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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Food, Glorious Food

"We have been trapped here for so long. Thousands of us are sealed in a limbo, alive but not fully alive. It has been so long. It has been too long. If I had senses I would notice the disturbance in the air, I might have even notice that our time has come. Alas, even if I had senses I wouldn't know what's happening in my inactive condition. The splash of warm water wakes me up. Where are we? What happened? How long were we inactive? It doesn't matter though. We have been released from our captivity, we are fully awake, and our basic need trumps everything else. The food source is readily available, and we the survivors gobble it like a bunch of maniacs. God knows how long this food could last, but it will do us no harm to keep satiating ourselves. The need to reproduce comes next, and soon our group has become much larger, and it grew larger ever since. It is a bliss to be in that state, with food in abundance and the family in sight, with our genetic lines ensured and all is prosperous. Nothing last forever though. The heat comes like a thief in the night, and swiftly murder almost everyone. Some that survive tried their hardest to conquer it, and valiantly (and stubbornly) refuse to die over the heat. All to no avail. In the end, everyone is gone. And with this, I take my leave too...

Epilogue: [the sound of a little girl] "Mommy, is the bread ready yet?" "

I love food. I really, really love food. Of all the things that man creates, food is the true bridge between God, nature, and human. Not religion, not music or art, but food, glorious food. You might think I am weird, but think about it. Food producing requires full cooperation between nature (which is created by God) and human. Nature can produce food by itself, but it is up to human to nurture nature in order to get enough food for everyone. Not only that, human can also mixed different food together and using the natural resources (e.g. heat) that has been adapted to suit the purpose to create a new mashed-up food that is fulfilling both for body and soul. We can help nature to create food, and we can make it taste a whole lot better. What is better or more awesome than that?

True, human interference with nature has not always been good. The rise of the human population, for example, increase the need for basic food and therefore increasing areas designated for food producing or over exerting the current available food source. Yet this is not about the politic of food, this writing is about the miracle of food. I called it a miracle because there is no other way to describe it. Every living thing that we eat, be it vegetables, grains, meat, have life in them. Each has numerous living breathing cells that minded their own business until we made them into a part of our body by the act of eating them. Inside our body those cells and other chemical inside our food provided us with energy and also with more 'building blocks' such as minerals and vitamins to repair ourselves. This is what eating is all about. Even though the chemistry of food digestion can be taught, it still feels like a miracle to me that an unassuming living thing can power our body, and that we basically live from the life energy transferred from our previously-alive food. 

Food is also about satisfaction, and about art and delight as well. A bread is good, but a nice, fluffy tasty bread is a lot better. Even those who claimed they know nothing about art can easily express themselves with food. We often eat on impulses, chowing whatever things our body needed in that exact time. Sometimes we need salt, sometimes it's carbohydrate, sometimes it's water; we listened - often unconsciously - to our body. Yet there will be time where we want to simply feel good and feel comfortable about ourselves, and food is the easiest and surest way to achieve that. You can dressed up your food anyway you like it, there is never right or wrong in eating food. Some like things extra salty, some prefer extra spicy, some prefer bland food, all to his/her own. You are the master of your own food.

If those are not enough reasons to love food, there is also the fact that we can learn more about a certain area's geography and way of life just from their food. The kind of spices and produce that one use in traditional cooking tells us about the spice and produce locally grown in the said area. How it is cooked (or eaten) will tell us about their way of life and even clues about what can they do or cannot do in terms of cooking. Oven, for instance, is not really a popular thing in Bali. However, we are used in steaming or grilling things instead. I guess it have something to do with making quick meals (oven can take longer than steaming and grilling) and difficulty to maintain such hot temperature for a long time. In a way, it is easy enough to go "Around the World in 80 Dishes" to appreciate the big, vast world we live in. 

Yet after all said and done, we human are still guilty about how we treat our food. No, I am not talking about the mistreatment of nature or the inhumane act against animals as food source. I am talking about our wastefulness. Even though food is valuable for our body, even though food gives us satisfaction and connect us with nature and the world in general, we still manage to overlook them and casually just throwing it in the garbage. When you prepare your food or in the act of eating your food, please always remember to take (or prepare) only what you need. The same goes with buying produce. The goal is always, always try to have as little waste as possible. The more efficient you eat, the less stress you put in nature (and food producers) about creating enough food for everyone. And if that does not move you, remember that everything you eat at one point was a living thing too, even the harmless looking vegetables. They may not moo or oink like cows and pig, but grains and vegetables and other plant-based food are alive to at one point, and it is only natural that we appreciate them by not casually throwing them in the trash can over some little bruises or wilt. There are ways to convert your organic waste such as making them into compost or feed them to animals, but if those options are not viable for you you can always buy and eat only what you need. 

