07 August 2010


03 April 2010

ADIT on Life is officially in hiatus...

(yes, I should have said that months ago)

However, I am preparing for a comeback. Can't stop blurring the line between humor and libel. No, there won't be any dirty jokes in the next incarnation of this blog.

Right now, I am still considering whether to continue this blog or migrate to a new one. That's not your business. Go back to your respective lives.

19 October 2009

Giving Batik A Hand?

On October 2, UNESCO officially acknowledged that batik originates from Indonesia, not from that country across the strait. To celebrate the occasion, Indonesians proudly wore their best batik everywhere they were for whatever they did. The president’s call to wear batik together on that day took the celebration to another height. Government offices, schools, and private companies also urged their guys and girls to wear batik. On personal level, in a break from my typical polo shirt and non-blue jeans attire, I joined the fashion festival of the people by wearing my batik uniform from the days of high school. Congratulate me, because I proudly appreciated one of my country’s treasures – and because it took a lot of guts to wear a shocking green batik in public.

Celebrations aside, there are several questions that UNESCO’s acknowledgement, and its protection, has not yet answered about the fate of batik. I heard some of these questions from the news, and I formulated some myself based on a class on batik I took in my first semester.

First off, does the UNESCO protect the processes of making a traditional batik? Batik has a very unique production process, traditionally called mbatik, which takes a lot of time, effort, and skill. While similar processes exist in other places, I am quite certain that Indonesia’s batik production has its defining characteristics that we need to preserve. When people try to visualize the making of a batik, they will see a kind old Javanese lady in kebaya sitting with a sheet of fabric (the batik-to-be) in one hand and a canthing (the wax applier) in the other. If their imagination is animated, she will be delicately tracing the batik patterns she made earlier on the fabric with melted wax. Ask me to describe the scene, and I will answer “powerfully serene”.

This question is related to the booming of factory-made batiks, an awful lot of them coming from China. You see, there are at least three types of batik production. (1) Fully handmade; the product is labeled batik tulis, which literally means written batik. This method means no two batik is the same. (2) Stamp batik or batik cap, in which stamps are used to make blocks of patterns to speed up the process. (3) Factory-made batik, in which batik is just another insignificant stuff made in a factory.. That brings us to question number two, Will this UNESCO mumbo-jumbo help traditional batik makers survive the storm of mass-produced batik?

Despite the fact that it can take months, or years, to make a sheet of batik, people refuse to pay a fair price for a real batik tulis. I don’t know what factor to blame for this: cheap batik from China, lack of appreciation, or well, just too expensive for a piece of cloth. If this goes on, even an acknowledgement from a world body cannot help prevent batik workshops from closing and potential batik makers from choosing another profession.

Third question, because when I say batik you will think of exquisite complicated patterns, it is very appropriate to ask, Are our batik patterns properly protected? There are numerous examples of batik motifs: parang, parang rusak, parang kusumo, garuda, naga, and a broad range of images – not to mention endless combinations of geometric patterns. And we have not talked about new designs that emerged after batik reclaimed the spotlight. We need some kind of a registry of batik patterns to make sure that they are not lost through the time. After all, we cannot expect the masses to care about what kind of batik they are wearing and to know its details, let alone the deep philosophy contained within.

The last sentence popped up another question, How can we safeguard and disseminate the rich philosophy in batik and mbatik? You will have a hard time looking for someone knowledgeable enough about this issue. I don’t really know what means what in the mesmerizing details of batik, but I'd love to enrich my knowledge. Furthermore, understanding the priceless values hidden in each batik cloth will make people appreciate the art even more, especially batik tulis.

Finally, How will we actually help preserve batik as a whole? I honestly don’t think that simply wearing batik everyday or every hour does any good for batik. Most people are contributing to the income of made-in-China batik businessmen without even thinking to at least scrutinize batik the patterns. If traditional batik makers are thrown out of business by the endless tornado of cheap batik, are we still protecting our heritage? If we don’t know anything about the batik that we wear, are we guarding the art of batik?

16 October 2009

Bu, Tell Your Husband to Zip It

Why bother dumbening yourselves through ridiculous sinetrons when you can do it more intellectually by following the flow of Indonesian politics? SBY’s definitive victory in the presidential election was not the end of nonsensical selling-out by greedy politicians. Golkar, who ditched the big guy and fielded the veep as its own candidate, then lost, ended up choosing SBY’s minister as its chairman. As expected, they kissed and made up. What was the nation’s biggest political machine became another passenger in SBY’s coalition train. In effect, the incoming government is supported by 75% of House members.

