Thursday, August 29, 2013

To Have Scoliosis

Plastic Bones
The Guggenheim Museum NY
To have scoliosis is to not realize it
To have it,
For me
Is to have someone else point it out
To have mild scoliosis
Is to look a bit odd
To have an unforgiving posture
That many more unforgiving people will judge

To have scoliosis,
Though sufficiently awkward
Is to have a secret language
With others with the condition

To have scoliosis
Might have changed more than my back
More than my feet
More than my personality

To have scoliosis
Is rarely something to worry about
Until you place meaning
In the issue

The Discovery
For our first communion, each girl donned a white dress with matching head pieces that looked similar to a bride's veil. As usual, I deemed the act of purchasing a dress at the department store quite futile. Amidst puberty, my body was changing precariously. Ever a worrier, I did not want to have to conform to a certain dress that might seem perfect one day and awful the next. So, instead, my grandmother brought me to her friend, a seamstress and self-professed designer. After an hour of measuring and tucking and pencil writing, the "designer" confessed that neither my hips or shoulders were straight, actually they were more wonky than normal.

The Reaction
Today, I might have thought that the woman was crazy, but surprisingly, then, I did not even stop to think. I just accepted it, really. Wincing wasn't even involved as I watched my grandmother who also took it quite lightly.

The Aftermath
Following my first communion, my grandmother brought me to a doctor, who happened to be a distant relative. She told me that I had scoliosis, a medical condition where the spine curved. For years ahead, I spent at least once a day in some sort of physiotherapy. I wore customized insoles that made my shoe standout from the pile outside of the shoe-free library at school. No one really noticed, I think. The therapy, of course, extended beyond my posture and feet. In some instances, they involved slimming within the therapy, for the sake of slimming down. Maybe it would help boost my confidence, they said. But, I didn't really care. On the contrary, the weight was a larger source of insecurity, rather than the foot and bone problem.

Universally, having scoliosis, as bad as it sounds, made me feel extra special. Yes, I had to travel far for physical therapy and I had to wear special gear at night, but it made me feel different. Beyond that, I became better friends with my oldest best friend, who also had scoliosis. We had our secret gaze and wink every time we took off our shoes and lined them up next to everyone else's. We spoke a special language that no one really understood. And, most importantly, we were there to back each other up when someone asked about her armor or my inability to wear stilettos.

Can't fit my fin in stilettos, can I?
Little Mermaid, Disney World

In the past few months, my scoliosis, which was deemed "fixed" two years ago, has progressed due to lack of therapy and usage of appropriate gear. Of course, this is now more apparent due to symptoms, such as fatigue and increasing asymmetry. Even so, I am yet to be moved by the condition. Perhaps, scoliosis is an innate aspect of my identity. Perhaps, it will never more me as the issue of weight or other conditions have. When my life regains stability, I might resume my physical therapy. But, for now, I am ready to jump start the program again.

Scoliosis can be a debilitating condition. In some, the condition may stop them from working or traveling, while in others it might be an empowering tinge of their identity. I had the privilege to experience the latter, though it may change with time.

*Author owns rights to all photographs displayed

Friday, August 23, 2013

#IAmAnArtist: Is it pretentious to declare who I am (or consider myself to be) without much evidence or appropriate nodding from others around me?

"My career path were much more exciting when I was five"
Sorry for the long (as*) title, but, does it bother you when people declare their identity without supporting evidence? Well, of course, there are some supporting evidence, but maybe they're just weak or inadequate?

First of all, no one should be forced to define themselves, especially when there are endless possibilities.

Second, definitions rely on the individual's personal perspective of themselves, instead of others. Having said that, I am aware that others may define me in another light and that shan't bother me.

Third, definitions are tricky, as they are arbitrary. There's never going to be ONE definition, instead there'll be a revolving list that continues to change in shape and size as time moves on until, well, I lie in a coffin or on the sidewalk or on an operating table. Even then, the definition of my identity will not diminish until those who remember me also lie somewhere with no pulse and all of my work on this earth has turned to dust, or whatever it is internet memories do. So, don't ever fear to be forgotten or erased (like that crazy murderer from Murder Ballad did) because your terrible neighbor or that boy whose heart you broke or that house that watched you grow will somehow remember you.

So, after that long umm... what should I call it? Caution sign? Warning? Prescription? Let's get on with the program.