The hardest part for me is to remember to say thank you after every meal, or at least before I go to bed. There are times when I will feel the world is against me, or that I hate the world so much. During those time, all I need is some good food and the world will feel so much better instantly. As a matter of fact, food is what keeps life worth living. For that dear food, and also for the fact you've been keeping me alive all this years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saya dan Mister Bule

Dulu saya sampai sumpah-sumpah di hadapan teman-teman saya, ga akan pernah saya pacaran sama yang namanya bule, kecuali kalau Bule itu singkatan Bulu Lebat (ehem..!). Umur semakin menjelang pun saya tetap keukeuh untuk tidak mencari bule. Ga sudi, jawab saya pada teman-teman yang berbaik hati mencarikan pasangan, mending jomblo daripada sama bule. Lalu di umur saya yang ke 31 saya pindah ke Amerika agar bisa bersama si Akang bule tercinta. Waduh.

Waktu saya membaca cerita tentang Fani si Bule Hunter, saya jadi teringat cerita saya juga. Alasan saya tidak suka bule sama dengan alasan yang dikemukakan Fani: saya ga mau dianggap tampang babu karena bule biasanya suka tampang babu, saya ga mau sama orang yang songong karena biasanya bule suka nganggap rendah orang Indonesia, saya ga mau dianggap matre dan gampangan karena biasanya yang suka bule itu matre dan gampangan. Di sebuah pesta seorang kenalan saya dengan entengnya bilang ke saya, jangan mau bergaul dengan si Xx (yang mana adalah teman saya DAN penyelenggara pesta tersebut) karena dia nakal dan suka mengejar-ngejar bule. Bujug buneng, pikir saya, segitu antinya orang dengan 'bule hunter'. Nggak ada deh ceritanya saya mau sama bule.

Sewaktu saya bekerja di Bali (yang notabene isinya bule semua) pemikiran saya jadi berubah. Banyak juga bule yang pasangannya orang Indonesia yang cantik ala model. Biasanya semakin tinggi pendidikan dan status sosial si bule tersebut maka semakin tinggi juga ekspektasinya. Ga cukup cuma berpenampilan eksotis saja, sang wanita pun harus bisa 'nyambung' dan cerdas. Sebaliknya, bule kelas teri pun cuma bisa menggaet wanita yang kelas teri juga. Sama seperti hubungan pacaran biasa, sebenarnya. Kesongongan pun tergantung sama kelasnya si bule tersebut. Lagi-lagi yang berpendidikan akan cenderung lebih sopan daripada yang tidak, sama saja dengan abang mikrolet versus orang kantoran. Semua yang dituduhkan terhadap bule sebenarnya bisa dipakai untuk orang Indonesia juga, kita saja yang sibuk rasis sendiri.

Tapi saya tetap tidak mau sama bule. Di Asia [timur] kulit putih dianggap menarik karena dianggap simbol kemakmuran. Kalau anda memiliki kulit putih mulus, berarti anda cukup berada untuk tidak harus melakukan pekerjaan kasar seperti bertani. Di negara barat sebaliknya, kulit gelap dianggap menarik karena terlihat sehat. Itulah kenapa Tanning Salon laris manis di Amerika, terutama di kawasan pantainya. Saya pribadi penganut ke-macho-an tingkat tinggi. Cowok harus cowok, gitu lho. Pasangan ideal menurut saya adalah yang berkulit gelap dengan badan yang oke dan kemampuan bela diri/musik/kegiatan cowok lainnya. Saya tidak suka orang kulit putih yang terlihat seperti udang rebus saat terbakar matahari. Ga seksi bo'. Inilah kenapa saya juga tidak bisa lagi menjudge para bule hunter, bisa jadi beberapa dari mereka memang dasarnya hanya bisa tergugah atau terpesona dengan kulit putih dan penampakan fisik para bule ini, seperti halnya saya hanya bisa tergugah oleh pria-pria bertampang berandalan. Selera tidak bisa dipaksa toh? Lalu saya bertemu dengan si Akang, dan saya pun belajar kalau selera itu bisa dirubah.

