September 16, 2012 Leave a comment
The promising side of NTU
This is a space where we can speak our mind
August 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Mr. Khairoul always comes in style. Swaggering with his Marvel-themed headphone and simple T-shirt and bermuda, he would walk along the Singapore river to face another hard day of customers-are-not-always-right conclusions. But that wouldn’t matter to him. He’s been in this business for more than 20 years and more than ready to answer less-than-pleased customers; he’s paid to do that job. Plus, he’s got cigarettes ready to relieve his stress. Always smiling and professional, he wouldn’t seem fit to depict any kind of harsh reality.
Let’s dig in deeper to Mr Khairoul’s life. He was born in the1975, so he’s part of the X-generation. A few months after he was born, his parents got divorced. He wouldn’t meet his dad until he turned 21. His first dime was the first salary he drew from working part time in KFC when he was 14 years old. Not all people are fated to live up Scrooge McDuck’s badassery, although he does dream to live like one. He believes the value of the work lies in the sense of accomplishment one gets from doing it, rather than the return one gets from it. The realization dawned on him upon cleaning his grandmother’s windows so seriously that he fixated the resulting crystal clear glasses the whole day.
His salary is SGD$1,200, which would become a mere $80, with which he has to survive until the subsequent month-end, as soon as he gets his pay by the end of the month. Is he that extravagant? Nope. On the very next day after his payday, he’d pay his rent, buy diapers and milk for his newborn infant, settle some of his debts, top up his EZ link card and give some money for his then-unemployed wife.
At one point of time he got evicted from his room due to him failing to pay his rent. So he left the room, at the same time leaving behind his clothes and personal stuffs.
The managerial position that he currently sits in would seem to entitle him some negation of troubles. But oh well, circumstances do not sit well with those working in F&B line most of the time. Customers always want the food to be delivered within 10 minutes. Whatever mistakes the kitchen staff makes, he has to account for them to the customers. His service crew’s failure to specify price and promotion, he has to bear those complaints too. He is the general of the daily war against the wave of dissatisfaction and dissonance with diners.
He, additionally, has to account for those troubles to his bosses. When there’s a complaint, he has to write incident reports, his performance would be evaluated thoroughly and his bonus salary would be cut. Yet when he gets a commendation, he would be simply referred to as an example with no increase in bonus salary. When there is not enough manpower, he has to work long hours to make up for it without getting extra pay. But when circumstances permit him to take shorter hours, he can’t, because it’s against the standard of procedures. Sacrifices and achievements are not met with rewards accordingly. Yet he just smiles amiably as if smiling solves every single problem on earth.
Financial problems are the major cause of marital quarrels. His salary doesn’t enable him to buy his wife shoes and clothes that she desires. As he does not have a home yet, his wife still stays with his in-laws while he rents a room elsewhere. Sometimes obligation does not permit him to meet her as often. His in-laws often disapprove him. Once in a while he dejects upon his fate. At times tears run down this man’s cheeks when he has to stand courageous protecting his crew and maintaining the company’s reputation. The show must go on, that’s his favorite consolation line.
Mr. Khairoul takes the blows. He steadfastly serves every single person who steps into his outlet with a sense of pride and honor. But what’s more, he loves Singapore. He loves Singapore despite her giving him problems in borrowing money, condoning ungracious customers and leaving him behind in the ride of rapid economic development.
Nonetheless, he looks forward to every single new dawn of the day. He has dreams and aspirations. He wants to see his kids grow up to become a man with affluence and a sense of justice. He never misses any single prayer. He thanks God for every single touch his wife makes although they have quarreled over simplest matters a thousand times. He respects his in laws relentlessly although they give him hard times. A sense of hopefulness makes each of his breakfast better and each of the sun rise more heartwarming than the previous morning’s.
This is the story Singapore often overlooks in the midst of busy days and mind-boggling business. The person who serves us is a man with a wife and children. Similar to us, he’s got his problems and dilemmas. He can have bad days. He can weep and become angered. He has to face problems from all sides. He is exposed to inequities and injustice. Even worse, he does not have anyone’s protection. He is all alone in this cruelty that many of us condone and perpetuate. But amid all, he still has to smile because that’s what his job obliges him.
