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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Not-so-easy English Language

The young man stand erect with confidence and grace. He gave a perfect handshake to his interviewer, not too tight, not too loose, and in just the right amount of time. His interviewer secretly upped his point several mark for his stature and handshake alone. How he hated those people who look slack or too stiff; or those with clammy handshake or worse, the ones that shook his hand like there's no tomorrow. But this one, this young applicant looked like the perfect fit for the job. He gestured the young man to sit and ask, "So tell me about yourself. Why do you apply for this job?". To the interviewer dismay the young man replied in thickly accented broken English, and between his stream of words the interviewer gripped his table tightly and ask in his mind: "Why God, why???"

I can't remember when I started to learn English. I just did. I remember watching the TV shows, both for adults and children. I love Sesame Street, I Dream of Jeannie, Remington Steele, Knight Rider, Brady Bunch, Quantum Leap, all kinds of movies. I also watch music video and hearing songs from the radio, I would listen to them repeatedly and carefully wrote down the lyrics as best as I could. Mind you, it sometimes comes as a jumble, but then I would find the correct lyric in the music magazines and I will go: "Oh so that's what it says!". English books were hard to come by, but it got way easier when I was in my Senior High School. I would borrow English books from my friends and just read it on and on and on. Ah... The good old days.

At Brady Bunch's house

They taught us English at school in Indonesia, so in total we have almost 12 years of English education. Some children would also attend additional English courses to enhance their English. These English lessons helped me to understand the basic English grammar, but to be honest it did not help much in real life. I also taught English for some time, and in lessons (both me as a student and me as a teacher) it is easy to differentiate which tense to be used and the [grammatically] correct way to say it. There are formulas that you can memorize (i.e present tense = He/She/It + Is + Verb -ing), and it worked perfectly in exercises where you can decipher easily which is which and what verb to be use in each sentence. Try doing that in real life (plus repeatedly looking at your tenses formula list) and see how far your English conversation can go. As for reading and writing, it is a whole misery in itself. When I was 12 years old I remember reading mussel just like I read muscle. 10 years later my friend who spends time in USA told me it was read as myu-sel. 20 years later my husband who is an American told me it was read as mas-sel. Ugh. Not to mention the eternal questions such as: where is the L in talk? Why comfortable read as comfterble? Why drink-drank-drunk but cut-cut-cut?

As the video below illustrate, English is indeed a difficult language to master. Thus in my mind anyone whose native tongue is not English but learn to master English as second language deserves respect. They are just like the Engineer who also has a degree in Biology, or the IT major who also has a degree in Law. Sadly, sometimes this achievement go unnoticed. A fellow teacher once said to me she was embarrassed to speak to the foreigners because their English is better than hers. Well yes, I replied, but only because they have learned the language since the day they were born. I always stressed to my students that there is nothing shameful if you made mistake when speaking in English, and pointed out that if a foreigner tries to speak Bahasa Indonesia we would probably think he/she would sound silly as well. It is important to encourage them because the fact of the matter is, as with any other language English can only be mastered by practice. Lots and lots of practice. And even then, things such as accent can not be fully eliminated. 

In USA, where immigrant issue is a big deal, it is only normal to see people got so hung up with less-than-stellar English speaker or with the heavily accented one.  In terms of jobs, it is understandable if companies prefer employees that can speak English fluently, just as they prefer the ones with excellent computer and/or communication skill. This is indeed an English speaking country, so whoever wish to work here has to have a sufficient English skills. Vice versa, if you are a US citizen who happen to work in Indonesia you would also need to learn Bahasa Indonesia in order to survive there and to effectively do your work. As the saying goes, when in Rome do what Roman do. Yet sometimes English fluency can be a source of discrimination, where the more fluent English speaker considered more valuable and respected. When I worked in Bali I noticed that my foreign clients treated me with more respect and I receive far less complain than my other co-worker because my English was better than hers. In perspective, this has more to do with the frustration that one might experience from failed communication (i.e. one or both party can't figure head or tail what the other was saying), and it can happen also with fellow English speakers (imagine an Englishman with Cockney accent trying to speak with an American with Cajun English). Yet sometimes, there will be people who say indignantly, "Why, he/she can't even speak English!" and think lowly of the poor English speaker as if his/her inability to communicate in English is a sign of his/her being less civilized than the native English speaker.

In correlation to the world in general, English is a unifying language. You could go far in this world if you can master it, but it is in no mean superior than other language. To people from countries that use English as their main language, this concept is difficult to understand. It is easier for us in Indonesia who happens to use Bahasa Indonesia as our unifying language. There are hundreds of languages in Indonesia, and probably thousands of dialect; by using Bahasa Indonesia as our main language we are able to reach out and unite the citizens. The local languages and dialects are free to be used any time, but for official matters and education the Bahasa Indonesia is used to ensure everyone understands. This is what English is to the world: a true convenience if you can master it, but you can still live your life without it. The next time you met someone who evidently use English as second language give him/her a respect instead of a glare because learning a new language is not easy. You can hate him/her still if you want, especially if you think he/she is being ignorant. I hate people who speaks Bahasa Indonesia ignorantly too. Nevertheless, if you see his/her effort to master it, give it a thumbs up just like you would to people who tried to master a new skill. And when you went to non-English speaking country, be grateful when you met someone who can speak it albeit imperfectly instead of trashing around in social media how you couldn't find anyone who can communicate in English in that remote country. Or better yet, get a dictionary and speak their lingo ;)

Caption: This is true we shouldn't have to be bylingwill 
to work and live hear if they move hear they need to speek English.

-Possible translation: This is true we shouldn't have to be bilingual 
to work and live here if they move here they need to speak English.-

I love English a lot. I guess that is why I can easily get it by myself. Despite it being super hard and super confusing, English is a beautiful language with so many words you can choose from to express yourself. It is very versatile and it has no hierarchy, which means you can speak it as it is to whomever. You can change the intonation if you like and how you speak it to better fit the condition you are in, but the nature of the words itself remains unchanged. In various languages in Indonesia (and I guess in the majority of Asia countries) there are words or phrases that can only be use with your superior, or to put it bluntly: a hierarchy in language. By writing in English instead of Bahasa Indonesia I am free from that hierarchy and the limitation of how I can express myself. This is a luxury that many native English speakers do not realize. Every time I saw a poorly written Facebook status such as the above or I can't help asking: Why??? You got your chance to learn it properly since day one!! Like this woman said: I won the lottery — the linguistic lottery, that is. If you also born and raised in a country that use English as your first language, then you are better equipped than most people in the world. Let's use it properly, shall we? 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hunger Games Vs Battle Royale

In response to my glowing review to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, my little sister suggested me to read Koushun Takami's Battle Royale. I have never read the book before, and upon browsing I found in Wikipedia: "the parallels are striking enough that Collins's work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a baldfaced ripoff," 

It was not.