A few days ago, I attended a national day reception, which housed several of Indonesia's business who's who. The day after, I was at a ceramic exhibition that managed to gather Indonesia's political and artistic crowd. The primary difference, though it may not seem apparent, is the magnetic pull of feeling at home, which I felt in one event and more so than in the other. As an individual who has consistently felt out of place for the past twenty years, I am almost always ecstatic to feel at home (perhaps, that's why I hate venturing far from my physical childhood house). And guess what? After a series of hesitation, which of course began with a cliche speech made by the guest of honor, I suddenly warmed up to the idea that this might be my crowd. The puppetry performance, as well as the kisses on the cheeks at the gallery only corroborated the initial nudge.

I hate this feeling of the unknown

On the way home, of course, like many Asian young adults do, I fretted for the worst. After years of thinking that it is alright to get involved in a small, totally meaningless, affair with art and somewhat betraying more "important" subjects, such as science, I finally came to a point where I could feel my body entering to fight or flight mode. Paranoia circled my head as vultures do around animal remains. What if they (older men and women before me, mostly relatives with high conviction) were right? What if I am a loser and a disappointment on top of being an artist, which in a way already struggles for money? What if... what if... what if... (by this point, you may realize a pattern in my speech or thought process).

Halfway through Tim Minchin's White Wine In The Sun, my new favorite song, I stopped myself and begged the question of dimension. Generally, people are perceived as unidimensional. Often we find ourselves pasting labels to the next person we meet, failing to further our understanding of said individual. For instance, when we think about our first grade teacher, they are just our first grade teacher. Mine was a petite woman, perhaps in her late thirties, with short black hair and a birthmark or a mole (I can't really recall). But she was and still is merely my first grade teacher. I don't know if she was/is a mother, or a wive. I failed to ask.
Of course, this was what it looked like in my teens
With age, I became much more interested in people, which soon prompted people to lend me labels such as kepo or bossy or nosy. Yet, perhaps, this is for another post. The point that I would like to make clear is that each person is, actually, multifaceted. On one level there's intersectionality, the study of intersections between a variety of, often, disenfranchised groups, which when applied explores different layers of discrimination and oppression. On another level, we can say that as human beings we can be both doctors and piano players and husbands and father and driver and so on and so forth. Multiple functions exist in most, if not all, human being. Therefore, there's no reason to fret the desire to be an artist or the recognition of this identity. I can be an artist and everything else.

Even after this epiphany, it still bugs me how wanting to be an artist and identifying to be an artist frightened me even after years of believing in equality in the value of different professions and passions. After years of believing that I could be successful solely from my work of art, I continue to shy away from that commitment by taking on other interests. Having multiple interests isn't a crime. Yet, a lack of certainty as to whether these other interests are actual interests or just hiding spots is worthy of, at least, to be interogated. Of course, I doubt that this issue will be resolved within the week or the evening, unless of course, a miracle happens. So maybe, at this point in time, I shall write an update soon (managed to write this without two fingers - fingers crossed, you know?).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Questioner: The Health Authority

Medical authority overshadows the little person's hand

At three, I broke my arm. Perhaps, it was one of the first instances where I had no control over what they would do to me. My parents, who fully trusted the medical authorities, agreed with the French doctors as they twisted my arm into place. Of course, when we got to Indonesia, the local doctor remarked on how bad they had ruined my arm. This doctor, though more experienced, was not less crazy. The second time I broke the same arm, he took control and sent me to surgery. Yes, I was a child, I did not know better, but I thought that that pattern would end itself once I became older, an adult or at least a teenager, when I learned to say "NO!"

Disappointingly, it was a woeful fallacy. As a child, we were said that we were too young. As a teenager, we were said that we were too clever for our own good. As a young adult, we are always reminded of our lack of experience. 

Today, I was at the hands of an illiterate masseuse. My mother asked if he could cure my scoliosis. He was neither a licensed physician, nor an occupational therapist, but who are we to only place authority to internationally merited individuals, instead of those who learned traditional, yet potent, techniques from their ancestors? Actually, who are we to assign authority at all? In today's day and age, we are used to assigning certain privileges to others. We (I, myself included), strip others of their ability to give consent, instead we think that we know best, we give ourselves the authority that we stole from others. 

The Authority of The Needle

Those who treat and cure, especially legally licensed individuals (such as physicians, nurses, and occupational therapists), are assigned the authority to prescribe any medication and treatment. In certain cultures, being older is accompanied with the privilege to dictate the young. In others, being more educated allows one to advise others and determine their choices. Of course, all of these factors, such as age and level of education, are socially constructed. Their importance is also socially constructed. 

