Separation Blues

Being the first kid in the family, I had been used to being the one who left. The one who is being dropped off, sent off, or called in from miles away.

My first departure from home took place way back when I was barely 14—it was my first night at the boarding school. I cried myself to sleep; wanting the separation to be over the next morning. I remembered feeling devastated. The darkness made it impossible to think about anything else than the comfortable place where everyone I loved were, where I could sleep with the lights on.

I remembered missing the familiar texture of my bed. I didn’t know then, but I know now that I cried for selfish reasons.

Good for me, I figured out soon that the distance between Tangerang Selatan and Bogor was less than two hours. I figured I could took an angkot every other week. I stopped crying the day after.

When I started out college three years later, I had been smarter. I skipped the crying part right into the conclusion that Depok, too, was only an hour away from Bogor. Going home was a piece of cake.

Fast forward to the time I had to live in Singapore for a while. This occasion, I spent a good hour crying the night before my flight—probably because apparently I was still smart. I knew what living abroad entails: being on your own, making friends with strangers, but worst of all, being away from your family and closest friends—this time by a distance that is much further than mere two-hour angkot ride or one-hour commuter line trip.

My first night at the dormitory, I cried again. Facing the side wall, trying to keep my voice close to non-existent because I didn’t want my new roommate to think I was a freak.

It was not so bad because it turned out my scholarship can cover a round-trip at least every two months. That aside, I’m pretty sure I also cried for selfish reasons.

Yesterday, though—yesterday was different.

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Before anything else, it’s probably relevant to highlight that Boston/Cambridge is not exactly close from Jakarta. You either have enough cash to afford a 24-hour flight, or you’re just stuck being away from each other for the rest of your program (20 months, that is).

Knowing how my hormones usually react to separations, I expected myself to wail either several days before, or at the airport scene.

And yet, there were no tears. Wikan and my entire nuclear family members and a couple of our best friends were present—which would’ve been the perfect let-go/crying scene for yours truly—but to my own surprise, we left very calmly. There were exchanges of hugs and kisses, prayers and wishes, but that’s about it.

We waved for the last time, didn’t bother to take a final look, and off we went through the immigration desk to the boarding gate.

Before the airport, there were also farewell dinners. Ones you spent with your work colleagues, best friends, good friends, and intellectual friends. At each one’s end, there were exchanges of hugs and kisses, prayers and wishes, but that’s about it.

It felt unnatural.

Was it because my subconscious perceives grad school as such a significant deal, separations seem like a sensible price? One that isn’t even worth a short, good cry? Was it because I have Wikan—my very definition of home—coming along, it doesn’t really feel like being away?

While I do consider the latter as truth, it still feels wrong not to at the very least feel sad about leaving everything behind. The familiar faces, roads, foods, scents, and rains. But there was nothing.

The answer arrived five hours later, when I broke down at the airplane.

It was midnight when the flight attendants switched the lights off. I put on my eye mask, and leaned to sleep on Wikan’s shoulderif anything, feeling a bit giddy because of the show I just watched.

In complete darkness however, without a cue, my mind floated itself home—playing a scene where my frail father struggled to pick up his mug because his muscles had now began rebelling, my kind mother juggling through responsibilities when she should’ve just stayed home and spoil herself, my grandmother stuck to her bed probably wondering how quiet our house would be when my youngest brother goes to college in a year. There was also my aunt and uncle whose only daughter just got into college—who else would they be taking care of? And just like that, I wailed.

I wailed, this time weirdly not because my family wouldn’t be there for me, but because I wouldn’t be there for them, probably in the period when they need me the most.

It suddenly hit me that without me or my cousin and younger brothers, they would be five old parents, getting even older, while taking care of one another. As much as it would make a beautiful movie story, the thought of it makes me sad.

Banda Neira’s Di Beranda triggered this realization a while back (sent it to my mother when she told me she’d been crying for how empty the house was after my wedding), but tonight it hit me much harder. Maybe because it lacks anticipation. Like a Katrina on a summer day.