Another party to watch is PDI-P, who has played the lonely role of opposition in the House for 5 years. Members from PDI-P did have their shortcomings, but let’s remember that they courageously turned down the controversial Porn Law and the ridiculous Halal Bill. In this year’s election, the party made use of that title, promising voters a stronger check and balance function. PDI-P came third in the legislative election with roughly the same votes as second-place Golkar; PDI-P chief Megawati lost to SBY in the presidential election but came out firmly ahead of Golkar’s Jusuf Kalla. Indonesians, especially PDI-P voters, were sure that the party will continue and refine its role as opposition in the 2009-2014 House of Representatives. Ibu Mega has also reiterated this stance in more than one occasion.

But she forgot to tell her husband Taufiq Kiemas (TK) to shut up and stop fraternizing with the enemy.  Through a delicate dance of power, TK was elected Speaker of the Parliament with the support of Partai Demokrat and its allies. People started to question what was happening in there. Why did the almost-absolute winner give such an important post to its opponent? And why did PDI-P accept it? Various analysts signaled warnings that if things keep on going this way, SBY will gain an enormous power with the House, well at least 90% of it, at his feet.

However, TK maintained his tryst with SBY. As the president-elect tries to assemble a new cabinet, a couple of names from PDI-P was thrown into the mix: Puan Maharani, Ibu Mega’s daughter and probably her successor, and Pramono Anung, another PDI-P bigshot. We don’t know who conjured up this disastrous plan, but TK is surely drooling at the offer.

While his wife as PDI-P chief continues to emphasize that her party will once again be the opposition, TK’s actions and words show the opposite. He has said the often-repeated words of “it’s all up to Ibu Mega”, yet he never stops his quest for power even if he has to stoop so low. What’s worse is that he goes against the grassroots movement who is not satisfied by SBY’s performance. The people and experts have frequently asked PDI-P to be strong and resist the temptation. PDI-P’s strong opposition is essential to make sure that the government cannot run so wildly. Moreover, if the party succumbs to the offer, it will seal its own fate and will face what Golkar had.

Now let me be so bold to offer a piece of advice to Ibu Mega. Have faith and stay the course. If your husband keeps toying with the idea of joining the government and shows off his aspirations to the world, shove your socks into his mouth and tape it in place. Then hospitalize him for as long as possible or send him in a wooden crate to Madagascar. He can love to move it, move it to his heart’s content there. PDI-P would be better off without him.

15 October 2009

Getting It Right From the Start

Medical school has never been a real inspiration for this blog, although I admit it is somewhat hard to get inspired while dozing in class. For this time, however, school sparked a decent thought about what I could write for Blog Action Day 2009.

Every week, we have a plenary session where all discussion groups share the results of their exploration of a certain topic. Students are expected to discuss the basic sciences to discover the underlying processes of a condition. Yet, we kept delving more into clinical science than into the basic science such as physiology and biochemistry, to the dismay of our lecturers. Finally in the last plenary session, a lecturer sternly warned us about the danger of not grasping the basic concepts and skipping to the seemingly cooler stuffs.

Doctors are different from shamans because doctors need to understand how things work in the normal condition, how they go awry, and what causes the problems. Only after that doctors can make a diagnosis and set up a treatment plan. They don’t randomly stick syringes your arms or tell you to take a truckload of pills just because they like it – even if it is empirically proven to cure you.

That is exactly what hit me. In Indonesia, the issue of climate change has gone from tree-hugging obscurity to mainstream then to celebrity. It has become a must-chant mantra for politicians, a hot issue for gossiping moms, and a publicity mine for the stars. On the brighter side, it has engendered active movements from the people who are now aware of the problem. Green is definitely the new black.

This is irrefutably good. Blessed are those who reduce electricity use and print on both sides of a paper. Praise be to you who use public transportation and plant CO2-absorbing trees. Nevertheless, we don’t really know what is behind all these behavioral changes. Do people have the right idea about global warming or are they simply following the leader (or the star, whoever suits you better)? We can only see that people are practicing the “clinical science” of climate change, but have no idea whether their “basic science” foundation is firm enough.

