God’s real name is not God…but we don’t have other better alternatives

When did humanity begin to have preconceptions of God? As I read from National Geographic a few months ago, some scientists argued that as soon as our ancestors began to learn farming subsistence 10 thousand years ago, the idea of belief in God began to fluorish (archaeologists summed up the conclusion that the first harvesting period began to give them inspiration that ‘miracle’ was working on the plants). Nevertheless, the others argued vice versa. They came out with another theory, suggesting that the plasma nutfah – the vocabulary biologists give to extraordinary plant seeds – these hunter-gatherers found in the grasslands instead had inspired themselves inspiration that something ‘larger than life’ is working out there, creating all these sorts of miracles. I am not sure which one is better, because either one may be correct.

Almost all religions in the world (truth be told, the number of religions in the world may vary from 4200 to more than 10.000) emphasize on the semipternal existence of God. But few tend to have tendencies to deny, particularly Buddhism. They instead propose of this idea: that the God all of us have been praising for centuries may not be the real eternal God we are used to believing in. But they do believe in Karma, the what-you-sow-so-shall-you-reap eternal law that has been ruling this universe, whose authority is only rivalled by that of God.

When I was still a small boy, I had no doubt that I had to believe in God, no matter how whether God is real or not. As time passed by, I began to develop my own theories about the supreme being. If God is omnipower, It must have been able to create a castle that is ‘larger than universe’. If God is omnipower, then God must have created something that is even larger than Itself, so large that God may look like a dust compared to the thing It creates. If God is omnibenevolent, won’t It forgive all the sins humanity has ever made in their lifetime? Won’t there be hell?

To be honest, I find it hard whether to believe in God or not. Even Buddha once emphasized through this quote, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own common sense.” So, who should we believe and rely on in this world? So far, only hypotheses are able to provide the answers. God may either be what that has existed, without beginning and without ending, or what we agree that seem to exist. What we conceive and what we see and what we believe in is merely the tip of an iceberg.

Instead, I do believe more in the hypothesis of God reflecting the universe Itself. I do believe more in the theory stating that the universe is a hollow state that will remain forever existent than the Big Bang theory in which cosmic-scale fabulosity started as soon as atoms began to split within trillionths of a second. Let us not debate whether which theories on existence of God and universe are the most correct ones; I never like to force anybody to either accept or follow my theory. Theories are merely about things that are according to our minds acceptable. The real problem is that we hold on to different principles on how we believe everything is taking place.

But I believe that no thing in this universe will ever last forever. From an atom to a galaxy, from something that is unseeable through our visible eyes until things that are beyond our current borders of knowledge, there is nothing that is infinite. Change is always taking place. Atoms collide and split. Ocean waves move in and out, back and forth. Continents split and reunited within a period of hundred million years. Apes evolved into human beings within 2 million years. Galaxies dissolve, stars explode, and planets are formed. Our hearts pump the blood, and cells carry on oxygen and carbon-dioxide every time. A baby grows up into a toddler, into a child, into a teenager, until he/she ages and passes away. Change is always permanent, and it always requires energy. As we used to learn in physics textbooks about energy conservation theory, it is always emphasized that energy is something that is both unmade and indestructible. So, the main question is: is God the energy? Given that logic, it might be correct.

Perhaps the largest of all the large problems humanity faces lies on how we have to make use of our own free will. Ever since every human is born into this planet, he or she has been given choices. But here comes the main problem: we often believe we have no limits. We often misuse it, and often at the expense of others. What I want to do may be unsuitable with what others expect me to do. And there comes out conflicts. To a larger scale, humanity had witnessed endless numbers of wars, battles, disputes, and conquests. There’s always upheaval almost every time. Why doesn’t God intervene? Even if It existed, perhaps It wants to emphasize something behind this: in the end, all of us have to reap what we have sowed. That in the end, everyone, including me and you, is equal. We get paid for what we have done.

It’s up to you whether you believe in God-like figures or not, but you may have to believe there is something larger than life that superintends all of us. Personally, I am not sure whether that ‘something larger than life’ is God or not, but I’m sure that we are being watched. On atomic level, we are all the same. We are all made of atoms which combine to form molecules and DNA and thus, seeds of life begin to form. The only thing that precedes all the problems in the world begins with us, and our free will. But this has always been the reality of the world, and it will always be.

The main question is this: is there God? There are questions whose answers are unknown unknown. It is not important to doubt and argue whether God exists or not, but the most important thing lies on how we’re all going to make use of our lives. When all of us are born into this planet, we are all still pure souls, like paper which has not been stained with even a single dot of ink. We are responsible for what we are going to do with our lives, and what we are going to do with this world, as well. Everything about God is just a matter of belief. Don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s more about ‘what’, less about ‘why’. That’s what I always believe in.

But then, at last, I will always tell my friends like this, “May God bless you always.”

What has been, has been, and what will be, will be.

Beauty in the minds of Mauritanian gentlemen (and the rest of the world)

Let us begin with this: activate your Internet modem, take a surf in any browsers, and type the keywords ‘Mauritanian women’. Nearly all the recommendations may have resulted in one correlation: they are fat. Imagine what if someone marries a potbellied, chubby-faced, and buxom lady. That used to be popular during the Middle Ages, where men – particularly the peasants – were commonly perceived as being thin, bony, and well-muscled. And there were their wives; big, fat, perhaps xanthippe-alike, doing the daily chores in the kitchen or mopping or cleaning the floors. And that is still pretty much popular in Mauritania.

It sounds hard to admit here, but to be honest, I am much more attracted to chubby-faced – and short – women. Sometimes, I myself find this notion incomprehensible. I thought of the factors that triggered me for a while. My mom is not that type; she’s instead the one who is used to giving the coldest shoulder on being fat. She frequently exercises on the treadmill, at the same time watching TV, every afternoon. But my mom is shorter than me. Then I saw my younger brother. He’s chubby-faced. He’s quite fat, and some of the clothes I am still wearing today in fact suit his first-grade-junior-high-school body. Perhaps both these combinations subconsciously influenced my mind.

One thing I like from the evaluation of beauty is there is no precise unit on how beautiful a woman should be. Beauty according to me is not assuredly beauty according to you, or beauty according to your friend. That implies societies are free to adjust their own standards of beauty. But sometimes – starting from this point – beauty has its own ugliness, if seen from the wider perspectives. Some societies take extreme measures to define by their own subconscious of what beauty is, and how it should be made.

One example has been shown by societies of Mauritania. In order to obtain recognition, husbands are responsible to feed their wives as much as they can afford, despite the fact that more than half its population still earn less than even one dollar a day, until they turn obese. It’s unusual to conceive a poverty-and-coup-ridden nation where wives are instead obese, but for Mauritanians, it turns out to be ‘no problem’ at all.

Standards of beauty were even more terrible in ancient China. As seen from the former, the women would still be able to have diet. Yet, in the latter, it’s permanently incurable. Women there must have suffered a lot, if I can say. To have feet bound is an uneasy thing to do. Their feet would have to be bound until there came up ‘lotus feet’, one of the men’s must-haves during that period. As I read in Wikipedia, one research showed that ‘at least 10% of all the women in China who had their feet bound died of infection’. Most of the men perceived women with bound feet to be ‘erotic’, as seen from their swaying walk. But the term only applied as long as the women had their feet covered with ‘lotus shoes’, otherwise the rotten odor would be unleashed from the folded parts of their feet which had ended up rotten by the gangrenes. It’s out of the senses, but as the society accepted that norm – for thousands of years, it’s even perilous to mention it ‘insane’.

The neck-ring culture was particularly popular among the women in Kayan tribe, Myanmar. They begin to wear the neck coils as early as they have reached two years of age in order to elongate their necks, and as time passes, the number of the neck coils increases. By doing so, the women are trying to have an impression of what beauty is defined in their own minds. Like the woman pictured above, she must have had more than 10 neck coils. For further medical implications, I quoted these sentences from Wikipedia:

The weight of the coils will eventually place sufficient pressure on the shoulder blade to cause it to deform and create an impression of a longer neck.

The custom of wearing neck rings is related to an ideal of beauty: an elongated neck. Neck rings push the collarbone and ribs down. The neck stretching is mostly illusory: the weight of the rings twists the collar bone and eventually the upper ribs at an angle 45 degrees lower than what is natural, causing the illusion of an elongated neck. The vertebrae do not elongate, though the space between them may increase as the intervertebral discs absorb liquid.

When the coils are removed, there is no health danger. The only concern is that the neck muscles are atrophied, and are understandably weaker than the rest of the body. However, there is no proven medical concern for the removal of the coils.”

All in a sudden (well, actually I’m not trying to be racist, but deep apologies whenever you feel inconvenient with my statement), this elderly woman reminded me of an ostrich. We all learn that the surrounding nature always plays a crucial role in shaping mankind’s mind patterns wherever they live, and my first hypothesis was that either ostriches or giraffes must have lived somewhere in Shan and Kayah State, the homeland of this ethnicity, that gave inspiration to the neck-lengthening idea. But my hypothesis in the end turned out to be null-and-void. Ostriches inhabit the barren, arid lands exactly south of Sahara, stretching from Mauritania to Somaliland, and several territories in Angola, Namibia, and Zambia. Giraffes themselves are scattered from Chad to South Africa. What a coincidence.