I have finished reading Battle Royale and the whole Hunger Games Trilogy, and I am happy to say I seriously questioned whether the people who 'savaged' Suzanne Collins' work have read both her works and Koushun Takami's. Despite the underlying circumstances (teens forced to kill each other in a game held by dictatorial government) there is nothing similar about the two works: the rules are different, the story lines are different, the approaches are different, and most importantly the ideology behind them are different. If this single idea, the great battle royale/killing spree, is a girl, Suzanne Collins dressed her up just like Katniss: neat braided hair, the small luxurious golden mockingjay pin, tight suit to ease movement, and dramatic yet functional makeup. On the other hand, Koushun Takami dressed her up just like the Japanese girl: school-uniform, sickle, teenage makeup, all normal except the wild crazy eyes which gives us the hell-of-a creep. Hunger Games is the Pop music, Battle Royale is the Rock music. Hunger Games ended with a feeling of achievement, Battle Royale ended with a feeling of 'More!!!'

This, is of course, the books. I have yet watched the movies nor that I am inclined too, as the characters have resided quite comfortably in my mind, but I can assure you that whoever made the movies was definitely not the authors. Movies adapted from the books almost always lacked that little details that the original books have, the little character details and word choices that tell us how a character really feels or the emotion he/she went through. Watching the clip, maybe it is true that the movies look similar, but it is in no way the book's author's fault. It doesn't really make sense to attack the author of the book if the two movies are similar, especially when the two books are so different from one another.

Books, just like songs and movies and any other means of expression, do more than just entertain us; they give us a glimpse of what the author thinks, of who he/she is, of his/her logic and way of thinking. Plagiarism happens, it is inevitable; but where is the fine line behind copying and just accidentally the same? The only way to know this is to compare both works thoroughly, not just skimming through some pages and give out blatant accusations. As I toiled through pages of my writing, I respect Suzanne Collins' work. Even if she did take a page or two from Koushun Takami's book, her trilogy was by no mean a small feat and it was a thoroughly different work of art altogether. It is time for us to stop casting stones so easily and understand more before we express our opinions. In a world where a summer camp casually set "Hunger Games" theme without seeming to understand that the book was about rise of rebellion and more than just a gloriously hide-and-seek-and kill, this task may seemed daunting. But it is worth to try nevertheless.

Suzanne Collins, thank you for a beautiful trilogy that has become one of my favorite.
Koushun Takami, you rock.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Freeway

Taking over a car
Accelerating again
Trees past by me
Bushes ran through
Landscape changing
Some cars found their exit
But I haven't found mine
And on and on I drove
Looking for my exit

Night came
Then the sun rise
From the fleck of ray in the dark 
To the bright ball of fire in the sky
Then darkness come again
How long has it been
Days Weeks Years
I kept my eyes on the road
Wishing it would end soon
And on and on I drove
Looking for my exit

I pulled over on a ramp
Banging my fist to my steering wheel
The exit after this one
The exit after this one
But that exit never came
And these fools keep driving
For an end they cannot achieve
For the hunger they cannot satiate
For the race they cannot win
And I don't want to drive anymore
I don't want to look for my exit anymore

Then she passed
Speed easily on the free way
Unconcerned with the exits
I could stay in the ramp forever
Or I can go after her
I turn my car on
And accelerate
My feet on the gas
My mind on her
And on and on I drove
Looking for the woman

Till this day I am still driving
But I will never forget that day
When our cars finally aligned
She looked at me quizically
I rolled down my window
And dared myself to ask:
Where to?
She smiled and answer:
Anywhere you want to
And on and on I drove
Along with my woman

I will find my exit one day
I will find the end of this misery
But was it a misery when I can enjoy it?
Or was it a great big adventure?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Tall Tale of The Color

While some Americans have made bitterly racist remarks about Miss America Nina Davuluri based on the color of her skin, it seems that people in India have problems with her dark skin as well. Some even speculate that Davuluri wouldn’t have been fair-skinned enough to win a pageant in her parents’ home country. - Watch the full clip here

Surprise surprise. Oh wait, sorry. I am not surprised at all.

I often looked at my husband at night when he slept so peacefully next to me, and thought, what did he actually see in me? He is funny and kind, with muscular build and handsome face. His smile is really disarming and when we walked together I noticed people checking on him. When we walked together in Bali a lot of women, old and young, commenting in Balinese and Bahasa Indonesia on how good-looking he was. He is so perfect and I am not. The only reason I don't go berserk whenever he talks to other women is because I know how much he love me. And I still went berserk sometimes. Can't help it. All of this, our marriage and all, for all I know could have been a really cruel joke all along. Like I said, why does he want me anyway? I am not perfect.

He has difficult time understanding my insecurity, because in his mind I am perfect. He thinks I am beautiful and assured me that countless time. I told him how lonely I was because my society thinks I did not "make the cut", and he can't believe it. He would look at me and smile happily and say: "You are so pretty!". It is, trust me, something that never happened in my previous experience. Sweet, yes. Sexy, maybe. But never pretty. Never beautiful. Never desirable.

But it was not my fault. It was just how my society made me. We gravitate so heavily towards "fairness". At one point the winner of Miss Indonesia was a Caucasian descendant who looked so Caucasian she could easily pass as one. The Judges' argumentation: the Caucasian look will helped her secure better position in the upcoming Miss World. Yes, feel free to collectively bump your head to the table. All the commercials, movies, news anchor, all the places where you can see, all fair-skinned and I very seldom see (if any) dark-skinned Indonesian beauties. It was the same for social events, where the fair-skinned one will get the most attention. A relative of mine overheard her father-in-law said to her husband: can't you even get a fairer wife? In 1937 Miguel Covarrubias wrote in his book "The Island of Bali": To the Balinese, the average features of Nordics are not to be admired.... a girl with golden skin is considered beautiful even if the other requirements is missing..." Apparently the preference change with time.

My little sister in a TV commercial, one of the very few TV commercials 
that actually starred dark-skinned beauties a.k.a normal Indonesian women

It doesn't make any sense though. Our tropical climate gave us the rich pigment to protect ourselves from the sun, why do we even want to throw it away? It was comical how the dark-skinned women from the tropical country tried hard to whiten their skin yet their counterpart from the colder climate flocked to tanning bed to make them look "glowing and healthy". It is also absurd to know that the only place where you can be yourself is a place faraway from home, because only then your beauty can be appreciated.   

There are a lot of Ninas in the world, the dark-skinned women who are alienated in their own society but somehow getting acknowledgement in a place faraway from home. Which is a shame, because I kind of like my home. But a lot more don't have such privilege. I wish I can urge people to change their preference so these Ninas can get the fighting chance that they deserved, but I can't. Nobody can change other people's preference except themselves. I wish I can urge these Ninas to not give in to whitening cream and other product to fit in the silly demanding society, but I can't. I understand their loneliness far too well. What I can do is to ensure that you understand that beauty is beauty. It comes in different types and shapes. One would find you attractive and others would not. In the end, beauty is in the eye of beholder. If you think you are beautiful, then you are. The goal is not to be beautiful enough to be accepted by others, the goal should be beautiful enough to be accepted by yourself. Because in the end, you would live with yourself forever.