After experiencing certain instances where I was unable to fight back or make my own decisions, I realize how the importance of having the ability and right to choose and be heard is, especially when it comes to health. This issue, as small as it seems, could extend to larger dilemmas, including euthanasia and abortion. A sensitive topic, the issue of choosing and being heard seem to be one of several cases to be discussed in future posts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Privilege and Stereotype: Why box yourself in, when it's possible not to do so?

An incomplete picture still says a thousand words, but how true are those words?

Green and blue tinge the ends of selected pieces of hair
As it sways in front of the dark, velvet background 
The pieces of dead cells, suddenly manifests into a sea of possibilities

Privilege, perhaps, is awarded based on one's appearances, in addition to a list of factors, which are not necessarily displayed as obviously as skin color, hair texture, height, and weight. Nevertheless, both types of characteristics always manage to intertwine itself into an, often, awkward ball of tangled yarn, except, this ball creates larger results, than merely instigating happiness to a calico cat.

But, how does this talk of privilege connect with my newly colored hair? 

The green catching the sun
After years, and I mean YEARS, of contemplation, I finally had jeweled toned locks. As of this moment in time, some parts of my mid-length locks are covered in green and blue. And to be totally honest, I can't help but smile, a little bit wider, every time I catch the sun highlighting the refreshing hue and separating it from my raven mane. If it is as joyous of a result as it is, why did it take me so long to achieve this look? It might have been due to some impractical timing, or academic rules. However, as hard as it has been for me to fathom, it might be due to socially constructed ideas of how one's appearance can limit their opportunities. 
Close your eyes 
(well not now, because then you can't read the next few lines. Maybe ask a friend to read it for you?)
Imagine a meadow
Imagine a tree
Imagine a squirrel
Imagine a zebra cross
Imagine a secretary
Imagine a fashionista
Imagine a punk

Yes, shockingly colored hair is regularly associated with being a punk or, more suitably, a rebel. Then, why did I take the plunge only to be labelled a rebel? Why add a color to your perfectly normal mane, especially one that might be accompanied by a list of prejudicial responses? 

Well, would it be surprising if I said that, in the past three months, the thought never crossed my mind? After going to Sarah Lawrence and practically living in New York for two years, I was accustomed to bazaar hair. But, pre-conditioning to rainbow colored hair did not sum up the decision. Instead, it was a personal journey from the classroom to the real world. In Fall 2011, approximately two years ago, I took a class on race and ethnicity. A large chunk of the class revolved around the issue of privilege. Before coming to SLC, I danced around the idea of privilege, yet failed to hit the bullseye. For instance, at age nine I could already picture the manifestation of an impromptu boys club on the family dynamic, my future, and my position in the family. Of course, it might have been due to education, experience, or a once in a lifetime epiphany. Whatever the reason, that instance is either an early time stamp or the initiator of the journey that, at this moment, ends with my green tinged locks. 
Boy's haircut. Check. Boy's clothes. Check. Boy's club. Nope.
"Wait, why do I have to fulfill all these crappy requirements to enter the club? Sexist", Robyn at three years old. 
Analyzing the current color swatch highlighted by the beautiful sun rays, I knew that the intersections of my identity helped me avoid harassment or awful criticism. Having fair skin, being transported in a car, going to a certain type of mall have everything to do with people's responses to this external change in appearance. 

Wearing glasses, perhaps, plays an even larger part. Spectacles gives off the scent of education, intelligence, and even oddity. Rebels, in Indonesia at least, are often viewed as hating school, being much more street smart than book smart, and less driven to achieve socially set milestones, such as attain a diploma or degree, as well as a paying job. 

However, would it be totally out there if I were to say that I was a rebel? Though this green tinge is not necessarily a direct reflection of my rebellious nature, could it point out to a larger pattern? Or could a rebel appear to be non-rebelious at all? In turn, could a geek look like a glamorous cheerleader? 

Yes, yes, and yes. 

After being on this earth for twenty years, I have learned, through social interactions and conditioning, that human beings can and should be boxed into categories, based on their appearances, achievement, class, as well as family background. In different societies, these factors shift in value. Familial background, for example, might be more important in a collective culture, such as Indonesia, than in the U.S. To defy these socially constructed tenants is to be a rebel. Of course, in the past few years, limits have changed in definition and power. In most developed countries, gender no longer dictates one's likelihood to attend school. Geography and culture, even with changing times, remain essential to the existence and characteristics of these so-called rules.