Note: it would have been so courteous of you not to call them ‘giraffe women’. It’s known to be derogatory.

When people know how to beautify, they must have also known how to uglify as well. Well, you maybe won’t find this word in any dictionaries, but at least you get the vivid point. Uglifying truly helps, indeed. There was a hypothesis by historians, mentioning that the climax where many women in Africa had their upper or lower lips pierced so that very large clay-made discs would fit in through the holes, was when slave trading was at its height. Thus, the very-ugly impression was made, and the slave traders must have considered their decisions more than twice whether they wanted to purchase these women or not. But slavery itself was not the only single factor that triggered many women to have their lips pierced; a matter of culture and habitude also played a vital role to sustain this tradition, even until now.

Take a visit to Ethiopia if you want. Pick up your world map, and find out where Omo River is situated. Most of the women with lip plates make a living here. It is widely believed among the tribes there that the larger the lip plates are, the more economically and socially climacteric they are. And more beautiful. What an obscurity.

Well, it might seem pornographic, but this picture was once published in National Geographic. Click the link here for more pictures: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/tattoos/photo9.html

In Cameroon, there’s another extreme habit known as breast ironing. It’s the process of making the breasts cease growing by the time the girls have begun to enter puberty. Elders used to, and are still used to, believing that the growth of breasts imply that women are ready for sex. They hold a strong, and strict, belief that women should attend education, avoid sex and early marriage. And they believe flattening the breasts is the solution, in order to preserve ‘the unspoilt beauty of their souls’.

Here is how it works. Tools, be they bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, or spatulas are heated over coals until they end up as ferociously scalding as an iron used to flatten the shirts and clothes, and afterwards, they are placed over the breasts. The elders would compress these as-hot-as-melting-iron tools over the breasts until the body tissue inside is permanently damaged.


We often consociate beauty with elegance and splendor, but in some parts of the world, beauty speaks an entirely different language. And sometimes, metaphorically speaking, defining beauty itself is like building an imaginary human zoo of your own, where you classify and differentiate beauty and ugliness by your own. But it is what your mind does. Indeed, we never know, there is someone out there, someone out there we know that we have never known before, have their very own ways to interpret it. Human civilization must have been marked with so many human zoos of their own.

Kafka (and the ghosts) on the shore

It took me almost three months to finish reading this novel.

As soon as I had finished reading the last page on the book, I had read 3 novels. The former was The Road. I bought that somewhere in 2009. The plot was not perplexing, but for some people, it might indeed be a kind of time-killing boredom. But what I adored from Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian tale was all the simplicity he used in interpreting the post-apocalyptic world. To be honest, I didn’t have any ideas on what and which kind of pandemonium that caused massive maelstrom, which did instantly wipe out the large fraction of the planet’s population, in no time. The setting and the background was kept at its minimal pace. But this was also the part where readers had to constantly expand their imagination independently, because one didn’t have to mention too much to provoke one’s imagination. The White Tiger was the latter one, and the most biting satire I had ever read so far. Almost all the words did indeed nibble; it entirely focused on the process from being a do-gooder into a savage, evil-minded, and corrupt soul. Balram Halwai was merely a microcosmic example of the reality in India, as Adiga wanted to interpret. The White Tiger was more of a reversed side of a happy-go-merry kind of business magazines we frequently see in any magazine stands in any bookstores.

And there was Kafka on the Shore.

Firstly, I borrowed this novel from my English tuition teacher, Miss Erica, somewhere in March 2011. Reading this novel was an uneasy task. I am very sure majority of the English teachers would not assign their students to read this novel and make a brief summary. Because it could not be summarized  briefly. Or more precisely, there are no exact summaries for this novel. How you want to define this novel depends entirely on your own. There is no exact ending to the story like the ending of the previous two novels. It all depends on the readers on how to create their own ending styles.

Kafka on the Shore, is generally conceived as a fantasy novel. But, to be honest, I did not think so. It might be more exact when it is re-classified as a surrealist novel. And I want to tell you something. It is extremely difficult for me to make a review for this story. Because almost everything written in the story is all in all notional and disordered. It involves more on a struggle between the may and may-not-be logics. And it is full of concepts and out-of-the-world experiences and out-of-the-science understanding, and much sex. But this is also where you need to unleash your imagination, where you have to ruin all the ring fences that block your imagination away. It is not too exact, also, to call this a ‘story’; this is more of an imagination-expanding moment, where everything seems so blurred to be differentiated whether this is a dreamworld or truly a world.

First, the tale brings us into a boy named Kafka Tamura. This is merely a pseudonym; the real name of this 15-year-old boy is never revealed until the end. He lives with his father, and his mother and his sister had abandoned them when he was still a toddler. He was a solitary boy, having few friends to talk to at school, and had uneasy relationship with his own father. Then he began an endeavor to search for his mother and his sister. He had nothing for preparation, merely a backpack used by explorers, some money, and some food to survive throughout the journey. Whether his sojourn had actually been arranged by the destiny, that remains blurred until now.

And the second tale introduces us into an old simpleton named Satoru Nakata. He used to be an excellent child, and his father was a professor. Because of the World War II, the whole family was evacuated to Shikoku. During the wartime, children and teachers were required to farm and seek for mushrooms in order to fulfil their daily needs. Then something absurd happened. There were more than a dozen of students who suddenly fell into the comatose state. There was no invasion by the fighter jets at that time. There were also no signs of chemical poisoning of the children. They just simply fainted, for unclear reasons. All of them in the long run woke up a few hours later, but Nakata himself remained unconscious for almost a month. He was then subjected to medical examination in a military hospital. When he woke up, Nakata was no longer the prior Nakata. His memory was already wiped clean, nothing entirely left there. As if there were an exchange of spirits throughout the period of unconsciousness. People thought he became an idiot, but indeed he did not develop any signs of Down’s syndrome. The problem was merely one: his soul became null-and-void, as if something had sucked his very own, very deeply.

Both Kafka and Nakata did not know each other, but their paths seemed to emerge. To which actual points the paths were emerging to, it was not really clear. What they had only to do was to ‘end the curse’. As I began to progress through one and another chapter, I found it no more useful to digest the story simply with robustness and rational points of view. We all are used to reading stories with precise beginning and precise ending as well, but Haruki Murakami, the one who authored this bizarre tale, had his own ways. Reading a story with a sturdy beginning and a sturdy ending as well would only restrict one’s size of imagination, according to him. Sometimes, honestly saying, it would seem insufficient to read the usual novels; you need books like Kafka on the Shore as a kind of treatment.

There were pretty much bizarre things as the story progressed. Nakata had a rare friendship with cats, and could communicate with them. Kafka met a young woman named Sakura in a bus. Kafka sympathized with a haemophiliac transvestite working in a private library named Oshima. Nakata’s search to a neighbor’s cat led to a fate-assigned rendezvous with a weird ‘concept’ named Johnnie Walkers, who told him he was making a kind of flute made of cats’ souls. Johnnie Walker took a favor in beheading cats, devouring their hearts, and froze their heads in a box. In the end, Nakata stabbed Johnnie Walker to death, at the same time something strange happened to Kafka. His shirt was stained in blood, but there were no wounds in his body. When Nakata woke up, he was somewhere in a city park, while the sun was already replaced by the shining moon, and no stains of blood in his golf clothes. He originally planned to surrender in a local police station, and predicted that fish would fall out from the sky, and that indeed happened. Nakata had to escape from Tokyo, and his decampment led him to a week-long encounter with Hoshino, a happy-go-merry, playful truck driver. Kafka received the news that his father, Koichi, had been stabbed to death. The ambiguities are: Johnnie Walker may be his father’s alter ego, or someone else, or perhaps just a kind of thing that takes shape in the embodiment of that British man.

More strange things happened. Kafka was accepted to work in the library, and sympathised with a middle-aged woman named Miss Saeki. In the end, they had sex together, and another one with Sakura, in the dreamworld. Beforehand, his father had foretold him, some kind of prophecy that he would in the end kill his father, and made love with his mother and his sister. This is another similarly bizarre conclusion: both Miss Saeki and Sakura may or may not be Kafka’s biological mother and sister. And what are Nakata’s roles anyway, then? Until a month after I finished reading this novel, the answer prevails blurred. But I know that he had the responsibility to open and close ‘an entrance stone’. What that object is actually, I do not have any further, and clearer ideas. But this was also where Kafka was given a chance to comprehend, at least, of what had been going on with himself.

And there came up another ‘concept’ who – or which – took shape in the form of Colonel Sanders. And this Colonel Sanders worked as a pimp. Who, what, and where this concept came from was never entirely revealed until the ending of the novel. He only wanted to mention himself as a ‘concept’, neither a God nor a Buddha. But he was here, in this world, to offer Nakata a solution, at least.