I was putting on rogue on my cheek last Saturday night before we went dancing when I remember so many other times I put on my makeup. Eyeliner first, making big cat eyes; then rogue, lipstick, and face powder. I remember feeling elated in every single one of them, and as I checked my self in the mirror I always feel a surge of pride which often followed by an ecstatic: "Damn I look good!!". Others may be more beautiful than me, society may deemed I am not beautiful enough, but who cares. I like what I see in the mirror. And in the end, it's all that matters.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Hard to be Different

It's hard to be different. In the animal world being different means being dead, because the predator will easily spot "the freak" and have it for lunch. It also means rejection from their peer because they too will be easily spotted when "the freak" hang with them, and it probably does not worth the risk. Despite our constant bragging of how much better we are than animals, we human did this too. The tendency to become the predator and devour the weak was too much for some people to handle. Like a hyena that feeds itself with its prey, a bully needs the fear and emotion of the victim to feed his/her own emotional hunger. And just like the animal peers, there are also people who do not actively bully but rejected "the freak" nonetheless for the so-called-normality of their group. Some of us apparently fell off the evolution wagon.

These happened daily around the world. Some people labeled the bully incident as racism and discrimination, which eventually leads to war cry especially if it involves a hot topic case such as race or gay/LBGT or religion. The result is a whirlwind of accusations from both party, those who support the victim and those who support the bully, all comes completely armed with valid arguments and a well-packed set of name calling. A group would spoke out against the little girl's bullying incident and said the bullies are to be blamed, yet another group will spoke out and say it's her fault to be fat and she should be normal size for her own good anyway. In the end everybody just hate each other. Let's stop it.

A Bully is someone who picked on another person for being different. Small body size, big body size, normal body size, white skin, brown skin, black skin, the weird geek, the honor student, the school's athlete, the cheerleader, each of this characters can all be a victim or a bully depends on his/her own position. There is no simpler rule of why someone is bullied other than he/she was different than the rest of the peer. Instead of labeling the bully incident as an act of discrimination and focused on why the victim was attacked, label it as what it should be: an attack of another human being just for being different, a predatory act that can be averted by understanding that each of us is different. 

No two hearts shaped the same, and even twins would have minor differences between them. Humans may act like a group, but our advance intelligence is unique to each one of us. It is time for us to understand that humans come in many shapes and colors, and each of us has our own story to tell, our own struggles to live with. This does not mean you have to force yourself to accept people. This means you have to force yourself to leave them alone and not preying on them. You are entitled of what your opinion about people because it was a  result of your bearing and the environment you are exposed to, it is who you are. But you are not entitled to harm people. No one is entitled to harm others. Some people claimed the victim should be more assertive in protecting themselves. As ideal as it sounded, the fact of the matter is if the victim were ready to protect themselves they wont be the prey from the first place. The solution is not prepping the victim to be aggressive, it's to prep the bully to be not aggressive and to make every single one of us comes to the realization that each of us human is uniquely different.

The walls are crumbling and the diversity flood is coming through. First black president, legality of gay marriage, rights for LGBT community, and more recently the first Miss America from Indian descendant. With the advancements of internet and medias we are exposed to more and more diversity: various skin colors and body shapes and line of thinking and way of life to name a few. You can either use it to understand the vastness and greatness of life and world itself, or hide in your own shell with people who (you think) think alike and guard your "community" closely. My suggestion is to come out there and enjoy life. Be humbled on the majesty of life and the beauty of human being. Realize that you are special, but so do others. Stop preying. Stop being an animal. Start being human. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Strange Indonesian in US Land

Everyone just wants to be liked and accepted.
Except for Tim. Tim doesn't give a shit.

This morning I got two friendly reminder that I am who I am. 

The first reminder came when I disdainfully close Simon Winchester's book "Krakatoa, The Day The World Explode". It was a great and comprehensive book, but I felt cheated and angry when he compared the modern day Jakarta to its so-called Golden Days under the Dutch colonizations. Those were Golden days indeed for the Dutch who ruled the city, drained its resources to fill out their coffers and enslave the local native and being great and mighty all round. It was hardly golden for the locals who were treated as servants and becoming slaves in their own land, and being strangled with heavy tax and having to submit to the intruders' whim. This is a reminder for me to never forget the history of my people. Wherever I am, I am still an Indonesian and it will remained that way forever.

The second reminder came from my friend's Facebook status. She wrote about a taxi driver's comment regarding a street performer with monkey. He said: "humans are given wit by God to earn his own living. It's such a shame to use the animal instead to earn his living. Doesn't he feel ashamed to let a monkey work and earn money for him, and use it for his own well-being?" This is a reminder for me that in accordance to the values that I have held so long they are still very much valid wherever I am. I have always believe that there are more in this world than just trying to be accepted and fit in society, there are more in this world than just trying to get a comfortable living and if possible a better one than others. There are kindness and compassion, dignity and pride, knowledge of what is right and wrong and strength and wisdom to do what's right. These are what made us human and enrich our lives. This concept is very strong in Indonesia, yet from what I see it was less pronounced here. There is no reason though for me to just discarded this concept and what I believe on the accord of not being in Indonesia anymore.

It has been almost 3 months since I move to California, and the pressure is mounting. The difference between the life here and in Indonesia was huge and I had to radically adapt myself in order to keep my sanity and my well being: I subtly changed my Indonesian diet to fit whatever I can find in USA stores, I learned how the traffic and bus system worked and other basic day-to-day knowledge, I learned about being cautious with people and the many types of people in California (and USA in general). Yet day by day the pressure is mounting. I found myself questioning and fretting over and over again: Can I get a job here? Will my accent and my imperfect grammar prevent me from making a living and/or making friend? How can I look similar to these people, so they won't realize I'm from Indonesia? At this moment I am a full-time writer and housewife working in the convenience of my home, but soon I will join the workforce and have to face the society which I haven't got the slightest idea of. I fear rejection. I want to fit in.

There are so many things that I can expect in this life and in my upcoming introduction to US society, and I will enjoy the experience thoroughly by being me. The fact of the matter is, sometimes adaptation leads to either you successfully become one of them or that you successfully mimic them. When I moved out to Bali after spending my whole life (26 years in total) in Jakarta I could not fit in. I have the right look and pedigree, the right clothing and the right 'endorsement', yet I move and think and speak differently from the Balinese due to my years in Jakarta. I never fit in, but it did not stopped me from being so good with what I do or from chasing my passion and live my life to the fullest. I can fret and determined to try my hardest to be an American or at least successfully mimic one with the risk of failing miserably in the process and lose my sanity just like I did in the beginning of my Bali years, or I can just be me and use the additional Indonesian knowledge and wisdom that I know to enhance my living experience in USA. 

