Friday, December 28, 2012

Anno Domini 2012

I began this year in Manila and found myself in Banggai when it will depart.

In between, I've returned to Kyoto, frequented Osaka, volunteered again in Ishinomaki before leaving Japan for Indonesia with fond memories.

I finally get to see some places of interest: my trip began with Cirebon, Jakarta, then Ujung genteng in Sukabumi with the high school gang. Malang was next on my list, and Batu and Sempu island was part of the package, with friends from ITB Astronomy to keep me company until I head off to Surabaya where Uphie, Rifan, and Satrio were to be crowned champion of ITS open.

In the meantime, Ninit introduced me to Andy, with whom I travel together from Surabaya to Bali (my first time snorkeling, in Amed), with a detour to Bromo (my first mountain hike as well) and Ijen (the hurried hike there knocked the wind out of me).

Andy and I parted ways in Bali, and thereafter I am much obliged to Naufal, who allowed me to crash in his place until Minerva arrived in Bali.

I took my first breath underwater in the following days and it was as marvelous as people say it would be. I have yet to use my diving license after Bali, though.

For we quickly fly out to Maumere, hired a taxi to Larantuka, and crossed the strait to Lewoleba to get to Lamalera. We were in time to see the Mass that open the whale hunting season but found out that there was little else to do but read and relax in the sleepy hamlet. No whales for us this time.

A couple days later we were back to Lewoleba to catch the ferry to Kupang, our starting point to travel to Timor Leste.

Dili has a both foreign and familiar atmosphere. A week's stay in Atauro Island is recommended, particularly if one wishes to avoid torturous crossing back to the mainland.

I loitered back in Kupang afterwards, plans to go back to Lamalera/visit Rote thwarted by unfriendly tidal waves. The harbourmaster decided to issue no permit for the ships to sail out.

I flew to Makassar instead, and made new friends in Bulukumba and Bira. You can't get much livelier traveling companions than Fresa, Listra, Edwin and Ninit, that's for sure. I am positively gloomy by comparison.

Days flew by and soon they had to return to work: we parted ways in Makassar. Unencumbered by any grown up responsibility then, I bought my first big Pelni ship ticket to take me to Bau-bau, where I spent a week doing little else than wishing the rain to stop until I was tired. It was time to get out, and so I went with a small boat to Wangi-wangi under the constant pounding of rain. It was to be another rainy week that left little opportunities to snorkel in peace. I was getting low on cash by then and if I were going to finally dive in Tomia I'd better have some.

But there was a surprise in my mailbox: Indonesia Mengajar invited me to an interview round and I figured I'd better prepare for it and flew back to Jogja before taking the train to Jakarta. That preparation was planned but I did very little by way of it in the end, of course. All I thought about was, I need to make a new travel plan.

That was how I ended up in Bandar Lampung, where Fresa lent me her tent to be brought to Kiluan Island. The pods of dolphin were shy and nowhere to be found but it was an enjoyable trip nonetheless. When I was back in Bandar Lampung to arrange my travel onward to Palembang, Fresa convinced me that I could do worse than getting a detour to Belitung. So Palembang, Tanjung Pandan, before I went back to Jakarta and made my way to Purwokerto before finally flying back to Sumatra: Banda Aceh was my starting point to start exploring Weh Island with Cindy.

I made my way southward afterwards and with little difficulty found myself in Medan, inside a crammed bus to Tuk-tuk on Samosir Island. I missed the Toba festival just by mere days, apparently. I flew from Medan to Singapore a couple days later and was feeling very thankful to Septian who put up with me when I was there until my departure back to Jakarta. I thought that my bout of traveling had reached a conclusion then, but Apu convinced me with little efforts to go to Karimun Jawa and who am I to refuse?

Semarang was an obvious place to stop by after Karimun Jawa before heading home. It's already close to Eid holiday after all. Holiday at home, then to Indonesia Mengajar's intensive training camp, which brought me and 51 others teachers-to-be to Kareumbi in Garut, Jatiluhur in Purwakarta, and Situ Lembang in Cimahi for a very educational two months.

Had anybody made a wager during the training's early days that two months will feel like a blink of an eye, he'd be filthy rich by now. At its conclusion, with tears everywhere I and 5 other Banggai-bound Pengajar Muda said our goodbyes and good lucks to our friends departing to Aceh Utara, Bengkalis, Tulang Bawang Barat, Majene, Paser, and Halmahera Selatan. Our plane to Luwuk was the first to depart from Soekarno-Hatta, and I'm fairly certain my harrying my five other friends to "Run, gottverdammt, run, we have only 15 minutes!" will be something I'll never live down with them.

Luwuk, then Bali (which doesn't refer to the Island of Gods but instead to Batui Lima, a colloquial name for UPT Batui 5, which stands for Unit Pemukiman Transmigrasi Batui 5), 400 m above sea level, populated by Balinese people with a significant Javanese population at the neighboring village. No sea in sight, of course. And here's where I'll be spending my new years for two years, until the early dawns of 2014.

This has been one hell of a year with extraordinary blessings, not least of all the places I got to see. But the best part is of course the acquaintances turns to friends and existing friendships affirmed. If this isn't life at its best, then I don't know what is.