Seperti cerita Fani, saya akhirnya mencoba peruntungan dengan bule karena frustasi dengan cowok Indonesia. Masuk grup pencarian jodoh di Facebook malah jadi sakit hati karena yang laris manis adalah cewek-cewek yang cute dan putih ala model atau anggota JKT48. Pasang foto profil yang normal dicuekin saat mencoba mengajak chatting atau mengirimkan friend request, tapi pasang foto profil yang agak berani malah diajak 'main' terus. Cari jodoh di kalangan keluarga juga begitu, lengkap dengan wanti-wanti: "Jangan banyak omong, jangan keliatan terlalu pintar, kurangi berat badan, pakai makeup yang rapi" dan seterusnya. Padahal dari segi skill professional saya rasa saya lebih baik dari kebanyakan orang, kenapa saya yang harus low profile biar dapat pasangan. Sakit hati kan. Sementara pekerjaan saya tidak memungkinkan saya untuk bertemu orang baru, karena job desc saya cuma diam di kantor membalas e-mail. Setelah sekian lama stress akhirnya saya pun mengiyakan saran teman untuk bergabung di online dating. Saya butuh teman ngobrol. Saya butuh teman yang bisa diajak tertawa dan berdiskusi tentang hal-hal yang menarik. Saat itu saya sudah ditipu setidaknya oleh 3 cowok Indonesia yang mengaku single padahal tidak, sudah diajak selingkuh setidaknya oleh 4 cowok lain, sudah dilabrak oleh setidaknya 2 pasangan yang marah (dan saya tidak tahu apa masalahnya), dan tidak terhitung banyaknya ajakan 'main'. Mending bule, batin saya, paling nggak bisa diajak ngobrol dan ga usah berharap. Saat itu saya sudah melepas harapan untuk bisa menikah dan punya suami, dan saya jelas tidak mau menikah dengan bule. Nothing to lose lah istilahnya. Mana saya tahu saya malah akhirnya dapat si Akang dan menjalani 'Hidup Bahagia Selamanya'.

Awalnya saya tengsin dan malu. Bener lho, saya sempat malu gimana gitu punya pacar bule, kesannya saya nggak laku banget sampai harus nyari bule. Tapi semakin lama saya bersama si Akang, semakin saya sadar: bule juga manusia. Katanya bule suka gatal dan hobi gonta-ganti pasangan kanan kiri, tapi banyak kenalan saya yang juga hobi perempuan. Katanya bule gombal dan ga bisa dipercaya, cowok Indonesia juga banyak yang model playboy kampung begitu. Katanya bule sok kaya padahal kere; tapi gimana ga sok kaya kalau biasanya $1 cuma dapat burger mini di Burger King di Indonesia bisa makan warteg lengkap, apalagi OKB di Indonesia kelakuan juga begitu. Intinya, apapun yang dituduhkan terhadap bule sebenarnya bisa dituduhkan juga terhadap orang Indonesia. Para bule hunter yang digadang-gadang ga punya harga diri pun sebenarnya demikian. Apa bedanya para bule hunter yang mengejar bule demi gaya hidup atau kemakmuran dengan wanita lain yang mengejar orang kaya lokal [juga] demi gaya hidup atau kemakmuran? Kelakuan sama, cuma obyeknya saja yang berbeda. Bukan hanya bule, orang Indonesia pun banyak yang mengaku-ngaku kaya padahal kere. Pertanyaannya, apa iya anda akan menikahi seseorang tanpa memeriksa terperinci ekonominya atau bahkan sekedar apa pekerjaannya? Saya malah kasihan sama bule itu, apalagi kalau memang bule itu benar-benar sayang tapi ternyata hanya diporotin. Kalau begini yang 'jahat' siapa? Lagi-lagi, dilema kematrean ini bisa terjadi pada pasangan non-bule sekalipun. Anda mau bilang seperti apapun, tidak ada hal berarti yang secara spesifik membedakan hubungan bule-Indonesia dengan hubungan Indonesia-Indonesia.

