Life, as you (will never) know it

“Really? You wanna move?” My English teacher replied. She seemed surprised with me.

“Yes, I do.”

“You never reconsider it back?”

“I’ll never change it. I’ve been certain that I want to pursue International Studies.”

I have been thinking about it for a very, very, very long time. It took almost 7 months to rack my brain regarding to the decision whether to move to Science Class – commonly conceived by parents as ‘headquarters of the geniuses or at least the not-so-bad buddies’ – or Social Class – of which majority of the students are conceived by majority of the teachers as ‘helpless’. That happens in my school (to make it more convincing, I’ll just write down the name of it), SMA Sutomo 1 Medan. I am not really sure about other schools, because so far, the truth is undeniable that majority of the parents (I hope that your parents are not primarily included, especially those in my hometown), still have tendencies to underestimate students from Social Class and regard them as ‘lethargic’ (that is: students from Social Class do not need to learn anymore about the complicating formula in Physics and Chemistry so there won’t be any additional tuitions about them, or the higgledy-piggledies about the trigonometric equations in Mathematics, but they do still learn Civics, Geography, Economy, History, Sociology, and whatsoever). That is not uncommon; there are frequent negative sentiments whenever parents or teachers hear about students from ‘Social Class’. Whether this sentiment is contagiously spread nationwide, I am not much clear about it.

Or am I just too sensitive?

In the past, I had a dream of becoming an architect. I don’t know where that will-o’-the-wisp came from, but as soon as I saw the pictures of the skyscrapers gleaming over the big cities on the postcards my grandmother and my auntie, I had that much interest on it. I aspired to design as many skyscrapers as I like. And until now, I still have that interest on it.

The problem is: I am not as much mastering well in mathematics as I think I could. The latest Semester examination in the long run proved that. I performed, perhaps, the worst, all the time. Out of 30 queries given from the paper, I did not have adequate time to answer the remaining 3 questions (all of these unanswered questions were about ‘three-dimensional structures’, the one that requires your imagination and a mess of architectural crinkum-crankums to comprehend it); when I tried to match all the answers I had written on another piece of paper with my friend (so far, only him and only him), there were slightly 14 differences between his and my answers. All right, that is my first reason.

Before that, I had also researched deeper about what fields of knowledge I am much more dominant in. I was firstly introduced to a local-made encyclopedia of countries in a Gramedia bookstore in 2004. All of a sudden, it seems that I had fallen in love with it. Not only for the first time, but the second time, as well. The book may have been dog-eared and severely torn, but I would not simply trash it away. I was nuts on the population, about the history, about the ethnic composition, about their ideologies and their forms of governments and percentage of religions represented by the populations, and a long list to go on. I can tell you, honestly, I prefer spelling the names of countries or capitals than all these obnoxious elements over the chemical table.

Almost nobody has a hint of what ‘ethnography’ is all about. A few have even never heard about that. But this is another field that I have a deep interest in. More or less there are thousands and thousands of ethnicities and communities scattered worldwide through diasporas, and it does really help me in understanding about the ‘true colors’ of the world.

I also fell in love with writing. Thanks to Microsoft Word (once again, I had no intention to promote the product and I am under nobody’s pressure to advertise it), typing really makes me look like a ‘grown-up’. Or there have been ‘writing genes’ deeply coded in my DNA composition? Okay, just let the curiosity kills the cat. My mother told me that she liked writing when she was in her early childhood years, but slowly vanished as she became more matured.

Despite the fact that I will be moving to Social Class next month, I have not completely lost in touch with Sciences. I like Sciences, but that does not imply that ‘I love sciences’. In harnessing knowledge, I don’t want to differentiate what it is and where it comes from. Whether it is about nuclear science, or chemistry (altogether with these obnoxious elements), or global economy, or ecology, or motivation, or countries, I am always open to devour all of them, as long as I am able to comprehend in my own sense.

This is what life has shown me for. When I was a small child, I had never had such dreams. I did more use to visualize myself as ‘having been a professional architect’, but now, I have completely given up that to pursue for another. As if life had many intersections, and we are the ones who sojourn them. One thing that I learn from life is it has its own mysterious ways to show us which path suits us the best. One who aspired to be a professional physicist instead became a professional businessman within an interval of 20 years. Or a graduate of Faculty of Physics in a world-class university ends up as a Buddhist monk. Or a Wall Street investment banker ends up as a dancer. Or a graduate of Engineering Faculty became one of the most respected bankers nationwide 50 years later. We may have set our certain goals for our lives in the future, but sometimes life has its own unusual formula.