Prior to writing this down (which was Wikan’s idea), I finally had the good cry. Partly because I felt sorry, but mostly because I felt sorry about not telling my parents about how sorry I felt, how I do wish I could spend more time with them, how I regret not making enough time for them when I still could.

I know for a fact that I would feel twice as devastated had Wikan not come along with me. But I wonder if that would be another selfish kind of sadness—of wanting to have him around, of not having to be apart, of never having to feel lonely again.

I wonder, if you can only start thinking about someone else when you stop being selfish—or can you do both? Do I start shifting to the other kind of separation blues because I finally have everything I need? Is this part of growing up?

Lost at Sea (Where They Will Never Find Us—But We Will)

I was eating my chocolate pudding while reading Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas when Lawa nudged me to look outside the airplane window and there it was:
the beautiful Kapuas River, flirting beneath us through the forests on her sides, reaching out to the horizon marked by tall mountains in a distance. You might think that I’m being ludicrous, but that view literally held my breath for several seconds. It was on KD-945, the flight that took us from Pontianak to Putussibau, that I fell in love again—not with the book, not with the abandoned dessert, but with the ‘blue and green’-ness of pristine nature.

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To give you a little context: several months ago, the think-tank I work for sent me to Kapuas Hulu, a small kabupaten up in the northern part of Kalimantan. It is also home to some of Indonesia’s oldest indigenous groups and part to the conserved Heart of Borneo area.
Prior to my departure, Ariana warned me that this five-day trip might be one of those life-changing experiences people write about when they get back home, and darn I couldn’t say that she wasn’t right.

1. “Sebelum Memberi Minum Diri Sendiri, Manusia Harus Memberi Minum Tanah”

Our first stop was a rumah panjang in Desa Sungai Utik. As the name suggests, it was an extraordinarily long house with over 25 families living under the same roof (!), and we were lucky to have been hosted by Lawa’s old friend. Oh and just like a neighborhood in itself, each rumah panjang has its own tuai rumah (master of the house), who makes all kinds of important decisions.

Excited about the new scene that I entered to, I didn’t even mind tasting a small cube of of daging babi hutan (yes, boring city people, actual wild boar meat) that they served—which tasted really, really good.

Here’s the punchline: when the arak (some kind of traditional fermented drink) was brought in, everybody poured a few drops into their glasses and, without anyone’s instruction, stood up in front of the window together. Confused, I asked, “Should I feel weird for not knowing what to do?” I remembered Lawa laughed and said, “Oh don’t worry. Just copy what we did.” And when I lined up with them with a filled glass in my hand, they all flushed the liquid out the window to the ground.

“Why would we waste that arak?” I stupidly asked. “Because, honey, before feeding themselves, humans need to feed the earth first.”

After that, I promised myself to share this story every time I have the opportunity to, until it gets dull of being overused.

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2. You Don’t Have to Travel the World, Just to These Two Places

The whole, “Those who don’t travel only read one page,” quote was a complete scam.

First of all, traveling (especially by plane) means producing carbon footprint (i.e. what puts holes on our ozone layer, causing climate change). Flying back and forth to and from Jakarta-Paris, for instance, emits more CO2 than driving for one full year, let alone all the connecting routes that you take in between.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we shouldn’t travel, I’m saying the middle-class society who could afford it should travel more responsibly.

This journey then helped me realize that you don’t have to travel anywhere else but two places: one where you could wonder over what human hands are capable of building, and one where you could amaze yourself of what God hands have created.

Possible combinations would be: Istanbul and Raja Ampat, or Washington D.C. and the Maldives. While the former would inspire us to move civilizations forward after seeing what our ancestors have left us with, the latter would humble us down, truly accepting how mankind is nothing but a species that is part of the universe’s grand scheme. Only then we could fathom that that there is a balance we need to maintain.