Have a happy new year. Here's for a merry year ahead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Beliefs in Belitung

I may not share their beliefs, but damn if I didn't feel my heart* warmed at the sight of bustling construction of houses of worship across the Belitung island.

This is in contrast to my annoyance at the mosques construction I saw on my way to Kiluan Bay from Bandar Lampung.

Why so? In Lampung, the local people set up speed bumps near the construction sites across the road so the passing vehicles have no other options but to slow down and being guilt tripped to shell out some donation money to the women standing in the middle of the road, holding butterfly nets to receive the donation. But apparently soliciting donations from the drivers wasn't enough, because they also stationed a host of women holding the same net by the side of the road as well (i.e. the passenger side).

I'd be inclined to understand their religious fervor if only I didn't spot another existing mosque just a few paces away. The old mosque isn't located by the main road, but its signature roof dome was visible from inside the car all the same. So the obvious question is why would these people need another mosque? It's not like they are that densely populated.

More irksome still is the fact that they have all these solicitation resources to muster and they choose to build a redundancy rather than fixing the horrible, horrible road as a grand flipping-the-bird gesture to the government**?

Now, my trip to Belitung and Lampung was less than one week apart. So why the opposing sentiments?

It was for no reason other than the variety of the houses of worship being built. Of course there are mosques being built, but stretched across the 250 km I traversed during one day from Tanjung Pandan to Manggar and back I spied churches, kelenteng, and viharas being built too. Add that to the fact that I also passed what seems to be a Kampung Bali (in an aptly named Dusun Baliton) replete with small shrines in front of their houses and by the street.

Can we chalk Belitung up as a quintessential Indonesia? I mean, aside from the diversity in religion the island also hold abundant natural resources in the form of mineral deposits (tin, kaolin), agricultural activity (pepper, oil palm, coconut), excellent marine life, stretches of white sandy beaches. Although if you have it in your mind that Indonesia is a place of disaster they have it there too, evidenced by numerous sign informing that a lot of area in Belitung Timur are flood-prone area. Poverty and upward mobility? Andrea Hirata's Laskar Pelangi is drawn from the author's real-life experience growing up in Belitung Timur. And if your primary preconception of Indonesia is environmental destruction (Freeport in Papua, Newmont, third biggest greenhouse gas emitter), giant pools of abandoned tin mining pit are just a couple of hours away from the beautiful resorts where you'll be staying. Indonesia.

But let's talk something less depressing. I want to note that the kelentengs look very impressive. And it's not always about the size. Kelenteng Sijuk, for example, isn't big at all (it's as big as daruma-dera in Kyoto-- which isn't saying much--but note how uninformative my comparison is) yet it looks... lively nonetheless. The bright color red contrasted with the verdant green surrounding to give a vivid effect.

I know, it's not really me to sound particularly upbeat, isn't it? I guess I'm just clinging on the (possibly irrational) belief that people with differing beliefs can live together in the same island without resorting to intimidations and thuggery as seen in GKI Yasmin or HKBP fiasco or the Shiite community in Sampang. Or Alexander Aan's case.

Of course it is entirely possible that the obnoxious hard-line Muslims influence in Belitung is being held off by a much, much older existing culture. The Chinese people have been here since around the beginning of Anno Domini, trading. A little later some Mongol people also settled there when part of their naval armada needed repairs and supplies before launching offensive moves to Singosari Kingdom in Java***. I'm sure any new imported religion can't afford to be too impudent in places with established culture anyway.

At this point, one can only hope the island isn't a tinderbox in the making, one whose people possess a my-deity-is-better-than-yours egomaniac complex. Because I would very much like to believe in Belitung.

* a heart. Now quit sniggering.
** not that the government would get it, prolly it'd just mean that more money left over in the coffer to line the personal purses of the politicians.
*** as explained in a poster exhibited in Museum Tanjung Pandan.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Useless Traveling Tips: Palembang

Burial shrouds can be found along Jl. Letkol Iskandar. Handy if you know you'll be menyolatkan your traveling buddy. Be aware that they do not open 24/7.

While you may get tempted to get intoxicated in a bid to dull down frustration dealing with clueless Blue Bird taxi drivers, the stalls at Pasar Kuliner along the Musi River sells nothing of the sort. On the other hand, there are plenty of impotent half assed banners proscribing the use of drugs and narcotics everywhere. I wonder if the stock picture they use—a man wearing dress shirt and ties behind (not very visible) bars—might have had the adverse effect than what is intended. After all, having a job that requires you to wear ties is very plausibly a living most Indonesians aspire.

A possibly fun activity to do in Palembang is to get an exorcism set before going rounds to exorcise any establishment that displays a huge picture of a very pitiful old man ("Haji Abdul Razak") in front of their stores. Bonus point if you can elude capture from local police force afterwards, or failing that, convince them that you are a messiah/descendant of the haji himself/great prophet or that you have been foretold that the apocalypse is coming in three more minutes so your captors best to repent NOW! THE END IS NIGH FOR GOD'S SAKE!

If they do jail you (Sorry!) might as well network* in there and ask around if Palembang actually does have a night life. With all the warnings they give to tourist not to walk around during night time it's possible that Palembang might actually have the best-kept secret night life (or it might not).

A baptism with full immersion in Musi River is NOT recommended. Same goes with the fountain in front of the Masjid Agung.

