Longer – and stranger – than names

A few months ago, my mom told me after she came across a poster by a local legislative nominee attached on the window over a car’s back part that there was something ‘peculiar enough’. Not that of his facial expression, nor of the design altogether (despite the fact that many of Indonesia’s legislative nominees tended to be very eccentric, say, put the baby’s face instead of his father’s throughout the banners over the dwellings, or behave as if one were a superhero in easily differentiable Photoshopped sketch), but simply speaking, it’s the name itself that bears the sense of being ‘weird’. Rather than beat around the bush, I’ll just simply mention his name: Tahi Malau.

As a matter of fact, ‘tahi’ in informal Indonesian means (expletive, perhaps?) – to make it sounds polite in formal English – human excrement’. But just, there was not much surprise on me upon discovering this fact. In general, there’s a habitude among some communities in Batak ethnic group (Malau, for example, is one of their family names) that they would name their children in accordance to what stuff they are ‘actually’ looking at or experiencing while the women are engendering them. If, for example, they are seeing table by the time the baby has been born, the possibility is overwhelmingly high that they would name their children ‘table’, or ‘meja’ as spoken in our national language, later on followed by the family’s surname from paternal side.


One of the most hilarious examples was shown by my math tuition teacher when he showed that there was a bus driver named ‘Terlambat Bangun’ – ‘overslept’ as translated in English. Perhaps, in my assumption, his father came up late at the same time his mother had already breast-feeded him. (Bangun is a surname from Batak Karo community)

If we try to spot deeper around the world, and think deeper about any out-of-the-ordinary stuff we commonly perceive as ‘absurdism’, we only begin to realize that sometimes people are by and large – or just simply saying – really crackpot enough when it comes to giving something and someone else names. For example, there is a railway station in Wales named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Seriously, it may take 1000 hours of your life only to know how to spell this place correctly; excluding the actual ‘meaning’ behind it (translation: “St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave”).


What’s more, there is a country where you might face absolute difficulty given that you utter ‘merry christmas and a happy new year’ in their own national language. Estonia has authenticated that, marking this sentence with their Finnish-like argot, ‘Maalilist jõuluööeelootusaega ja illuminaarses aoõhetuses uusaastaöövastuvõtuhommikuidülli’.



Seems like chemistry has got its own cloistered hoop-la when it comes to naming chemical compounds. See titin, the largest known protein ever detected in human genes. When you take a look at this word, there is nothing special. Even when you take a very magnifying, close look at it, it still remains ‘titin’ as usual. But if you look at it backwards in time, the leeway is that you are going to end up in temporary comatose. I don’t know how they precisely did it, but here is its so-called ancestor: Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl…isoleucine (in total: 189,819 letters.) It is more or less similar to a 100-page novel written very neatly in a very condensed font.

Absurdity goes on without name changes at all. There is a hill in South Australia whose aboriginal name is still well-preserved; Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya, that’s how most of the Australians are used to calling until now. But, what’s farcical behind it is when it comes to translating the name. This hill’s name, if you ask any local Aborigine, will be defined in Pitjantjatjara language as “where the devil urinates”. Let us hope the devil won’t loosen its bowels as well.



But, sometimes, people can’t stand emotionally with how long they should spend only to pronounce a place name. Government of Thailand, whichever subterfuge it is, perhaps grew up exhausted while they had to patiently wait for foreigners only to spell their capital’s name in correct structure and pronounciation. Thus, in 1860s, King Mongkut decided to convert Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit to Bangkok. Just simply, Bangkok.

Let us venture briefly to Norway, land of the pristine fjords. But don’t be surprised if you spot a village that is just simply named ‘A’. A that is just a big A, and that’s it. What’s more, there are even 7 dorps – scattered across different municipalities throughout the polity – named simply A. Here they are, as listed in Wikipedia:

  • Å, a village in Andøy municipality, Nordland, Norway
  • Å, a village in Moskenes municipality, Nordland, Norway
  • Å, a village in Meldal municipality, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway
  • Å, a village in Åfjord municipality, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway
  • Å, a village in Ibestad municipality, Troms, Norway
  • Å, a village in Lavangen municipality, Troms, Norway
  • Å, a village in Tranøy municipality, Troms, Norway

There’s even more to it. Many of the localities in are simply named O, Ål, Ås, By, Bø, Hå, He, Hø, Io, Ka, La, Lå, Li, Lo, Lø, Mo, Nå, Oa, Øn, Os, Ra, Rå, Re, and Ve. Guess like Norway should be retitled ‘land of the shortest-named places’.



In Turkey, there is even a mid-sized city named Batman. What makes this Batman even more popular worldwide is not the sudden emergence of an extremely affluent superhero out there; instead, this is because of a lawsuit. A lawsuit-to-be, to be more perhaps. Huseyin Kalkan, then-Mayor of Batman, was planning to file a lawsuit against Christopher Nolan in 2007, the finesse filmmaker behind the critically and commercially successful mind-boggling films like Batman trilogy and Inception, as he claimed that Nolan had misused ‘Batman’ name without prior approval by the city’s inhabitants and public administrations, and what he claimed as ‘unsolved murders and suicides of girls resulted by psychological impact following the forbidding, box-office success of Batman Begins. In the long run – perhaps after further examination in Oxford dictionary – the mayor decided to revoke his plan back.



