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.

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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.

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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,

The Tale of a Retired Student

Once upon a time, there lived a ridiculously ambitious girl who often took responsibility for things she wasn’t even sure if she was capable of. Despite side-effects in the form of temporary insanity and occasional stressfulness, she actually enjoyed what she was doing and told everyone about it. She somehow managed to thrive and emerge as one of those people-to-go-to; which consequently added up a series of even more workload every now and then—that she gladly accepted.

Some three years later, entering her final stage of university, she realized that it was time to give up. The expiry date to ‘good-productive-days’ has been bamming on her door, and the alarm to ‘get off your horse and go to the balcony to enjoy the view instead’ started ringing. “Alright,” she thought, “what can be so bad about spending more time for myself? I can finally read those books, blog on a daily basis, and have some fun!” These were several ideas that her friends offered and something she expected (hoped) to be true.

Two consecutive months of being a retired student, however, led her to three surprising discoveries: 1) she was barely happy throughout the beginning of her pension period; 2) she hardly wrote anything other than her amateur thesis; and 3) she knew for a fact that a big part of her identity was missing.

But of course, there’s no point in sharing merely the sad part of the story. This bounce-back post is therefore an attempt to highlight the lessons-learned and positive sentiments instead (she happens to believe that she’s not the only person who’s going through the challenging phase of being a useless individual and wishes to move on). So here we go:

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1. There Is No Such Thing as a Cure to Post-power Syndrome

You see, the prompt emptiness that (paradoxically) fills up your days will always remain there. Some of your peers might suggest other replacement activities such as hiking, singing, shopping (I mean—who doesn’t love it) but hey, organizational hecticness that you usually subsribed to has this ‘continuous’ element that makes up what it is. As much as new rituals or hobbies can distract you for a while—it would take something more permanent to completely restore you back to a good shape. So the only way to deal with it when you can’t find a new place to be masochistic is this: let go. You just have to appreciate all the extra time that you have and carefully avoid being boring in between.

2. You Get to See Things You Previously Did Not

It might sound and look very bad at first, but being idle actually bestows you this sort of superpower to observe even deeper than what is observable. You begin to realize what people are implying behind their statements, you know what it takes to be a true friend, and you become conscious about the people who really care about you. You also understand how some colleagues actually don’t hate you but simply feel threatened, while some others have no feelings at all notwithstanding how much they enjoy flirting with you.

On a more negative note, however, you and your retired friends tend to chat (a.k.a. gossip) about one another—not because you’re mean, of course, but you’re just running out of topic to discuss about. The usually fruitful discussion on ‘how are we gonna get extra 20 million in just a week’ or ‘what concept of event can work best for this situation’ has to vanish and gets superseeded by those of ‘why is this person doing this and not that’ or ‘shoot I envy her for blablabla’. Futile and shallow, but it might as well be part of being a sociable human being.

3. You Become More Sensitive and Grateful

The small memories that you usually toss away in order to give more space in your brain for functional knowledge and pragmatic information, now become golds that you gladly treasure. You munchscreen morning greeting from an old fellow, thank a friend for a nice massage that they give out of the blue, or an afternoon discussion over a glass of green tea. You…act more properly to the guys who treat you well—not because you desperately need a boyfriend now that you have a lot of time to waste with, but more because retiring means switching on that ‘human’ button at the back of your head. Cheers for becoming a mortal with emotions.

4. Your Family Finally Stops Complaining

At last, you spend enough time at home. Your brothers don’t hunch in your presence anymore, you get into one of those long conversations with your father, and (this one takes an extra effort) you can help your grandmother bake that red velvet cake you never had a chance for before. Those Modern Family episodes you were somehow familiar with commence to eventuate and you can truly have a hands-on experience on them.

5. You Suddenly Want Kids

Wait…okay. This last premise probably only applies to me, but seriously being jobless makes you aspire for new stuff (and this video does not help). For some people it probably translates as up-to-date shoes, bags, or set of clothes, but all I need is some 5-to-10-year-olders whom I can play silly games with. I guess for the time being I should feel content with just hunting novels.

That, my friends, conclude my Tale of a Retired Student. Hope you feel entertained and somehow-inspired by it. Old students unite!

P.S. Putting my preference to the original storyline aside, I think Benedict Cumberbatch is the coldly-warm kind of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Conan Doyle would’ve actually been delighted for, although he’s too good-looking—not that I’m complaining. HAHAHA.

Who Are Friends If Not the Strangers We Chose to Talk to?

Traditional celebrations like 1st of Syawal (a.k.a. spending longer time with parents and siblings) can mean various things for a person: questions of “when-are-you-getting-married”, obligation of replying tons of broadcasted texts, hours of ride to an unknown area, but among others: missing your friends—or, in a more romantic sense, “the family you pick for yourself”. This post might get a little bit too sentimental, but really, I can’t find a better method of expressing how friendship takes a lot of part to my daily happiness.

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I’m not a fan of cheesy tokens of friendship, but these necklaces made by Diku are irresistably cute—although I can’t promise her that I’m ever going
to wear it. Sorry, darling. HAHAHA.