The Balaputradewa Museum is the place to be if you wish to see a Yugioh card having the same standing with proper bank notes. Just go ahead to permanent exhibit hall number three and check out their exhibits of local currencies used during the Dutch and the Japanese occupation era. Upon seeing a Yugioh card nestled among old bank notes, marvel at how this is a definite proof that time-travel is possible. Sure, you can always use Occam's razor and blame it on the absent museum officers and bored adolescent visitors, but I think my time-traveler theory do hold some water.

Come at night time to Pasar Kuliner Sungai Musi to see how neatly they can shackle the unused chairs to the table when all the shops are closed.

As always, handing Town's Most Fragrant Vagrant of the Year award is a rather dangerous and unpleasant endeavor. But if you must, most of the unqualified nominees loiter around Jl. Jenderal Soedirman.

(I mean, honestly, my Palembang experience was fun and all but Cindy and I didn't really do anything novel: pempek, going to a wedding, es kacang, mi celor, martabak har. Bonus alliteration: Cindy beli Pempek Candy lewat pasar Cinde).

* it was with considerable difficulty that I succeed in plugging the term "touching base" for this sentence.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tohoku Part Deux: Kobuchihama dan Sudachi

Di Minggu terakhir saya di Jepang, saya dengan agak enggan datang ke pesta perpisahan Departemen Astronomi. Alasan kenapa saya enggan adalah karena saya harus bercerita tentang apa rencana saya selepas pulang dari Jepang. Karena saya tidak punya rencana (sampai sekarang sih), saya bingung juga kalau disuruh ngomong mau ngomong apa.

Tapi untungnya ternyata pestanya ngga semengerikan itu, saya memang harus ngomong (sambil bilang terima kasih sudah ditampung selama dua setengah tahun) tapi akhirnya biasa saja. Selepas pidato singkat itu Profesor Totani langsung melonggarkan pertanyaan, "Apa pengalaman yang paling berkesan selama kamu di Jepang?"

"Hore pertanyaan gampang!" pikir saya. "Ngga seperti biasanya yang susah-susah tiap dia tanya."

Saya pun menjawab kalau pengalaman paling berkesan saya itu jadi relawan di Tohoku selama musim panas, dan dari total dua minggu itu, tiga hari di Kinkazan dan sehari sebelumnya di Kobuchihama dan Sudachi adalah empat hari yang paling berkesan.

Setelah hari pertama di Tohoku bekerja di Onosaki, malamnya Rob bilang kalau dia esoknya menjemput John dari Kanada yang baru akan datang dan lalu bertolak ke Kobuchihama. Karena saya berharap bisa mengais sinyal untuk pocket WiFi saya di kota (di Funakoshi ngga dapat sinyal), saya pun bilang mau.

Paginya kami langsung pergi ke stasiun Ishinomaki dan lalu ke Kobuchihama, dan langsung diserahi impact drill: kami disuruh menyekrup balok-balok kayu menjadi bentuk kerangka prisma segitiga yang bakal digunakan untuk dasar panggung tempat melarung lentera kertas dalam rangka peringatan Obon. Yang ternyata susah saudara-saudara! Pertama saya kira tinggal posisikan sekrup, tempel impact drill, tekan pelatuk, sekrup masuk. Rupanya kalau tekanan pemegang drill ngga kuat sekrupnya jadi meleset ke mana-mana. Belum lagi balok kayunya harus ditahan di tempat biar ngga meleset. Setelah tiga kali mencoba dan tiga kali meleset, saya menyerahkan drillnya ke John sembari menatap nanar lengan saya yang kecil dan kurang tenaga.

Habis kerangka prisma jadi dalam sekali coba di tangan John (dan saya masih berasa malu-tapi-tetep-mau-sok-kalem-dan-sok-ga-peduli) kami lalu membantu tim relawan Peace Boat yang sudah ada di sana sejak pagi memulung tali-tali tambang budidaya kerang yang tersapu ke daratan dan saling terbelit dan terpilin dan terurai. Lumayan sih, saya jadi merasa sedikit lebih berguna.

Jam makan siang tentu saja kami dijamu Sasaki-San sampai rasanya hampir mati kekenyangan. Habis makan siang kami langsung menuju Sudachi, tempat Rob ada janji dengan warga lokal daerah itu yang ingin bantuan merehabilitasi rumahnya yang dindingnya rusak karena tsunami tapi kerangkanya masih kokoh.

Satu jam pertama kami bersosialisasi dulu dengan tim Peace Boat yang ada di Sudachi (mereka memang ada di mana-mana, Peace Boat ini), lalu mulai melepas sisa dry wall dan sekrup yang terpasang di sisi luar kerangka rumahnya. Kembali memegang drill, tapi jadi mulai tahu triknya kalau ngga punya lengan perkasa: pasang jari tangan kanan di pelatuk, lalu tekan bagian belakang dengan tangan kiri. Setelah sukses melepas lima sekrup berturut-turut, langkah berikutnya adalah menghapus nyengir puas dari muka karena bisa menaklukkan drill. Ora ilok kalau kata orang Jawa, masih di daerah bencana kok cengar-cengir.