3. They Were Right When They Told You to Get Lost to Find Yourself Again

Passed the thrilled phase, comes the post-peak consciousness: as much as I was enjoying my time there, I missed home big time.

Yes, the people were awesome, the food was delicious, and the trees offered me a nice, new sight, but deep down I knew I didn’t belong there. My days in Badau were good, but they went by undeniably slowly. It’s almost like the clock worked at a different speed system out there. I got used to it eventually, but the voice inside my head kept asking me to go home.

As an introvert, though, I greatly appreciated the ultra-rare silence that I found for the first time (literally not even a small sound for a long time until someone starts talking)—oftentimes accompanied by singing birds or crickets. It would be a heartfelt pleasure get myself in such a peaceful atmosphere again.

But then I arrived at the conclusion that each of our brains has its natural habitat—the exact same way animals have theirs. My brain, it turned out, was a city kind. She finds it natural to encounter problem and solve them on a daily basis, to work on a fast pace, to swim through the rushing roads, and to interact with many different names and faces at the same time.

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You see the funny thing about this whole set up: I love all the new lessons and discoveries that I gained there, but not as much as I love writing about them.

P. S. The title of this post was one of the songs on my “On the Road” playlist, and you could listen to it here.

A Month In Singapore

For a person who creates a big fuss about almost every phenomenon around her, the fact that I barely learned something new in the past 30 days surprises me. You see, even a week in New York or 10 days in Manila had stimulated a lot more thoughts in my head than spending hundreds of hours in this very City of Introverts. For a while, I wondered whyafter flying forth to Manhattan and back, I finally understood.

(Well. Not much, but let me try.)

Flapboard
A motion-flapboard (like those in the airports) displaying a 3D-poetry
entitled “24:00:01″—a time that does not exist, or a space beyond
conventional boundaries. (Shilpa Gupta—Singapore Art Museum)

1. One Has to Open Their Hands to Embrace

To be fair, half of the blame should probably go to myself for having fastened my opinions on Singaporean people too quickly. I made my judgments, and as soon as there were enough evidences to support them, I concluded that Singaporean minds were not worth exploring. Even more horrible, I did not believe that these people even possessed the so-called ‘minds’ to start with. I assumed that, living under a ‘democratic’ system that does not allow media nor anyone else to strongly oppose the government, this city-state is crowded by either hypocrites or apolitical individuals. Both categories of which did not seem to interest me at all.

I hope no Singaporeans feel offended because clearly I was wronged.

I erred not in the sense that “Singaporeans actually care about politics and the fundamental aspects of being a human!” though, because truly they don’t (by all means the sentence sounds pretty funny). I was incorrect for denying the compelling characteristics of pragmatic heads that these people own. I mean, I cannot really bump into someone on a train to Littered with Books and talk about whether or not the United States has the obligation to protect the entire world, but it really is fascinating to observe two Engineering students, being acquainted to each other, engrossed so much in their gadgets and barely made the effort to converse (that was sarcasm, by the wayyou will frequently discover scenes like this). Well. What I wanted to highlight was their ingenious ability to develop experiential strategies e.g. personal methods of pre-exam cramming, intra-organizational communications, and/or inventions of shorter terms to quicken linguistic impracticalities.

Their level of attention to heuristic issues is exceptionally high, especially in ensuring effectiveness of worksprobably owing much to their already high standards of convenience in basic needs.

So, yeah.

2. One Distraction Is Already too Much

Despite my physical existence in the Land of the Merlion, my mind had always been somewhere else. My first week in Singapore was devoted a little bit too much to homesickness (Skype calls almost every night) and the following ones spent mostly with: 1) the guilt of not at all dealing with Mr. Thesis, 2) pre-Boston preparations, as well as 3) excitement for being able to work together with G20 Youth Indonesia fellows.