I am not born in USA and I can't change that, but that is merely a fact and not a debilitating condition. True it seemed like joining a race where all other contestants are better equipped and have clear advantage over me, but it doesn't mean I am not good myself. It may take time but I will survive and reach the finish line. And I will succeed without losing my own identity in the process. I am Indonesian. That's who I am. That's what I am.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Day at The Patio (a.k.a The Cat and The Dog)

"Hauuuuuuuum...." The big white Labrador gave out a big yawn. He arched his back and stretched his body. "Having a good day last night, Cuddly-Woddly?"

"Ssss....." The black cat hissed menacingly. "Shut up." 

"You look damn good up there, Coddly-Woddly." He grinned at his neighbor who sat majestically on the ledge of the patio in the adjacent apartment.

"Don't let me jump over to your place and leave scratch mark all over you. Your Mom and Dad will be sooo upset." 

"Ha ha! You know what girl, I don't get why they called themselves my Mom and Dad. God knows they aint got this silky fur of mine, let alone my awesome tail!"

"Same here." replied the cat."Do you think if I scratched her neck she'd stop talking to me in baby's voice? I could try to aim her artery if needed. It's big and bulging right up her neck, it'll be so easy..."

"Nah, you ain't gonna do no shit girl. Those arteries need massive teeth like mine, they're damn strong! She'd just gonna take you to the vet and you'd get those prickly needles all over you and then, bam! More baby's talk because she deemed you 'distress' and 'confused'."

"Argh!!" exclaimed the cat. "It's so frustrating!"
"I am tired being treated as human. Factory-made food, baths and massages and spa, it is sickening. Do you know that she even try to give me a bed time story last night? I don't even understand human language."

"Whoa, I thought you do!"

"No I don't, you big silly. And neither do you. We know the one with bulge on the chest is mom, and the one without bulge on the chest is dad. That's the farthest our language goes."

"I do know that dad has a magic thing like mine, but his was like an overcooked sausage."

" I am so fortunate to have only one human-mom while you have a complete set, thus spared from the gross anomaly that you just described to me."

"Well but my human-mom has bigger bulge than yours, and that is AWE-SUM because it feels sooooo good when I use it as pillow."

"Uh huh. Now you just sounded so human. Like those creeps that was checking out your human mom the other night. Couldn't understand what they say but the tone was similar to yours."

"Ha ha! That, was a FUN night girl! I barked at them and chase them away. You should see how they ran! Run baby run! That bulge is mineeee!!!"

"Your pink tip is showing."

"Goddamnit. I hate it when it happens and no bitch around."

"Go hump the Alamanda pot."

"Screw you bitch."

"Not gonna happen. I'ma a female feline by the way, not a bitch. I don't share your genus."

"Aww Fuck it. Stop being so smarty ass and let me hump the pot."

The cat wisely look the other way.

"Hells yeah, that feels better!"

"You totally knocked the plant out, by the way."

"Yeah. Humping bitches are a lot easier. I wish they'd keep a bitch in here for me."

"You can have my human-mom."

"Aw geez, if she's a bitch she's gonna be the ugliest one I've ever seen. With all those bones popping out and wrong length of limbs, hhhhh.... I would rather do the plant again!

"If you can. It's in a sad state already."
"Now one of them is going to put a cardboard board with human writing on it and share it around. How wonderful."

"You know what girl, stop using me to sheathe your claw. Do I look like a sheathing post to you??"

"No, but you sure looked like you won't understand sarcasm."

"Surprise surprise, furball."

"Oh, you are playing the game now? As smart as your humans now?"

"Damn girl, if they are have as smart as I am they would notice that their cardboard board writing had no effect on me. I assume the writing is about shaming me, what a shame I don't read human letters and the only discomfort I get was from my photos taken while using that ugly piece of board. I mean, bitches'll go howling!"

"You summed it up pretty accurate."

The cat let out a deep sigh.
"I just want to be treated decently. Like a cat should, you know. They gave me empty boxes to play on. I mean, come on, what happened to 'catch the birds and other living animal'? And it appears she expect me to returned the backrub she gave me. Every. Single. Time. Why can't I just love her when I want to, instead of her coming at me and forced me to cuddle with her. And the baby talk, oh my God the baby talk!!"

"Word up girl. I'm getting tired myself being treated as their little human. He looked so happy when I play fetch the ball with him yesterday. Oh, do I say fetch the ball? I mean we play throw-that--ball-away-so-i-can-catch-it-and-stretch-my-legs-you-stupid-human."

"I like your way with words."

"Aww... are you hitting on me? 'Cause sorry, I prefer my girls big and strong to take this magic thing."

"I take my compliment back."

The door to the patio creaked open. A slim young woman came to the patio and picked up the black cat. "How is my little princess," she said using baby's tone, "did Cuddly-Woddly enjoyed her morning sun bath?"

"Meorw," She said, which to the dog's ear was: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!"

He replied, "Here comes the 'Fun'!!"

The woman looked at the dog disapprovingly, "Did the big bad dog just barked on you?? Poor thing, you must be really scared. Don't worry my little princess, mommy will go to the bad dog's mom and dad and tell them how bad their dog was. So unfortunate that we have those brute for neighbors, don't you think my little darling?"

"Let me gooo...." She meowed pitifully and tried to break free from her.

"Your meow did not sound good pretty princess!!" the young woman gasped, "I think I should arrange an appointment with the doctor soonest so we can relieve your stress. That awful awful dog!! Wait till I sue their owner for distressing my precious Coddly-Woddly!!"

"Noooooooooooooo.....!!!!!!!!!!" She screamed, in which to the young woman's ear only sounded like "Meooooooow........"

The dog barked happily from the apartment next door. "Talk to you soon, girl!!"

The Blind Dive and How to Avoid It

The bombshell(s)

A couple of years ago a girl tried to rub her-then-fiancee on my face.

The man was betrothed to me about 2 years before and it didn't work. Then out of nowhere this girl found me in Facebook, befriended me and then proceed to post many-many photos of her and the man all in "romantic" scene. The message was clear: I OWN this man, b*tch! My reply was deep annoyance, a rising eyebrow, and a "Well, enjoy!" while clicking the 'Remove friend' button. She did not impress me, nor did he.

Looking back from where I am now, I can't help wondering: What was I thinking?!

People made mistake in life, and he was definitely one of my worst. It was what happened when you wanted something so bad and chase it blindly. Back then I wanted a husband-to-be, I wanted a partner that my mom and family can accept, I wanted someone than can accept me the way I am. He seemed to be perfect: slightly older than me, come from respectable priest family just like mine, and a secure job. "Technically" he was perfect. I envisioned myself to be a good dedicated Balinese wife: learning Balinese language and how to make offerings, helping his family priest preparing the rituals and ceremonies, basically stay and live at his family's house. Work and career? Aint nobody got time for that! I will be true blue Balinese, not just a Jakarta-born woman who didn't know jacks--t about her root. Hooray for me!!!