Walaupun begitu, saya cuma bisa geleng kepala melihat para bule hunter yang secara aktif bermanja pada para bule dan melihat rendah pada orang Indonesia. Saya pernah beberapa kali bertemu dengan orang-orang seperti ini, yang tiba-tiba jadi ramah setelah tahu pasangan saya bule juga. Rasanya saya pengen bilang, "Udahlah mbak-mbak, mereka juga cuma manusia kok. Bulenya mereka nggak bisa menular ke Mbak, dan kalaupun bisa ditularkan kebulean itu ngga lebih superior dari ke-Indonesia-an kita kok..." Saya bukannya anti diskriminasi terhadap orang Indonesia, saya anti diskriminasi terhadap manusia secara keseluruhan. Saya juga kadang suka pakai baju ala barat, summer dress yang unyu-unyu dan bikini misalnya (walau saya terlihat seperti paus terdampar), tapi nggak berarti saya lebih stylish daripada mbak-mbak yang main dipantai dengan busana lengkap (kaos dan celana pendek). Dan biar pasangan saya bule pun, nggak berarti saya jadi lebih keren daripada yang pasangannya orang Indonesia. Saya lebih keren karena si akang memang keren secara keseluruhan. [Sandal melayang]. 

In the end, bule juga (cuma) manusia; ada yang baik dan ada yang kupret. Seperti halnya dalam setiap hubungan, kalau anda memiliki niatan tulus untuk menjalin hubungan yang baik dan barokah maka niscaya hubungan anda pun bisa baik terlepas dari ras pasangan anda; sebaliknya, kalau niatan anda untuk numpang tenar dan hidup gratisan, jangan harap dapat pasangan yang baik dan menyayangi anda apa adanya. Fair is fair toh? Hidup di luar negeri pun tidak selalu seindah di film-film, sebagaimana saya ceritakan di seri Corat Coret dari Amerika. Kalau anda saat ini masih sibuk menggosipkan orang karena ia berpasangan dengan bule, atau sebaliknya kalau anda saat ini masih sibuk merancang strategi untuk mendapatkan pasangan bule demi perbaikan nasib, saran saya cuma satu: sudah, sudah. Anda tidak mau didiskriminasi/diperlakukan berbeda karena ras anda bukan? Jadi kenapa anda memperlakukan para bule ini berbeda? Happy Monday everyone :)

Update 2016: Pengen tahu akhir cerita saya? Baca disini (update 2017) dan disini (update 2016) ya... :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Good Morning Los Angeles

Good morning Los Angeles, I love you today.

For the first time ever I see a cloudy, chilly Los Angeles morning. It seems kinder and less menacing than the usual harsh sunny Los Angeles mornings. It makes me feel good and full of hope. I can do this. I know I can do this.

I like LA for all its worth. It is full of diversity and thriving with life. The downtown area is enchanting and fun, while our little neighborhood is full with families and children's laughter can be heard from the alleyway on sunny afternoons. It is far more alive than any other cities in US that I have ever been to, and so far, far more exciting. There are always new things to do, new museums to visit, new adventures to experienced; it is a place where taking home your pizza in whole is an adventure in itself. But I am so far from all of those. Even though we would roam the city now and then, I stayed home most of the time trying to write and get my life in order. Slowly but sure the loneliness is killing me, and as now I have give up full time writing and focus on trying to get a job instead. I have no friends here that I can talk with in daily basis, and I barely meet anyone except when I go out for an errand. The only way I can be a part of the community again is to join one, yet I am struggling to do so. A job would be an ideal gateway to the community, but I have been wallowing in despair instead. 

I have always seen myself as the dream maker, and I love it. I lured and wowed my clients, promising them a slice of heaven and delivering that promise to them. All of these were achieved with minimal tools/equipment, and with a carte blanche from my superior. I can do whatever I want to do to ensure the customer's satisfaction, so I did. It was creative, it was challenging, it was fun. Yet here in LA, I have yet to see any job vacancy that came even close to what I did back home. Everything seemed so dull and repetitive; and I can't imagine myself, after being so used with making dreams come true, to be another anonymous copying and faxing and filing, or making countless phone calls to 'leads' and tried to assigned them to a service they do not need. I can't help feeling in despair, that from being drive by chauffeur to fancy resorts and helping to make weddings worth thousands of dollars come true, I had to resort in being the small fish, or even tadpole, in the pond. Which I never did in the first place. I had the luck to somehow manage to land myself in good companies, ones that are considered 'better' than their competitors. I am the posh girl, or was.

It is ancient history, though. Here I am, not in Bali or Jakarta. Here my English skill is not my trump card anymore, as it has been since my professional years; here it is a hindrance. Where before I used my English to get my foot in the door and let my professional skills slid by as an afterthought, here I have to convince my future employers about my professional skills and hope they won't make too much fuss about my imperfect English. If I can sell a $1500 short-time photography package by emails only (and to people that live thousands of miles away), then I can 'sell' myself as effective as well. Even if I had to start from the bottom, I know I am smart enough to race myself to the top. I can do this. Isn't it amazing on how big of a difference the mood of the sky could make? I know I won't have such determination if I started the day with the heat of Los Angeles sun blasting through, yet this outcast weather showed me that the city is conquerable, that there is still hope.

I want to do more in this city. I want to be successful in this city, at least successful enough so I can do simple things that I like, such as eating ramen at Little Tokyo or visiting all of Los Angeles' museums. I want to have friends and feel how it is like to be a part of this community, this vibrant city. I want to feel home in this city. All of those require me to snap out from my despair and to conquer my fear, to courageously go where I have never gone before. I am scared, I am frightened, I want to go home. Yet this is my home, at least for now; and I refuse to let life and fear defeat me. I will stumble along the way, crying in despair: "No more, no more", but I will and I have to keep on moving. This is my life. I can make it work. I can do this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Debug Your Ignorance

After a lengthy hiatus I am forced to browse US news again in order to improve my rapidly declining English skill. I had stopped reading articles from US media outlets in the internet ever since my husband and I went to live in Indonesia last April, and at last I found peace in me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes there are interesting and informative things that you can read in the news. On our evening stroll my husband and I would take turn to tell highlights of our day, he usually talks about his work and I would tell him about interesting news in the internet. They are sources of great discussion and sometimes even great fun. Yet the majority of the news can be biased and ignorant, and even the ones that is pretty cool and unbiased can be easily tainted with the hateful and ignorant comments on the article.

Comments on this NBC News article, for example:
- Don't use such tragedy to make a case against gun control when it is not even your country.
- White people are not stupid to go to the land of people with colors. And as far as I'm concerned, white is also a color.
- Thailand is NOT predominantly Moslem, and even if it is there is no reason why it should be an issue. My husband and I stayed in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, and we are doing just fine.
- There is no such thing as hatred against westerners. Why bother killing if the tourists can be kept alive as cash cows?

Of all the things that these people could say, such as the need to be alert and respectful in somebody's land, all they can mouth about is their own ignorance. It's no wonder I stopped reading news altogether. Yet I needed the news channel to help me keep my English skill on track. As a non-native English speaker, I have to practice my English mainly through reading and listening to capture and copy the little details of English language. I know, grammatically, when to use 'she' instead of 'he' or when to use past participle instead of the present participle. I could easily score high points on written English test, but all of these knowledge is useless in day-to-day conversation. The only way to be proficient in English, or in any language in that matter, is to keep on practicing and using it. Therefore, I need all the up to date reading materials that I could find. Honestly, those news article wasn't so bad as long as I can skilfully choose which one that would benefit me instead of upsetting me, and as long as I can steer clear from the comments. Yes, it is the shameful voice of defeat.

Nevertheless, as I observe the beautiful vista of Los Angeles from our fourth story apartment I can't help feeling sorry for those ignorant people, and at the same time wonder why they could even be ignorant with such perk and access that America has to offer. Trolls of the Internet are everywhere, and I have seen them in Indonesian news channel as well. They radiate the same hatred and ignorance, the same cowardice mentality and mean predisposition. The difference is, I would expect more from people of America. Although internet literacy or even access might be limited to a lot of Americans as well, it is not as severe as in Indonesia where there isn't even enough road to connect one area to the other, let alone having internet access. The anti-discrimination policy is upheld strongly in America, and the fact that America consists mainly of immigrants made assimilation (should be) easier. The sheer size of America combined with the ease of access between and within the states also promises great diversity that one can easily observes and learn from. In Indonesia, there is no strong anti-discriminatory law, each tribe is indigenous from their own area and therefore more reluctant to accept new things, and there are little access to other areas of Indonesia except for the big cities which makes traveling expensive and reduce the chance of understanding other people from other part of Indonesia. With this kind of obstacles, ignorance is inevitable. America can do so much better.