Lalu kami lanjut masuk ke rumah dan menukar drill dengan palu dan linggis untuk mencatut paku-paku di kerangka rumah sebelah dalam. Memang harus secara manual dicabuti satu-satu jika kerangkanya mau dipakai ulang untuk memasang dinding partisi dan atap. Entah bagaimana, waktu melepas sisa dinding dan langit-langitnya yang rusak, para tukang yang menelanjangi dindingnya ngga sekalian mencabuti pakunya. Kerjaannya memang gampang, dan makin gampang kalau punya postur badan yang lumayan tinggi. Saya ngga tinggi-tinggi amat, tapi hanya beda beberapa senti dari John jadi ngga masalah juga.

Sekira sejam setengah setelah mulai bekerja, kami mendadak susah mencongkel paku karena kerangkanya bergerak. Plus ada juga suara lantai kayu di tingkat dua berderak-derak yang merusak konsent--oh gempa! Kami pun menghambur keluar (keuntungan rumah cuma kerangka saja tanpa dinding: gampang kabur) dan berkumpul bersama tim Peace Boat yang juga berhenti menyekop lumpur dari gorong-gorong sembari menunggu gempanya (yang ternyata lama juga dan kuat juga) reda.

Tapi begitu gempa reda ponsel semua orang berdering semua, dering notifikasi pesan teks peringatan dini tsunami. Kami pun langsung mengepak perkakas ke dalam van dan melaju menuju perbukitan terdekat.

Saya sembari berusaha keras buat ngga nyengir lagi, ora ilok ah! Tapi emang seru sih! Dari Sudachi kami mengekor bus Peace Boat yang dengan mantap mendaki jalan ke arah bukit.... dan terus maju menyusuri turunan kembali ke arah pesisir. Bertiga di dalam mobil, saya, Rob dan John berpandang-pandangan sebelum berkomentar, "Kok balik lagi sih?"

Tapi rupanya mereka terus jalan, dan kami kembali menyusul tanjakan... dan turun lagi di turunan. Dan begitu terus sampai sekitar setengah jam kami semua berhenti di pinggir jalan di sebuah bukit dan menunggu berita lebih lanjut dari radio.

Sekitar setengah jam menunggu, akhirnya kami mendengar kalau peringatan tsunami tadi dibatalkan. Tim Peace Boat memilih untuk tidak melanjutkan bekerja karena memang sudah jam setengah empat, tapi kami bertiga kembali ke tempat kerja, tanggung begitu euy.

Selesai pukul setengah enam sore, kami sekali lagi mengepak peralatan ke dalam van dan kembali ke Ishinomaki, sebelum akhirnya ke Funakoshi untuk bermalam.

Di jalan menuju Funakoshi, langit sudah gelap dan suasananya benar-benar pekat. Rumah-rumah rusak yang dikosongkan penghuninya yang di kala siang sekedar mengingatkan kesan mengenaskan, di kala petang berubah menjadi bayangan menyeramkan yang menghuni kegelapan. Suasananya benar-benar mencekam, apalagi ditambah paparan Rob yang bilang hal-hal semacam, "Gedung tiga lantai yang bakal kita lewati ini dulunya rumah sakit. Dari seluruh pasien, dokter, perawat ngga ada yang selamat. Mereka memang dapat peringatan dini, dan yang sehat semua naik ke atap, tapi tak dinyana gelombang yang datang lebih tinggi dari lantai tiga. Semua tersapu."

Saya baru bisa menarik nafas lega ketika bangunan SD Funakoshi nampak di tikungan. Makan malam!

Sembari makan, kami berbincang dengan yang hari itu bekerja di Onosaki. Ternyata ketika ada peringatan dini, sempat ada kebingungan, apakah mau mengepak barang dan pergi dengan mobil ke arah kota, atau berlindung di bukit. Sheila, yang mengalami tsunami di Thailand, bersikukuh kalau bukit akan lebih aman daripada menyetir segerombolan orang melewati daratan yang ketika tsunami pertama datang hilang diluluhlantakkan. Ada benarnya juga memang, karena dari Onosaki, Nagatsura, hingga Ogawa semua pemukiman yang ada tersapu tsunami. Mereka pun akhirnya naik ke bukit di balik Onosaki, dan menemukan kalau di atas bukit ada kuburan kuno. Saking kunonya, nisan yang ada tulisannya bukan kanji ataupun kana, tapi tulisan Sansekerta!

Berikutnya begitu saya bercerita kesan seram saya di jalan pulang, Heidi menimpali kalau dia bersyukur tidak ada yang hanyut dari gedung SD tempat kami bermalam ketika tsunami menerjang, karena dia agak "sensitif" pada yang supernatural seperti itu. Saya berkomentar kalau saya agak skeptis pada yang supernatural, dan memang selama 23 tahun saya belum pernah melihat penampakan atau hal-hal sejenisnya, tapi mau ngga mau kata-kata Heidi terngiang ketika turun ke toilet portabel di lantai dasar dari lantai tiga. Tanpa penerangan listrik. Gelap gulita. Di desa yang tidak ada penduduk lainnya. Sunyi senyap. Hanya ada suara basah gerimis yang jatuh ke tanah.

Baiklah. Pasang volume iPod di maksimal, ayo buru-buru kencingnya dan lari balik ke lantai tiga!