Perhaps, in certain times, you began to feel bored of what you are right now doing. Not simply bored, but you may be totally unhappy in doing it. You are doing the daily accounting duties. You are being faced with the similar burdens whenever you are in business meetings. You spin your brain many times whenever someone shows you your company’s financial graphs. You see patients and you examine their bodies vividly. You take care of the business your parents had worked to grindstones to succeed. You give tuitions for your students everyday. You are filled in humdrums, and you do really aspire to do something different. Then just do it! Whenever life begins to knock your heart, and says, “Well, it seems that my excitement rate has diminshed.”, take any actions. Find some time to relax, at first. Do what you like. Write. Blog. Visit a new restaurant and review all the dishes you eat. Watch a movie and make a review of what you think about it. Spend more time with your beloved pet. Create some cupcakes. Picnic to a jungle. Learn organic farming. Learn a new language. Read more critically-acclaimed novels. Taste a new kind of music. Paint some pictures. Play with your beloved children. Get to know a local vendor around you. Browse a new, unique website (porn sites are not recommended). Get involved in charities. Play a guitar. Help someone arranges his or her messy room. Backpack to a country you have been wanting to visit the most. Learn diving. Know more about dinosaurs. Take a salsa course. Taste the wine. Learn to meditate. Make some noodles of your own, cook them, and let all your family eat your self-made dishes. Cook and stew vegetables. Play badminton. Watch inspiring videos on Internet. Write a story. Know more about types of fish. Volunteer yourself in a local NGO. Watch a theatre drama. Get to know more about English’s longest words. Learn to do belly-dancing. Take some pictures. Enroll in a photography class. Collect chocolate products. Collect stamps. Collect wine bottles. And still, a long list to go on (continue it yourself). Weekends are always the best moments to do things that increase ‘excitement rate’ in your life.

Also, you can afford to make use of hobbies as sources to provide increment for your income. As told by one of our country’s most respected real-estate moguls, Ciputra: entrepreneurship is about turning dirts and scraps into gold. You may have your book published as soon as you have completed it. Sell some paintings, earn a few bucks. Innovate your methods in playing guitar, make an album, and release it. Take some pictures, and set up a little gallery, or a photography studio. Or, here is a weird concept of mine: collect some chocolates, don’t trash the wrapping paper into the dustbin, but instead collect them, and build what you soi-disant as ‘chocolate museum’. Whenever you think you are happier with it than the job you previously held in, just resign. Start an entirely new life, learn to obey more on what your life desires, not on others’ expectations.

And now, I am no longer part of the Science Class. Let’s see 50 years later. Who knows I am going to be organic-farming specialist, who knows?

Names, and all the ‘unsurprising’ facts about the world

Previously, I have posted a note in Facebook about names and what they ‘actually’ are. Here are some more I actually have been intending to write for a long time, but unfortunately, situations and conditions at that time didn’t grant me to write about them as soon as possible (I was facing final exam at my school, so the number of my notes remained stationary for entirely a month). Knowledge is power, but wisdom is omnipower.

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BATAK

In this planet, there is actually not only one ethnic group named Batak, but two! For the other one (other than those in Indonesia, my homeland), you can find them in Philippines, exactly in northeastern side of Palawan Island (or Islands, anybody knows?) But there is a very huge difference between Batak in Indonesia and Batak in Philippines. In Indonesia, there are more or less 6.5 million people who can trace their ancestry to Batak roots, while in Philippines, the number is approximately merely 500. There is also a place in Bulgaria named Batak, notably notorious for the massacre happening in that place which claimed as many as 5000 lives, during Ottoman occupation of the country in 1876.

BESHBARMAK

A kind of popular dish in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in which horseflesh is eaten. It is usually eaten together with noodle and dumplings. Traditionally, certain parts are only eaten by certain people. While the elders eat the heads, the youngest get the ears’ parts and the bones of the legs and shoulders.

BIBI

In Indonesia, this word means ‘aunty’, or to a lesser extent, ‘washerwoman’. In Israel, this is the nickname of the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. So, I expect nobody would re-write bibi as ‘Aunty Netanyahu’.

CAPE MALAYS

This is the name of an ethnic group who have been inhabiting Cape Town, South Africa, for almost 4 centuries. But it seems that there is an error in naming the ethnic group, mainly because most of the ancestors did not originate from Malaysia, but more precisely, from areas surrounding Makassar, South Sulawesi. Besides, the majority of them were more of Buginese (the adjective form of Bugis), rather than Malay, ancestry. However, they do no longer speak Indonesian or Malay.