In Austria, there is even a village named Fucking (rather than F***king with 3 little stars, and is spelt in German as [ˈfukɪŋ]). Unusually, ever since established in 6th century AD, this sparsely-populated village had undergone through several name changes, ranging from Focko in the beginning (Focko was the name of the founder), to Vucchingen in 1070, Fukching in 1303, Fugkhing in 1532, and lastly, Fucking in the 18th century. Locals there are known for their demonym – unwillingly – as ‘Fuckingers’ (thanks God it’s not ‘fuckers’ or politely, ‘f***ers’) by British and American soldiers who came to liberate Europe from Nazi control by the end of World War II. Today, Fucking is widely known as one of Austria’s main tourist spots, particularly after an annual festivity known as ‘Festival of the Fuck Bands’, which included local bands like Fucked Up, Holy Fuck, Fuck and Fuck Buttons.

As of today, local police in Fucking are now messed around with frequent reports that foreign tourists frequently use ‘Fucking’ notice signs to have sexual intercourse.

Lastly, in Alaska, there is a small town named Eek, which if translated and read into informal Indonesian (spelled as [e-ek]), will be defined as ‘defecating’.


However weird they are named, however irrelevant they are perceived, and however puzzling they are understood, there is always one main lesson behind it: these names have made the world a more colorful place to see and to live.



Click for more unbelievable names here.

For more unbelievable ones, click here.

How teaching should be about


This is another episode of my experiences I have been going through while leading SEALNet Medan Chapter as a president. Beginning effectively on a bright, sapphire-blue Saturday afternoon on 27th August, 2011, it turned out that the number of mentees (members of our extra-curricular activity) commenced to decrease gradually. There were almost 170 students who had registered to us, and yet in so far, only 130 of them did really ‘show up’ throughout our workshop sessions we organized every week. After further sessions, the figure had dropped sharply to 85, with some possibly would resign.

It was not uncommon that we frequently harked any confidential grumbles by some students criticizing the programs we made (and actually adapted from our seniors) as ‘flawed’ and ‘boredom-inducing’. I could even feel that quite many of them had been utilizing a popular ‘I-have-an-additional-tuition’ subterfuge in order to withhold the main reason they quitted from SEALNet Medan Chapter (as a matter of fact, this ‘quote’ had been extrovertedly popular for students expressing their tedium over the extra-curricular programs they join in our school, and perhaps, the entire schools over the planet).

When I glanced deeper at our attendance list, I saw quite many members were not that whole-heartedly joining our program; their attendance on the workshop sessions was no more than a half. Only about half of all students who did really ‘show up’ on 9 sessions we had currently administered, did really so on 6 or more sessions.

I kept on brooding over all the materials we had once taught these mentees. We had reminisced back almost every stuff our seniors once taught us, for example, leadership egg, problem-solving, listening to Steve Jobs’ video (for more information about our seniors’ previous SEALNet Project, please read ‘the days I had in SEALNet’), and the rest was stuffed with playing only-for-fun games. But then more than half of them got bored with such activities. They got bored when they listened to me explaining. They became surfeited when they knew that they would be separated from their friends into groups for 15-minute general discussion (and add some more procrastinated time), and they showed off lethargic facial expressions when time had come for them for presentation. Nevertheless, I could bet that there were still half of them who were enthusiastic on the program, though not as similar as we experienced while the seniors became our mentors. But still, I could conjecture from the others’ minds that ‘were the materials and activities still more or less the same, that involved all these boring discussion and presentation, we would have lifted our feet, and waved our hands to SEALNet’.

I analyzed about a plethora of flaws our program contains. They dislike too much discussion, they dislike too much presentation, too much brainstorming, and too much explanation. After thorough examination deep into my mind, I found out that it was partially the materials’ fault, and the other was our own fault, simon-pure. The materials tended to be too theoretical, entirely based on hypotheses and all sorts of ‘plausible possibilities’. And I myself know that the world in reality is 180-degree different from the world I explain in theory. Here lies our fundamental flaw. Second, our teaching method was pretty much stilted. Albeit we are students, we have inspirited our mentors’ duties too deep. Afterwards, I thought, why should we be too strict, too stiff, and too tense? We had difficulty in relaxing. And so did the mentees in an entirety of 90 minutes every week (we usually begin teaching supposedly from 12.30 to 14.00, but sometimes, due to prolonged Gummizeit, we often held it in between 12.40 and 12.50).

I asked some of the members about what we should do to improve our teaching quality. Some of them told me that they want to do ‘something new’ other than the perpetual cycle of listening, discussing, and presenting ideas. But quite many of them had no novel ideas on improving our program. I asked some of the mentors in our Blackberry chat group, and they put up a few references, for example, ‘organizing a Halloween session’ (that’s Adriana’s idea), ‘designing your own game’ session (Claristy’s), ‘debating class’ (Handoko), and et cetera. I also personally requested our mentors’ coach, Mr.Supian Sembiring, on ideas to make a better workshop. But, the answer still remains the same: no better idee fixe.