Kembali di lantai tiga, Rob menawarkan saya dan John untuk ikut dia ke Kinkazan esok harinya, yang berarti harus pergi lebih pagi dari yang lain. Karena saya memang bangun lebih pagi dari anak-anak Kyoto Gaidai, saya mengiyakan saja. Lumayan, bisa lihat pulau yang hanya dihuni monyet dan rusa.

Dan bebas dari harus bersembunyi di lantai tiga ketika malam tiba!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crossing to Dili and Lamaleran Lores

I saw Dili city lights on the southern horizon and it was the most beautifully hopeful thing I've ever set my eyes upon.

Because it meant that there would be an end in this torturous crossing from Atauro Island to Dili. It had been one hell of an hour, with two more hours to go and our boat rocking this way and that. For a moment there I thought somebody could have been trying to sell me a religion and I'd have bought three.

My stomach was churning and it took all the concentration I could muster not to think about the rising bile and oh I really should distract myself, aren't I?

The last time I almost felt this sick is probably on our second day of open water dive at Nusa Dua. The boat ride afterwards from Larantuka, Flores to Lewoleba in Lembata Island was very smooth. Flanked by Adonara Island in our left and Solor Island in our right, it was calm and very pleasant.

And the times in Lamalera, the traditional whale hunting village was very pleasant, too. So peaceful and quiet and somehow I missed an eventful afternoon where the wife our host was giving birth downstairs (and ostensibly made some noises--screams, even) and I missed all that. Serene and tranquil, I tell you.

Which was fine by me, as I'm not very keen on being involved with childbirth let alone witnessing one. I just wished I was there to see the father swinging the umbilical cord around. Very vigorously, if I were to believe the reports. They say children who didn't have their umbilical cord swung will be prone to seasickness later in life and when you're living in a subsistence fishing community, you wouldn't want that.

Probably this is the reason why I was feeling queasy at the moment. I'm pretty sure Mom just buried mine and did not have father swung it around.

But speaking back of Lamalera, and the Lembata Island in general is speaking of a treasure trove of stories. Incredible, amusing stories and legends passed from one generation to the next.

Which ranges from the usual superstitions about ghosts ("They're not really dead, you know," the very pregnant host told us the night before. "They continue on living among us, it's just that we can't see them," she added gravely) to the myth about whales and whale hunting ("Whales are indeed buffaloes who returned to the sea, and this is the reason why their meat tastes similar," and "One must be forever careful of what he says at sea, lest the sea metes punishment for one's callous remarks. You know, there was this fellow whom I was told get dragged down by a whale into the deep during the hunt, right after he made false swear...").

I being a devout member of the Reasonable tribe—humored her when she told this but remained skeptical.

The next night, however, after spending the day reading Stephen King's novella, I found I can appreciate the stories more. Them, and some new ones our host (the husband) told us when we were waiting for the 3 am truck convoy to Lewoleba.

He regaled us with local legends of why the people in the next village moved from neighboring small islands to Lembata Island. He said that there was this one island where a village used to be. And they have a big banyan tree in the center where a humongous eel lived. Naturally, this eel eats children and one day, the villagers said enough was enough, they wouldn't let more of their children fall prey to this eel again and so they decided to spear the eel. So brandishing spears, they came to the tree and begun spearing the eel. Writhing, water started pouring off its body and in no time at all the village had sunk to the sea.

At that point the villagers had to set out to another island. Now all that remains of their old island was the banyan tree that stays above water when the tide comes and that was it.

Stories like this reminds me of Melvin Burgess' blog, who travels to the heart of Africa and collected the folk stories they are passing on there. And the stories are—just like Lamaleran legends—magical.

Wouldn't that be interesting, traveling from one village to another and listening to their folk tales and sharing them with the rest of the world?

And yet, there's a part of me that wasn't completely content with that plan—for whoever is willing to undertake that. This part—perhaps rather too practically—asks, what for?

The answer that it's for posterity springs to mind, but again, what for? Even just by looking at our host' face I could see that he doesn't really believe in all that (his disjointed narration is also a giveaway). Surely if the newer generation of the local aren't convinced they won't even pass on their stories to their children? And if they eschew their own tradition, who are we to impose on them to extol the old tales? Won't they be a bit miffed, feeling like they are being forced to remain backward while the rest of the world gets on with the twilight of the gods?

Clearly simple posterity won't do. Another stock answer that we can provide is to use the tales to teach moral. Although what moral can be drawn from spearing a giant eel that sunk an island is anyone's guess. The same can be said to another Lembata legend which told the stories of another island turned inhabitable after it suffered a serious case of slug infestation. This, is after a dog was told to piss off by the then-occupants of the island (see that bit above on disjointed narration for explanation of the lack of details in this story).

But putting moral is almost a sure way spoiling a perfectly good story of wonder into something more narrow-minded. Granted, sometimes the folk tales themselves are pretty moralistic to begin with (some Arabian folk tales sprng to mind), but surely we can let the story stand on its own feet and let the listener be entertained.

In the end, if we are to preserve the stories, probably we should just do it for the sake of the stories themselves. And let the listeners draw the moral, if any, by themselves, too. And if there is no moral to be drawn, the joy of being enthralled by the tales should be able to justify their preservation effort anyway.

Right there and then, I wished I could while away the boat ride by finishing Stephen King's Four After Midnight. It was, of course, impossible enough to extract my Kindle from the inside of my backpack as the deck had too many people and it took all the space I dared occupy just to lay down my shoes, water bottle, and backpack and my own body. Plus, reading will only worsen the seasic—

Oh fuck I can't keep it down now oh god I'm going to puk—

Friday, April 27, 2012


I have been in Bali since a week ago and I think I begin to see why some people get charmed by Bali. And ending up spending the rest of their lives here.

For non-indonesians, the island is pretty foreigner-friendly. The locals know that they are sharing the island with visitors, a lot of people understand English, a relatively cheaper cost of living compared to first world countries, not having to be constantly harassed by endless "Hello Mister!"; this list can get quite long.

Though there are also some people whom you interact with who will leave you wishing you have the gift of always-ready witty reply.

Take a look at exhibit 1: a policeman in Nusa Dua. I was just getting off the boat after my first open water dive, and feeling that I had to pee really bad, I ran to where my instructor said there will be toilet. I saw the policeman there, and naturally ask him where the toilet is.

To which he replied, "Aslinya mana Mas?"

Which instantly qualified it to be one of the worst small talks ever. Incredulous, I asked him again where the toilet is and he responded with, "Di sana, tapi ngapain buru-buru sih Mas?"

Menurut Ngana? Dikira gw mau ngejar kereta apa ya?

It is no secret that I hold no great love for our police corps. This did not change it for the better, for my impression was that he was so unoccupied he can afford to make small talk to guests using the toilet (My using the toilet wasn't the end of it, mind you, for there were "Udah kerja, Mas? Ooo baru selesai kuliah? Kelahiran tahun berapa sih? Lah, delapan-delapan sih seumuran sama saya,")

But if this were a punishment I have to endure for disrupting the bottom reef environment, then I'll let it slide. I know that this somewhat uncharacteristic of me, doing karma accounting and all, but I really have to admit that I am quite the opposite of being the epitome of graceful movements*. Part of this is the fact that staying neutrally buoyant is a new thing for me, and this resulted in me sinking quite a lot and thus probably I touched more reefs than I am aware of. And disturbed the sandy bottom more times than I can count of. And scared the fishes and their food more often then I thought.

So every time I sunk, or felt bottom under my fins, or brushed something with my arms, I was silently screaming, "I'm sorry fishes! Reefs! I know I'm a bad guest! Sorry again! Agh, apologies!"

But my cheeks did get stung by jellyfishes upon exiting the water, though. Their retributions were instant.

And I see I can't boast cheeks smooth as a baby's bottom anymore**

* in other word, grusak-grusuk.
**Not that I ever could, but hey.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gosong di Genteng

Yes, Ujung Genteng was fun; yes, the beaches are pristine and yes, the newly hatched tortoises are mighty cute. And obviously there is a correlation between all the above points with the atrocity that is Bogor-Sukabumi road when you brave it using a public transportation.

I can rail at the cramped seats, the ngetem time that almost tempted Godot to show up, the ever present second hand smoke, but I'd rather raise a more interesting point here: can we morally justify chartering an angkot for our own private use in Ujung Genteng?

But first, a primer on the state of public transportation in Ujung Genteng.

There are no buses bound for Ujung Genteng from Bogor, and the furthest that we can go in that direction from Bogor is to Surade, a small kecamatan some 15 km away. All your travel guides and blogs in the wide Web will point out that to reach Ujung Genteng you'd need to transfer to a Surade-Ujung Genteng angkot. (and they'd say the last of these angkot will operate only until around 4 pm, but this last bit turns out to be inaccurate: we arrived at Surade at 5 pm and there were still a couple of them idling, waiting for passengers.)

So we hopped on one of them, noted that the back still bore the vestige of "Cisitu-Tg. Lega" route guide, and asked the driver to bring us to Amanda Ratu villa.

After opined on our inn of choice ("Terlalu mahal itu Dek,") he then offered his angkot for us to charter the day after. All the while listing the sights worth to see in the area. ("Jadi ya Dek, ada juga Curug yang satu lagi...")

Cindy saved his number, and later that night I called him again, saying we'd like to see tortoises laying eggs. We're using his service again the day after, and for the day after I rode shotgun.

And so I got to see how local people went up and tried to hail our angkot, and their disappointed* faces when our driver signaled back that his angkot wasn't operating normally.

So the immediate impression was, "Are we making the place worse with our visit? Can Ujung Genteng locals whine about us just like Bandung people do against the visiting Jakartans every. Single. Weekend?"

Well, probably yes. Our chartering the angkot means it's a bit harder for the local to get around when they have no means of transportation on their own. And the fleet of angkot is pretty small to begin with. Ujung Genteng people, sorry.

But then when we're talking public transportation in places like Ujung Genteng, they're not exactly public. I would be very surprised if Sukabumi government did anything that can be categorized as helpful in regard of public transportation. Unlike Kyoto with its Kyoto City Bus which fleet seems to be owned by the city government, I'd wager that the Surade angkots aren't much different with any ordinary private cars: they are privately owned by individuals who then decided that they'd turn them to a livelihood. The only difference probably is just the colour of their license plate, and I can only hope/guess that they pay less on their annual vehicle tax, as they'd fill in a void in a basic service government cannot provide.