*clears throat*

Familiar with those cliche lines about “true friends are those who stick with you through the hard times” and the rest of similarly phony quotes? Well, let’s not stop there. This post would argue that there are countless factors, tinier but more profound bits, that constitute a friendship. And even more intriguing, I’ve found that a plethora of friendship types exist—not being in one category doesn’t make you a less valuable friend, the system simply works differently. The following ones are just several examples that are by no means mutually exclusive to one another (i.e. a person can belong to more than one group) and they may or may not be applicable in your own story:

1. The Guys Who Bro-zoned You

Or, if you’re a male, the girls who sister-zoned you. This type includes those from the opposite-sex who can easily ask you out to accompany them to another town or hang out the whole day and tell you boring stories about their newest crush yada yada yada with no hesitation whatsoever. Being with them (usually two or three altogether) in your best days can mean feeling safe under the watch of plural bodyguards—but in your worst days when you really need them, their girlfriends (if they have any) take them away.

Some of you might start seeing traces of this pattern around: the one-girl-with-two-boys and (I don’t really see that much but for the sake of gender equality) one-boy-with-two-girls? This type usually goes in sets like that. Oh and, familiar with the “let’s get married if we can’t find anyone when we’re 40” vow? One can always abuse their bro/sisterzoned friends for this. LOL.

2. The Partners in Rare, Short, but Always Meaningful Discussions

People say that the best kind of friends are whom you can spend hours with—even while doing nothing at all. But what if, for unavoidable reasons, some friends cannot always be around? Be it because they have to live somewhere abroad, work miles away from your office, or study in the same campus but are busied with completely dissimilar activities? Thanks to happenstances, though, somehow you meet them sitting alone in the canteen, carrying their books in the library, rushing into the train you’re on, or blinking on Skype. When this happens, you feel like the happiest person in the world, because you know that you’ll engage in one of those priceless conversations.

It’s almost impossible for me to take names as examples because there are just too many of them—but if you find posts containing brilliant ideas in this blog, you might realize that they are often derived from the discussions with my brilliant friends from this category.

3. The Communal Friends

You know, a group of people that laugh very hard at your jokes and whose jokes you laugh at—you love spending time with them because they’re fun, hilarious and all, but the magic disappears when you hang out with one of them separately. (It doesn’t always have to be like that, but it happens, really.) I’m not saying that we don’t love hanging out with merely one of them, but you know, everything suddenly becomes very awkward when the rest of the gang left.

People who went to boarding school or various organizational activities might be familiar with this pattern. Most girls in Kharisma Bangsa’s female dormitory (I’m particularly close to Melissa, Juli, Ami, Putri, and a lot others, but you get the idea), International Relations batch 2009, the HNMUN team (for three consecutive years), my Project Management squad, etc. I think it does not mean that they don’t worth as an individual (of course they do), but the saying, “The sum is greater than the parts,” explains it better.

4. The You’re-So-Different-from-Me Friends

Although most friendships are based on similarities, there are certain attachments that were born from differences instead. You know, the blonds you meet overseas, the Ahmadi peer you encounter at a course on human rights, and—yet the best—the gay friends! HAHAHA. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that I tend to befriend people because they don’t come from the same background of religion or even sexual orientation, but you know, having fresh, surprising insights from people with life stories so alien to yours is so valuable they have to stand on their own category. Cheers for stronger tolerance and humanity.

5. The I-Hate-You-but-Somehow-We-Always-End-Up-Forgiving-
Each-Other Friends

Let me tell you a secret: friends who have extremely similar points of view with yours can be twice more dangerous than those from classification #4. I’m not a big fan of horoscopes, really, but two people from the same zodiac should be careful lest they want to maintain a good relationship with each other. It can be extremely challenging for two Aquarians, in particular, because they’re generally born with pride and selfishness. (I have many stories to share where the subjects stopped talking to each other every now and then, but let me keep it there.)

Indeed, limiting the course of hatred to ‘coming from the same zodiac’ would oversimplify the case, but basically it’s when you become friends with people who have similar characteristics or traits with you—having a similarly big ego, or the likes. At its best shape, you will think that maintaining this kind of friendship is worth all the mean texts and painful yells at each other, but the same pattern repeats so frequently you start questioning if that premise is true.

6. The Family Friends

This one is pretty scarce, but there are cases when you don’t stop at becoming friends with a person, you also become friends with their sister, brother, or even the entire family. Maybe the philosophy behind such pattern is this: “If friends are the family you pick for yourself, it’s more practical when they already come in a package!” LOL. I surprisingly have two friends that belong to the same family (the sister is just older by two years, so it does make sense).

7. Le Best (Girl)Friends

This one seems to be Indonesian movies’ favorite. The girls in Ada Apa Dengan Cinta or sok-keren ones you’re sick of in cheap sinetrons are just two quick examples. I myself always frown at my television when these girls get pretentious or shout some obnoxious jargons, but I can’t help but to admit that—in a less annoying way—I’m also one of them. Please don’t laugh.