Not giving up, I also asked my close friends, Carin and Amelia, for some suggestions. In fact, they understand more about the real essence of leadership than I – and perhaps, we – do. Carin, who is my classmate, and with whom we share the same table altogether – even once asked me back, after I explained all the materials we had conveyed to the members: “Examine back your Oxford dictionary, and re-read what ‘leadership’ actually means.” In the long run, she lent me her own, and let me read the definition, back and forth.

I tried very hard racking my brain to discover any ‘practical stuff’we can ask the students not only to listen and discuss and do presentation, but also to really ‘do’ it. I guessed it took hours to crystallize any bright crinkum-crankum my mind yielded. And, afterwards, an instant flush of inspiration struck me. Where did that ‘meteorite of inspiration’ come from? I recalled that some of my Blackberry contacts had been harnessing the technology to market their products. The power of ‘new broadcast messages’ icon in Blackberry Messenger is the (momentarily) irreplaceable key for them to successfully promote their products other than any ilks of communication tools, like SMS or MMS.

Why don’t we give them chances to become entrepreneurs?

Why do we still restrict them from doing something ‘they do want’?



Afterwards, I asked some of my friends – particularly those who are members of SEALNet Medan Chapter – whether they would approve this method or not. The response was overwhelmingly positive; almost all of them no longer showed lethargic expression when I gave them opportunities to do whatever businesses they like to do. But still, most of the third-graders did not give consent upon my proposed plan, as they had to prepare for university enrollment, and all sorts of TOEFL, IELTS, SAT  tuitions facing them as a prerequisite to apply in foreign institutions (Claristy will arrange the alternative task aside of ‘entrepreneurship program’. No matter how, more than 60 students from Senior High School First Grade, Second Grade, and only a handful from Third Grade (countable by everyone’s fingers) did really participate in our business project. What’s more, I also granted them multitudinous sorts of freedom, ranging from choosing which group they would like to be in (unlike the conventional system, in which we, as the mentors, determined to which group they should be admitted in, not the mentees themselves) recruiting non-SEALNet members (even if they want their parents, or servants, to get engaged in, I’m still okay with that), rewarding them vast membership quota on every group to 20 members, and lastly, doing whatever businesses they like within one month, commencing from 5th November, 2011 until 3rd December, 2011.

Some of the students from Accelerated Class First Grade co-operate altogether with some from 10-2 in baking, promoting, and selling cupcakes. They even asked me to have a shot at it. It was pretty tasty, but I was not oblivious to inform them that they should not put too much sugar in the cupcakes. I also witnessed myself how they compactedly ventured from one class to another, asking the students one by one to purchase their cupcakes. In less than 2 days, they had earned more than 500 thousand rupiah (similar to approximately 55 US$; well, fortune has blessed them, I guess).


What’s more, I even grant them freedom to use our bulletin board to post their colorful, neatly-written advertising poster.


My close friend, Evando, did something really different. In informal Indonesian, you could call it mengamen, but in order to be more formal and – specifically – courteous, I just called it ‘singing service’. Evando, and another close friend of ours, Felly Gibran (a non-SEALNet member), played on the guitars and sang songs from one class to another during recess period, and within 2 days, they had been singing in 3 classes, and earned almost 300 thousand rupiah (app. 33 US$). In this task, Steven (again, our intimate friend), acted as the MC who guided these guitarists from classes to classes.

More good news came soon as the mentors began reporting to me that some of them are selling books, bookmarks, Danbo, and chocolate corn flakes. In this day’s workshop session, all of them discussed further about what other products they would like to make, promote, and sell. Some of them are considering to sell movie discs, to produce street snacks, and if I’m not mistaken, producing albums with remix music. And dozens of ideas currently on their lists, in so far.

The gusto was again restored. I have learnt something priceless, at least, after losing so many valuable SEALNet members within these 3 months: grant them freedom, and let them grow and learn by themselves. Don’t stick too much on theory and explanation. Don’t simply teach, but educate. Make something practical. I myself don’t see ‘entrepreneurship’ as the only means of sharpening leadership skills. Almost everything needs these stuff. That’s what I have never truly learnt on the previous SEALNet project, seriously. And that’s why I never say that the SEALNet Medan Chapter we made has really succeeded. We still have a lot of things to learn and do. Yet, it’s just 3 months old, anyway.

Lastly, I hope that our education system is no longer stiff and theory-based. Let us see how teaching should be about in the future.

Creativity unleashed. A ‘multitasking’ bra that can save your life.

Elena Bodnar’s design, a special brassiere that can be utilized as ’emergency masks’ in times of fireplace, was awarded the 2009 Ig Nobel Public Health Prize – perhaps the best parody of the most prestigious bestowal in the world, Ig Nobel Prize.

*note: Ig Nobel Prize is only awarded to scientists with eccentric, out-of-the-box, innovative scientists that, adjusted to its motto – ‘first make people laugh, and then make them think’, can save the world today. What’s more, all these prizes are awarded by Nobel laureates. Indisputably, this is the most prestigious parody among all the others you have never seen before.