He is just like us.
This is a Singapore story, recounted by Mr Khairoul’s loyal friend, as an ode for him.
July 14, 2011 Leave a comment
When I met Pak Aceng at the highest tip of Tangkuban Perahu, he was sitting on a wooden bench with his left foot put up on the bench. It was a pretty worn down bench. The wood was already moss-stained and shaky. The hut he was sitting in was pretty humble. It was covered by a blue polymer fabric and supported by 4 bamboos, one in each corner. There in the hut Pak Aceng sold drinks and light snacks for tourists circling around the Tangkuban Perahu crater. The drinks he sold are considered expensive; a 500 ml bottle of Pocari Sweat is sold at Rp 11,000, almost twice the price charged in the supermarkets. But considering the hut being the only resting point available, the price is pretty worth it.
Every tourist who decides to sit in Pak Aceng’s resting point would be entitled for a free life lecture. Being a primary school graduate, Pak Aceng doesn’t seem to be as qualified in lecturing, especially to the high schoolers and undergraduates. But he would pretty much say what normal parents would say; education, the importance of good qualification, honesty and other values that signify the core of Sundanese philosophy of life. “Do not fool your parents at home.”, he would say. “The pride you gain from finishing education is not born by your parents, but by yourself.”
The Sundanese values that are deeply rooted in Pak Aceng is embodied in the grand mountain of Tangkuban Perahu. Standing steadfast in the northern part of Bandung, Tangkuban Perahu volcanic mountain has greatly influenced the development of early mysticism and values of Sundanese civilization for the last few thousands yeas. It is one of the mountain peaks along the great ring of fire and, consequently, its eruption has contributed to the richness and fertility of the Javanese soil.
On the subject matter of Tangkuban Perahu, it is almost mandatory to discuss the legend of its emergence, the Legend of Sangkuriang. The legend of Sangkuriang has been foretold orally in stanzas. The first written reference was found in the 16th century AD in a manuscript on a palm leaf. There many versions of Sangkuriang, however I believe the most credible version goes on as follow:
Once upon a time King Sungging Perbangkara from the world of Jambudvipa went to hunt. In the jungle he took a piss on a leaf. The urine was drunk by a female boar named Wayungyang whom was impregnated by the piss. Thus she delivered a beautiful human baby whom the King named Dayang Sumbi. Dayang Sumbi was then brought into the palace to be brought up as a princess.
The stunning beauty of Dayang Sumbi invited proposals by surrounding kings, princes and vassals, all of whom subsequently warred against each other to win Dayang Sumbi’s heart. Unable to bear the consequence of her beauty, she retreated to the jungles to dedicate her life to sewing fabrics on a stage, accompanied by her servant, Tumang. One day, Dayang Sumbi dropped the Torak (magnifying glass) she used to sew. She then made a vow to make whoever taking it for her a husband if it’s a male or a blood sister if it’s a female. Unknowingly Tumang picked it up for Dayang Sumbi, who reluctantly married Tumang.
The King found out the marriage and was enraged. He cursed Tumang to turn into a dog and drove both him and Dayang Sumbi into exile in the jungle. There in the jungle Dayang Sumbi delivered a handsome baby boy whom she named Sangkuriang. Growing in a jungle, Sangkuriang became versatile in the art of hunting and survival.
One day Dayang Sumbi craved a heart and asked Sangkuriang to get one for her. So he went to hunt with Tumang. In the jungle Sangkuriang found Wayungyang, Dayang Sumbi’s boar mother, and asked Tumang to hunt her down for her heart. When Tumang refused, he killed Tumang instead and presented her his heart. When she found out that it was Tumang’s heart he presented to her, she was utterly enraged and hit Sangkuriang’s head with a rice spoon before driving him into further exile.
Thus Sangkuriang ran to the east not knowing where he was heading to. Along the way he found a mystical figure who taught him the art of magic and mysticism before he set off to see the world. After a few years he came back to his homeland from the west, forgetting it was his homeland, and met Dayang Sumbi,who has since devoted her time to religion and meditations and consequently gaining eternal youth, forgetting it was her mother. Dayang Sumbi, too, could not notice Sangkuriang as her son.