I understand it might be entirely confusing, and I also had that same feeling. But it was truly a novel, where reality, dreamworld, and imagination were merged as one invisible entity. I agreed with Murakami’s notion that ‘a story does not have to solely have an exact beginning and an exact ending’. You even do not have to entirely understand the story; you only have to venture it with your own imagination. This is comparable to the idea that ‘one would never understand what the world is’. We may attempt to straighten up our minds with rationalization, but in most cases, there are many things that we thought we know we have known them. The truth is always out there. In the end, the more we search in the quest to find out the truth, there come up more things we don’t know we don’t know. The world will forever remain a semipternal mystery.

Reflection on the blackouts

It happened last Friday, and it again happened on Saturday. I was doing out a ‘masterplan’; not a masterplan, really, just simply a great design of what we are going to do with SEALNet Medan Chapter 2011/2012 yesterday (because the mentors resolved that I be elected as the next President), when the power all in a sudden stopped flowing. I know that sucks. Everybody felt that. My parents, my friends, neighbors, and almost all the people. I opened up my Blackberry, saw their status updates in Blackberry Messenger, and some seemed were texting out squawking messages.

Blackout is not an uncommon phenomenon; it can take place anywhere, anywhere in all the countries around the world. In United States, particularly, in some territories, there are blackouts, but they scarcely happen; the most frequent repetitions are countable by fingers within a year. In Hong Kong, residents have been beforehand informed by local power authorities that blackouts might happen in which time, and the whereabouts. If they really occur without their beknownst, the residents have rights to file a lawsuit against the electric power company. The time length, as told by my aunty who lives there, would not last until more than 4 hours.

And Indonesia? Many villages are not even connected with electricity. Between 2005 and 2006, majority of the places nationwide was facing electricity crisis. I’ll give you one example. Just simply one, and I know you would have been angered by it were you there. In Medan, that is to say my hometown, there were 2 blackout sessions everyday, lasting for a few months. Every session lasted for 4 hours. Not for concisely 4 hours, as I could say; it is more exact if it is re-written like this: every session lasted for – in minimum – 4 hours. Sometimes, it could last more than 5 hours. In order to continue our daily activities, we needed generators. And the generators needed fuel, particularly, gasoline. That was also the time when oil prices never soared that high, from a mere 22-25 dollars a barrel, doing a salto into a dramatically high 67 dollars a hogshead. President SBY had just been positioned in not until a year, and he announced the upsurge of the fuel prices. Police were dispatched everywhere to anticipate any riots that might occur anytime, anywhere. People were already traumatized by the 1998 May riots, at the same time then-President Soeharto also announced the massive increment of fuel prices, while many subsidies for the lower-income were already cut off.

I recalled that time as depressive. It was a bit relief when the blackout ended, but it was still, a different sort of relief. You felt relieved, but at the same time you felt alerted, and worried. Imagine you needed to continually take a look at the clock, whether tonight you would have to sleep in torridity because of the blackout that made all of us could not turn on the fans or the air-cons, at the same time our attention was heralded by the menacing global warming. Global temperature was on the rise, and air-conditioners were the final answer to find a bit refrigeration. Nevertheless, whenever blackouts came out, you should be prepared to sleep sweatingly.

The outage schedule was not obvious, as well. Worse, you could call it ‘invalid’. I tried to search it many times in the official website of PLN. The schedule page turned out to be invalid, even written there as far as I could recall: data had already expired. Deep inside, almost everyone got mad. Businesses became lethargic, the electricity fees remained unchanged (and worse, some of the PLN guys in charge of counting the fees might take chance by manipulating the electric meters, therefore ‘inflated’ the amounts of electricity you used in one month). Almost every night I would have to hear the generators ‘singing’; the sound was highly buzzing, as if we were all oblivious to turn off the bulldozers.

Rumor has it that there were disputes between Pertamina (Indonesia’s state-owned oil & gas company) and PLN. Pertamina set the oil prices very high, and PLN could not afford to pay for the fuel. Many of the power plants ran up dry, at the same time much coal was instead exported to other countries. I can’t ensure whether this was correct or not, as I was merely a fifth-grade or sixth-grade student by the time I heard that.

The kind of generator my neighbor (perhaps) uses. It seems so similar, but I’m not sure whether it’s of the same product or not.

There were demonstrations against the increasing fuel prices, and there were other demonstrations against the frequent blackouts. PLN, which is the abbreviation of Perusahaan Listrik Negara (translated in English as State Electric Power Corporation), was satirically changed to this: Perusahaan Lilin Negara, which if translated in English, would be written like this: State Candle Corporation.

Consumers in Medan, as far as I could remember, then filed a lawsuit against the company at Medan high court, somewhere between 2005 and 2006, I had forgotten that. But the company won, instead. And the blackouts still continued. There was an anecdote, I could tell you: people, including my parents, always prayed that these emotion-draining bastards would not happen while everyone was deeply asleep. Sometimes their wishes were granted, and at the other times, ended up in vain.

My family could not afford to wear pyjamas whenever blackouts took place. Otherwise, we would end up bathing in sweats, with bodies stickingly adhered into the clothes. We did loathing very much. No matter how much we all condemned, things still remained unchanged. The blackouts still happened 2 times a day, 4 hours each session. It was painfully difficult to know when the electricity would come back; it was of no use to phone the PLN staff using the 123 and ask what time it ended. Sometimes they may simply answer, “Sorry, I don’t know.”, or more impertinently, they did pick up the phones, but they came out with no sounds, at all.

We wished for many times to move to other countries. Singapore? The living costs are too high. Even the most premium-class government-owned apartment, or the HDB flat, would cost more or less equivalent to 1.3 billion rupiah, something they could only afford to pay through monthly installments for decades and decades. United States? No way. My parents were not that fluent in English, especially given the fact that Bush administration at that time incessantly attempted to limit the number of immigrants (and tourists, altogether) from entering the country. Some estimated the number of illegal immigrants in that country might amount to more than 10 million. That was not inclusive of more than 200 million people worldwide who aspired to migrate into that country, and inclusive of me.

Almost everyday my father would have to buy a vat, all filled with oil. The monthly costs could be more than 1 million rupiah every month. That’s already more than enough for an average Indonesian child to pay for monthly school fees, to have additional extra tuitions, and et cetera.

We obtained much tedium by their promises. They pledged that the blackouts would have ended by this month, but instead it was prolonged further to another month. That was of no use to criticize or even condemn them; Indonesians must have been the most patient nation in the world. Everytime the demonstrators surrounded and occupied the main PLN offices, the functionaries would meet them and say, “Patience, please!”


A satirical logo of Perusahaan Lilin Negara

In some areas, the demonstrations ended up in anarchy. Masses ended up lawlessly, and they terminated every stuff that was there. The doors, the windows, the walls. Here, they set their flaming emotion, all free. Some cities and towns even suffered from total blackouts, that is to say, 24 hours without electricity. I still remembered some news reports a few years prior, stating that Pekanbaru, capital of the oil-rich province Riau (only south of North Sumatera, and is geopolitically contigious with), suffered from 2-or-3-times-a-day blackouts everyday for a few months. The reality was full of contradiction; we live in a country with the most diverse energy resources, at the same time we live in a country with one of the highest amounts of blackouts compared with other countries. What a boredom-inducing statement. It became a main commodity for our politicians as well; in elections, either in city-level, regency-level, or province-level, they promised blackout-free provinces, or regencies, or cities. Everything happened in reverse, vice versa. Their promises were incompatible with the reality when they won the elections. We still had to listen to these buzzing generators, adding another kind of sound pollution.

So far, I could only remember things that happened between 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Don’t be mistaken; blackouts had taken place earlier than 2004, and earlier than the time Soeharto was appointed as the second President of Indonesia. Majority of the people would have to think twice or thrice before they wanted to criticize PLN; I heard my tuition teacher said that some of those who persiflaged them would have themselves thrown into Deli River (one of the main rivers in Medan) by local police, far in the midnight. “Blackouts had been such kind of must-do tradition here, even when I was in your age like you,” My mother once told me.

In 2008 and 2009, the blackouts still took place, but the frequency slowly dwindled, from two- to one-time-a-day schedule, for a few months. That was the time when Facebook became a fever, where life would seem harsh if they did not write out their ‘what’s-on-your-mind?’ status, where almost everybody became infected with narcissistic personality disorder. I saw many of my ‘friends’ – just Facebook friends, I even didn’t know that some of them indeed exist – spatted out bad words in their status. From f-word to m-f-word to local bad words (do I need to include them here?), it was like Facebook was fully congested with truckloads of dirty words (based on the perspective of my own).

I contemplated deeper, and I admitted that I, in the past, was not much indifferent from those who came out with truckloads of bad words in their minds; everybody was deeply impatient and emotionally volatile because of the blackouts. The only difference is, I did only spat them out gibberishly in my heart.

Experiencing the blackouts sometimes drains out emotion, even after I read some kind of spirituality-inducing books. Starting from here, it might be a bit deviating from the main topic, but at least, I attempt to do some kind of correlation. Ajahn Brahm once told the first day he did the meditation, deep in a temple somewhere in an isolated jungle in Thailand. There were pretty many, as he wrote, mosquitoes, that bit his body. He wanted to lash out his emotion, but he was somewhere deep in the abyss of mind. He took a long breath, one by one, albeit the bumps lured him to scratch them. And when he opened his eyes, the bumps vanished. I conceive that everybody can afford to do what he did, but not all people in the world will have that kind of willingness to resist that temptation longer. He referred to these mosquitoes – as quoted by his teacher, Ajahn Chah – as ‘teachers’, or Ajahn as translated in Thai. Ajahn Mosquitoes.

