Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Goodbye Samali!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Haji Samali, Jakarta

Perhaps this will be my last post from this house we've been living in for the past year. Where I spent my 9 months of pregnancy and my son spent his first 5 months of life. After moving 4 times in the past 3 years, there's a sense of bittersweet when thinking:

This will be our last move.

To be blessed enough to raise our child(ren) in a place we can call home for hopefully years to come, I cannot be more grateful.

And to experience this with an amazing person named Arya Sakti Toekan, I can't think of anything more to ask.

Ibu! Aku sampai!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Haji Samali, Jakarta

One of my favourite stories of the year was told by a dear friend of mine, about her daughter taking part in a swimming competition.

Gita: Lomba itu apa sih Ibu?
Ibu: Artinya kita berusaha untuk sampai di sisi satu lagi dengan secepat-cepatnya.

When she swam, she was the 4th to arrive - which won her a medal. Instead, when arriving to the other side of the pool, she said:

Gita: Ibu! Aku sampai!

Bukan menang. Tapi sampai.

It's that sincere concept of knowing we did our best, regardless of the result, that I want to instill in the young man I call my son. That our winnings will be irrelevant when compared to the learning process we go through.

That ambition, praise and wealth won't get us anywhere. But humility, contemplation and sincerity will bring happiness.

I can't stop thinking that it seems my son is already teaching me more than I will ever be able to do for him.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

30 Rock: Between Comedy and Social Criticism

Sunday, 14 December 2009
Haji Samali, Jakarta

For the past 3 seasons, I have been hooked, both as a viewer and as an observer, to the critically acclaimed 30 Rock. Aside from the fact that punchlines are smartly written and the unconventional shotlist and cut outs of frames, 30 Rock shares the social criticism that in American Pop Culture, I think, has only yet to be done by Saturday Night Live.

Favourite examples are The Rural Juror where Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), CEO of NBC, explains to show star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) how to sell his celebrity endorsed defective 'Tracy Jordan Meat Machine' to an unknowing market with lack safety regulation. Another example is the ridiculous social experiment in Believe in the Stars between Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan about who has it worse in terms of social marginalisation, black men or white women (comparable to the race between Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton).

Difficult as it is, this show has successfully criticised social, economical, and political issues in the Unites States by means of comedy. What boggles me most is that by employing comedy (the assumption is that comedy is a significant tool since it requires a sound 'shared meaning' in order for something to be culturally acceptable as funny - in other words, funny = viewers), it ensures the engaging of viewers - and ensures the agenda setting of certain issues worth noticing about.

In Indonesia, political satires through comedy are on the works. Although still not up to par, Extravaganza shares some common qualities with Saturday Night Live in terms of formatting and, to some extent, content; by employing symbols of New Order national identity and re-introducing them into the pop cultural context. A more solid programme in political criticism is former showNewsdotcom: Republik Mimpi, where each actor plays a current political leader.

I must say, as a rationally loyal consumer to American comedy shows, Indonesian TV programmes are still behind in quality, both formatting and content. But in terms of the preservation of democracy through social criticism in comedy programmes; I am an optimist that we will see more of what's to come.

The Discourse of Celebrity Culture in Indonesia

Sunday, 14 December 2009
Haji Samali, Jakarta

Celebrity culture in Indonesia is a discourse that is currently emerging. One of the most recent examples is the phenomenon of political parties and celebrity candidates. You name it, PAN, Golkar, PDIP - most of these high-profiled political parties chose to affiliate themselves with celebrities (I refuse to use the more popularly used term 'artists' since not all of them produce art in the conventional sense of the word). Nevertheless, their literature findings proved that this is a phenomenon worth studying.

Last month, I moderated a seminar on 'Celebrity vs Self Beauty' where one of the speakers argued on the fact that although several celebrities may be more intelligent and argumentative than others, they still remain unqualified to speak on various political and social issues as compared to academics, experts and/or politicians.

So why do we listen to them?

His argument was that it is their attractiveness and our fetishism on the ideal concept of beauty is what engages us. And it is this uncritical and over-willingness (for lack of a better word) that needs educating.

This discourse reminds me of an episode in 30 Rock. I'd like to second Tucker Carlson's quote on this.

"Perhaps this is the state of our political discourse nowadays and that's ok. Let's embrace it."

It is the symbiosis of many shareholders that has created such a discourse. Political parties will most probably employ the most efficient way to reach voters, thus affiliating themselves with celebrities. Celebrities, on the other hand, chose smartly to switch to a political career since most of their limelight ends when they reach 30 (although in rare cases this doesn't happen, but the general trend remains so).

So then the ball lays in the audience's court.

It is one thing to give in to our fetishism in beauty and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, I argue that all art forms are indeed related to beauty (e.g. sculptures, paintings, architecture). If art is a form of cultural products then one may argue that the forming of celebrities are the forming of cultural products.

But it's another thing to mix our fetishism and our political positions.

I do not criticise the phenomenon by saying that political parties should stop using celebrities as their endorsements, because I do think these personalities gain the much needed attention to politics. I admire Angelina Jolie's work with the UNHCR and the media attention that she's successfully directed on refugee-related issues. But I do criticise the involuntary behaviour of imitation (comparable to 'latah') in the form of ill-informed voting decisions (i.e. Dede Yusuf's popularity among Indonesian female homemakers).

With the current political instability in the country visible in the ridiculous amount of new political parties (although this is a testament to democracy but it's not a testament to political stability), as a voter, I think it's mandatory that we choose on a sound basis of sufficient information, not on the fact that our favourite sinetron star is a nominated candidate.

As a media scholar, it's hard not to put the media on trial. Taking into consideration the uneven educational levels of voters, it is the media's responsibility to provide objective information on all parties and candidates (UU Pemilu). Now with the General Elections Law on media campaign, it is much more difficult for the media to cash in on political advertising.

Regardless, it is a discourse worth thinking about, for scholars, and more critically, for voters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

ALA Farewell Reception

Friday, 12 December 2009
10.41 AM
Haji Samali, Jakarta

Yesterday evening was ALA's farewell at the Australian Ambassador's house. Since Arya and I don't have a sitter, we brought Malik with us. When I entered the packed room full of people conversing and their hors d'oeuvre; I was afraid we made the wrong decision.

'I hope it's OK that I brought my son, we don't have a sitter,' I said to the hosts.
'Oh don't worry! We're very family-oriented here,' said Madamme Ambassador.

But Malik was very content throughout the evening. Perhaps it was all the funny looking, various hair coloured people who kept smiling at him and spoke to him in funny languages. Perhaps it was the mind-boggling fact that everyone clapped their hands at the same time whenever a person stopped talking. But he was very much well-behaved.

Regardless of the fact that it was an honour to receive the award and be put up to par with such amazing people from various backgrounds, I felt that my biggest pride (if that is not a bad thing to have) is that my son is able to cooperate with his parents from such a young age.

'He can sleep even with this much noise?' a person asked Arya after seeing Malik snoring in his arms.
'Too much wine,' Arya said. Hehe.

I guess it's true. When you treat your child as an adult, they will act like an adult.

'Dari semua kejadian tadi malam, Malik, Mama paling bangga sama kamu,' I said on the ride home. He stared blankly at me and yawned.


The second thing that caught my attention was all the praise they gave to Arya. They were all amazed with the support he's giving his wife and the opportunity he's giving to his son. This treatment, we've never received from Indonesians.

Whenever people found out that the wife is getting her PhD and the husband is joining her, people look at Arya condescendingly as if thinking, 'Kok mau sih lo 'dibawa' istri.'

'Kalo orang yang kenal Arya sih, Na, gak bakalan mikir gitu,' a friend said to me.

Not many people know the fact that Arya was the one who drove me to the interview and held my hand in support 8 days after labour. Not many people know the fact that Arya was the one who forced me back into working after giving birth to Malik. Not many people know the fact that Arya consciously chose to be an entrepreneur for flexible working hours so that he could also be an active parent.

That these were conscientious decisions. And that this is, I think, a sign of strength in character and will, instead of a sign of weakness if seen from a patriarchal view.

It's just sad, I think, that people from different cultural backgrounds can comprehend and respect Arya and my decision more that people we grew up with and have known us for years.

Madamme Ambassador, stroking Malik's back, 'Just remember, all of this is for him.'

And then I smiled. From my heart.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Malik and the Changes He Brought with Him


I actually wrote this quite a while ago. Here we go.

Oh. And I got the scholarship :). Beginning my PhD next year.


Saturday, 30 September 2008
Haji Samali, Jakarta

On Experiencing Labour

It’s hard not to rant on how labour was. No matter how often I repeat it to others, it still feels worth the storytelling.

Labour was a paradox. Ladies, you hear these horror stories of how painful it is and how close to death you’ll feel when it happens. And then you hear that no matter how painful, it’s all worth it. They are all very, very true. At least for me.

It was painful, but bearable. It was unimaginable. You truly cannot fully prepare yourself for what will happen. It doesn’t matter how often you do your pregnancy yogas and Lamaze class practices – you can’t quite prepare yourself for the mental trial labour will be. But for me, the second I gave birth, I honestly couldn’t remember the pain. Not even the cutting of the perineum, the contractions, the stitches. I can’t even rationalize it, but it’s true. It is worth it and I have no problem doing it again. It’s not only the happiness of being a mother, but it’s the chance of learning new things every single (and I mean every single) minute of every day. You realize that you are more than you’ve ever thought you could be.

I honestly thought I would be a wuss. That I could not handle the pain. That I didn’t have the mentality of pushing a 4kg baby out of me. But it turned out sometimes – sometimes – our bodies know better than we do. Darwinism. In order to survive, we will physiologically know what to do. And I testify, the female of the species, if they’re blessed, get to find out the true capacity of their bodies at least once in their lives.

On Bringing Home a Newborn
“Lo kemasukan setan apa Na, pulang ke rumah sendiri gak ada yang bantu?” Chida wrote to me. And boy, was she right.

I think it was an idiotic combination of nekad and sotoy.

It’s an anomaly in Jakarta for a young married couple in Jakarta to live alone, not with their parents, early in their relationship. But Arya and I do. It’s an anomaly that we don’t have live-in help. It’s an anomaly that we don’t want to have a babysitter. It’s an anomaly that none of our family members stayed over for the first days of bringing home our newborn.

It’s not an anomaly that we were on the verge of going out of our minds.

After a frantic series of the baby crying, bleeding nipples, a spilled bottle of frustratingly pumped breast milk, more frantic pumping, the mother crying (ha!) – I finally said “Yes” to the question “Mau Mbak Yem kesana?” my mother asked (fyi, Mbak Yem was my childhood nanny).

“Na, dimana-mana itu pemulihan dulu, baru belajar ngerawat bayi…” my mother said.
Now you’re telling me.

But I guess I would have been too stubborn to listen. So, slowly Arya and I learned how to (correctly) bathe the baby, which cry is a hungry cry, which cry is a diaper changing cry. Nights became bearable since we could rest during the day. Mbak Yem began helping us 7 to 5 and now she goes home at 11AM and I get to be with the baby all day.

And now, after a tiring process of learning, I am going back to work 3 times a week, teaching at the university and maybe taking small research projects. I’m waiting to hear from my scholarship granters whether or not I get to start my PhD next February. And even with all these splendid career choices, I get to go home to my baby boy. If that’s not a life blessed I don’t know what is.

On Going Back to Work

The first day I went out of the house without Malik was for the ALA interview on 5th August. Malik was 8 days old. My stitches were raw. But we survived.

Malik was home with Mbak Yem and my sister with expressed breast milk in the fridge. Arya came with me to the interview to calm my nerves, but it turned out it was the other way around (you truly see the commitment another person has for your life choices if they’re more anxious than you are).

I thought I would be too tired due to lack of sleep but I was a-ok. I was so happy I got the chance to get out of the house and I even enjoyed the ride. The interview went great, I think it was the knowing the ‘not getting the scholarship won’t be the end of the world’ state-of-mind that helped. I left the interview room knowing that I did my best. If I didn’t get the funding, then nothing I could have done would change that.

That trip made me realize, though, that I need to get out. I need to do something. I love Malik and I thrive in taking care of him. But it can’t be the only thing I do. That’s when I realized that I want to go back to work.

If I want to be a full-time lecturer at UI, I need to continue teaching (plus get my PhD degree) until I get my tenure. In the academic field, there’s no such thing as a 3 month maternity leave. First semester starts in September, baby or no baby. But all of my lecturer teams are very understanding. I chose the subjects I was best at, so that I won’t have to do so much research before teaching. I don’t have to attend all classes when I’m not teaching if I don’t want to.

I think being a lecturer is one of the best professions a new mother could choose, time-wise. Leaving Malik for 3-5 hours a day alone is hard enough for me, I can’t imagine parents having to leave their child for 8 hours minimum plus 2-3 hours of traffic. The sacrifice they make to ensure the livelihood of their families has my full respect.

Any day now, I’m sure I’ll find the balance between juggling motherhood and career. But when push comes to shove, if I had to choose, in a heartbeat, Malik has my everything. I love you, tiny thing.

On Cooperating with an Unconventional Partner

I think one of the reasons I didn’t get the blues for so long is because I have a very supportive husband. You know the saying ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’? Well, for the past month my saying is ‘Behind a sane woman is a great man’. Honestly, Arya is truly an unconventional Indonesian husband.

He can bathe the baby, he changes diapers, during the newborn stages, he took the 2AM to 7AM shift of taking care of Malik while my shift was 9PM to 2AM. He works the next day and makes money. He is even better than me in carrying the baby and doing the tummy flip to burp him. He held me when I cried and toughened me up when I was whining. He took care of Malik (without help! No maid no babysitter) at home while I met Philip Kitley.

”Sekalian kamu kenal dia sekalian kamu cari udara seger,” he said.

He supports me to go back to work and reminds me of my motherly obligations of continuing breastfeeding while doing so. He. Never. Whines. About. Our. Son. Or the fact that he’s doing the things most Indonesian wives/mothers do.

The past month says a lot about the qualities in Arya. Him as a father, him as a husband and him as a person. I am not exaggerating when I say, ‘Every single human being is very lucky to have the chance of having Arya in their lives.’ I love you, tiny thing’s father.