So they forged a relationship and started falling in love with each other. However, one day Sangkuriang was lying his head on Dayang Sumbi’s lap while proposing to her. Dayang Sumbi recognized the scar she left on Sangkuriang’s head and was flabbergasted. She tried to convince Sangkuriang that he was her son, but he refused to believe it and instead insisted to marry Dayang Sumbi. Dayang Sumbi thus challenged him to make a boat and dam a lake for their honeymoon before the dawn breaks, both of which Sangkuriang accepted.
Sangkuriang then summoned the guriangs (heavenly spirits) using the magic he learnt through his journey and managed to dam the lake from Citarum river. Dayang Sumbi, whom was worried, prayed to God to help her preventing the predicament that awaited her and exposed her magical shawl to the eastern horizon, as such it appeared the sun has risen from the east and awoken the roosters which consequently crowed and notified Sangkuriang of his failure to fulfill the challenge.
He kicked and upturned the boat he almost finished. The boat overtime grew into a mountain today known as Mount Tangkuban Perahu (literally means the mountain of upturned boat). The lake he managed to dam turned into Bandung basin, now turned into a major metropolitan in Indonesia. The rest of the wood turned into Mount Burangrang and the giant log for the boat turned into Mount Bukit Tunggul. Sangkuriang tried to go after Dayang Sumbi who has run off to Mount Putri and turned into a flower. Not able to find Dayang Sumbi, Sangkuriang ran off to the mystical world.
Thus it was the legend of Sangkuriang.
Anyway, back to topic. Tangkuban Perahu is a perfect place to retreat from the chaotic week and chill out. There are local stalls that sell light snacks and drinks as well as local delicacies around the main entrance where people can just sit in and relax while enjoying the cooling breeze of northern Bandung. However to me, that is the major mistake that most tourists made when they visit Mount Tangkuban Perahu.
Standing merely 2084 m above sea surface, the mountain may not be so much of a hiking destination. Indeed, road has been built to reach the crater and a few means of public transports such as minivan is widely available. However, exploring the circumference of the crater gives a really satisfying hike. The path is pretty difficult and, let alone the slippery footings, the slope is pretty steep. Only by going through the circumference we can get more angles of views of the crater. One of it is where people managed to get down to the dried crater and immortalized their presence there.
And yes, indeed we can climb the slope. It is a difficult ride, but the fatigue is worth it. The steepness of the slope is roughly like this one.
Along the way, there are some occasional heartening scenes. Such as this one.
And of course, some disheartening scenes, the proof of our ungracious tendencies.
Nonetheless, the trip to Tangkuban Perahu would be an exhilarating one.
How to go there: From Bandung, take a minivan that leads to Lembang from Ledeng terminal. Alight the minivan around the Lembang market and rent another minivan to give you a ride to Tangkuban Perahu. The total transport cost of the trip should not be more than Rp 20,000. In the entrance of Tangkuban Perahu, purchase an entrance ticket that costs Rp 13,000 to go to the crater.
Meanwhile, feast your eyes.
July 13, 2011 Leave a comment
That’s the title of the new soap opera I found when I finally got back home after 5 months of hard life. For the sake of those who don’t know what that means, the title simply means ‘disaster’.
And indeed the title fits the story pretty well. The series follows the life of a good-hearted girl whose father suffered from kidney failure and thus in need of urgent medical attention. The girl finds it hard to find money to pay for her father’s medical bill. However, her dad was initially a really envious and narrow-minded asshole – DISASTER! He found his wife cuddling in the arms of her best friend and thought that she was, you know….. DISASTER! Then an evil girl who came from nowhere (DISASTER!) sought to marry a married man and kill his wife. Her deceptions and pretensions pretty much fooled her mom all the way until 2 days ago. Consequently her mom has been seen as the rotten egg despite the director’s efforts to make her look good – DISASTER! A lady who sought to marry her mom’s best friend hates her because she’s been getting his attention, so she sought to kill her too – DISASTER! She was successfully struck by a car belonging to the hateful lady – DISASTER! Now she is paralyzed waist down (DISASTER!) and, in addition to that, can’t speak (DISASTER!). By this time, the dorky father can’t speak anymore too – DISASTER! And also the audience kind of forgets about his initial kidney problem – A BIG TIME DISASTER! How it fits its title really well!
