extra Miles: Reestablishing
Leadership In the Region

Traces of Soekarno’s brilliant discourse building such as the dichotomy between NEFO (New Emerging Forces) and OLDEFO (
Old Established Forces) in the Cold War era seemed to have also inspired today’s foreign policy. After Yudhoyono’s infamous line ‘a thousand friends, zero enemy’, the MoFA continued the legacy by bringing up the so-called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ to the table of our regional negotiations. Last year, chairing ASEAN, Indonesia also introduced the vision of ‘ASEAN community in a global community of nations’. These three jargons should, I wholeheartedly believe, be utilized to further empower Indonesia’s role in the global arena. Beyond this, Indonesia needs to bring up the equivalently important discourse of sustainability and human security as the main development agendas post-2015. Hundreds of years of civilization have taught me one thing: that the power of words is often undermined—as long as the country’s leaders commit to the discourses they initiated, it is not impossible that the international community would once again pay respect to our country’s determination and acknowledge our leadership in regards.

After all, the year 2014 should not only become a year of ‘democratic festivities’ where millions of Indonesian citizens will celebrate democracy by using their voting rights, but also a decisive period that will determine whether or not this country can unleash its predicted potentials. Having elaborated three of the most basic—not necessarily huge, but profound—policies that need to be catered in welcoming a greater development for the country, I would like to also emphasize the important role of youth as the upcoming decision-makers, entrepreneurs, as well as engineers of the country: the government needs to invest more in capacity building programs and educative projects. Shall these foundational aspects be successfully accomplished, I am more than confident that the nation can finally move on from their pseudo-pride of historical romanticism—and cherish the real thrill and honor of being an Indonesian.


[1] ‘About’, Open Government Partnership’s official website.
[2] Open Government Indonesia: Sebentang Titian Menuju Keterbukaan(Jakarta: Open Government Indonesia Secretariat, 2012)
[3] Masterplan: Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia Economic Development 2011-2025, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs,
Republic of Indonesia, 2011.
[4] Raoul Oberman et. al, The Archipelago Economy: Unleashing Indonesia’s Potential (Jakarta: McKinsey Global Institute, September 2012)

Twelve Pieces of Twenty Twelve

Confession: 1) I still feel as if this post was made just about yesterday in the very corner of my room. Apparently, another set of 365 days has passed—and 2) I would lie to say that I don’t enjoy the process of reading through my agenda while leaving marks on the pages of moments-slash-accomplishments that matter to me throughout the twelve-month period.

So without the intention to sound cocky whatsoever, here goes my story.
(You might want to stop here if all you have in your head is a judgmental brain.)

January: Beaches and Beyond


It has been a tradition of the crazy students in my beloved department to start the year with an outing agenda. This year, we went to Anyer Beach and despite feeling tortured of not being able to be productive for three days, it turned out that playing with the sand and sea is just as enjoyable as exploring a silent mountain. (The month become twice exciting when I got the news that I will be an assistant lecturer in one of my favorite courses this semester!)


Other than the newly-found affection, this month also marked the beginning of my realization upon the perks of chairing a discussion. Having moderated Marshanda and Dik Doang in Meet the Leaders National Conference, I realized that my previous giddiness toward bad interviews was not always triggered by lame answers but also hardly-sharp questions thrown at them. And somehow this reminded me of a nostalgic push to have a career in journalism.

February: There Are Still Lessons after a Second Failure


Having successfully failed (what an oxymoron) in 2011, Universitas Indonesia’s team emerged and (objectively) performed even better at Harvard National Model United Nations 2012 last February—although we missed the award. Again. The loss hit me even harder not only because I was the head delegate, but also the fact that it was my second chance and I still missed it. But hey, it helped me to realize that I truly savor the pressure and level of complexity this competition offers (and thus will go there again next year). Good thing that we got to stroll across New York for three days afterward (I also made a post about it).

March: Even True Love Needs a Proof


After having the idea for quite some time, my two friends and I finally managed to publish Indonesian International Relations Students websitea platform for, as the name stated, passionate youth to write their ideas and arguments in the discipline. Additionally, @iirstudents was also made to spark online debates/discussion and basically interact with the people on Twitter. I was so happy getting exposed to everyone’s enthusiasm!

April: The Devastation of Getting Second Is a Myth


According to this research, bronze medallists are happier than those who won silver. The reason to such postulation is mainly the fact that runner-ups usually face a harder time moving on from the thought of “I could’ve been the champion had I done a little better.” Knowing the efforts that my best friend did to win the faculty’s Mahasiswa Berprestasi award, however, I know that he deserves the position far more than I do and I can’t be a happier runner-up. (Oh wait, I could beit was when Iman was finally announced as the National Champion!)

May: Lessons for the Coach


I always had the fear of “You’re not good enough to win an award and yet you dare to train us?” whenever I began a coaching session (for either public speaking, debating, or—mainly—Model United Nations). As I went on, however, I got to understand that being a coach is not about being greater than your kids (and thus legitimize your position as the person to look up to), but having the eye able to identify even the most hidden potentials that they have and smart enough to formulate the method that might assist them in the unleashing process. Currently feeling rather addicted to it (especially after the chocolat chaud the kids brought me from Canada, LOL), this year I took the pleasure of becoming the coach for several teams in my campus’s club as well as high schools.

June: It’s Okay to Stop By


If there’s anything I really learned this year, it’s the fact that life is not only about moving upward the stairs of career but also having frequent pauses so you can enjoy the view. So—invited by a senior—I sneaked into his extended class on philosophy in Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara every Monday, in addition to several other unrelated concerts, seminars, and of course, books.
Which were amusing!

July: Australians Make the Best MUNs Ever


I still remember my first experience of directing a conference—I was a rather shy, clueless one—and within just one year, God let me experience a whole new level of heated debate in the year’s most livable city, Melbourne. This was me, my co-director, and the delegates of COP 18 at Asia Pacific Model United Nations Conference 2012 after three days of great discussion on global carbon trade. We had motions on video-screening, singing, and dancing—I love Australians!

August: A Collage of Overwhelming Exhilarations


1. I finally published my first-ever article on The Jakarta Globe Blogs. The amateur (not to mention debut) post made it to one of the Most-Readable-on-JGBlogs, got 88 retweets, and I definitely felt super-great about it! You can read it here.


2. We managed to hold the first-ever national gathering of Indonesian Future Leaders board from across the country! Despite the poor venue (we had it in an unused masjid’s hall), we had a really precious time togerther exchanging views.


3. A series of meet-ups also filled in the month. I’m usually a wallflower who avoids crowd, but the month really taught me how meeting new people let you brainpick in an entirely different way, but equally nice. These are some of the awesome people I met somewhen in the middle of August.


4. You know, it’s just about time that one will regain their faith and optimism in the government. I had mine after working with a team of Indonesia’s most brilliant people in the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight for two months, as an intern. You should have a slice and apply, too! More information can be found here.

September: Graduation Is Both a Farewell and a Beginning


After going through five months of amazing forums and awesome projects, we were finally declared as the alumni of Young Leaders for Indonesia Wave 4.
I don’t exactly know how I can say this without being cheesy, but the experience was truly a life-changing one—it made me realize that each of us has the responsibility to contribute back to the country.


In the same month, two of my friends also graduated—from the university, in just three years! The rest of batch 2009 can’t be prouder of Pettisa and Caroline.


My friend Gesa once told me about this clever person who made a curriculum vitae not only after his achievements, but also failures. So this, my friend, is an open self-reminder that I have been once rejected by a company I wished to work for. I felt very, very disappointed at that time, but rejections are one of the most effective tool to humility. Cheers.


P.S. I also had a
hard time moderating my first-ever semi political talkshow with (among others) Faisal Basri and Arif Zulkifli, but ended up enjoying it! Oh and after getting the opportunity to talk and moderate a number of other similar events, I sort of understand how answering human’s instinct to share will indeed lessen the burden of being overblessed with opportunities.

October: The Commencement to My Retirement Period



Indonesia Model United Nations 2012 marked the last (and best) event I was involved in throughout the year, and can’t be a prouder part of it. Looking forward to a greater one next year, will gladly come to the closing ceremony, Diku.

November: Too Much Happiness


Hold your breath, ladies and gents: I FINALLY MET AYU UTAMI IN PERSON! Although I did embarrass myself by unstructuredly blurting out how she’s not just my favorite writer but also a prophet-writer whose writings profoundly change how I see things, I was so happy when she spontaneously commented, “Oh kita beda satu huruf aja berarti. Kamu A-fu, saya B-fu. Maksudnya Bilangan Fu,” followed by the audience’s laughter.


And this. This marked the first time I scored in a writing competition (I never entered any before) and God I can’t be any more thankful.
In case you want to read the essay I submitted.

December: West Sumbawa and Bali


I used to ‘meh’ at people who blabbed about how not traveling is like only reading one page of the whole book yet my first experience to another part of Indonesia outside Java Island gave me this perpetual longing to explore some more.
Had an interview about it.


Did not manage to compose any report about Global Youth Forum, but I guess most of my criticism was eloquently elaborated by Youth Policy’s article. Thanks to Angga Dwi Martha, I had one of the best hands-on learning experience about how a policy-making process is really complicated and yet critically important. Although, the event stroke me back with a bit of pessimism about how our bureaucrats can ever meet our high expectations.

Above all the heartbreaks that made me stronger and missed opportunities that humbled me down, I thank God for proving that even after all the amazingly wonderful experiences I had in 2011, things can still get better.

Let 2013 surprise us. Have another great year ahead!

P.S. Lately I’ve been doing a small literary photography project on Instagram. Despite the obvious incomparability, the activity gets me excited just like writing does. Feel free to check the pictures out!