Unlike other exchange students who travel abroad in their weekends (casually exploring Southeast Asia on Saturday and back on Monday isn’t much of a big deal for them), I was stuck in my room, doing absolutely nothing else than: 1) reading books—which I don’t regret, 2) sending/replying emails, and, basically 3) glueing myself in front of a laptop trying, in vain, to be productive. I have to admit that ‘presence’ isn’t exactly what I was throughout the past weeks.

3. Also, I Was Too Busy Making Mistakes

The sophistication of Singapore’s daily technology can be overwhelming for some people. I myself had wasted tens of dollars due to my being uninformed (also, embedded stupidity) in using this supposedly-cheap facilities. The-you-don’t-really-have-to-buy-another-Nets-card, the phone-ordering-a-cab-charges-you-three-dollars, the no-change-if-you-pay-by-cash-in-a-bus, this whole business of lifestyle can be more complicated than you thought they would be. (Okay that was purely me being Indonesian.)

4. ‘Ideas’ Aren’t Really the Currency Here

Don’t get me wrong.

What I really want to convey is, carefully speaking, that ‘inspirations’ (or other forms of abstraction) don’t exactly matter for the people of Singapore. Of course, such premature premise is only based on my limited exposure to the customs (I attended public lectures, in-class discussions, club activities, and a series of luncheons but that’s that) so please keep your subconscious unbolted for alternative possibilities.

I don’t infer that Singaporeans (Chinese, Indians, and Malaysian migrants thereof) aren’t smart—they are outstandingly clever and hard-working—what they don’t really do is to ‘aspire’ or talk about ‘dreams’ as loud as we do in Indonesia.

I mean, they definitely have ideas on what moral nihilism is (I’m taking a course on Moral Philosophy), or how The Strait Times has been shaping opinions on the Punggol by-election (from a seminar on Media and Politics), or ambitions to make SGD 100.000/year, but, you know, authentic, idealistic notions like “youth should become the agents of change” or “we need the kind of leadership that allows personal development”—these principles don’t make a case here. As long as there’s a utilitarian value to something, one will simply shut up and do it.

5. Because Prosperity In the Setting of Peaceful Coexistence
Does Not Require a Mutual Sense of Community

The following sentences might not necessarily relate to the previous point, but: 1) Singapore is a country of (mainly) Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian people, 2) the fact that they use English as their national language does not mean that they use it on a daily basis—whenever possible they would prefer to use Chinese, Indian, or Bahasa Melayu instead—making it harder for each group to understand one another’s way of thinking, and 3) although they appear to ‘live in harmony’, I deeply doubt that they are open to accepting differences or would go for pluralism at all.

The last point became twice evident to me as I got back from Manhattan last week. There, I could effortlessly be my complete self without the fear of being judged, nor a necessity to seek for conformity from the society. You see—the label ‘New Yorker’ does not just require you to have tolerance, it is reserved for people who actually celebrate differences! Begin a conversation with a stranger in Times Square and you’ll see what I mean. Here in Singapore, however, you cannot really trust anyone.

Let’s try to be a little more systematic and commence with how Singapore and Manhattan are similar. First, they are both lands filled with people from different ethnicities (races, skin colors, you name it). Two, in many parts of the world, their citizens are famous for being determined and reasonably individualistic. Three, both lands are relatively developed—in the sense that they run an advanced transportation system, hold high standards of living, etc.

Now let’s move on to how they are different. First, of course, as much as it might be hard for a New Yorker to understand an immigrant who keeps talking in his/her mother tongue, the nonnatives can trust the New Yorkers, being aware that they only speak English and they cannot conspire with one another to fool you in front of your nose. Whereas the New Yorkers, of course, has this natural call to cherish humanity and collaborate. Having the entire city-state speaking four different languages, however, a newcomer does not simply have the confidence to feel ‘accepted’ or establishing bonds with a Singaporean-native.