And we always like the story of inequities and abuses, don’t we? Improve the spiciness of the films by adding a series of endless unfortunate events. Make the good people extremely unlucky and make the bad people incredibly, ermmm, dumb. Fail every single action, albeit done by the good people. Make the slightest push the most destructive punch and turn the most trivial events into the most life-changing experience of one’s life by constantly adding 30 seconds-long close-ups accompanied by long “DUN DUN DUN DUN!”s – that is the recipe for a good disaster movie! And the wise producer is doing the damn right thing by following all those guidelines and making this series relevant to the spirit of the title! Well done, Mr Leo Sutanto for delivering such coup de grace!
Thanks to RCTI, one of the oldest private media company in Indonesia, for its most relentless efforts in producing and distributing such beautiful and heartfelt soap opera! Thanks to them I am now deeply engrossed in this diversity of emotions and the richness of human speech as well as expression. Thanks to them now I have to watch this masterpiece with my mom although I badly want to watch Hollywood movies in another channel. Thanks to them for teaching me that the hottest babes are always the worst of the evils, and the good ladies can’t do anything besides crying and feeling helpless even in the most trivial problems. Thanks to them for telling me that the most charming guys always say “excuse me” before starting a speech and are unable to rebut any arguments. Thus from now on, I will always say “excuse me” before starting a speech, refrain myself from rebutting any argument put forth and look for the worst-of-the-evil females, simply because it is grand!
And, of course, thanks for the free education and empowerment. We, Indonesians, will be the most cultured, polite and charming people by watching this soap opera. And we shall always sit back and let God to settle each and every single personal problem that we face. Not only that, we shall always believe that the Almighty God will be the one to exact vengeance to those who wrong us.
And of course, it just has to run for 2 hours straight every single day! That is of great necessity! Give me the remote and I will maximize the volume without caring about my sleeping brothers and neighbors.
February 18, 2011 Leave a comment
Exactly 2 weeks ago I bought a Batik shirt for a friend a day before I came back to Singapore. The night after I fell to a deep reflection about Batik that did not allow me to fall to a deep slumber. Here I want to share that reflection.
The batik shirt in the picture isn’t the one I bought. The one I bought did not cost a lot nominally. But exactly because its nominal value is low, its intrinsic value is really high. Let me share to you my views.
First and foremost, most Indonesians will talk about the cultural importance of Batik. Its cultural value is priceless, its presence is irreplaceable and its position is sturdy. At some points of time Batik seemed to be the icon of Indonesian culture. A few years back it was said that the Malaysians claimed Batik as one of their own culture. We were enraged! Tens of hundreds of furious patriotic youths expressed their violent objection in a few waves of demonstrations taking place in front of the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta. Various leaders of ORMAS (Organisasi Masyarakat: People’s Organization, red.) blatantly showed their strong disagreement through the media, adding even more furies and condemnations to the chaotic state of affairs. Hundreds of facebook groups that campaigned for the official recognition of Batik as being authentically Indonesian emerged. So much so the UNESCO finally officially recognized Batik as authentically Indonesian. As to whether UNESCO genuinely considered so or merely relented to our voluminous whines, I can’t know for sure. But the point is UNESCO, who was supposed to be expressing neutrality regarding this issue, compromised their ideals to legitimately decreed Batik as authentically Indonesian upon hearing our spirited campaigns.
So as to its historical importance, Batik may represent the early commerce or human travel between Java and Africa, as it was evident in the presence of Batik in some parts of Africa. Most notably, Batik was worn by Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, in some of his public appearances, perhaps proving Batik’s rooted existence even in Africa.
However, the price of Batik is way more than that. So I fell into a deep reflection that night, thinking about that particular piece of Batik I bought.