The point I'm trying to make is that because they are private means, they do not have the explicit mandate to serve the local people first and foremost. If they consent to have their car used by the tourists for a day or two then so be it. And as the idea to charter the car was first proposed by the angkot driver himself, we can safely say that he not only consented to the idea: he assented to it. Figured the prospect of a handsome profit** for him did not hurt.

The last party to be considered here after the local people and the driver/owner is naturally the tourist themselves. But it's a moot point, really. Unless they (we) didn't see them(our)selves benefiting from the convenience of having a chartered car, they (us) would not have had hired him.

Only the people trying to live conscientiously will even bother to expound some 1000-odd words on this matter.

And the reason for this exposition is partly trying to judge this economic exchange in regard to Kant's categorical imperative. Will it be ok when everyone do the same thing? Quite probably not. It's not a problem when only one or two groups are chartering angkots, the locals will only have to wait a little longer, but they still get their transport anyway and the rest of the angkot driver might even see a modest increase of demand to the service they provide. Good for the tourist, good for the chartered angkot driver, good for the rest of the angkot driver, slightly more inconvenient for the locals.

If too many groups are chartering, however, then we'll have a problem: too few angkot serving that route, if any. Granted, this problem will be seasonal, and will be particularly troublesome on long weekends and holiday seasons. But even the locals still need to go around on those days. And those without private means of transportation will be deprived of an option.

Should we, at this point, call upon the government to, you know, govern? To draft a limitation?

This problem will certainly be nonexistent if every tourist who wishes to enjoy the natural beauty of Ujung Genteng brings her own vehicle. Only that this will create a different problem vis a vis congestions and resentment a la Bandung. And isn't chartering contributes more to local economy than bringing your own vehicle?

If I were to have the last word, I'd rather have the government build railways***. Might make it easier to transport the abundant natural resources from the region as well.

Though whether such proposition is economically feasible is of course a study for a different story.

* only slight exaggeration here. Some did seem to be mostly bored.
** these poor, poor gullible tourists. Bless their bleeding hearts.
*** obvious Japanese choice slant is obvious but hey, it's not without merit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


"Seperti kau percaya bahwa lupa kelak membebaskan kita."

Aku pun percaya bahwa lupa kelak membebaskan jiwa.

Meski aku sempat ragu, mungkin lebih baik memendam dendam di kalbu. Biar aku tak lupa, dan terhindar dari duka serupa untuk kesekian kalinya. Biar aku selalu ingat, betapa menyengat kata yang bisa terucap. Biar aku sadar, realita bisa mengoyak dan membuat imajinasi buyar.

Tapi rupanya hidup curiga bukan hidup bahagia. Tak bisa melihat yang terbaik dari teman yang ada. Pun dari kesempatan yang melintas.

Curiga terus-menerus itu melelahkan. Apalagi di kesendirian, tanpa tempat untuk menyandarkan punggung penat penuh beban.

Lebih mudah pasrah kepada berurainya waktu. Biar pelajaran darimu terganti tamsil dari cerita-cerita baru.

Yang lebih berwarna, hingga lupa kelak membebaskan jiwa.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tohoku Part Deux: Back to Onosaki

First times always leave indelible marks in your mind. Which is why after my first volunteering trip to Tohoku, I was eager to go back again.

Still, there's a nagging reservation in the back of my mind. I was aware that people comes and goes, and the dynamics changes constantly.

I knew there would be some people who have been there since early summer: Rob, Sheila, Quentin, but there would also be other people who had been staying while I was back in Kyoto.

Add that to the fact that my innate awkwardness was bound to get in the way, and that I had the right half of Sheila's boots in my possession. In my defense our boots were exactly identical save for the size: my soles are 2 cm longer than hers.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


What triggers attraction? What causes one to be besotted to another? What made you stop at your track and your heart skips a beat?

Was it her hair? Or was it his emerald eyes? Or the wagging tail?

If it was his eyes, would you react the same way if you see another identical pair of eyes in the face of a woman? If it was her hair, would it enchant you still when it crowns a man's head, instead of a woman*? If not, why? They were the same items after all.

The very same. save for the gender condition. But if it was ok as long as the appealing parts are attached to the correct type of desired genital equipments, isn't it a gross reductionism? From creatures of agency to mere sum of tumescent protuberance and orifices.

If you lost me, these objects are also referred to as penises and vaginas and breasts and anuses. Maybe still not quite your common parlance, but there's no need to go banal, is there?

Say you're also against objectifying man and women by this reductionist approach. And being romantic, you proposed to me than human are more than the sum of its parts. Stitched organs and limbs animated with electricity make not a man afterall. They only amount to one Frankenstein's monster.

But then it does not refute the gender requirement above. No matter how infectious a girl's personality is, she remains a girl and this fact probably would not entice other girls to propose an exclusive monogamous relationship with her. Rather, it often will spark seething hatred and jealousy, but that's a topic for another day.

The topic at hand is of course a product of a relatively-prosperous, cosmopolitan living. In 1670, I suppose it's just a matter of "Your daughter has bled, now when can I marry her?" and "We need an heir, find a woman already!"

Making babies. Screaming, crying babies. Poop machines.  

For reproductive purposes, or for grabbing wealth.

But wealth is often just a means. A trophy wife will spend that for food. Or bags and shoes and dresses. Let's also not forget the jewelries. And the often present relationship on the side with a younger one.