I have heard of public figures claiming that the greenhouse effect is caused by the increasing amount of glass in our buildings. The fact that greenhouse is translated as rumah kaca – glass house- doesn’t help correct this mistake. Moreover, we never know if the green generation actually understands the “pharmacodynamics” of its Earth-saving methods. Do they know what good they are doing when they halve their paper usage? Do they realize why getting on the TransJakarta can help prevent islands from sinking? No survey has investigated into this matter.  Additionally, another frequent error is the hybridization global warming and the ozone hole, which can only grow out of an incorrect understanding of global warming’s “pathophysiology”.

It is very important to know whether people have got the right concept of climate change. The awareness and attention for this issue is a precious asset in the fight against global warming. On the other hand, it is very regrettable if that awareness and attention is built on unsteady ground, which makes the people an easy target of climate change skeptics.

27 September 2009

Walk Our Gold-paved Streets

My family is very privileged to have mbak Tuti as our domestic helper. She has been with us for more than 10 years and seen my younger brother grow from a teeny-weeny disgusting baby into an aspiring teenage musician. My mom hired her when she was just another newcomer to the Big Durian from a village near Wonogiri, East Java. (Interestingly, my mom also has a helper who had worked for my grandparents since my mom was a baby). She is diligent, smart, and trustworthy; we had no qualms leaving her alone at our home. She can do almost anything my mom didn’t have time to do. During the years, every time my family moved houses, she came along. Every lebaran she goes mudik, and faithfully came back.

During those years too, we witnessed her marriage and first child. In fact, I clearly remember the times I used to spy on her flirting sessions with her then-boyfriend now-husband who was, and still is, a driver. Then they got married and the young family was quickly blessed by the birth of a baby boy. The three of them lives with us and my mom supports the boy’s education. We often eat out together, go for leisure trips, and went to the movies once, where the boy slept through Madagascar 2.

Good help is hard to find, let alone trustworthy ones, so we are determined to maintain our mutualistic relationship. Additional information: the husband developed a small business selling mobile phone credits and snacks on his motorbike. If I may be so bold to coin a new term, I would say she and her husband achieved the Javanese dream, if not Indonesian, of escaping one’s monotonous village and making it –relatively- big in the capital city. In mbak Tuti’s case, she just bought a house in one of Jakarta’s newer suburbs and sends a steady flow of money to her hometown.

It is exactly stories like this that brings throngs of people in the end of the annual mudik season. “Pioneers” share stories of how modern things are here, how everything is bigger and better, and how the streets are paved with gold – which is not true; all we have is a gold-plated eternal flame. Never mind their omitting the sadistic parts such as the life-sucking traffic jams and choking air. Their glamorous stories awed the villagers and prodded them to try their luck here. They will, in turn, become the next Big Durian evangelists who pulls in even more people.

Workforce mobility is naturally beneficial, but in this very case it has brought undesirable effects to the city and the village. According to a data from a national newspaper, an overwhelming majority of the newcomers are unskilled labor. They will land a job in either the informal sector or low-paying workplaces. The effect of this influx is real, unless you can deny the existence of dense slum areas in the city and its associated problems like infectious diseases, high crime rate, and flooding. On the other hand, the village is losing a big part of its workforce. Additionally, as more people leave a village, the culture of that village changes more often in the wrong direction.

If life in the city is so hard, why do villagers keep believing that shiny dream of a city life? From my own observation, there are at least two factors playing a part in this phenomenon: the pull from people who had worked in the city and the willingness to be pulled on the villagers’ part.

First, the people who had moved to Jakarta comes back to their villages and, perhaps unknowingly, exudes a signal that tells everyone to brave the city. Let’s put it this way: one who courageously went to the city and didn’t fail so badly would only share the better experiences of his/her time away from home. It is not so strange if domestic helpers take their pictures with their employers’ homes and cars to boast about it back home. Some mudik-goers also dress the part (fancy clothes, tons of jewelry, inches of make-up) to create the impression that they are prospering in the Big Durian. Those with better income usually take home bundles of small changes to give away to the village kids. This kind of performance never fail to engender the urge to urbanize.

Second, there are intrinsic and extrinsic factors that made the villagers themselves want to try their luck in the city. To begin with, life in the village is not so easy. There may not be enough jobs there, and the ones available are not paying so well or too blah for youngsters. The development in some villages are very slow and the facilities for health care and education is not adequate. Villages that rely on farming is not saved either. Even though Indonesia claims to be an agrarian country, farming is never the priority of our government, who seems to be enamored of factories.

To stop this unhealthy migration, there is nothing the government can do but start closing the development gap between urban and rural areas. They cannot restrict anyone’s movements or deny them the right to (look for) a humane occupation and to fulfill their needs. Until villages and small towns are developed enough for its population, the government should just let the newcomers struggle to get by in the city and extend a helping hand when needed. If they have to live in a slum, let’s at least give them proper health care and get the children in school. If they cannot cope anymore, send them back to their villages.

26 September 2009

I’m Bringing Ponorogo Here

You might have noticed that I have decided not to participate in an Indonesian Eid tradition: homecoming, or mudik in Bahasa Indonesia. I stopped going to my grandparents’ hometowns of Solo, Central Java, and Ponorogo, East Java, several years ago after my grandpa’s mom had passed away. In fact, the last time I went there was for her funeral.

In the previous years, my family drove all the way from Jakarta to those cities. Since we were not overexcited homecomers who were willing to get trapped in their cars for hours, we carefully chose when to hit the road, avoiding the frustrating traffic in the whole island of Java. That smart choice cut our travel time significantly, which means there were two less cranky kids (my brother and moi) in the car.

Mudik is fun, despite my objections back then. Hello, in the mind of young me, it was just wrong to pluck a kid from his PlayStation and plop him down on a mountainous small town. GameBoy, and later GameBoy Advance, did appease us a bit, but still we were not satisfied. Now, imagine kidnapping someone away from his/her FaceBook access. It is not only technologically impossible, but also morally deplorable.

Anyway, since my hometown is not graced by a visit by yours truly this year, I decided to do it a favor and bring it here on my blog. Here are some of the best things I love about Ponorogo. As it is based on my own experiences, some stuffs aren’t specific for Ponorogo. It’s just that I found these in my visit to Ponorogo.

Ponorogo itself has unique characteristics. Its people –ponorogoers?- is widely known to be very brash, brave, and determined. And I did not just describe only my grandpa. Perhaps it is connected to its cultural product, Reog Ponorogo, and the stories that surround it. I am not an expert on this anthropological matter (if that’s even the appropriate field for this), so I hereby grant you full freedom to research Reog and its star Warok yourself.

reog2source: detik.com 

Before anyone even start to think about going into another round of Malingsia-bashing, I’d better explain my position. Reog Ponorogo, as its name clearly says, comes from Ponorogo, East Java, Indonesia. Malaysia have never “stolen” it; they were just lucky enough that some Ponorogoers migrated there and brought their culture with them.

Next, Ponorogo has that certain Javanese small-to-medium town feeling. It has a real city square, the alun-alun, where fun fairs are occasionally held. It was not the most sophisticated fun I ever had, but hey, who cares? There were daredevil shows, amusement rides, and a sprawling bazaar. While we also have crappy pirated stuffs here in Jakarta, the tiger- and ox-shaped clay coin bank, which were the only stuffs I bought there, are memorable treasures.

There were still many traditional Joglo houses with their distinctive roof – at least they were still there the last time I came. The real old ones were built uniformly to a specific orientation, north-south if I’m not mistaken, to respect Nyi Roro Kidul or some other mystic bigwig of the area. That is why the houses don’t really face the street.

It is inevitable that I must boast Ponorogo’s yummy food. We have sego pecel, sate gule, and the whole traditional lot. One thing that sets the town apart is sate ayam Ponorogo or Ponorogo chicken satay with its special dressing. It is unquestionably a treat for the body and soul, yet deceivingly simple. Near the alun-alun is a es dawet ayu vendor. Es dawet ayu is an example of traditional cold desserts. To tell you the truth, I have never grasped why this one is so special, but because we went there each year, I think it’s worth mentioning here.

On a more personal level, I love staying in my great grandparents’ house. It is locally known as “rumah pak kades” (the village chief’s house), because my great grandpa had served as one…in the early years of this republic. He gladly stepped down when Soeharto and his Golkar party started dominating the nation. I don’t know how he managed it, but his legacy lived on today.

The house is one of those traditional Joglo houses. It has a spacious pendopo (a gathering hall) where the whole family can come together. Like other old houses, it still has a water well working along a typical jet pump. We loved playing with the ropes and getting buckets of water just to pour them back into the well. In the backyard, My great grandma used to have a chicken coop. My brother and I enjoyed attempting to feed the chickens, and the chickens surely had fun freaking out two city boys.

Ponorogo is not such a boring city after all. When I think about it now, it was the trip there and back that really took a toll on us, not the city itself. My family loves to dream up an imaginary trip there, conjuring images of delicious satay and refreshing es dawet. Then we cringe on the thought of locking ourselves in the car between hordes of motorcycles in the mudik trail. No, thank you.