The Batik I bought did not cost a lot. It was not the higher-end one, as meaning the one cost millions of Rupiahs. It was rather the decently cheap one. Apart from its quality and difference in levels of artistic value, I think the main differentiating factor of the price of Batik is its makers. So it is safe to assume that the one I bought was made by the lower end makers, those who sold their Batik products on the pedestals. However, the method of making Batik is generally similar. It undergoes similar meticulous and tedious procedures of dyeing, drying, and so on so forth, as such it is rather safe to conclude that all Batik makers go through the same painstaking routines every day. But my main focus here is the fate and situation of the lower-end Batik craftsmen.
When we break down the price of that Batik into its smaller components such as transporting cost, material cost and distributing profits, we will find a startlingly low figure. That figure represents the monetary value assigned to the efforts and skills of the Batik maker who made the shirt. And I can assure all of us here, it is barely enough to feed their families.
Yet they are still doing it. Perhaps even as I type and share my views here, there are Batik makers who are choosing dyes and printing designs on those fabrics. But why do they do that? What is inside their minds when they decide to repeat yesterday all over again when they wake up every morning? To them, opportunities are limited by circumstances. They do the same endlessly repetitive chore simply because they are negated from the means to climb the ladder of social strata. However, they hope their kids won’t end up like them when they grow up. So they work their asses off every single day to send their kids to school so that they can be doctors, lawyers and successful businessmen.
However most of the time it all ends up in vain. Due to social and economic prejudices, many of their kids fail to ascend across the social strata as such many of them end up as Batik craftsmen again.
This tendency is made even worse by the growing economy in Indonesia. The rapid growth of economy results in the increase of purchasing power among Indonesians. So much so they can afford to buy more Batiks. Thus the demands of Batik increase.
It seems good, doesn’t it? Growing demands mean Batik craftsmen have more orders and are able to earn more money. But its benefits are more apparent than real. First possible implication is that the growing demands of Batik in turn causes the surge in the number of Batik craftsmen whose work in turn increases the supply of Batik. Increased competitiveness among Batik producers result in the decrease of Batik price. As such, it is even harder to make money out of Batik today. The second implication is that it leads to the formation of factories that mass-produce Batik products. As such Batik products are made even cheaper than they previously were, directly competing the vulnerable street craftsmen that operate outside the factories and exposing workers to sweatshops and unfair wages. I have to admit that low price of clothing products perhaps are the results of availability of resources. But what is even more pertinent than that factor is the cheap wages of the workers in mass-producing factories most of which, in developing countries, are tantamount to sweatshops. In short, they are pretty much vulnerable, yet persistent and steadfast in standing against the test of economic fluctuations.
Furthermore, due to social and economic prejudices their voices are largely unheard. These are the people who are severely disadvantaged and additionally denied from their rights to speak their minds. While the media has been seemingly claiming to reporting what is important and promoting democracy and free speech, it is rather ironic to see that these Batik craftsmen’s thoughts and dreams go unnoticed. It is, in addition, a direct contrast to the glamor and extravagant lifestyle the media has been striving to promote and encourage. They indeed have been continuously placed in very difficult positions.
So the reflection ended. I tried my best to fall into deep slumber yet it ended up in vain. The next morning I had to wake up early to board the plane.
Thus take a look at any piece of cheap clothing product that you have, the one made in China, Thailand, India or Indonesia. That particular clothing product is the representation of sweat, blood, tears, hope, dreams and tireless prayers of whoever crafted it. So its value is much more than gold, for dreams and prayers are priceless in nature.
And given our elevation, we have the capability to grab much more opportunities shown to us. Most people would tell us to be grateful with what we have. However, I think the only way to show gratitude to that advantage is by being ungrateful – by trying our best to rise to the top without losing our ideals. And failing to do so is an utter insult to the Batik craftsmen, because they crave to stand on the elevated ground we were born into. They would tell us that they would push themselves beyond their limits to grab the stars if they came into the earth wearing our shoes.
Last but not least, a quote by a great man to conclude my reflection
“Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu