Last City I Loved: Abu Dhabi



An international student studying in the capital of the United Arab Emirates reflects on her personal life she’s spent in a place she both loves and hates, one to happily enjoy and to sadly demure, and also one she never really calls it ‘a home’ (as she says most of the city’s inhabitants, mainly consisting of temporary migrants from hundreds of different nationalities), but one with an everlasting knock-of-heart on her chapters of life.

You can read her touching, honest essay in one of The Rumpus’ sections, Last City I Loved.




I fly often too, although I get no joy from it. I fly long distances—fourteen, sixteen hours at a time. What do I do on all those flights, hours of my life being whiled away on nothing? I sleep, mostly, and do not dream. Sometimes it feels as if time doesn’t pass up there, as if we were stuck in a different dimension, far away from any notion of real life.

But then, real life often seems to me more of a dream than anything I could imagine. I have the habit now of tracing foreign words on surfaces in my own made-up Arabic calligraphy. The curling letters, the way they flow into each other like rivers joining to meet the sea. Although I know the Arabic word for dream, I prefer my own. I trace mine over and over again, thinking it, an endless script in my head. I feel a warm affinity when I hear Arabic being spoken, a sense of familiarity.

And yet my sense of home has somehow melted away. When I am in Abu Dhabi, I miss New York and Chongqing and Buenos Aires and all the other places in the world that mean something to me. And when I am in those other places, I miss Abu Dhabi. What a terribly strange thing it is to always be missing someplace wherever I am in the world. What a terribly strange thing it is to belong nowhere because I could, if I chose to, belong anywhere.

At the same time, my wonder at seeing new places has also diminished. The more places I go, the less charm travel holds. That awful human trap: becoming used to wonder. The ability to travel is an astonishing gift that I should never, ever take for granted—and yet, I do, sometimes. Often. Of course I do. It’s not new to me anymore.

A long story of our T-shirt

planetmoney t-shirt



Visit an apparel store, choose the best, most trendy, or candy-colored t-shirt as you like, pay it, and wear it: these are, in a sequence of events, the same things all of us virtually do.

But hold on a second. Do we really bother to know how a t-shirt gets made, and arrives, in the long run, into our department store? The story itself, if you think deeper, doesn’t turn out to be as simple as we ever imagine. Before we ever set ourselves to go round the planet, the cotton, and the t-shirt afterwards, has preceded us.

Probably our cotton is planted, at its best, in United States, using all the advanced machinery and genetically modified variants to yield the best quality, or at its worst, in Uzbekistan, where millions of people are, in a Hobson’s choice situation, conscripted into the country’s repressive, forced-labor cotton-planting system run by the regime’s cronies.  Probably the cotton is then processed somewhere else in Indonesia, Bangladesh, or in Colombia. Probably the t-shirt gets made in Bangladesh or in Cambodia, where most of the workers are paid decent wages with little safety standards. Or possibly, for happier end, produced in Colombia, where minimum wages are much slightly higher than those in average developing countries.

It takes money, time, sacrifice, blood, and even tears, to bring all these t-shirts to us, customers. 4 million people in Bangladesh, employed in the country’s garment industry, and mostly women, are salaried with one of the world’s lowest minimum wages; still, though, despite all the international protests, particularly after the Rana Plaza incident which killed up to 1,000 people, they feel relatively ‘safer’ than back in their villages; they can afford to pay off family debts; they gain more ‘freedom’ than having to be married off to local men who oftentimes become abusive; and, last but not least, they can provide enough money to pay for their children’s, or relatives’, education and healthcare. With all the hardships going on, they are creating dreams not only for themselves, but also for their families, and indirectly, for the whole nation currently experiencing economic boom, at the expense of their perspiration and hard work.

This is not only taking place in Bangladesh; elsewhere in this planet, either in Indonesia, Colombia, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, or even the United States, everybody is building up better dreams, one t-shirt at a time.

Watch the videos at NPR’s Planet Money to increase your understanding about your t-shirt.


NB: the picture above is Planet Money’s t-shirt, the manufacturing processes by which have been recorded, from how the cotton is planted, processed, and made into t-shirt, to how it is shipped back to the States.

Why Hong Kong never sleeps

July 2011



Before you watch the time-lapse videos below, let me ask you one question: do you thoroughly realize the ultimate hustle and bustle that never ceases preoccupying this city? Either you see it from its light-coruscated skyline, its seemingly endless flow of passers-by, vehicles, buses, and trucks going back and forth, or the slam-bang noises you hear in almost any restaurant, or even simply moving boats, ships, and passenger jets, this is undeniably true of the real spirit of Hong Kong.

Whatever people have said that situation in Hong Kong is generally deteriorating after its handover to China in 1997, or whatever they quoth that the British administration did much better, the Hong Kong spirit is still maintained to this date. But, in the long run, though, nobody can lucidly predict the long-term future afterwards.

Whatever the discomfiture, soothe down your mind awhile and watch the videos below!



The most recent one:


Monocle’s 5 loveable cities in 2013

colombo skyline

Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka

Source: Skyscrapercity


These cities may not be deemed as remarkable as the others, on a global scale, have been; yes, each of these cities faces problems, either of political instabilities or tumultuous, acute social problems, of little salubriousness or dim prospects, but things often turn out not to be one-sided. From one viewpoint they are perceived as not meritorious, but on the other hand, concurrently thanks to their setbacks, they possess rare qualities that the rest of the world may not have. They may not be considered ‘livable’ for bulk of the populace, but instead of being termed the former, they engrave a new title they probably should, in their glory, adhere to: lovable. Lovable for their uniqueness, their one-of-a-kind-ness, that tourists and globe-trotters alike may hardly find the replicate somewhere in this planet.

Monocle has just released its new list of ‘5 loveable cities in 2013’, and here are the winners:


1. Palermo (Italy)

Problems they face: run-riot mafia, endemic corruption, urban mismanagement

Good things: plentiful markets, friendly locals, picturesque beaches, tranquil urban parks

2. Colombo (Sri Lanka)

Problems they face: current recovery from civil war, poverty

Good things: economic boom, improvement in public transport, bustling tourism

3. Tel Aviv (Israel)

Problems they face: Middle East-related political violence, social insecurity

Good things: plentiful cafes, hip-hip-hurrah creativity in arts and culture, vibrant nightlife, booming start-up industry

4. Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Problems they face: barely any (only slow-paced life)

Good things: strong cultural identity, plentiful Buddhist temples, thriving arts industry, robust entrepreneurial culture

5. San Jose (Costa Rica)

Problems they face: refer to Chiang Mai

Good things: quality education, serene lifestyle, solid entrepreneurial spirit, tranquil urban parks, appreciation of historical values


Watch the video at Monocle for further description.

Javin Lau – Hong Kong is Home

Hong Kong is Home.

I remember when I first arrived in Hong Kong almost a decade ago, I felt like I had walked into an actual movie set. It was a place that I had only seen on TV as a kid, with its strange red taxi’s, odd stop lights and driving on the other side of the road.

My intent with this project was to illustrate the grandeur of Hong Kong that most people would never get to see. When I had recently watched the movie Oblivion, it had somehow starkly reminded me of Hong Kong, with the feeling of being so insignificantly small — almost irrelevant to my surroundings. Hong Kong is an unbelievably dense city, where much of the world can be accessed at your fingertips. But in a city where you can access the material world in a matter of seconds, it also has the ability to isolate you from the 8 million people around you as well.

With this piece, I hope that you are able to engage in this contradiction. – Javin Lau, creator of this video.

Well done, Javin! I can’t help describe more about my fondness of your breath-taking, hyper-realistic depiction of the world’s most vertical metropolis. I am sure everybody will love peeping into these microcosms that you piece, that make this place a vibrantly living ‘organism’.

Please visit his website for more over-the-edge, picturesque depictions of skyline over the world’s metropolises.

After a full-month hiatus, here’s my latest post….

Well, I’ve got little enough words to say, but this was the very first time in my lifetime my face (altogether with my shorty body) was exposed to TV station, and well, it’s a general-knowledge competition about ASEAN and its member-states!

Note: I bet you won’t be able to see me (hint: I’m the one in the yellow, ornamental Riau Malay clothes)




Click on the link above. Oh, one more thing worth telling you : it’s almost 40 minutes long. Expect no tedium to serve your eyelids.

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)

Somewhere in Simalem

There were more or less 24 people besides me who took part in an eco-trip to Taman Simalem, located in Toba Lake, Karo Regency, North Sumatera, Indonesia on June 11 (Saturday), 2011. The caravans were scheduled to depart by 7.30 am, but the timing was procrastinated to more or less 7.40 am.

2 caravans were rented to bring us into what people commonly describe as sculpturesque. To tell you the truth, all the 12 people needed to jostle each other for an approximately 4-hour sojourn. I sat over the corner on the most behind row, both thighs put very tight as there were the other 3 sharing the same seat with me. My body was a bit stiff after the journey, but there are no regrets after taking part in this trip.

The driver was particularly professional, that he was able to push ahead other cars, public-transport buses, and trucks. I was a bit scared, but fortunately, nothing much happened throughout the time the caravans were moving to Simalem.

The roads were hard to cross, but there is no other way except to cross them. They were rocky, two-by-four, and some were filled with potholes or pit roads. Especially when it comes to driving towards Berastagi. The road throughout the mountains reminded me of ‘dying, wounded, bony snakes’. If the drivers were not that careful, the vehicles would either fall down into the land or slip into the trench that is on the left side of the road.

You may feel deplored by its addle-pated infrastructure, but getting in through Toba Lake would compensate for it.

Taman Simalem, which is 30 hectares big, consists of many places we would have to use caravans to move from one place to another. We may either go up or go down, because the geographic structure of the plain here is a bit wavy. We did not live in the hotel, instead we spent the night in a dorm. Even it took 5 minutes of driving to reach the nearest restaurant.

We reached the place by the time it was 11.40 pm. We had a lunch somewhere near the checkpoint; the nice thing is we could enjoy the tranquil sceneries of the tropical rainforest, and the sluggish flow of water throughout a river in front of us. The organizer, Miss Jennifer, who is my Mandarin tuition teacher as well, distributed to us packs of nasi bungkus, which primarily consist of white rice, egg, fried chicken, spicy tempe (fermented soybeans), and gado-gado (a kind of local hodgepodge). It was such kind of a big pack that I could barely afford to finish them.

Time showed 12.20 pm. We got back into the caravan, spent an additional 5- or 10-minute interval, and we reached the dorm. We checked in to the rooms, put our suitcases inside, and got back to the caravans. Some of us (except me and a few) were having fun by challenging their adrenalines on flying fox. Reminded of latest news reports in which people were stuck while having flying-fox made me afraid of doing it. But I could not regret it; it’s all happened. In the long run, it turned out to be not that scary at all. Every person required less than a minute to glide through the ropes. While they were having fun in flying-fox, I went into a nearby forest, and took some pictures of them with my Blackberry. Little, black butterflies surrounded this little forest. Streams of water were flowing past the stones over a river. The sky was sapphire blue. The atmosphere was slightly hot, but it was much better compared to that of Medan. The waves of wind slapped through my body ferociously, as if I would have been blown were I thinner two-times fold.

It was – unless I’m mistaken – 3 pm, and we got back into the caravans, and stopped by a cafe. There were toilets besides the building, and we spent some time to either urinate or defecate. Afterwards, we had a jungle trek. The caravans stopped on the roadside near the jungle, we came out of the caravans, and split into 2 groups. Each group would be accompanied by one tour guide, and mine was guided by Mr.Kaban (one of the surnames of Batak Karo ethnic group). I did not ask the name of the other one. Every few minutes we would stop by, and Mr.Kaban would explain everything about the forest. About the trees, about ‘Barbie harms Indonesian forests’, about ‘one tree provides oxygen for many, many people’, etc.

This is the first time I learn directly to get in touch with nature. I can’t vividly describe the jungle as it may require pages and pages to mention them all. About the trees, about the leaf-rots-laden ground, the rocky path as we got nearer into the jungle, the unique plants, and a long list to go. I should not have described the jungle like how Charles Dickens described the 18th-century London. But just let me summarize. The trees were tall, whose heights averaged at meters high, and the countless leaves made the sky only able to be seen in forms of big, shapeless dots. The ground was laden with leaf rots. The path was wavy, as sometimes it may go down, at the other time it may go up. Up and down, down and up, like the composition of musical tones in an orchestra.

After crossing through hundreds and hundreds of meters, we were finally able to make it. We saw a large waterfall. The river was not too deep. We had to step on the shapeless stones carefully in order to get in touch directly with the waterfall, unless we could fall down and hit our heads on them. Fortunately, nothing terrible happened, despite the facts I almost fell down on the stones a few times.

I did not jump into the waterfall and splash myself with it. I just spent some time sitting on one of the big stones, and took some pictures with my Blackberry. The splashing session ended at 4.30 pm, and we had to get back to the dorm. The first group previously left us, meanwhile the girls were exchanging clothes (with Miss Jennifer taking a bath towel and opened it wide in order to shun anybody from looking at them) I was involved in a conversation with Mr.Kaban. He told me many things. He had ever guided Western tourists, and watched them getting fully naked as they jumped into the waterfall. He had ever been to jungles in Aceh, and befriended with some GAM fighters (GAM is an abbreviation of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or Aceh Movement for Independence, a rebel organization who in the past struggled to achieve an independent Aceh state). His English was a bit not fluent, but at least I got some points from him. If there were no GAM members in the jungle, the trees would have been chopped down by the locals, because the jungles were the base camps for the combatants. He had ever tried marijuana there, but only once. Only once in a lifetime. He had also travelled to Nias, and told that one of his friends offered him a shark bone for any ‘supernatural power’. But he fully turned down the offer, replying that he ‘has full belief in God’.

As the girls had finished exchanging their clothes, our conversation ended. We returned to the same path we got in. It was 5.30 pm when we got back into the hotel. After taking a bath, we gathered together in the main lobby. We got in to the caravans, and had dinner in a nearby restaurant. The air was purely fresh, and I inhaled in as much air as I could. Everything was so tranquil and peaceful. Out there, was what I mentioned as ‘starry starry night’. There were little, sparkling stars in the sky like countless beads scattered in an ocean of darkness. The waves of wind moved swiftly toward my body, and I could feel touches of coldness throughout my body.

We had a sharing session in a nearby building at 8 pm. Miss Jennifer told us to summarize what points we had learnt from having the eco-trip. Afterwards, we had karaoke session. I was deeply drowsy that I almost fell asleep amidst the explosive sound of the songs. I came back into the dorm at 10.30 pm. I was deeply asleep.

The next day, all of us had to wake up as early as 4 am, in order to watch the sunrise. I was the very first one, together with one of my roommates, Michael, to wake up exactly at that moment. As there were no toilets in the rooms, we needed to get out, and shared all the 4 bathrooms outside, altogether with other boys. And so were the sinks. I wore two jackets, brushed my teeth, and loosened my bowels. It was just 4.30 am when these things were all done. I came back into the room, with hands shivering. The wind was much more violently cold than I thought; inside, it was much warmer.

Most of the participants only woke up as time showed 5 am. I came out of the room, sat in the main lobby, and read my National Geographic magazine I put in my backpack. It was 5.30 am when all of us came out of the dorm, and watched the sunrise. The sky that was purely black began to fade into dark blue, then into deep reddish orange, until a flashing yellowish light began to emerge. The surrounding sky metamorphosed from deep black into greyish blue, before it faded into pale, light blue. I captured some of these moments in my Blackberry, but unfortunately, there were some technical problems with the handphone that it suddenly turned off automatically. Luckily, it didn’t take much time to activate the handphone back.

At 7 am, we had breakfast in the same restaurant we had dinner the previous day. Afterwards, we visited organic farms. This time, all of us were only accompanied by Mr.Kaban. We also paid a visit to a marquisa farm, a coffee-and-tea plantation, and sipped a cup of coffee and tea in an organic-food market. We also visited a Buddhist shrine, and the building’s status was still far from accomplished. We again returned to the dorm, and time showed 10.40 pm. We all had to check out at 11.30 pm, so some of us immediately took a hurry-scurry bath.

On the final lunch in Taman Simalem, we were treated with plates of fried rice, chips, and fried chicken. We left the place at 12.30 pm, on June 12 (Sunday), 2011. I still miss the jungle, the waterfall, and the sceneries I found it hard to describe them one by one.

And the ‘starry starry night’, one thing I missed the most.

The scenery of the river while all of us had lunch before we checked in to the dorm.

The sceneries of Toba Lake I took besides the dorm.

This picture was taken in the checkpoint of Taman Simalem.

I took this picture while most of them had fun in the flying-fox.

The jungle we trekked in. It reminded me of the Pandora in ‘Avatar’.