But what equipped me with much more patience was a recent article in a local newspaper I had read. I am not trying to be arrogant, honestly, but I just want to give one more reference. Dhaka, Bangladesh, is already a sprawling metropolis with more than 10 million people – many of whom originated from villages throughout the country – living in an agglomeration only a few percent larger than Jakarta. When floods invade, the slums turn into muddy ponds. There is almost no single day where there are no blackouts in the capital, and the entire country. In general, almost every household would have to turn on the generator four or five times a day, that is to say, two times worse than what once happened in Medan, and when summers come, the blackouts turn out even worse. The city’s power supply was merely half of the city’s power demand, as of 2010.

Medan was celebrating its 421st anniversary, exactly on 1st July, at the same time the blackout took place. When I conceive this phenomenon on a wider, or a more ampullaceous perspective, in the long run I realize this is no longer a ‘surprising problem’; it is, all in all, a classical problem nearly every big city in every developing and least-developed country is facing. That’s how we all feel  that. Limited power supply is not the only problem facing almost all the cities and towns; it is merely a microcosmic example of all the stacks of problems.

In the long run, we should give these blackouts a new name: Ajahn Blackouts. One of many, many kinds of mosquitoes that tempt our bodies of patience.

The days I had in SEALNet

Note: none of these pictures was taken by me (actually I took some pictures from Blackberry, but I had problem in moving these pictures to my computers). Photographs were taken by Winny Teh, Imelda Junaedi, and Ricky Chen.

DAY 1: 18 JUNE 2011

It was 6.30 am, a seemingly good Saturday morning. The beker rang. I woke up from my soft mattress, then brushed my teeth, washed my face, spent some time in the toilet for a while, before I had breakfast. A bowl of stewed noodle my family had not finished eating the previous day. By the time it was 7.15 am, I got in to the Toyota Innova. I left my home to school. I spent my time speculating on who was going to join this program. I recalled the members one by one, as my friend, Fannie, had told me three days prior. Some of them I had already either known or simply heard their names. Adriana Salim. Leonardi Kristianto. Hartaty Wijaya. Hartono Wijaya. Edric Subur. Desilia Nilam. Claristy. Before I reached the school, I speculated that Adriana’s elder sister, Adeline, would participate in the program as well (I don’t know how, but I had an instinct that she would). Then I recalled some of my friends. Handoko. Eric Chandra. These two good samaritans. I also asked our class’ number-one-in-parallel-rank-and-class-rank champion, Kelvin Teheri, but whether he made the reason that ‘his parents did not permit him’ or his parents really did not permit him, that’s not my business. I contemplated along the car, wondering on everything. About what class rank I would be. About my mathematic exam, keeping on remembering it was excruciatingly annoying, as I kept on remembering all the mistakes I had done during the test. I found it pretty hard to switch my thought. I was deeply worried about everything that may possibly take place in the future, like someone being feared on his or her already-determined death.

I reached the school gate, walked into the main building, and found out that the Acceleration Class (which had been scheduled for the first workshop) was entirely locked. As if there were no signs of life here. Like a school already abandoned by its students for any unexplainable reasons, like wars or disasters. I messaged one of them, Ricky, and he told that the venue was changed to 2-Science-03, exactly besides our class, X-1. Man alive, I previously thought that they had already forgotten about all of it. There were pretty many of them, all busily arranging chairs and tables. I met Eric Chandra. We had talks for a while, and shared the same concern: he did not perform too well in mathematics and biology. But his name was enlisted in our school’s Mathematics Olympiad Preparation Program. I had a bit doubt on how ‘not well’ did he perform on the mathematics, particularly, whether his not-welllevel was slightly not as bad as I did, who knows?

Time showed 8 am. More students were coming up. There were a few Third-Grade students from the Junior High School appearing. I knew them pretty well. Winnie Jesslyn, once one of the best performing students in Biology Olympiad while in Primary School (and now she joins Physics). Wilbert Rafael Angellee, as some would nick-name as Cimon. Budi Andoro. Anthony Morgan Tjoe (another friend of Winnie who also joins the Physics Olympiad). Eldson, who was my classmate in a Mathematics private tuition center. And all of them are of the same class. The twins, Fannie and Finnie, came. In the long run, Adriana and her elder sister (my intuition was – this time – correct) came together. I still waited for Handoko, and he came up the last.

I thought that these MIT and Stanford students might participate in this program as I previously took a look at Edric Subur’s pictures in Facebook in which he posed together with these smart-brained, intellect-looking students. One of them was Ivana Polim, one of the school’s masters of chemistry (things that either I or my parents could not really comprehend really, really well). And the bunch of visionary students from United States. I was later informed that they had already gone back to these universities for a very long time, but that’s okay, because I did not expect too much from my own intuitions.

We had much fun there. At least it extinguished momentarily all the concerns about my class rank, but I just found it pretty hard to entirely eliminate them. We had an ‘introduction session’ for a while, where all the mentors previously introduced themselves. Here are some things I could remember, unless I’m mistaken: Edric Subur likes swimming, Winny Teh (one of our mentors) likes to dance chaiyya chaiyya; you know, that kind of melancholic Indian song popularized by an Indonesian policeman, Fannie is obssessed in Chemistry, and I, and only I, obsessed in liking chubby girls (except the obese ones). Some were pretty surprised when I told them that I move to Social Stream (if you don’t understand why, read the previous one, Life, as you (will never) know it.); how can a Super-Class student move to such stream like that? Never mind about that, I have been used to adapting to such question asked by many people.

We had a sharing session, firstly. I was on the same group with Edric, one of my friends named Sevien, and Mauren Tanaka. We talked pretty much. About Edric’s decision to enroll in a Hongkong university, about his experiences, stuff about SAT, and many things I hardly ever remembered. Sevien is much more ambitious in learning about investment; and she had a deep interest in becoming a management trainer. Mauren likes things about fashion. And I shared my own, about my interest in learning countries in this world. Afterwards, we had a game. Someone took a newspaper, and opened it wide to hinder us from seeing the guys we were going to guess. We needed to mention their names in no time, as soon as possible. Half of them won (and I could not describe their names one by one) and the other lost. I was the fortunate one that day, together with Handoko and Eric. Later on, we had brainstorming session. Edric, as president of the SEALNet club in Medan, showed us a slide of ‘leadership egg activity’. I had a jocose thought: does he imply that every leader needs ‘egg’ to succeed? Oh, yes. That’s the egg. I mean, the egg we ourselves pictured. Edric was in the same group with us, together with Sevien, Mauren, Fannie, and Wilbert. Particularly I, Fannie, and Sevien talked a lot, switching from one topic to another. From ‘who’s the richest person in Indonesia’ to many ‘what if’ hypotheses, like, what if Indonesia changed to Islamic state (of course it’s very out of the topic presented by that ‘leadership egg’), about Obama’s performance, and many things else. Afterwards, we were all required to make presentation about all the ideas we had spawned during the session.

Afterwards, we had another game session. Divided into 3 groups, we needed to count number as adjusted to the pattern given by our mentor in leaps and bounds. It was a bit intricate, like, for example, A mentions 5, and B mentions 10. Given that there are 10 persons in a group, for example J has mentioned 50, then the structure must be reversed, in which I has to go on mentioning 55, H mentions 60, until the extent the mentor has given. Here, we won repeatedly. I was on the same group with Hartono, Desilia, Adriana, Hartaty, Ricky, and a few others I had totally forgotten their names (and their faces, too).

Then we entered another game session. Here are the rules. We were divided into 3 groups at that time. Each of us had to grab one with our left hand, and another one with our right hand. We formed a circle, and our task was to change our position, but at the same time we had to retain the shape of that circle in the long run. You know, this was not an easy task, especially that we needed to move our bodies any time. Either we moved our heads, or placed our hands much higher or much lower to give space for another to cross (but the person may not released others’ hands). It was like, you know, crossing through a cave merely half the size of your body, and you had to struggle by crawling through it. But we managed to accomplish it, faster than the other groups. Once again, we won.

Here was the last session on the first day: listening to Steve Jobs’ graduation speech at Stanford. The one I had previously seen in TEDTalks. But that does not matter if I had to repeat listening to him once again. I was particularly inspired by the last part, when he talked about life-and-death matters. I was just all in a sudden reminded by Ajahn Brahm’s book. He had also previously written down about the ‘letting-go’ spirit. Steve Jobs let go all the things that had happened to him. Once he was fired from Apple, the company he himself established. He was filled with Slough of Despond for a few months, until he realized that ‘he still loved what he did’. I remembered one chapter from Ajahn Brahm’s book, Opening Your Heart, about the ‘buffalo-dung’ problem. He gave one example: suppose that a naughty person sent you a carton box filled with buffalo’s dung, you are given two options: you take away this piece of shit, bury it, and plant some mango seeds. Within a year (assume there were no droughts), these mango seeds would turn to mango trees. The other option, you put the carton box in another place, therefore it only spread the rotten smell of the dung to the surrounding areas. Steve Jobs had it done sagaciously: he re-planted his seeds of talents, and turned them into NeXT and Pixar (which would later become the world’s most acclaimed animation studio). Eventually, he picked up a sweet ending: Apple’s board asked him to return. More than 10 years later, he was diagnosed with cancer in his prostate, a word that he even had no idea of what it was. And once again, he faced another buffalo-dung problem of his own. Once again, he let it go. I was reminded of another Ajahn Brahm’s lesson: good, bad, who knows? We can’t simply judge something directly as either ‘bad’ or ‘good’. What he requested was only one: no matter how it would be, just FACE IT. And Jobs really faced it. He was lucky enough that after further examination, doctors concluded that the prostate tumour was not as severe as those discovered in common cases. He underwent surgery, and he’s still there, giving the graduation speech. As soon as the video was over, Edric asked us to summarize all the points we had learnt from the video.