Second, there’s a world of difference between the kind of ‘individualism’ (to strictly distinguish it from ‘selfishness’) that prevails here and there in the United States. Here, I think, people literally don’t care. I’m not saying that ignorance is a vice. It’s just that—people here prefer to mind their own business, especially in the public domain. Again, the government, private companies, as well as students in Singapore do have various kinds of community service projects that aim to help the disadvantaged and all—I’m not saying that they are mean, it’s just that they set areas of where they want to be involved and avoid. Whereas in New York, you know, random kindness like a guy offering to help you with the suitcase in the Subway is not much of a miracle.

6. Still on Language

Another obsolete joke about Singapore would probably be upon how they mutilate conversational English into these Chinese-grammared sentences with English vocabularies. The ‘what‘(s) they put in the end of an informative statement, the ‘lah‘(s) when they give up arguing, or how you should never ask someone to do you a favor. Will make another post about Singlish if I can find the time.

***

I’ve probably spoken too much. Remember that this post is just a shallow observation based on limited exposure on the society of Singapore. A lot of people might disagree. But it was honestly the way I perceive the meta-social bits before my eyes lately.

Also, this is my debut on WordPress! It (still) sucks that Posterous is closing down.

P.S. I’m learning German and it’s intriguing that they have five different ways to indicate that a noun is plural. Probably quantity matters so much there. Good night!

A Week In New York

I’ve always thought that if there is a dichotomy of where people would live, they would be compartmentalized into those who prefer either Manhattan or London. The former being lively, vibrant individuals with ideas and hopes while the latter being blokes and ladies who are fond of timeless, classic lifestyle. Until last year, I was quite confident that I belong to the second box. Having experienced New York myself, however, I should say that I might have made a huge mistake.

This is my post-conference article about world’s most beautiful city. As Frank Sinatra puts it, “If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.”

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1. The People

For one thing, people here talk and walk fast. They take subway, grab a portable meal and phone on their way to work. Time seems to be an extremely rare commodity, and one shall do whatever it takes to use it very wisely. This can hardly be found in Jakarta–let alone Depok–whose citizens should bear with traffic jams and belated trains. In the Big Apple, you simply can’t survive without pushing yourself off the limit and keep up with everyone’s pace. Even beggars and street singers need to be creative lest they want to make money.

Quick fact: almost 250.000 people test their luck by moving in (and out) every year, but only really, really determined ones get to the top. New York is like the ace card: one needs to know what game they enter to make the most use of it. Otherwise, it’s almost definite that you’ll fail.

Anyway. What I like the most about New Yorkers is their inherent individualism–some people mistranslate that as ignorance, though–that allows you to be your complete self. I can shout amidst a flow of humans (a simpler experiment would be wearing an annoying, orange shirt) on the street and nobody would care enough to judge and talk about me in more than an hour. This behavior welcomes the wildest form of dream and, with a little extra hard work, it might actually come true.

2. Books, Books, More Books

Strand Bookstore (its slogan being “where books are loved” and “18 miles of books”), is so far one of the main reasons why I think I would love to stay here forever. This is not to mention the other 9 independent bookstores and Union Square’s Barnes and Noble. Yes, people usually go to New York to enjoy its bars and restaurants, but one (read: I) needs to read before they can hit anything else. Here’s why:

Imagine one shelf of good books. Does visualizing it make you happy? If yes, now imagine there is one big room full of sectionalized shelves of good books. And if that’s not enough, imagine there are four floors of them. FOUR EFFING FLOORS! Now that I have visited the bookstore myself, I can die peacefully. Wait–I still need to make a lot of money to buy the whole building before I can really rest in peace. HAHAHA.

Anyway. It’s not actually about the fact that their stores are huge. It’s the basic reality that the books are good. Let’s admit it: Indonesian books offer you less worth-discussing ideas, but rather mainstream books that people would buy. American bookstores, on the other hand, were made in such way that you could hardly see books as mere economic commodity. Books are rather very appreciated. The Harvard Bookstore in Boston even printed their own custom cover with a card saying, “The great story inside might be undermined for its horrible cover.”