It’s not like your entire life depends on these girls, but they’re the first aid kit whenever you need a mind-venting ritual. I can literally talk anything—and I mean anything—to my girls. Wheter you’re having a bad hair day, parts of a newly-read book you need to excitedly bore someone with, an idea for some organizational stuff you need to brainstorm about, boys issues, anything.

What’s even better about them is that sometimes you don’t even need to talk to tell them things. They never really listen anyway—they sort of understand you beyond words. In a more negative note, this means that they don’t need your permission to do anything. This means that when you don’t allow them to sleep on your bed, they will do it anyway. Or they can borrow your dress and tell you that it looks better on them without having to worry that you will feel bad about it. It’s not because they don’t respect you, but because they know that you wouldn’t mind. Or you would, but they just don’t care. LOL.

***

What I can underline is this: people say that friendship is about accepting our friends’ imperfect personalities as they are. But that can’t be entirely true, since you are the one who already conduct a ‘personal selection’ from the very start
—not that it’s bad or anything.

Again, these imaginary boxes are not intended to classify, let alone differentiate one type of friends with another, because there’s no such thing. Although one should not be self-conscious when they interact with their friends, as a social scientist I cannot help but to realize what I’ve elaborated in this post.
Remember: they can always overlap and a person may transcend any of these categories. For instance, my girlfriends and I are also involved in a variety of professional ties (I’m their coach in one activity and one of them is my vice president in another organization), but such facts cannot not matter any less to how we see one another.

So you see: there are friends you take for granted, friends you catch by surprise, and friends whom you wish were around. Some friendships’ kick-off might be admiration whilst some others depart from hatred, but you know that each one is distinct, incomparable, and adds up uniquely to your overall life story.

P.S. I’m also available on The Jakarta Globe Blogs now.
P.S.S. I still can’t believe I made this post almost two years ago. Corny to the core.
P.S.S.S. It is to my sudden comprehension that maybe being humble is not about keeping your head down to compliments—maybe the real proof of humility is to celebrate your friend’s victory. To pat on their back when they are successful.

Popularity Explained (or Why We Enjoy Tweeting about Where We Eat Our Red Velvet Cakes So Much)

For a person who was born with average talents to a common family, being known by strangers can sometimes be creepy. One day I attended a Philosophy of Social Science course just to find out that a group of girls were sending messages to one another on a piece of paper—talking about me. Of course I did not ‘intentionally’ peek over their shoulders (I did), but it nevertheless was embarrassing to discover your name jolted down by juniors you never met before. Or the word awkward might be more like it.

(Okay you might start thinking that I’m trying to say that I’m quite popular, but believe me—that’s not the case. Well at least that’s not the main case. HAHAHA.)

One of the stupidest things a journalist can ask to public figures would be this: “How does it feel to be popular?” If you ask me, I believe they deserve a punch in their face to ask such a lazy, pointless question. A worth-trying alternative would be, “Do you aim to be popular?”

Most people would say—or lie, to be exact—that popularity is just an inevitable outcome of their doing something good (or bad, in some cases). It is to my regret that the trend always demonstrates otherwise: youngsters crave to be popular. This is not morally incorrect indeed, but changing one’s point of view in seeing popularity might increase their productivity level in a significant manner
(and plausibly otherwise).

(Oh and please be reminded that I am by no means an exception to this premise. You see—I’m still naively 20, for God’s sake.)

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“We have the power to be heard at the click of a button, and you choose to let the world know where you’re eating your red velvet cake.” @darlol, one of my most favorite accounts.

For one thing, I regret how social media create a bunch of overly self-interested individuals. Take Mother Theresa, for instance. Shall there be Twitter back then, would she tweet the number of poor children she helped? Would your parents care to tell the world that they have been accepted to work in the country’s most bonafide company more than they wanted to make their parents proud?

Twitter and Facebook have indeed broadened our network reach, but they failed to deepen the existing connections we had before we signed up for an account. While our close friends used to be the first ears to know about how we feel that day, the internet deceived us to skip them and go directly for the bigger audience. We started creating false images of ourselves just for the fun of popularity. What good can we earn from these showing-off tweets?

“Headed to a meeting with new clients. Excited!”
“Kuta beach, here I cooome!”
“Thank you for the past two years, love. Waiting for more…”

I mean, I will still buy personal tweets as long as it gives me certain benefits: be it stupidly funny ones, extensively informative ones, or anything alike.

For the record, I do not declare myself free of any guilt. I, too, sometimes have the urge to let the world (or a particular person, most of the time) know what I’m currently doing, and damn, nothing can be more effective than Twitter.

So what we should blame on is solely the system of social network.
Its mere existence grows people’s insecurity, facilitates us to compare ourselves to others and, when we’re not lucky enough to have self-control, makes us feel rather ‘less’ than ‘thankful’.

Here’s an easy example: when tweeting about how you volunteered in one of the most respected hospitals in town does not even visit your mind, reading someone else’s announcement about how they happily work abroad will stimulate you to outpopularize that person by tweeting about it.

So, yeah. I’m looking forward to when our society gets maturer and cares to share ideas more than places they visit. Until that day, folks.