Having said that, ignorance can also be a choice. It can be caused by the lack of understanding due to difficulties as I stated above, but it can also be a conscious decision made by a person because they wish to belief what they belief and choose not to belief on what other has to say. During the last presidential election in Indonesia I found a number of my Facebook friend re-posting and commenting on articles that were either unfounded or even blatant lie, yet they believe those false articles and took it to their heart. These people are educated people with Master Degree and high ranking employers of Indonesia's top firms and companies, mind you. Having access [to information] does not guarantee you to be less ignorant than those who have less or no access. Just like growing old versus maturity, it all comes down to what we choose to be. Shedding your ignorance is not really that hard to do, all you need is just a willingness to open your eyes and ears to see and listen to what other people's lives are like. Not knowing about other countries, for instance, does not always mean that one is ignorant; yet failure or refusal to understanding and accepting differences about other country [or people] is an example of ignorance. 

Why does it matter? It matters because ignorance narrowed down your mind, whereas acceptance broaden it. We always wanted to have a good life, and to a vast majority of people it means to keep ourselves either bodily healthy (medicine, organic food, healthy lifestyle) or bodily satiated (entertainment, expensive gadgets, luxurious lifestyle). Yet good life can also means living your life without fear or drama, and that can be easily achieve once we got a better understanding about other people, instead of busy hating or fearing them, or even dwell a little too comfortable in our own imagination about other people. You can live your life unobtrusively even if you are an ignorant, but you can also not be one and have a far better quality of life. Now, which one would you choose? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

To Listen. To Feel.

I've been following Humans Of New York's Facebook posts for a while, and I've learned a lot from this guy's work. I learn about faith, hope, and struggles. I learn that all human, wherever they are, are basically the same: all have emotions and happiness and sadness. Through his world tour I learn the damaging power of war and poverty, described so eloquently through photos and captions which was far better than any news reports I've read so far. I learn that you don't have to be a fully-educated or highly-trained to create masterpieces, sometimes you just need to open your heart and conduct your work with wholeheartedly. I learn that you can actually love what you do and I can feel his honesty and patience and passion throughout his work. Yet today I learn something new. I learn that sometimes you need to set yourself aside and let other people shine, that sometimes you need to listen instead of being listened to.

In all honesty (and to satiate the cynical part of me) there is a good chance that Brandon's modesty and elusiveness is more of occupational requirement and he might be this boisterous guy that made you really uncomfortable at parties. Let's face it, he can't exactly run around taking pictures of people and ask their stories when his face was all known, right? And the world definitely don't need another selfie-freak, we got the whole Instagram app for that. It is a good business decision to not include his self portrait in any of his work, and even the photo of him that I saw was taken by somebody else. This guy, for all we know, could be a deceiving unworthy piece of human that pretend and convince us that he is the good guy just like any celebs would do.

Yet people talk to him. People share their thoughts and stories with him. People love him and adore him. It won't happen if he choose not to listen.

When my husband and I had a fight or heated argument, the worst ones would be the ones where neither of us stopped to listen. I often would argue with myself internally, even as I was arguing with him, telling myself to stop and listen to what he has to say. It rarely works. When we argue I already have this solid idea in my head of what I believe, what should happen and how things should be, which of course is what initially sparked the arguments because he has the same sentiment too. It is also what happened between me and the company I've worked with before, where we parted ways because we can't reach an agreement on how things should work. It is, basically, what happened in any other kind of arguments that I or anyone else got ourselves into. We just don't listen.

One of the cores of Indonesia's system is called Musyawarah untuk Mufakat, or discussion to reach conclusion. Not surprisingly we use this method less and less, and in the eve of our 70th independence anniversary we have relied heavily on voting instead. It is too difficult and too time consuming to sit and try to talk everyone else into whatever you believe in, when you can exert your power (in number) and swiftly get what you want instead. Voting may be the best method when you are in a large number and time-pressed to reach an agreement, but do you really want to use it when there is only two of you (you and your spouse/kid/boss/etc)? Whenever you forced someone to acknowledge your point of view without him/her actually understanding and accepting it, it creates thorns of dissatisfaction and resentment that - when accumulated - became a time bomb. 

In our wedding vow, my husband and I promised each other that one of us will (and have to) have the coolness the say: “Stop. Let’s not continue for now”. This is easier said than done. A lot of time our fight wasn't even about the cause of the argument itself, it almost always quickly switched to a show of ego stubbornness and refusal to be defeated (i.e. accepting the other's opinion). Even as I hurled my thoughts and arguments towards him, I am vaguely (and sometimes fully) aware that I just don't want to give in. I don't want him to have the upper hand. I don't want him to get the best of me. And when I said him, it is actually more about anyone whom I ever had arguments with. Realizing the ego within us is a very good step towards understanding people, but it doesn't make it a lot easier. For me, my insecurities and prejudice towards my 'opponent' (be it my husband or the stubborn client at work) make it difficult for me to actually stop and listen to what they have to say. It is especially agonizing when I felt they didn't stop and listen to what I have to say. Both are good examples on how the show of ego surfaced and taking over the discussion. To be able to listen and understand what other have to say, and thus prevented a full-blown argument, requires a great deal of humbleness from me; which my pride will not allow.

Yet what is pride, anyway? And why do we think listening and understanding requires a chunk of our pride? Some say pride is bad, that it is one of the seven deadly sins. I think pride is a necessity to a degree, because in order to maintain our self confidence and dignity we need to be proud of ourselves. However, thinking that we lower and compromised our dignity by accepting what other people have to say is truly a misconception. The analogy would be like thinking that by being nice to people we are at their feet and somehow became their mat. If anything, understanding people's point of view would allow us to be a better and more accepting person, which is a great trait to have if you want to successfully live your life as smooth and as easy as possible. The knowledge about how other people think (and not just what you think they think) is also invaluable for both your professional and personal life. How many times have you sat gloomily and said loudly, "I don't know what the F he/she/they want!" If you listen, if we listen, we probably won't land in that situation as often as we did now. 

All said and done, it will still be difficult. As I wrote this article, I envisioned myself patiently listening to my husband if we ever got into an argument again, and now that I knew how important it is to listen I would actually listen to what he has to say instead of keep saying "I hear what you say, but here's the thing...", which was short for "I don't even want to listen to you because it is irrelevant, but here's my thought which is way more relevant than yours." Yet I knew insecurity and prejudice would take over, and I would be fighting for my own dominance during the argument. Or any argument with any other people. It is sad and disgusting at the same time, as it highlights my own pitiful emotion and how I am not 'big' or 'mature' enough. But I will keep on trying to listen. I should keep on trying to listen. Maturity is not earned by age only, it is an ongoing process that can only be achieved by actively trying to better myself. When I fail again (as I knew I would), I will have Brandon's work to remind me: sometimes it is better to listen. Each and everyone of us has a story to tell, a thought to share, a different perspective than our own; and we can only see that if we took the time and patience to listen, and then, to understand.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Thief and A Lesson in Travelling

My husband often expresses his dissappointment on not taking time to travel and see the world when he was still in his 20s. "Imagine lovebug," he said, "Imagine if I can learn and experience what I've learn now when I was younger. There will be so many things I could achieve and there will be so many foolishness I could prevent." To which I always replied, "All in good time, baby. All in good time."

There are so many travel quotes that stated you need to travel to understand life, to learn all about life, and to live the life itself. There is a catch though, one that is seldom mentioned in those quotes: you need to be ready for it. Unfortunately, not many people realize this. People read travel articles, save up some money, and just 'travel away'. But what defines travelling? Is it the distance, or is it just a different area outside your comfort zone? Why do we travel anyway, to see the world and learn about life or to simply say 'I've been there, done that' and have scar tissue (and tons of photos) to show our achievement?

To me, travel is about acceptance; acceptance that no human is alike and that the world is chock full with differences, yet at the same time accepting that all human is the same and learning to see similarities while putting blind eyes on blatant differences like skin color and such. Just driving and exploring different districts in Los Angeles already constitute travel for me, with so many different cultures and lifestyle and human antics in each district. All you need is an open mind to see something new and interesting, and willingness to respect other people regardless of the differences while honoring them as equal.