Which brings us back to the original question, what is the base of her attraction?

And we're just running in circles.
* Pardon the heteronormative construct.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Be angry

"First they came for the Ahmadis and the Shias,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't an Ahmadi or a Shia.
Then they came for the queers,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a queer.
Then they came for the members of GKI Yasmin,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Christian.
Then they came for the atheists,
and I didn't speak out because I'm a believer.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me." 
Niemöller, re-written.

I am not who you should be worried about. I am not who you should take offense from. Your God is not less great because I don't believe in him.

You don't think your God is any less great because one billion people are Catholics. You don't think your God is any less great because the Hindus worship Shiva Brahma and Vishnu. You don't think your God is any less great because the Japanese never bow to a distant Arab land.

So no, your God is not any less great even if I wrote a Facebook status that claims otherwise.

So chill.

But if you are so keen in winning back my worship, there is one thing you can do: be angry.

Be angry when a man is mobbed for voicing his thought. Be angry when the Ahmaddiyah and the Shia fear for their life. Be angry when the congregation of GKI Yasmin are forced to worship their God from the sidewalk.

Be righteously angry.

Because docility repels me.

Show me you can tolerate others with disagreeing view. Show me you are compassionate to the weak. Show me that you, as your prophet before you, are not legitimizing those who are forcing their minority view.

Much less shoving it down the throats of the helpless few, bullied and intimidated into conformance.

Then even if you don't have the answers to all my questions, I will hold you in renewed respect. Your lessons I will listen with open ears, with less prejudice than I would otherwise hold.

And perhaps that would even make your God looks upon you with pride.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The morbid gift and the religious leap

A thought popped in to my head.

So understandably, I groaned. Because I knew then I wouldn't get any sleep. I was trying to steal a nap before the next class, you see. To compensate my diminishing nighttime sleeping hours.

So I weighed it in, remembering that the only way to get rid of an earworm is to sing it through, to complete the whole song. And then I decided to just go ahead and follow the thought-thread.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Enumerating the Manila experience

4 years. The first time I went to WUDC, it was held in Thailand, as the world welcomed 2008. Last month was my second time going for Worlds, and it was also my second time going to the Philippines. I did not dare to entertain any hope that it would be more like the first time around.

9 kgs. Yet away I went, armed with 9 kgs of books, clothes, and a laptop securely packed in a backpack. Two other academic deadlines were weighing on my mind, a nagging burden impossible to shrug. That's the price you pay for wasting your time, I said morosely to myself.

7300 kms. Hong Kong Express whisked us off from Kansai International Airport on a clear Tuesday afternoon. Away to Hong Kong, then to Manila. Afloat until it's nigh on midnight.

9 days. And off with a grueling start. Eyelids heavy and shoulders burdened, it was not until 4 in the morning we gained access to our rooms. To be fair, the committee was more than helpful, being promptly providing additional bus from Ninoy to Sofitel, but the weary eyes can not appreciate a comment made in jest by the LO that four more hours of travel is necessary to get to the hotel.

5 socials. Squeezed in between days of debating, what makes Worlds different is its socials. Nonetheless, I skipped German night, and arrived well after opening cocktail was concluded. It's a shame, as rumor has it that it was a mean opening cocktail indeed! But the libation in other socials was aplenty, and break night aside, they served more beers than you could care of in all socials. It was fitting, really, as San Miguel corporation was the main sponsor of the event. An interesting aside: all the finger foods during the socials was halal. This was a far cry from that Australs.

9 rounds. At the end of the year, my team won eleven vps, two fewer than my Thailand record. And nowhere near enough to break either English-as-Foreign-Language nor English-as-Second-Language. Not that we're qualified to break EFL anyway, as I was classified ESL, following WUDC 2008 language assignment. I did apply to ESL--and not EFL, mind you, unlike some individuals who chose otherwise.

654 speaks. Not an impressive record by far, but I was surprised that even this meager result was actually a full 10 point improvement from Thailand. Good grief, just how crappy I was four years ago?

0 balut. I opted not to eat balut the first time I was in Manila, and fed the one the I bought to Uphie. This time, I was genuinely curious. But having not much time to venture and procure one that actually looks edible (i.e. the fried one that seems to be less messy than the normal one), no balut for me this time around as well. The catering did offer a lot of the boiled ones during Filipino night but given that everyone who tried eating that was made into spectacle, I refrain. Tirza's disdain surely also did not help made the delicacy more appealing.

6th pair of glasses. Three short years of wearing glasses, six glasses totaled in total. One was bent after a skiing trip. One left inside a train. One washed away to the sea. One snapped. One had the screws literally fell off. And this last one had the right side lens cracked after it fell from my knee. Me and glasses, not the best pal. With this track record, the very thought of contact scares me witless.

2 jars. Therein lies the highlight of the delights. Two jars of sambal terasi abc, made available by Tirza's infinite kindness. I mean, honestly, I could probably go to Manila for this reason alone and as it were I am indebted for life to her. The fact that I have indebted my life to various individuals who ease my sambal cravings throughout my two years here notwithstanding, this was priceless. Of course, both jars were promptly polished off within the four days between my returning home to Kyoto and the writing of this post. Spicy happy tummy.