On Monday, we visited an orphanage.

DAY 2: 20 JUNE 2011

I was the one who came the latest to school. Days before, Edric had divided us into two groups. First, those who were scheduled to meet together at our city’s largest shopping mall, Sun Plaza (whose houses were located the nearest to this edifice), and those scheduled to gather at our school, SMA Sutomo 1. Time showed 12.10 pm, exactly 20 minutes later from the set time. A few minutes later, we took in Ricky’s Toyota Fortuner.

The school was filled with new students who had just had selection exams. I could not count, but there were hundreds and hundreds of them fulfilling the main park in our school. Outside there, came a little act of quarreling. A woman dressed in Muslim veil was having quarrels with some motorcycle drivers (of which dispute, I had no idea). I watched it at the same time I was walking through. It took time for less than two or three minutes, and the quarreling was over. I looked at the sky. It was shining blue. The temperature was hot and savage. There was a traffic (and it always happens almost everyday).

There were 8 people together with us: me, Eric, Handoko, Ricky, Wilbert, and some of SEALNet members I had yet to mention, like Eldson, Davin, and Jennifer. It was a big vehicle, but I found it a bit unspacious. I can tolerate that; I have been adapted to such this situation when we were en route to Taman Simalem, back and forth, with each trip consuming time for more or less 4 hours. It only took half an hour to reach the orphanage, given that the driver was riding the car fast enough. The orphanage was located in Sunggal, one of the main suburbs in Medan. To reach there, we took routes from Jalan Sekip, retained on the same direction, until we reached Sunggal. We crossed through thousands and thousands of either two-storey or three-storey shophouses, a large shopping mall dubbed Plaza Medan Fair, and a large military command station. As we reached Jalan Muslim (unless I’m mistaken), we turned right, and retained the same direction, until we reached the orphanage. This is the name: Yayasan Pelita Kasih (unless I’m mistaken). It was merely a handful of tens of meters from Tomang Elok, one of the multitudinous elite-only residential areas in this city. Things were utterly different, as if three worlds distanced each other foreseeably. The orphanage made me imagine of a shelter-camp somewhere in a Third World country; the house was entirely made of wood, and the wooden roofs were supported by zinc-made pillars. The house was approximately the size of two regular classrooms, and there were more or less 40 children (and one adult man with Down’s syndrome) inside, being taken care of by a man whose age had reached 40 something. There was a bit contrast when I saw one home besides the orphanage; it was refurbished well, the house painted a bit creamy, and was quite spacious, like a house for a middle-class family in a Second-World country. The sharpest contrast happened when I took a look at the big houses in Tomang Elok. Those which appeared a bit like American-style houses in First World countries, like those I frequently saw in movies. I took one conclusion later on: a seemingly semipternal form of social inequality.

This ‘Sun-Plaza’ group were the first ones to reach the orphanage. Edric instructed us to give a wide smile to every person there. I met the owner of the orphanage. I am deeply sorry that I had forgotten his name, but he was such a nice and kind person that he greeted us with full warmth. Then we had conversation. Some of these children came from Rantau Prapat, some from Bahorok, and some from Berastagi and the surrounding areas. Some of them actually were not orphans; their parents simply boarded out their children here due to financial difficulties they encountered and had to struggle every time. Some had lost one of their parents, either their fathers or their mothers.

With Edric leading the outreach, we first had introductory session. All of us were required to introduce ourselves, describe things that we like to do, and emulate them. Like someone who favors of swimming must mimic any actions of a swimmer. Many of them favored of swimming, soccer, and singing. Only a handful (including me) favored of reading, and only me myself favored of writing. Admittedly, I have forgotten most of their names, except the two (because they played things like crazy, as if they were doing Smackdown). Their names are Jepa and Valen. It was pretty hard to control them. They were not naughty actually; the problem is, they were much peevish.

Afterwards, as the introductory session was over, we again played the ‘guessing’ game like the one we played the previous day. Someone would open wide the newspaper, and all of us had to guess their names in no time, in leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, many of us lost, and these kids seemed to have strong memory-related abilities (with one exception: I forgot to keep my name tag in my pocket, which is why it would have been totally easy at all for them to guess my name). We got ‘admonished’, and we had to mimic any actions done by the kids whenever they sing Potong Bebek Angsa, locals’ children song.

The punishment was over, and all of us had to discuss which games we were going to play. They should not be too easy or too intricate at the same time. And we found out one conclusion: we would play some kind of komunikata, a once popular contemporary game in Indonesia. Later on, we modified it. We were divided into 3 groups, together with these children, and as the first person behind us began clapping the back of the person in front of him/her, he/she should have mimicked any action someone behind had whispered to do, and afterwards, claps the back of another person in front of him/her, doing the similar thing, and continually doing so until the foremost one, before he/she yells an answer of what we are all doing. I’ll tell that further. Beforehand, we taught them about basic sanitation. We were divided into more or less 5 groups, and each group consisted of 2 members, plus these children. It was divided into 5 lessons: basic knowledge about the importance of water, toothbrushing, taking a bath, hand-washing, and littering the trash into the dustbins. Honestly, some of these children were quite hard to control. They were so peevish that at times they could go round the orphanage with our unbeknownst. One of the members in my group, Eldson, whispered at me, and complained about these kids. I could hear these sounds, albeit they were quite small. Our seniors who had once joined the previous SEALNet program also complained that these kids, admittedly, were much more difficult to control than those kids in an orphanage they had once visited. To be honest, I had that same sense. But all I could only do was increase the patience. I remembered my mom telling me about my cousin’s experience while participating in a social-work program in Hongkong (she’s my aunt’s only daughter, and they both live there), and she once taught a class of 4th-grade students. Some of them were terribly naughty that they may titillate her and other mentors while they were teaching them basic English. One of them even behaved like a little gangster; without much fear, he sharp-eyedly stared at my cousin, and pulled off the trigger by replying this sentence in Cantonese: who the hell you think you are? You think I’m afraid of you?

As the lesson on basic sanitation was all done, it is time Edric and other mentors performed a drama. As usual, about basic sanitation. He portrayed Bapak Panti, I mean, the head of the orphanage. The rest portrayed the orphans; it lasted for more or less 5 minutes, before the show went on with thekomunikata game. It was held 3 times, and we lost consecutively for 3 times as well. The last game we played on that day was Jumanji, as they named it. This is the rule. We were divided into 5 groups, with each group having a similar animal’s name (and the names were distributed randomly). They used the words lion, cat, butterfly, monkey, and spider. We sat on a circle, and one person stood surrounded by all of us. Once the person mentioned the name of the animal, then those who were given that animal’s name should stand up and change position in no time, together with the person who mentioned the name. The person who failed to grab the seat would be the next person to mention another animal’s name. And the game went on for more or less 10 minutes. Those who lost had to sing a song. The outreach ended at 5 pm, and we were fetched back to Sutomo using Ricky’s car.

As the outreach was over, my own concern over my class ranking again surrounded me. I could feel my heart ticking faster, like someone facing something so formidable that he/she could not even stand to imagine it. I took a deep breath, and it faded. But again it surrounded me, and I took another deep breath. It all happened like a sea wave. Going up and down, going up and down. I stared at my watch. There were only 50 hours left before the results were announced.

I looked at the sky up there. It was turning into dark blue. I reminisced back into the moments we had together with the children, and admittedly, I had quite much concern on them. I could see some of their faces were not that enthusiastic, and honestly I tell you this sentence.

I am a bit skeptical whether this program would really succeed or not.

The front hall of Yayasan Pelita Kasih.

Imelda (left) and Desilia (right).

This boy is Valen, the most peevish among the other kids.

DAY 3: 21 JUNE 2011

I was the second who appeared in the 2-Science-03 Class after Hady, one of our mentors. Time showed 7.40 am, and only there were only 2 of us. It was only more or less 8.20 am after most of the members appeared in the class. And our President was late. The workshop was scheduled to start at 8 am, and it was postponed to a further period of approximately half an hour. But I could still tolerate that, I admit it.

The second workshop was much more serious compared to the first one, as Edric would later teach us about fundraising (they called it elevator pitch), negotiation, and idea-showering skills on what to do on the second outreach. In the fundraising session, we were divided into 5 groups, as usual. This time, Adeline became our tutor. Beforehand, we were shown a sample video about how to fundraise. The person in the video blabbered so fast that I hardly got any ideas on what he was presenting about. But, later on, I heard some keywords about ‘coffee cups’ and ‘million dollars’. Therefore, I concluded that this person wanted to inquire investors to invest their capital in that coffee company (despite the fact that it was all mainly scenario). Afterwards, we played our own. Assume that we met someone so fabulous, and we asked the person to assist us financially to reach our goals. We discussed a lot about the scenario. We named that ‘someone so fabulous’ as George Soros. Fannie came out with her idea of 1000-dollar-program, in which these amounts of money would be used as funds to establish a new orphanage (don’t take it too seriously, it’s all just a scenario, anyway). We would also teach the locals (who built the orphanage) on how to fundraise another thousand dollars. Adeline came out with the idea of installing water purifiers, inspired by our observation on the sanitary conditions of the orphanage the previous day. Wilbert would present about our experience we had in the orphanage, and all the conditions out there. One of our members who was included in our group, Peter Ciang, would explain about the importance of basic hygiene and the consequences due to lacking of it. Another member, Megawati – not that ex-President of Indonesia, explained about SEALNet and its main missions. After on, all of us (except our tutor) presented the scenario in front of the other members, and at least, we did it pretty well.

This was the second session – negotiation. We were divided into more or less 10 groups, with each group consisting of 2. Coincidentally, I was on the same group with Adriana. Here was the scenario presented: I am an international student studying in a country (assume it were America), earned a partial scholarship, and I have recently found a job to cover my annual fees. The problem is, I need a car. And I could only pay 8000 US$ as an initial payment for the car. Afterwards, I met Adriana, who was willing to sell the car. At first, she offered the price at 18,000 US$ – the rest of which I would pay through monthly installments consecutively for 1 year. And that was exclusive of any insurance costs, which, if totalled, would equal to 23,000 US$ (are the insurance costs that high? I don’t have any ideas). After further negotiation, the final prices increased slightly to 23,600 US$ – I would pay 15,600 US$ through a period of 24 months (assume the increment were the interest rates charged at me). It was later found out that she had set the most expensive price for the car compared to the others who managed to earn agreement. There were some groups who failed to reach any agreements, as the car prices were even much more expensive than those Adriana had set. One of our members, Sevien, even set the prices at 30,000 US$. Handoko was the most parsimonious; he and Megawati bargained the prices of the car until it fell down to a mere 9000 US$.

I took a look at my watch. It was already 11 pm. Only a few hours left before I could see the results. The more I thought about it, the more intense my heart was ticking. I inhaled and exhaled as deep as I could, but later on the sense of worriness again plagued me, and I needed to take another deep breath to make it fade away. It was the time for idea-showering session. We all had to discuss what to do on the second outreach. We were divided into 4 groups, and I was on the same group with Budi, Wilbert, Winnie, Hartono, Anthony, Desilia, and Imelda.

Suddenly, I spotted my class’ form teacher, Miss Dahniar, walking past our class. She must have known about all our class ranks. I also saw quite many teachers criss-crossing our class at the same time.

Initially, we were running out of ideas on what to do. After further discussion, we came out with quite many ideas, including crazy dance, newspaper game, life graph, drawing-out-what-you-want-to-be-in-the-future session, and rope game (I’ll explain these games further after this part is over). And the mentors really made use of our ideas.

As soon as the workshop ended, I, Handoko, and Eric immediately rushed into the teachers’ office to take a sneak peek through the human-size windows. Some were busily arranging our evaluation papers, and we waited outside, patiently. After 10 minutes further, our form teacher came out of the teachers’ office, and in no time mentioned our class ranks. Handoko set the record; he earned the first class rank and the first parallel rank as well. Eric earned the 13th in class, and I earned 21st. I was a bit relieved after the teacher secretively informed us our class ranks. But I was also curious on my Mathematics final score and my parallel rank as well; she had no idea about the parallel ranks of the others.

I kept on checking Sutomo’s website to see the results. It was later announced at the homepage that the results could only be seen after 7 pm, the time of which the server that contained the homepage’s data reached overcapacity, and as a result, I could not access the website for more than one hour. Only as the time showed 8.30 pm, I could access the homepage again. Then, an error occurred. Oh, that was my own error, indeed. I input the wrong ID number. As soon as I had typed the ID number and my exam number completely, I pressed ‘Enter’ button.

I was deeply surprised. My parallel rank was 40, and I scored 79 in Mathematics. In the past 3 weeks, I had estimated that my Mathematics score would be in minimum as low as 43.3, and in maximum, 67.7. I was totally wrong. I scored much better than I thought I could.

Here, I was totally relieved. I could enjoy the second outreach without having to feel that fear.

DAY 4: 23 JUNE 2011

I was, again, late. Ricky had previously messaged us that we should have arrived at the school as late as 11.50 pm. But I was not the one who came up the last (I came when the time in my watch showed 12.10 pm). Ricky only appeared 10 minutes after I was waiting in the schoolgate. Before we prepared our visit to the orphanage, we went into the toilets to urinate. After then, we were divided into two groups: the first group took in Adeline’s Toyota Innova, and the second group took in Ricky’s Toyota Fortuner. I took in the Fortuner, together with Sevien, Budi, Wilbert, Anthony, and Leonardi. We reached the orphanage by the time it was 12.40 pm, together with the group who took in Adeline’s car. Edric’s group, who gathered at Sun Plaza, had not arrived yet. We all waved our hands at the children who had been waiting for us in front of the orphanage. Previously, there were some others who could not join the first outreach due to the limited space of all the cars we took in, and there was one who is physically ill. That’s Hartaty.

This time, Handoko did not join the outreach anymore. He’s been in Singapore. My friend, Eric, also didn’t enjoy the second outreach, as usual, due to the limited-space reason, again.

Those who only began to visit the orphanage on the second outreach were asked to introduce themselves. There were quite many of them who could not afford to join the first outreach, so the introductory session lasted until the time almost showed 1 pm. At the same time, Edric’s envoy, who took in Toyota Land Cruiser, arrived at the destination. They took a lot of newspapers, and a lot of snacks. Bapak Panti was the one who arrived the latest.

The first game we played was rope game. Firstly, we were divided into three groups. We joined hands on each other – you know, like those leaders in any business or global summits who would join hands together as signs of ‘friendship’ – and the first person would be draped with a round, plastic rope. We all had to pass the plastic rope into the next person at the same time we should keep on joining heads on each other. The only things that could do such ‘passing’ were our heads, our bodies, and our arms. On how to do it, you had better imagine it or just play the game. We consecutively lost for three times, the similar number the chances were given back to pass the plastic rope. As the ‘punishment’, we sang and danced. Afterwards, here came the ‘newspaper game’. All of us were divided into two-person groups, and coincidentally, I was on the same group with Sevien. Every group was given a sheet of newspaper, and they had to step on it. Here was how the game worked. For example, when Edric yelled, “Two hands, two feet!”, that meant the group should only have two hands and two feet standing exactly on the newspaper. For those whose other members were little kids, that would be so easy. Because if Edric yelled, “One hand, one feet!”, they perhaps would be able to carry on these kids with either their left or right hands at the same time the others touched the newspaper. But, after further reasoning, I found out that was actually difficult, because they had to stand merely on one foot at that time. As time passed, the game became more difficult than I could ever imagine: we all had to fold the newspapers many times, until the newspapers shrank into the size of pocket dictionaries. Far before we were told to fold the newspaper for the first time, we had lost the game. As a punishment, we again had to sing and dance.

The ‘rope game’. We played it together with the kids.

After we all played the ‘newspaper game’, I spent some time reading the newspaper we had once stepped on.

The game session was over. We entered into a more serious one. Beforehand, we were divided into two groups. The first group would assist the teenagers (because there were many teenagers in the orphanage as well) to draw their life graphs. The second group would assist the kids to draw pictures of what they want to be in the future when they have grown up. I was on the second group, and I assisted Jepa, the kid I previously mentioned. By the time I am writing this note, Jepa is more or less 5 years old. Adriana was besides me, and she aided other kids near Jepa. Honestly, I could only remember two more names other than Jepa and Valen: Via and Saut. Jepa firstly wanted to be a soldier, precisely, a captain. Less than 5 minutes later, he changed out his mind, and instead, he wanted to become a butterfly. That’s okay, he’s still a little boy anyway.

Some of them, particularly Via, aspire to be Mathematics teachers. I looked at their paintings; they imagined themselves teaching basic geometry to the primary-class students. Some wish to become doctors, and one of them dreams of being an astronaut. And we all, SEALNet members, also had to draw our pictures as well. I imagine myself typing a keyboard in front of a monitor. Adriana wants to be an entrepreneur in the future (of which businesses, either I or she have no ideas.) Wilbert wants to be an inventor. Budi – unless I’m mistaken – joked to the kids that he wants to be Spongebob. We all had much fun, except one girl, whose name I had forgotten as well, that I saw. She sat in the corner, with a sombre face. Dressed in greyish shirts, she looked like a 15-year-old. I did not have any ideas what she was thinking in her mind until I asked Edric. Here was the origin of the problem. She wanted to be included in the teenagers’ group, but due to the excess of the teenagers, she was instead placed in the children’s group. He told me that she even wept for a while, and at last, reluctantly agreed to be in the children’s group. “She was a bit hard-headed,” That was the last sentence Edric told me. I did my best not to blame anyone here.