CONTEST TO KILL 100 PEOPLE USING A SWORD

Subsequently after The Fall of Nanking in December 1937, Japanese troops began en masse massacre against Chinese civilians and troops. Chinese historians even believed that as many as 350,000 Chinese civilians might have died within a month or two after the conquest of the city. One of the most shocking, and inhuman, cases was a ‘beheading competition’ between two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda. As told by several journalists, Mukai decapitated 106 Chinese, and Noda, 105. In 1946, both of them were executed by Chinese court, in front of crowds of men and women who suffered during Japanese colonial rule.

DUPING

No country has been as screwy as North Korea. The government restricts the people from getting access to Internet. There are no transmission towers. People there are even not allowed to communicate to each other with telephones, except by writing letters! Most of the people there even consider Kim Il-sung as God, and Kim Jong-il as son of God. The country receives less than 1000 foreign tourists every year, and the tourists visiting there are not allowed to take pictures as they like, unless under the observation of government agents who have been hired to guide the tourists. Magazines are not allowed as well. But, one thing for sure is, the nuclear weapon program is truly impressive, amidst the fact that 2.5 million people died in the country during the massive famine in 1990s!

EYAK

It is one of many, many, many, and many languages which are going to be, and sadly, already extinct. Based in Alaska, it has only one, and simply, the only one, user, Marie Smith Jones, and worse, she has passed away in 2008. She was also known as the last full-blooded Eyak. Now, it is used as symbol of language extinction which is taking place worldwide, with some estimate the number of languages may decrease one digit from 7000 in 2000 to merely 700 in 2100.

FICUS RELIGIOSA

Latin name for ‘sacred fig’, the tree in which Siddharta Gautama attained enlightenment and became Buddha since then. One unique aspect of the tree is it perpetually releases oxygen, day in and day out, year in and year out. Besides, the tree can be used as a traditional medicine which can heal up to 50 diseases, including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, sexual disorders, etc.

HAMBURGER

Other than Zimbabwe, it seems ‘too’ easy to purchase hamburgers. You just need to take a few notes, wait a few minutes, take back hamburgers, come back home safely, and devour them as many as you want. Nonetheless, whenever you visit the inflation-ridden country, you need to be mentally prepared. In 2008, one hamburger was valued at 15 million Zimbabwe dollars, due to the inflation rate that has soared up to 250.000% at that time!

JIHAD

Global media needs to re-define what ‘jihad’ actually means. It is, genuinely, not defined as an ‘effort to annihilate America and Israel’, but rather as ‘effort to conquer oneself, stupidity, and evil desire’, as written in Hadits Jihad Al-Nafs. Blame Osama for all the slip-ups he had made.

KALPA

Approximately two and a half millennia before the scientists introduced the ‘Big Bang’ theory, Hindu and Buddhist cosmology have introduced the concept about the birth and death of the universe, but they instead used ‘kalpa’ as a form of time measurement to estimate how long our universe would last. There are many different kinds of kalpa, and one of them is known to be equivalent to 139,600,000 years. The longest? 311,040,000,000,000 years.

MICKEY MOUSE

Everybody (if not, 99% is tolerable) loves Mickey Mouse, especially the kids and the toddlers. Everybody must have been familiar with all the Disney characters you all may see in Disneylands worldwide. However, it is much better to mention Mickey Mouse as ‘notorious’, notably in Palestine. The al-Aqsa television, which is owned by Hamas, makes use of Mickey Mouse in a children’s show in order to teach the children to resist against United States and Israel.

SALIM

Salim is actually an Arabian surname meaning ‘safe’. It is also an Indonesian surname for families whose Mandarin surname is ‘Lin’ (for those who haven’t known why most of the Chinese need to adopt Indonesian names, here is the reason. It is the result of our ex-president Soeharto’s assimilation – and most of the time, discriminatory – policies in order to hinder any influences from Communist China at that time).

WEALTH

According to reports from Credit Suisse, Indonesia experienced the highest growth of financial assets compared to all the other countries worldwide. It was estimated that the total wealth of Indonesians increased drastically from 360 billion US$ in 2000 to 1.8 trillion US$ as of 2010, and is expected to soar until 3.3 trillion US$ as of 2015, exactly one year after our current President, SBY, steps down from his presidency.

TRANSPORTATION

Throughout 2010, in Jakarta, the number of vehicles grow by 8%. At the same time, the length of roads only grow by 0.01%. Which is why it is of no surprise for most of the Jakartans to wake up as early as 4 or 5 am in order to prepare themselves before going out for work or to schools.