Coop

Here in our country, the publishers dare not to take unorthodox titles that would barely be popular for domestic readers. Shall we sigh in unison now?

These reasons being said, I think you would understand why the United States is such a perfect place to breed and feed thoughts.

 

3. Breathtaking Spots

One does not simply walk and fall in love with a city–but such statement might need further justification for New York. One simply stops at the 42nd street station and walk up through Times Square to comprehend why people can’t stop romanticizing Manhattan. History also contributes a lot in shaping today’s United States former capital city. Go to Top of the Rock, sail to the Liberty Island, throw its museums a visit, or simply stop at Chelsea Market and you’ll understand what I mean. Alicia Keys did not lie when she says that the city is a concrete jungle whose lights will inspire you. No exceptions exist for that statement, methinks.

I tweeted this but I’ll say it again: if Boston is the City of Academia and D.C. is the City of Power, then New York is the City of Dreams. With all humility, I wholeheartedly wish I can spend a significant amount of my life there–an amen from you might mean a lot.

New York I Love You (Who Doesn’t?)

After Paris, I think New York is the second most romantic city on earth. Not because of the people, nor of its vibrant streets, but more to the fact that it’s harder to find a true love there. You know, scarcity always results in a higher value. A perfect place for pragmatic individuals who are only prepared to freely fall for their challenging job and not an unexpected partner, but end up to encounter the latter somewhere in their story.

So today, I stumbled upon this image and was helplessly distracted (I actually still have 4 articles and 1 paper to submit, dear God). Without further ado, here goes the product of my thorough investigation (read: Wikipedia searching) of New York’s (Selected) Most Popular Date Spots:

1. Strand Bookstore

Publisher's Weekly Celebrates The Strand's 80 Years

Expected scene: A guy and a girl simultaneously laying hands on the same book, which is–apparently–the last copy available in the store. (Cheesy. Sorry.)

Strand Bookstore is an independent bookstore located in East Village. Its slogan is “18 Miles of Books”. The store is famous among New Yorkers for its giant collection of publishers’ overstock, used, rare, and out-of-print books, as well as the chaos on and around its shelves.

2. Rubin Museum of Art

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Expected scene: Two geek couple gets struck on a glass cube of a Himalayas heritage, what else?

The Rubin Museum of Art is a museum dedicated to the collection, display, and preservation of the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, especially that of Tibet. It is located at 150 West 17th Street between the Avenue of the Americas and 7th Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood.

3. Carnegie Hall

 

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Expected scene: Most plausibly, a violinist dating a pianist who has always been dreaming to have a recital there on their graduation day.

Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan, located at 881 Seventh Avenue, occupying the east stretch of Seventh Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park. Designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill and built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, it is one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical music and popular music. Carnegie Hall has its own artistic programming, development, and marketing departments, and presents about 250 performances each season.

4. Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory

Mast-brothers-01

Expected scene: A future baker brings his kind girlfriend to taste the best chocolate bar in town?

In the world of chocolate making, there’s the easy way, and there’s the Mast Brothers way. Unlike many chocolatiers who use couverture—discs of pre-made chocolate that can be remelted for confections and bars—Rick and Mike Mast are one of a dozen or so American chocolate artisans who hand make chocolate from cocoa bean to bar. Right now, they make about 200 bars a week in a 200-square-foot commercial kitchen in Williamsburg, ready to be witnessed!

5. Chelsea Market

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Expected scene: I give up. Any volunteer?

Chelsea Market is an enclosed urban food court, shopping mall, office building and television production facility located in the Chelsea neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan. Built in the former National Biscuit Company factory complex where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced, the 22-building complex fills two entire blocks bounded by Ninth and Eleventh Avenues and 15th and 16th Streets, with a connecting bridge over Tenth Avenue.

I’m so dying to visit these places next year, and I believe that Nico would have the same excitement quo eagerness! New York, wait for our second visit!