During the sharing session with the teenagers. Instead, I joined the children’s group.

As the drawing session was over, the mentors, led by Desilia, taught the children about the names of the body parts in English in form of a children’s song.

Head, shoulder, knees, and toes. Knees and toes. 

Head, shoulder, knees, and toes. Knees and toes. 

Eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. 

Eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. 

We did it repeatedly. We touched our heads, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouths, and noses with our fingers. We bent in order to touch the toes many times. After we all sang the song, we went out of the orphanage. We performed the crazy dance, the idea we once proposed. The mentors would record the songs, and we all had to dance as we liked. Once the music stopped, we also had to stop to which extent we were dancing, and posed as crazily as possible. You know, pretending to be statues for a while. Some of us unfortunately did not pose as screwy as Budi; his was more like that of a monkey, I honestly tell you. Those who could not afford to do that successfully may not do the crazy dance.

While we were doing the ‘crazy dance’.

All the moments of exhilaration.

The session was over. We entered another game session. Football game. We made a circle, and we surrounded one person we titled as ‘monkey’. I was not that good in catching ball. I lost two times, and as the ‘punishment’, I had to be a ‘monkey’ to catch the ball when it was thrown by other persons. My body was filled with sweat, and it felt a little sticky. A few hours prior, there was slight rain here. Now, the sun again shined, together with the yellowish blue sky.

The football game.

My self-portrait.

From left to right: Budi, me, Winnie Jesslyn, and Adriana

Until the time was almost 6 pm, the teenagers’ group had not stopped discussing about their dreams in the future. Compared to us, the childrens’ group, they made use of the time much more seriously. I could hear clappings numerous times, but I did not know exactly what they were actually discussing about, because they gathered together in one room where the kids slept inside the orphanage. Some of the mentors who assisted these teenagers told some of us that they wept when they listened to their confessions.

The football-game session ended at more or less 5.20 pm, and all of the members, together with the mentors, made a circle in the main hall of the orphanage, at the same time we waited for the teenagers to finish the discussion. Ricky lured me to confess whose the ‘chubby girl’ that I like, and another one whom I was once attracted. Of course I refused to tell them. It was necessary for me to seal my mouth. The topic switched to films. And to hobbies. And to my own hobby. I told them that I am right now writing a novel, that I never set any limits, and I never set the date it should be published. Admittedly, I don’t like to set my personal goals or deadlines too much (except if they have been too necessary to accomplish, like school projects); they do just make me feel distressed.

Then, the teenagers came out of the room. We soon finished our conversation. We came out of the orphanage, and took some pictures together, before we went back to Sutomo.

I waved my hands at the orphans. There was only one more outreach left. The carnival day.

DAY 5: 25 JUNE 2011

I came a bit earlier that day. Time showed 7.30 am when I arrived there. I saw Hartono gleaming at a class’ display hung over the walls. The display belongs to 2010/2011 3-Science-01 students, and is named adjusted to the class’ name, Musketeers. Many of the Musketeers do join SEALNet, and even one of them eventually becomes its president. Like Edric, Adeline, and one guy who would replace Edric’s position during the carnival day.

We were in a conversation. I waited for anybody to come earlier. In an interval of half an hour, more or less a mere number of 10 had been in the class we use for the program. We did the similar thing everytime we arrived before the workshop began. We arranged the chairs and tables, put some of them outside. We made a square-shaped formation for these chairs and tables; but not a full square, honestly.

Only after time showed almost 8.30 am, the workshop really made a start. And there were new participants. I only got to know one of them, the three newcomers. Her name is Elvira, once a student of IX-02. I had no idea about who the others were. Although I frequently saw their faces in school, I never truly knew from which class they were from. Indeed, honestly, I didn’t pay too much attention when they introduced themselves.

The first session was a bit fun. Edric named it ‘Ninja Shot’. We were divided into 4 groups, and each of us had to ‘attack’ others (and we were given no allowances to ‘hit’ the breasts and the cocks part). For example, the first person is trying to ‘hit’ a second person. As long as the second person is not incurred by the first person’s hands, he/she may be able to hit the third person. Unfortunately, I lost 2 times in the game. But, as a result, there was not any given form of punishment.

In the second session, we were required to structure a story. We were divided into 2 groups. Here are the rules. Every person would be given every copy of every page of a storybook (the storybooks differ among groups). First, what we had to do was to memorize the content of the story. The time allocated was only 5 minutes. Afterwards, we had to determine who was going to tell the story by consecutive order. The story part I would tell was about the introduction. We were given 15 minutes to discuss together about the restructurization of the entire story. We performed it quite well; we did only 1 mistake, and so did the second group.

The final session required the longest time compared with the previous sessions. First, the mentors divided us into 4 groups. We were then given tasks to do a ‘mock-up’ SEALNet project. All we had to do was to imagine that we had been those who managed the program. Edric distributed us 4 articles, with each representing 1 province. They were about the malnutrition cases in Manokwari, West Papua, post-earthquake situation in Padang, West Sumatera, the excessive use of plastic bags in Bali, and sanitary conditions in Aceh province. I was on the same group with Mauren, Budi, Peter, plus Desilia and Imelda as our mentors. After further analysis, we decided to choose Manokwari. We had a preparation of approximately one and a-half hours to think and arrange the solutions to these problems.

It was an activity that greatly squeezed my brain. Even though it was all merely imaginary. We had to think of what these people really want the most, of what the expected outcomes are, of who will benefit particularly from this program, and how we are going to solve it. We considered of this plan: We would send 10 SEALNet mentors to Medan, together with a few specialists on agriculture we initially ‘plan’ to invite from University of North Sumatera. Some of us are going to contact FAO and UNICEF to assist us with advice on how to decrease the number of malnutrition in Papua. To gather much more information, they are also going to contact the province’s local development agency, known in Indonesian as BAPPEDA – Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah/State Development Planning Board, to make a survey on which villages in Manokwari that are affected the most by the malnutrition. (calm down, it’s all our own-made scenario, but who knows that will really take place in the future?) We are also planning to have a talk with the principal of a high school there that we are interested in recruiting students there to become mentees. We set the target, 20 students. They are expected to ease up communication between us and the villagers, as many of them are still incapable of mastering Indonesian language well. We will gather funds from many events, for example, fashion shows, selling chocolates and cookies (Edric once said that one of his mentors, Ivana Polim, used to sell cookies in MIT to gather funds to set up SEALNet in Medan. And there may come up Ivana’s Cookies, who knows?), asking donation in many of our school’s classes, and having co-operation with PT. Coca Cola Indonesia to donate a few millions for the sake of the program we are now doing. We are also planning for talks with the board of directors working in Lion Air to provide us discounts throughout the Medan-Manokwari trip. Papua is rich with food sources, but many of the locals do not know how to make use of them, so we have to introduce them some examples. We are planning to buy some high-quality seeds of these plants from the laboratories of any universities, together with the farming appliances (honestly, all of us do not have any experiences with farming, even when it comes to holding hoe, we’ve never done it for our lifetime.) And, one thing we could not afford to forget: sustainability. After the two-week program is over, we expect the program to go on. We will teach the mentees to set up their own SEALNet chapter (we call it, SEALNet Manokwari Chapter), and they would monitor the progress in the region. Our analysis concluded that we would require as much as 31.2 million rupiah in order to succeed this project.

All of us presented these ideas. There were two groups who opted Manokwari, one group opted Padang, and the other, Bali. To be honest, I was a bit oblivious on what ideas they presented, but leastwise, I remembered a few of them. The group who chose Bali – with members including Anthony, Adriana, Eldson, Elvira, Adeline and Yolita as their mentors, and one more member I didn’t know her name at all – delivered their ideas, least to say, a bit unique. Among the 4 groups, they are expected to spend the least budget, at a mere 2.5 million rupiah for a two-week project in Bali. They would stay in the housing boards, and persuade department stores to exchange plastic bags with paper bags. That’s what I remembered.

The session ended at approximately 1.30 pm. The class was dismissed at nearly 2 pm. And we are preparing for the ‘most tiring day’ we would experience tomorrow, exactly on 26 June 2011.

DAY 6: 26 JUNE 2011

This is our last day in Pelita Kasih Orphanage. Again and again, I arrived the latest compared to the others. Some had been there since 11.30 pm, and I managed to make it on my way when time nearly showed 12.30 pm. We were divided into 2 groups, with most of us taking in Adeline’s Toyota Innova. The rest, Adriana and Winnie Jesslyn, managed to take in Ricky’s Nissan X-Trail. Ricky’s a very professional car driver, but I’ll just later tell you furthermore.

We were involved in conversation, together with Adeline, Eldson, Sevien, and Anthony. My friend, Eric Chandra, remained silent 90% (unless I’m mistaken) of the time taken during the last endeavor. Adeline opts Chem-Eng, the cool slang for Chemical Engineering, in University of Washington. She told us about her experiences. She once had English tuition in Winfield until Secondary level, once with my current English tuition teacher, Miss Erica, when she was in Primary level, and she won a lot of speech and news-reading competitions held in our city. Sevien was the one to start all the conversation, with her asking a lot of questions to Adeline.