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One thing we can’t avoid both in life and death is cubes and cuboids

Note: I would like to thank Mr.Nassim Nicholas Taleb for one of his most inspiring quotes about the ‘Euclidean’ matter in his latest book, The Bed of Procrustes.

This is just a modified version of his quote, and perhaps that might be correct.

From life to death, we have been, absolutely, inseparable with the presence of these Euclidean boxes. From the first day we were born in mother-and-child hospitals after tautening moments our mothers placed their lives at stake so that we could get out of their bellies, we had been introduced into boxes.

Incubators. The first thing in the Pantagruel-esque world we had been introduced with. You can use that picture to imagine how they look like.

Time passes. We were let out of the incubators. We felt the warmth, with the loving embraces our mothers did to. And we had the experience of sipping through the breast milk that we sipped through our mothers’ nipples. We sucked the milk, deep into our mouths, minds still vacant, still uncomprehensive on things going on around the world.

Then we got out of the hospitals. That’s the world you see. Perhaps a vast green park with crowds occupying, where little toddlers spend time with their parents, elders take seats on the benches, teenagers falling in love on nearby oak trees, or those whose homes had just been recently confiscated by the bad-credit banks who had no place to live but the greenish carpet that surrounds the cities away. Your eyes began to see the world further, after waiting for 9 months deep in your mom’s belly, and a week in hospital. You see the sun, or see the clouds wailing, raining cats and dogs. You had that dream (perhaps that’s the thing we had all forgotten), that you want to see the whole world. You want to get here and get there, but then your Dad might perhaps say like this, “Time to get to the car!”

You’ve entered another ‘box’. Not a box really, at least if it were not Suzuki APV Arena. One day, you will call it – a ‘car’.

Throughout the journey, perhaps you began to see the world much further. Perhaps you see a city covered in skyscrapers, or addle-pated buildings randomly organized, where skyscrapers were here and slums are there. Or snowy mountains. Or verdant mountains with trees releasing tons and tons of oxygen across the roads. Or perhaps a desert. It can be whatever. Then, the journey stops. You had to stay in a large box, where one day perhaps you would get punished for doing something wrong, or you had to face tons of burdens whenever you have to manage your siblings, or falling-outs between your mom and your dad, to a lesser extent. You could only dream a brief moment, then reality approaches you, and says, “This is not heaven, man!”

You call that large ‘box’ – perhaps or not with roofs – as homes. Whether it is a Versailles-style mansion where French monsieurs used to live in before the French Revolution took place and beheaded them one by one, or a Soviet-style, monotonous apartment, or even a slum with no roofs so that your home might float during floods, or a polkadot-colored house, the basic shape of these scaffoldings is still boxes.

Time passes. You had known lots of kinds of cubes and cuboids throughout your toddler period. You’ve already been introduced to bookshelves, with tons and tons of books neatly piled up. You were introduced to toys, you began to know alphabets, you watched television, you knew the oven, the microwave, the rooms, and everything. Almost 99% of all these items had cubes as the basic shape. Your world has been around cubes, and cuboids. Cubes, and cuboids.

You have grown up. You have your first school bag in your lifetime – whether you would remember it in your lifetime or not, that’s your business – and you’ve got the first day to the kindergarten. Another large ‘box’ in which you were ‘enlightened’ with theorems and theories – I’m not sure that most of the schools might emotionally enlighten the kids. You can’t depend on your family forever, so you have to socialize. You begin to recognize someone, teach him or her about the homework, or bully him, or persiflage him, or begin to spat out dirty words like crazy. This is one point almost all of us will experience, certainly. You begin to know that you need big cuboids teachers call as whiteboards or blackboards or slide projectors to assist you in ‘understanding’ the world deeper. Then, students are divided into boxes they call as ‘classes’. All the disconcerting theories, formula, and explanations, and all sorts of punishments, one day you would experience in those large big boxes’. Perhaps your ears are pinched by your teacher, or the entire students were shouted by your fierce, ill-tempered principal.

You dreamt much further. From boxes to boxes, you still can’t stop dreaming. You want to be an astronaut, you want to be a rock star, you want to be Luke Skywalker, and quadrillions of childhood dreams worldwide I can’t calculate in my lifetime, all are produced in these large ‘boxes’. You have the vision that you want to save the world, you have the vision that you want to win the world’s Science Olympiads and grab any Nobels, you have the ambition for your name cast in Hollywood’s Hall of Fame. Everybody competes, and fate just watches. Some win and some lose. Some become easily desperate, some stopped dreaming, but some resisted on giving up. All the processes take place in these large boxes. In boxes you call homes, perhaps your parents might have inhibited you from dreaming as high as possible. They may easily disparage you with this, “You can’t do that…”, “You think you can do it?”, “Stop building castle in Spain and get back to reality!” In boxes you call schools, perhaps some of the students might easily bully you, trigger you into doing something beyond your limits, maybe smoking, or sexting, or bullying weaker ones, or getting the women prostituted. The beautiful world you had envisioned since the first time you are here is sluggishly contaminated. You realize that you can’t reverse the time anymore. Perhaps you had done a little, single mistake. Perhaps you smoke, or you were engaged in a gang fight for the first time.

Or perhaps you had never been engaged in such delinquent deeds. You instead continue to pursue your dreams. You apply into a university. You may perhaps meet a fierce-faced professor, or the one who restlessly encourages you to be ‘better than him’. You then have to sit in another Pantagruel-esque box, with Brobdingnagian slide projectors, in which you refer to as auditoriums. You listen to his or her explanations, you take notes carefully, and you struggle for years and years in order to accomplish your dreams.

Perhaps you begin to reduce the scale of your dreams. Perhaps you want to be a mogul like Bill Gates. Or be better than Soros. Or be another Obama. Then, reality begins to approach you, in many ways, without having to spat one word. You realize that the college fees are so high, or the living standards have become much harder to adjust day by day. You perhaps begin to see your country invaded by recession. Dreamers like you suddenly end up unemployed, future blurred. You perhaps remember what your parents might have said, “Stop building castle in Spain…”. You keep on reducing the scale of your visions. Okay, it’s enough to work in that company. Got good bonuses, good bosses who would not lay you off, healthcare fees subsidized, your children can afford to study, go to university, and do the same thing like you do. Perhaps you begin to think like that.

Then, you graduate. You move from one big box you call ‘university’ to another box you call ‘company’. You are perhaps placed in a smaller box you call it ‘office’. You have to face the same boxes everyday you call ‘desktops, laptops, PCs, CPUs, or keyboards’, you have to face these document-replicating boxes you call ‘printers’, and you have to face your boss, perhaps, every time. You’ve got a good life. You begin to leave your childhood home. You begin to buy a new ‘box’, much more affordable than the former, and you live in it.

You still have these dreams. You want to contribute to societies, but you may perhaps fear of losing these boxes. You do not really like them, but you have no option. You wish you won’t work there for your lifetime, but you are still afraid. Then it is the time to find a girlfriend, or a boyfriend. You date one, you marry him or her, you make child with her in a comfortable bed in your own ‘box’ in a very star-sparkling night. Your wife is then pregnant, and she gives a birth to your child. Now you realize that you have spent almost 30 or 40 years of life, doing virtually nothing to accomplish your own dreams.

Then, your child comes to you, and demands that he or she have another ‘partner’. Okay, then, you tell your child. Again, another ‘star-sparkling-night-moment’ you have with your wife or your husband. In the same ‘box’ where you and your wife or your husband sleep every night. Time seems to have passed much faster, and you begin to see wrinkles slowly appearing throughout your face. You have seen your children go to the ‘box’ you name ‘school’, listening to the teachers explaining in the ‘boxes’ you call whiteboards or blackboards or slide projectors, then venture to other ‘boxes’ you call ‘universities’, and years later, move into ‘boxes’ you call as ‘companies’.

You get seduced by the same routines you have to face on the same boxes. Time seems to have passed too rapidly. You realize there have been so many wrinkles appearing in your face. You then resign from the ‘box’. There is still time left to accomplish your dreams, but you perhaps have forgotten all the grandiose visions. All you can do is just spend time in the ‘box’ you call ‘home’. You perhaps receive subsidies, you perhaps do things you still can afford to do, like taking care of your grandchildren, or spending the last moments in a nursing home, and you realize that death has come nearer to you.

Your time in the world has almost ended. You were hospitalized for a disease that strikes your weak body. You perhaps recalled the moments you have ever dreamt all the great visions in life you want to bring into reality, but you can’t reverse the time anymore. You perhaps might still remember the moments you were still a toddler. Or the day you were introduced into the world. But time still never goes back.

At last, you sigh your last breath. And now, you enter a new world, in a cuboid, you name as ‘coffin’.

And one thing we can’t avoid both in life and death is cubes and cuboids. There’s nothing we can afford to do to run away from them. Perhaps, you have the last sentence you want to say to everyone, that ‘we can move to better ‘boxes’ ‘, but it’s been all too late. You have forgotten about the true essence of happiness. And every single moment in life.

Always be wise with all the ‘boxes’. When time has come, perhaps it may be the time you have to pursue for ‘better boxes’. To prepare yourself, to see the real world in front of your eyes.