When I first read Allan Quatermain's series, I was shocked to read how poorly Allan treated his African subordinates, and how low he thought of them in terms of education and civilization. Of course, the series was written in the 1800s, way before civil right movements exist. Yet this sentiment is apparently still alive and well. A western man apparently lost his dog in Bali and rant about it in Facebook. He believes that the dog was stolen in order to be killed for offerings by the Balinese, and then (rhetorically) questioned how brutal Balinese Hindu and Javanese Muslim that go at length to steal such obvious pet. Regardless on how many countries he may visited or how long he had stayed in Bali, this man is a prime example on how travel does not necessary change someone, nor will it teach you things. His friend that said it must hard for them, the educated, to see such barbarism is another good example where travelling will only be a waste to some people. Some of us apparently still living in the 1800s.

Allow me, as a Balinese, to explain. A thief first and foremost will always be a thief. It is a profession that has no boundary of race, religion, or anything. The only similarity on each theft is greed. By claiming the brutality of the local with certain race and religion on stealing his pet, the man forgets that all theft is profit oriented. I lost an engagement ring once during a US-Indonesia Fedex delivery, even though it was sent with a heartwarming letter inside. Does that mean all Indonesian have no heart because of the theft? Of course not, because the Indonesia Fedex manager went all the way to help me find it. We saw a crackhead drug user abusing a cashier and trying to get some money from her at Home Depot today. Does that mean all Americans are crackheads and abusives? No, because he does not represent all Americans, or even all people of Los Angeles. This shows that what we see during our travel (or even our life in that matter) depends on what we wanted to see or what we believe we will see. The man choose to believe the locals are that barbaric, and that is all he could see despite the fact that a thief is a thief and will have no discretion on what to steal as long as it can be turn into money.

The Balinese Hindu do kill animals for sacrifices, as well as a lot of other tribes and indigenous people around the world. Our 'barbaric' way connects us, the true people of the land, with the spirits of our land. This idea is difficult to understand for people who had been cut off from their own land for so many generations, due to the advancement of science (the-know-it-all) or the strict religion ("only *fill out a certain God's name here* will save us!"). My husband, who was charmed by the beauty and surrealness of Indonesia, keep reminding me that even though it was so fitting in Indonesia, my spirit stories and beliefs can easily make me labeled as weird or lunatic here. Yet the land continue to grow and live, all the tiny microbes and the soil and the plants and the animals, all the sun rays and rain drops and breezes of wind, they all live harmoniously with or without us human noticing it. This is what we, indigeneous people, believe. The animals are sacrificed not because we love to see blood, but because it is necessary to maintain the relationship with the land. The sacrificed animals will also have a chance to be reborn into something of a higher degree. What other option do they have? Roaming till they die of disease or malnutrition or got run over by vehicles?

You don't even have to understand it. You just have to accept it, accept that there are people with different belief than yours. The live sacrifices might seemed barbaric to some, but to us (or me, personally) what's barbaric is when you spend the same amount of money for a can of cat food instead of buying a can of tuna for a homeless man. What's barbaric is when a dog could have an organic all baked and super healthy treats while some kids have to make do with 99 cent trans-fat loaded microwaveable burrito. This examples are not to incite debates, but if you do want to debate it please remember that my view of barbarism is as valid as yours, and if you say mine is not valid then neither do yours. 

There are places and things here in US and even back home in Indonesia that I don't understand or feel like contrary to what I believe, but that doesn't give me a right to just barge in there and judge or even take action against these people. After all, I am not one of them and I might not know the details of their rituals, the meaning and symbolism of their belief. This caution, this respect, this willingness to (try to) understand are what differentiate us with the old world travelers, or even to the faux-traveler who was just in it for the show; and therefore, travel is not for everyone but it is greatly recommended if one can do it properly.

The road went on forever, and the moment you set your foot outside there will be no turning back. Are you ready to embrace life and the world and all the things in it? It might only be a short journey to a neighboring city, but what an adventure it would be if we can see things the way other people see them and realize what an amazingly big and beautiful world we live in! Drop all your pretense and prejudice, open your heart and soul, be excited. It is time to travel. Your adventure awaits!

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