By the time we almost reached the orphanage, we switched the topic to finance. I was the domineering one who did the talking the most (admittedly, at some times, I can be very talkative). Finance is the topic Sevien adores the most. I told them about what I saw from Inside Job, the anger-provoking, heart-stopping documentary about the beginning of the 2008 global financial pandemonium. At the same time the car reached the orphanage, I had not finished doing the talking. All right, that does not matter. Ricky’s car came up the earliest. All of them had been in the orphanage when the car was parked besides the orphanage.

As I have written earlier, Edric would not lead us today. Riandy has just returned from Bandung. I thought he was attending some kind of future-leadership conferences (my conjecture was proven totally wrong: he was there only to have some kind of fun trip). They arrived by the time it was 1.10 pm. They had arranged 4 games, and divided the orphans into 2 groups. Every group was then even divided into many sub-groups, with each sub-group consisted of 2 children and 1 teenager. Each sub-group should accomplish every gaming session in order to obtain a sticker. I had difficulties to recognize faces of those who had either played or not played the games. I and Eric were assigned to help Adeline and Winnie Illona (not another name of Winny Teh) about the guessing quiz. They placed and and adhered two sheets of carton papers over the wooden walls. The first sheet consisted of 4 questions about main features of diarrhoea – the disease we had previously explained on the first outreach. Surrounding the first sheet was stickers with each option already written there. All the children had to do was to place these stickers on the exact brackets inside the sheet. The other sheet was about choosing correct pictures on ‘how to prevent diarrhoea’. They had to place stickers that contained pictures inside the 4 circles they had already drawn inside the paper. Besides the guessing game, there were 3 other games contested, like balloon game (two persons faced each other on opposite side, and all they had to do was to make the balloon burst which was clamped between their butts), crazy dance (I’ve told you earlier), and the aqua game (I did not notice on how they played the game). As a result, the first group garnered 29 stickers, and the other earned 30. There was a bit dispute regarding to the results (something that reminded me of every quarreling that took place after a local, governmental election or a football match). In the end, I took the role and tried to calm them down. Actually, it’s not my ideas that let them calm down; it’s all merely my stenorian voice (but I did retain it in a tranquil manner, despite the fact that I almost ‘exploded’).

There was a recess period afterwards. We were given time to discuss what dancing we should do to be presented in front of all of them. I opted Laskar Pelangi, a motivation-inducing song by local pop-rock band, Nidji. We would do it together with Adriana, Winnie Jesslyn, Sevien, Anthony, Wilbert, Eric, and Eldson. The others would do the ‘chiky dance’ (apologies for any misspelling). Beforehand, Riandy asked the kids to do Scavenger Hunt. First, the kids were divided into 5 groups, and they had to do 14 activities together, with each monitored by one member, in consecutive order. Previously, Riandy had divided us the stickers, indicating which number we were in, and where we should stand in. For example, the first person had to ask the children to sing a song (adjusted to the sticker’s content), and after they did it, they would go to the second person, and did another thing as already written from the sticker aimed to the second person. I had no idea on who invented such bureaucratic game like Scavenger Hunt.

After the session was over, here came the ‘dancing’ session. First, the children danced as bapak panti  began to play the music of the electronic organ. There were 4 songs, and some of them were gospels. On the fourth song, they pulled us one by one, and as we made our own dancing style, all of them would follow. To be honest, I was more like doing gymnastics aimed for pregnant women than truly dancing at all. They would have guffawed whenever they saw I did it.

Afterwards, we performed Laskar Pelangi. We did the dance by our own. I listened to its lyrics, and I found out something. The song’s content was vividly connected with them. This song was the soundtrack of the film of the same name, also taken from a best-selling novel of the same name (too repetitive?). The novel itself was based on a true story of the author itself, Andrea Hirata, who grew up in poor conditions in his homeland, Pulau Belitung. He and his friends formed what would be the ‘rainbow league’, and of what would be later known as globally-known Laskar Pelangi. These kids had the big dreams, and I believed these orphans also had the similar dreams as well.

Honestly, I almost cried when I sang this song, and furthermore, my eyes would be filled with a bit tears everytime I listened to it.

The touching part was later replaced with the crazy part. We were all asked to perform Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. We didn’t have to sing the lyrics; all we had to do was just move our bodies, as if we were somewhere in a merry-making nightclub. This was also the first time in my lifetime I danced with a girl (first, with Adriana, and the second, with Winnie Illona). Nevertheless, the most important part is, I felt the ‘freedom’. I did not know where and what enzyme in my brain stimulated that excitement, but in dancing, I felt like I was not being me myself. A bibliopolic bookworm like me suddenly changed into a man running wild. Especially when I did the dancing with the girls (and the boys as well). Suddenly I remembered again another lesson from Ajahn Brahm. The importance of removing self-identification. Only some time when he truly lived his life as a ‘professional Buddhist monk’. At another time, he could be like a comedian. At another and another time, he could be somewhat a free-of-charge consultant. He stressed out the importance of not only doing one thing that we like; we have to find another field that could also increase our happiness. You don’t have to adhere to the status of being ‘A’ all the time; you can be ‘B’ during spare time. That’s what I’ve discovered that day. I don’t have to let the status of a serious bookworm clings to me in my lifetime; I can be anyone I want to be.

All of us did the dancing part, altogether. We were so exasperated, but that was where we found the contentment. In state of boredom, we would never always have that kind of excitement. We realized that we had many things to do in SEALNet, but the pleasure it gave was priceless compared to simply playing online games, or doing shop-till-you-drop in malls, or spending the time writing without having any experiences garnered. The similar thing that I myself earned when I was in Taman Simalem, especially during the jungle trek and my observation towards the starry starry night.

Holiday is not the time to let me die in boredom; I need to do my best to make use of the 40-day period well.

Time seems to have walked faster, though we do not vividly feel it. Scientists said (as quoted from a magazine I had been oblivious on what its name was and when I found it) that there is a clear relationship between earth-and-moon-distance with the time it passes through. The further the moon from the earth is, the faster the time passes. Unless I’m mistaken, they sum it up as ‘one-second acceleration’ every year the moon distances itself further from our little, brittle planet. (anybody who’s the unsinkable master of Physics, please explain to me.) And I could feel that way. One week seemed too fast once it’s all over, but one week seemed quite slow when it’s all happening.

I had forgotten the name of the orphanage chief (seems like I had to ask my friends what his name is). But he is a very kind and friendly man. In the past, I only used to feel the sense of humanity by watching from TV shows, or listening to any inspirational programs, or reading any motivation-inducing stories. This time, I felt it. I felt it, directly, deep into my heart. There is a kind of contentment I could not describe. It all happened very swiftly.

First, there were half of us who distributed packs of snacks and stationery items for the kids. And I made my own initiative. First, I was afraid when I decided to donate two motivation books (the titles were Champion! and Fight Like A Tiger, Win Like A Champion, both written by Darmadi Darmawangsa). It’s not because I was reluctant to do so; I was just afraid whether they would really read them or not. Suddenly, I was reminded the moment when I gave Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret to our family’s ex-servant last year. She’s now married, and lives in Dumai, Riau. She had ever told me that she really wanted to read the book the most. And I made a bold decision to bequeath it to her. I did not regret – and never regret it – if I had to lose 100 thousand rupiah (the cost of the book), but happiness was unchargeable with any costs. I just felt like I had to bequeath these books, because they are no longer truly my own – and I will never own them forever. I had never read them for 2 years, more or less. I just felt that I should ‘do that’, I had to let them go.

When I gave these motivation books to bapak panti, suddenly I sobbed. Again, I felt like I was not truly me. As if some kind of maudlin spirit had possessed into my body. There was some kind of redemption, and it happened instantaneously. I felt like I was totally free. Free of what, I did not have any ideas. However, the most important thing I could ever tell you was I was free. I felt free after I let them go. That’s all.

We came out of the orphanage, and we took pictures altogether. We shook hands and hugged each other, hoping for success and happiness in the future.

To be honest, there were many other things I wanted to tell you. But I think the ending part suited the most here. Actually we still have the closing ceremony, but I’ve thought that it’s enough that I end it here.

I pray that we will meet again altogether, on a very one fine day.

One fine day.

We took the picture with these kids for the last time. Despite the fact I am still a bit skeptic, I have been hardwired to be optimistic.


The mentees, in the closing ceremony.

First row: Leonardy Kristianto

Second row (left to right): Anthony Morgan Tjoe, Winnie Jesslyn, Adriana

Third row (left to right): Jennifer Lie, Sevien, Eldson (the one that hugs me), Wilbert (we had the closing ceremony in his home, on 28th June), and Hartono Wijaya

Fourth row: that’s me!

Our beloved mentors.

First row: Riandy, three huddling women in the sofa (left to right): Jesselyn (Wilbert’s elder sister), Adeline, and Yolita, Winnie Illona, Desilia, Edric (the one who’s behind Desi), and Ricky

Second row: Hady, and Joshua (the one whose head was in horizontal position by the time the picture was taken)