There were of course those little details that I choose to overlook. Most prominent was his refusal to let me know where he worked and where he lived. He also had tendency to just disappear for days without answering any of my text messages. My mom (accurately) guessed that he had another woman, but I was adamant. He was referred by a very close relative, and his sister was positively charming. Surely they wont do that to me! And you should see how loving he was to me in front of my friends, they all agreed that he seemed to be *the one*. We might not see each other eye to eye, and in more than one occasions he seemed to be disturbed by my thoughts and called me too mature for my age; I might think his thought was very outdated and he needed to start living in the reality instead of in his "if" world; but hey, that's what marriage would be right? Accepting and adapting with each other weirdness and such. He was too short for my liking and looked too old, but nobody was perfect, right?! I didn't feel the warm and tingly feeling that I associated with love, only a blind desperate feeling of "want", you know like I want to get married like ASAP. It didn't really matter though, because love will grow out in time. I just know it. I just know it.

He bailed out on me a mere couple of months later. After months of guilt trip (because I was so certain I chased him away), a friend told me that he had another woman all along. I asked him and he vaguely said it was not so. However it was not the first time I heard a man from Balinese priest clan to take a woman from the same caste as his partner in order to appease his family while hiding another woman from different caste as his real lover, therefore I had heavy prejudice with his "innocence". And when his "fiancee" hounded me even though we haven't talked with each other for so long, I began to suspect for some reason he was telling twisted stories about me. Such a charming guy indeed.

So in total, what did I miss out? A liar, a manipulative man, a life on the country side where I can kiss my career good bye, and an eternity (or at least the rest of my life) being someone that I am not and trying to love someone that I do not.

I found a photo of them in a relative's Facebook, taken at a park in Indonesia. I couldn't help to think how contrast their photo was to my own photo with my husband at The Getty: we looked closer, our body language just screamed how much infatuated we are with one another, and for godsake it's The Getty! If anyone at that time period told me I would be visiting The Getty with my husband, or said I would be given an opportunity to be a full-time writer in USA, I would laugh at their face because it sounded so impossible. Yet here I am right now, getting cuddles and loves and all the things I need to hone my talent. And the best part is I love this man so much, he let me be me and totally love me for it.

The moral of the story: don't get blinded by your "want", be cautious and objective about it, and if it doesn't feel right just get the heck out of it. You shouldn't give in and become someone you are not just to get accepted. I was so eager to get a "perfect" husband that I overlooked all the danger signs. Thankfully my quirkiness scared him away, I couldn't imagine what happened if I did marry him. At times like this only your clear conscience can save you from the looming danger, because if you are so determined on getting something chances are you wont listen to others' advice. So always approached what you want (be it a new boyfriend or a new iPhone) with clear head, it'll prevent a whole lot of trouble later.

To my sisters from the priest clan: Don't give in to family pressure. You got the right to choose the man you want, and own your happiness. Go for it.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Yang Kalah saat Perhelatan Miss World

Akhirnya Miss World 2013 seluruhnya diselenggarakan di Bali. Ceritanya Maksiat menang huhuhu. Tapi ada yang tahu tidak siapa yang sebenarnya kalah? Siapa yang sebenarnya dizalimi? Siapa yang sebenarnya terebut haknya?

Yang kalah adalah orang-orang kecil: pekerja dari pulau Jawa yang waktunya tersita karena pemeriksaan tambahan di Pelabuhan Gilimanuk, sopir-sopir truk yang membawa muatan cepat rusak seperti sayuran dan daging yang juga terpaksa menunggu karena pemeriksaan tambahan di Pelabuhan Gilimanuk, pekerja hotel di Jakarta dan sopir-sopir taksi di Jakarta yang bisa saja mendapatkan penghasilan tambahan dari sekian banyak kru acara Miss World ini, orang-orang pekerja migran di luar negeri yang terdiskriminasi karena Indonesia identik dengan kekerasan dan teror, pekerja di Jakarta yang terpaksa harus berangkat jauh lebih awal ke tempat kerja agar tidak tercebak macet akibat aksi demonstrasi FPI di bundaran HI, atau para pekerja yang mendapatkan peringatan atau bahkan dipecat akibat keterlambatan yang disebabkan demonstrasi ini.

Sangat gampang, bahkan terlalu gampang untuk berkoar "Anti Maksiat!" dan berkhotbah akan apa yang "harusnya dilakukan" menurut pandangan anda bila anda kebetulan memiliki status sosial ekonomi yang cukup bagus. Tapi lain ceritanya bila anda dalam situasi sosial ekonomi yang "terjepit". Orang-orang ini hanya butuh penghidupan, itu yang paling utama. Mereka tidak memiliki pilihan atau privilege untuk menolak pekerjaan atau merelakan pekerjaan mereka hilang dengan alasan "Anti Maksiat". Saya yakin sepenuhnya orang-orang ini akan bilang "TIDAK!" bila mereka tahu bahwa jasa mereka dipakai untuk tujuan yang tidak baik (kriminalisme, maksiat, dsb), tapi bagaimana bila mereka tidak tahu? Sopir taksi mengantar wanita muda cantik dan berpakaian rapi, tahu darimana bahwa uang yang dipakai untuk membayar benar-benar dari uangnya sendiri dan bukan dari "uang jajan" yang diterima dari bosnya sebagai istri simpanan? Sopir truk mengantar sprei bersih ke hotel, tahu dari mana bahwa sprei yang ia kirim akan digunakan oleh tamu hotel yang terhormat dan bukan untuk seks bebas dengan para pelacur? Apa yang bisa ia lakukan kecuali menjalankan pekerjaannya sebaik mungkin?

Enteng sekali untuk berkomentar online dengan laptop mulus anda atau dengan hape mahal anda: "Baguslah, jadi para muslimin dan muslimah di Jakarta tidak tercemari oleh kemaksiatan." Waktu saya membantu mengorganisir sebuah event musik di Bali, penyelenggaranya yang orang Amerika memberikan saya tip lumayan besar karena merasa terbantu dan puas dengan pekerjaan saya. Uang ini kemudian terpakai untuk membayar operasi usus buntu saya 2 bulan kemudian. Para pekerja video dari Bali yang kami sewa pun mendapatkan bonus yang lumayan, dan kameramen yang kami bawa dari Jakarta dengan manisnya mendapat wejangan (plus bertukar alamat e-mail) dengan kameramen nya Madonna. Warung Tegal dimana saya membeli makanan untuk kru kami mendapat rejeki nomplok, begitu pula sopir-sopir taksi dan penyewaan mobil yang kami gunakan untuk transportasi. Siapa anda, sekali lagi saya bertanya, siapa anda yang merasa berhak mengambil atau menafikan kesempatan ini dari mereka? Bahkan bila anda adalah salah satu dari mereka dan anda kekeh untuk bilang "Tidak!" dan menolak pekerjaan tersebut, anda tidak punya hak untuk menjudge mereka yang mencoba bertahan hidup dan memberi kehidupan yang layak bagi keluarga mereka. Bagi mereka, mereka melakukan pekerjaan sebaik mungkin dan dibayar sepantasnya. Ya, mereka memang secara tidak langsung bekerja untuk warga negara Amerika yang konon kafir, tapi bukan berarti mereka melakukan sesuatu yang bertentangan dengan kepercayaan mereka.

Umat Islam di Indonesia itu bukan cuma yang sibuk menentang "kemaksiatan" Miss World. Umat Islam di Indonesia itu juga kakek malang ini yang meninggal karena kecewa BSLM nya diambil orang. Umat Islam di Indonesia itu juga pekerja migran di luar negeri yang saat pulang ke Indonesia dipalak oleh pihak berwajib dan agen mereka. Umat Islam di Indonesia itu juga ibu-ibu atau bapak-bapak di "Andai Aku Menjadi" yang melakukan berbagai pekerjaan berat demi penghasilan yang sangat minim. Umat Islam di Indonesia itu juga para WNI yang tinggal dan bekerja di negara Barat dan harus menghadapi tatapan sinis dan kecurigaan karena kentalnya aksi dan ancaman kekerasan yang dilakukan kelompok muslim garis keras di Indonesia. Umat Islam di Indonesia itu juga si tukang sayur keliling di rumah saya di Jakarta, si ibu penjual kue berjilbab yang dengan setia mendorong gerobak kuenya tiap pagi di dekat kantor saya di Bali, keluarga Pak 'Ndut penjual Lontong Sayur Betawi yang setelah Pak 'Ndut meninggal beralih ke pembuat kue kering (nastar dll) sementara tetap mencoba bertahan hidup di Bali karena menurut mereka "lebih adem dan aman". "Maksiat"nya Miss World bukanlah suatu prioritas bagi mereka. Namun kesejahteraan mereka harusnya menjadi prioritas bagi banyak kalangan yang mengaku "Saudara seiman".

Saya bukan seorang Muslim, saya penganut Hindu-Bali. Walaupun saya bukan Muslim, saya juga tidak setuju dengan Miss-miss an dan berbusana yang "mengundang". Bagi saya ada banyak cara yang lebih bermartabat untuk mendapatkan "Pengakuan" dari lawan jenis. Saya juga tidak mendukung seks di luar nikah, karena pada akhirnya wanitalah yang paling dirugikan. Ini bukan dari ajaran agama manapun, ini cuma common sense atau akal sehat. Kemaksiatan Miss World 2013 bisa diperdebatkan sepanjang yang anda mau, tapi tolong, tolong pikirkan seluruh umat Muslim di Indonesia sebelum anda sibuk mengancam dan berdemo dan membuat hidup yang lain susah. Tempatkan diri anda dalam posisi mereka: yang berjuang demi mendapatkan sesuap nasi, yang bahkan tidak tahu apakah mereka bisa makan besok, yang berusaha mendapatkan uang untuk biaya sekolah anaknya, yang bekerja sedemikian keras demi hidup yang lebih baik. Jangan hanya berkoar dan berkhotbah dari kenyamanan rumah anda di kota besar, dengan akses internet tak terbatas dan uang donasi dari umat anda; jangan hanya menuduh dan berkomentar negatif dari hape anda yang keren dengan pulsa yang dibayar ayah bunda tercinta; jangan hanya mencibir dan menilai dari laptop anda yang mulus di kantor anda di gedung tinggi yang anda dapatkan karena anda lahir dari keluarga yang berada dan mendapatkan pendidikan serta kesempatan yang maksimal. Pikirkanlah kaum marjinal, pikirkanlah janda-janda tua dan mereka yang terlahir di kondisi kurang mampu, pikirkanlah para orangtua yang membanting tulang agar anak mereka mendapatkan kesempatan yang lebih baik, baru tanyakan pada diri anda: apakah yang akan saya lakukan membantu mereka?

Saya bukan seorang muslim. Saya adalah warga negara Indonesia, dan orang-orang ini adalah juga warga negara Indonesia. Pikirkanlah mereka. Bantu mereka. Lindungi mereka.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hargai Saya Sebagai Warga Negara Indonesia


Serius mas?? Wow. Makasih ya sudah melecehkan daerah asal saya dan merampas hak saya sebagai WNI.

Saya orang Indonesia. Titik. Saat saya memperkenalkan diri saya di luar negeri, saya selalu menyatakan: "I'm Indonesian." Sebenarnya jauh lebih gampang kalau saya bilang saya orang Bali, karena seperti diceritakan dengan lugas oleh Neng Mila dalam perjalanannya dari Darwin orang pikir Indonesia itu bagian dari Bali, atau lebih parah lagi ga tau Indonesia itu apa. Tapi di paspor saya tulisannya kewarga-negaraan Indonesia; di formulir visa dan sebagainya kewarga-negaraan saya Indonesia. Leluhur saya memang orang Bali (dan sedikit Betawi), tapi saya tulen orang Indonesia.

Orang Indonesia di negeri orang

Waktu saya baca komentar artikel tentang institusi jiwa di Indonesia di yang bilang: "Maybe if the world's largest Islamic country and its people stopped focusing on the Quran and more on science they country would be in a better place" saya jadi emosi. Dan saya menulis "balasan"/"opini" saya mengenai topik yang ia komentari. Buat saya komentar orang ini menyakitkan karena ini melecehkan Islam. Islam yang saya tahu berbudaya dan bermartabat, dan pengetahuan/sains Islam pun sangat maju. Ini juga menyakitkan karena hanya dalam satu kalimat itu dia "menghilangkan" keberadaan saya. Indonesia memiliki populasi umat Islam terbesar di dunia, namun bukan negara Islam. Dengan ketidak-tahuannya (atau dengan kesoktauannya) orang ini menafikan saya sebagai seorang Hindu, karena menurut dia Indonesia adalah "Negara Islam" yang secara definisi berarti negara yang penduduknya adalah umat Islam dan berjalan dengan hukum Islam. Lalu saya dan kebudayaan saya apa dong?

Yang belajar sejarah (atau mampu bertahan beberapa menit mendengarkan guru sejarah mengoceh di sekolah) pasti tahu kalau kemerdekaan Indonesia diraih dengan darah dan perjuangan para pahlawan kita di seantero nusantara. Mari keluarkan uang kertas dari dompet anda dan periksa bersama saya:
Rp 1,000: Pattimura dari Ambon
Rp 2,000: Pangeran Antasari dari Banjar, Kalimantan
Rp 5,000: Tuanku Imam Bondjol dari Sumatra Barat
Rp 10,000: Sultan Mahmud Baddarudin II dari Palembang
Rp 20,000: Oto Iskandar Di Nata dari Bandung, Jawa Barat
Rp 50,000: I Gusti Ngurah Rai dari Bali
Rp 100,000: Soekarno dari Jawa dan Bali, Hatta dari Padang
Ini uang yang beredar sekarang lho, dan uang kertas versi sebelumnya juga memiliki pahlawan nasional yang lain. Ini bukti konkrit bahwa Indonesia tidak hanya dimenangkan oleh satu golongan saja. Ini juga bukti konkrit kalau tiap daerah di Indonesia berdaulat akan areanya masing-masing. Kami juga orang Indonesia bung.

Bila masyarakat Bali tidak menentang acara Miss World (dan saya tau sebagian besar dari mereka juga mungkin tidak ngeh akan acara ini) apa hak Habieb Reseh untuk menentang dan mengancam? Apa hak mereka untuk membakar boneka Gubernur Bali? Apa hak mereka men-judge dan melecehkan Bali? Begitu pula saat Nyepi: tekanan dan makian orang non-Hindu yang "terpaksa" ikut merayakan Nyepi bersama kami begitu menyakitkan. Bila umat muslim berhak beribadah dengan tenang, tidakkah kami berhak merayakan ibadah kami pula? Dengan kesunyian mutlak dan tanpa suara, dan jelas tanpa orang-orang yang dengan pedenya jalan-jalan dan menyetel TV kencang-kencang hanya karena mereka tidak beragama Hindu. Saya ingat masa-masa saya makan sembunyi-sembunyi saat puasa di SMA saya, bukan dipaksa makan sembunyi tapi karena sungkan dan tidak ingin "menggoda" rekan-rekan saya yang berpuasa. Apakah sedemikian mustahilnya untuk mendapatkan toleransi seperti ini, yang dilakukan bukan karena "harus" melainkan karena "sungkan"?

Oooh.... Jadi rusuh gara-gara MissWord gitu? 
Coba pake Pages nya MacOS klo gitu, ato Notepad nya Windows

Indonesia bukan negara agama, atau setidaknya bukan negara satu agama. Dan sebenarnya, saat kita menampilkan "Indonesia", yang kita tampilkan adalah budaya kita dan bukan agama kita. Saat saya pergi ke Festival Indonesia di Los Angeles, yang ditampilkan di brosurnya adalah "Piring Dance", "Tor Tor Dance", "Panyembrama Dance". Ga a da ditulis "Muslim Piring Dance" walaupun tari piring dari Padang yang dominan beragama Islam, ga ada ditulis "Christian Tor Tor Dance" walaupun tari Tor-Tor berasal dari Batak yang dominan beragama Kristen (dan bahkan ditarikan oleh HKBP California), ga ada ditulis "Hindu Panyembrama Dance" walaupun ini tari Bali yang penduduknya mayoritas beragama Hindu. Anda tahu kenapa? Karena memang nggak ngefek! Kebudayaan ya kebudayaan, agama ya agama. Bisa saja tari tor-tor atau tari piring ini ditarikan oleh orang beragama lain, beberapa orang dari grup gamelan Bali malahan orang bule. Jadi jangan paksakan pandangan sebuah agama ke daerah lain.

Kalau memang anda orang Bali yang menentang acara Miss World, monggo wae, silakan saja berdemo. Apapun agama dan/atau alasan anda, anda berhak menyatakan pendapat anda bilamana anda merasa ada ancaman terhadap daerah anda atau anda secara pribadi. Tapi kalau anda bukan orang Bali dan tidak ada kaitannya dengan Bali, dan juga pemerintah cuek cuek aja terhadap acara Miss World, mbok ya tenang dan jangan "serang" daerah saya. Ingat lho, Indonesia itu bukan cuma Jakarta Makassar dan kota-kota besar yang punya TV. Indonesia itu juga isinya janda-janda tua di Gunung Kidul yang bahkan tidak punya air bersih (boro-boro baca koran), penduduk di pulau terpencil yang bahkan tidak punya listrik (boro-boro nonton TV), orang-orang puncak Papua yang masih berburu dan nomaden (boro-boro buka internet). Apa iya mereka sedemikian terancamnya dengan Miss World? Kenyataannya, sampai sebelum saya pindah ke Amerika beberapa bulan yang lalu saya masih menemukan iklan lowongan pekerjaan yang salah satu kriterianya adalah "berpenampilan menarik". Ini bukan iklan untuk cewek kafe atau "spa massage" lho, ini standar iklan untuk front liner di Bank atau perusahaan besar lainnya. Kenapa bukan ini yang dibasmi duluan? Saya rasa sebego-begonya cewek dia ga akan begitu saja copy-paste acara Miss World dan pakai baju seksi kemana-mana. Tapi kalau pekerjaan mengharuskan"berpenampilan menarik", ini yang sulit. Ini yang sebenarnya merendahkan wanita.

Yang konyolnya, Miss World 2013 akan tetap berjalan di Bali apapun ceritanya, dan semua ini cuma akan kelihatan sebagai aksi "unjuk gigi" saja. Saya sudah tahu Miss World 2013 akan diselenggarakan di Bali semenjak awal tahun ini, dan dengan berasumsi kalau organisasi massa ini punya banyak koneksi etc rasanya tidak mungkin kalau mereka baru tahu mendekati hari H. What's stopping you boy? Kenapa ga dari awal didemo saat baru ditetapkan jadi bisa diubah dengan gampang? Kok kaya cuma manfaatin momen aja biar "keliatan"? Bukan cuma momen sih yang dimanfaatin, tapi juga orang-orang yang bener-bener percaya mereka berjuang demi apa yang mereka percayai. Kalau memang bisa jalan damai kenapa harus pakai kekerasan sih, ini cuma akan ngasi cap jelek ke Islam secara keseluruhan. Di Amerika sini kental sekali paranoia terhadap Islam, dan banyak orang Islam yang jadi sasaran diskriminasi etc. Kenapa ga berusaha mengajarkan indahnya dan damainya Islam, yang mungkin bukan hanya membuat orang yang awalnya antipati jadi mengerti tapi juga bahkan bisa bikin mereka tertarik mendalami Islam. Tolong sadari kalau koar-koar anda di Indonesia bisa bikin hidup saudara anda di negara lain susah. Dan jangan nyalahin yang mendiskriminasikan saudara anda ya, siapa juga takut dan parno jadinya kalau anda bawa-bawa nama agama dan menyatakan "perang!" "siap bertempur!" "kepung!" seperti anjing pemburu yang haus darah.

Sembahyang Hindu-Bali di Pantai California #DaruratModeOn

Utopia atau tanah impian saya adalah tempat dimana saya bisa bebas menjalankan ibadah saya, dimana tanah leluhur saya dihargai kedaulatannya, dimana rekan-rekan senegara saya (termasuk yang beragama muslim) bisa bebas menjalankan ibadah dan kepercayaannya. Tapi ini lebih dari sekedar impian, di Indonesia ini juga hak saya selaku warga negara Indonesia. Kalau anda masih berpendapat kalau suara anda selaku mayoritas harus didengar (dan saya ragu, karena banyak yang mengaku "mayoritas" padahal berjalan sendiri alias sepi dukungan), tolong bayangkan apa yang terjadi bila hanya ada Islam di Indonesia dan WNI non Islam ditendang keluar dari bumi Nusantara. Bayangkan bila Bali dan Papua dan Nusa Tenggara serta Ambon dan daerah lain yang memiliki komunitas non-muslim yang tinggi terpisah dari Indonesia. Sanggupkah NKRI berdiri dan berjalan sebagaimana mestinya? Tanpa putra-putri bangsanya dari berbagai daerah dan suku dan agama untuk menggerakkannya? Tanpa pusat turisnya (Bali) dan pusat mineralnya (Papua) dan daerah menakjubkan lainnya?

Sangatlah mudah untuk melupakan apa yang sudah leluhur dan pahlawan dan bapak pendiri bangsa kita sudah lakukan untuk kita, tapi bukan berarti kita bisa begitu saja menmbuang sejarah kita. Menghargai hak-hak warga negara Indonesia adalah cara kita menghargai sejarah dan pendahulu kita, menghargai "kemerdekaan" yang mereka perjuangkan sampai tumpah darah penghabisan. Saya warga negara Indonesia. Anda warga negara Indonesia. Hargai saya sebagaimana saya menghargai anda.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Between "Humanity" and "Necessity"

Andrea Star Reese presented an interesting photo essay about mental health facilities in Indonesia. As much as it broke my heart to read it and be reminded of the severe lack of health facilities in Indonesia, it also reminded me of the opportunity I currently had to speak out and set the record straight. Like a proboscis monkey or a komodo dragon which represents Indonesia's fauna, you can comment on how ugly they look with their big hideous nose (monkey) or how primitive they are with deadly saliva dripping on their jaws (komodo), or you can know more about them and understand them a bit more to see the beauty within.

Andrea's pictures tells a lot about the living condition on the health mental institutes in Indonesia. What Andrea missed out is that these so-called mental institutes are privately owned even though sometimes they did receive help from Indonesian government. In US, think Planned Parenthood: it receives government fund to cover eligible patients but it is not a state-endorsed health institution. The official mental hospitals are available in some big cities. The numbers are not plentiful, but they were clean and well maintained and have nurses and doctors and medication. As for the medication, I would like you to reflect for a moment and think: what is your definition of poor? In Indonesia, medication is a luxury. When you had to choose between a meal (which you can scarcely afford and can barely satisfy your hunger) and medication to heal yourself and/or ease your symptoms, it's not even a choice. What's the use of being healthy if you died from hunger? The constant point of "no medications" given by Andrea was completely moot, because the people put in these mental institutes pictured in Andrea's essay are the poorest of the poor else they will be cared by their own family or receive a better care elsewhere.

Even though the "educated" or "civilized" readers might raise issue on how these mental institutes disregard human rights and  abusing their "patients", they were not. Mental illness had long been associated with negative stigma, whether it is a defect in the family or being possessed by the spirits. It was considered bad luck to be near "orang gila/crazy people" or have them in a family, let alone to care for them. These mental institutes have done their best to help the unfortunate souls, even though it might not live up to the normal health standards. Quack medical shaman is a dime a dozen in Indonesia, and sadly some did raking up and live luxuriously from their victims' money; however it is hard to believe that these mental institutes are in it for the money because there is no money there, mental issues are considered as a sin or plague and not something anyone would assist with. It's just not sexy enough to gain revenue. The thought of these people who tried to help their fellow human in need but being labeled as "Torturer" instead shuddered me. They deserve a better credit because they are in fact trying to help.

Sunset at the beach

It's easy to then point finger to Indonesian government for not providing better health care, both in man power or medications. But do you know how big Indonesia is? And how diverse it is? Indonesia is the largest country wholly on islands, and it is number 15 on the UN country size list. And when you read "Island", please stop imagining those cute islands of Bahamas or Fijis. Indonesia's islands rank no. 2, 3, 4, 6, 11, 13, in the list of island with the size of 39,000 - over 97,000 square miles. For comparison, Sumatra which landed on number 6 on the list (and wholly owned by Indonesia and does not share border with other country) has the size of 184,954 sq mi, bigger than California (USA's third biggest state) which has the size of 155,939 sq mi. And it was not all fun and game, long smooth highways and stops along the way; traveling within these islands often means going into the wilderness with no form of convenient transportation. It can take days or weeks to reach some part of the islands where some citizens reside. As a matter of fact, even Andrea's photo essay seemed to be taken exclusively in Java and Bali, the two most notable islands in Indonesia.

As noble as it sound to screamed: "The government need to take action!!!", one also need to understand the difficulty the geographical location  posed to the overall well-being of Indonesian citizen and governing this country. It was hard enough to register and provide ID card to all the citizen of Indonesia, even in the main island of Java, let alone to provide proper medical care. As for the doctors, I can't blame them for sticking in "the most modernized island of Indonesia", Java. Imagine spending at least 7 years of your life (often more) in the comfort of modern living in form of medical school in Java or universities in big well developed Indonesian cities, plus the thousands and thousands of dollar you spend to get the psychiatrist degree, only to find yourself in an area without any clean water and the nearest civilization is 4-5 days away which include various mode of land/air/water/combination of all three transportation (and a great deal of walking) and saps out your whole month's salary. You can do it if you are so inclined and felt "called" to help, but I won't judge you if you opt out.

A Balinese-Hindu on her coming-of-age ritual

It is also very easy, almost all too easy as a matter of fact, to point finger on the people of Indonesia and blaming them for their trust in Shaman or as this man write: Maybe if the world's largest Islamic country and its people stopped focusing on the Quran and more on science they country would be in a better place. Well for one thing Indonesia has the largest Muslim population but it is not an Islamic country, and it has so many different religion including branches of Christianity as well. And how does religion and love for God and/or higher being translate to be a lesser value than science? Science doesn't teach kindness or compassion. Science doesn't teach morality and dignity. Science doesn't recognize love and laughter (except on correlation on brain synapses and muscles include). People in Indonesia are happy with what they believe, so why interfere just because current civilization deemed it is not good enough? I strongly agree with better education and health system, but I disagree with any attempt to convert my fellow Indonesia towards the "right civilization", to change our way of living because it is "so not 21st century". We believe in our God and in our way of life, so let us be.

The bone-thin people shackled to their "bed", the distinct filth and the hard "bed", the inhumane living condition, the poverty and the horror, these are what most people see and perceive at first with Andrea's photo essay. I see instead the struggle of people to live by, the effort one made to ease the life of their socially rejected fellow human. There is more to the story. There is a "why" that leads these people to live their lives like that, and a "why" that leads the mental institutes to provide that kind of treatment. This too should be told, instead of only a haunting image of woman with blank stare and a padlock with chain around her ankle. Screaming "Human cruelty!" and "Savages" will not help, because it did not happen because we wanted it to be like that or rejecting proper medication and health care, it happen because we can't do much about it. Understand us, don't just judge us.

By the way Malmn: *their, not *they
Regards, a Balinese-Hindu woman from "Largest Islamic Country" who has a four-year undergraduate degree in Medicine

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