My locks are like social patterns, isn't it? It's somewhat natural, somewhat man made. And it is influenced by a ripple of trends and cultural tenants. 
Through the years, I learned to enter the world of boxing. By looking at a variety of images, from those displayed on my kiddy underwear, to the ones plastered on billboards, I habituated myself to place people into categories. Again, these classifications differ from one place to another, as well as from one timeframe to another. These divides are created, as well as influence cultural norms, social patterns, and even the market. Expectations of what the future brings and would appear to be also, in some ways, create these boxes. 

Human beings, naturally, learn social norms, such as this one. Although, some continue to abide by it, others do not. I believe that each person experiences differing levels of rebellion depending on a variety of factors, such as social environment, religion, education level, and exposure to other cultures. From those who learn that these boxes are merely manifestations of social norms, in addition to the consequences of being able to categorize, identify a variety of groups, and attach to a certain group, some may comprehend that these classifications are, in actuality, limitless. They are, in some ways, secretly penetrable walls. One also learns that there are ways to occupy two rooms or more at ones. In actuality, most do so without having a great understanding of the larger phenomena.

A series of experiences taught me that in order to portray oneself in a certain light (let's call it Portrayal A), one does not have to ascribe to the characteristics of said light. Instead, it is possible to be A without wearing A clothes and speaking in A manner. To be a well-read individual, for instance, does not mean that one should stop or minimize the use of "like", or start wearing glasses. Instead, one might get a boob job and wear Doc Martens, as well as have a sailor's mouth and still be a literature maniac by being able to connect certain literary patterns to life or discuss about a certain classic amongst friends. Ultimately, privilege is tied into our identity. 

What are these?
With a little bit of manipulation, these items are now hidden from its true identity.

Understanding that boxes are penetrable and flexible allows us to be who we are, as well as explore other possibilities. Moreover, it helps us avoid stereotyping of others. Most importantly, it brings on a realization that this is not a perfect theory. Instead it reminds us that by saying that a Jane Austen lover can have a boob job and wear Doc Martens, elude to the fact that there are stereotypes to what a Jane Austen reader should look like and what identity is tied to having a boob job and/or wearing Doc Martens. Discussions about privilege, prejudice and stereotyping can get me wound up and go on different tangents. As you can see, we begun with privilege and wounded up with the realization that socially constructed categories are neither universal and permanent. Hopefully, in the future, I will be able to lay out more ideas on these issues, as well as tie it into other issues, such as nationalism, education, and, maybe even, dating.

*Author owns rights to all photographs

Sunday, August 18, 2013 Writing for a trustworthy website for Indonesian students interested in studying abroad

After meeting one of the most interesting Indonesian scholars in the U.S., I got in touch with Martin Tjua's Indonesia Mengglobal. Soon, I began writing for them, starting with a post on Sarah Lawrence, which was originally uploaded on this very website. A few weeks ago, they published another article on acceleration. 

My first article for Indonesia Mengglobal
Indonesia Mengglobal is a site created by Indonesian students for Indonesian students. It is chock-full of pertinent and fascinating information for anyone who would like to study abroad, including articles on scholarships and the application process. However, what I love most about the site is that it is, in a way, a great place to meet new people. These individuals will either inspire you or drive you to do something with your life. In this day and age, information is so readily available that it has become somewhat of a challenge to weed out the most useful from the rest. Indonesia Mengglobal, in my opinion, is one of the most trustworthy sites for Indonesians, who are interested in studying abroad, as it offers varying articles on different topics.  

In the future, I plan on continuing my contribution for Indonesia Mengglobal. Since ice cream tasters are one of the best marketing inventions ever, I will post more "article tasters", as well as the links on for each piece that I do for Indonesia Mengglobal. My third article for Indonesia Mengglobal, which seems controversial according to the editor (Martin), will be available some time in September. 

My second article for Indonesia Mengglobal
Here's part of the piece:
“Instead of four years, I will graduate from Sarah Lawrence in three years”, I explained once again. In addition to mix responses, I came across an interesting phenomenon. Many of my peers raise one brow at the statement, while members of the older generation shake my hand with praise. Acceleration, somehow, is stigmatized by the majority of youth I’ve met, including other college students. Seen as a disadvantageous endeavor, acceleration is deemed to catapult the student to enter the workforce much quicker.
To read the entire post feel free to click on this link

Check it out:

First published article for Indonesia Mengglobal:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

#IndonesiaIndependenceDay Falling in Love: Separating natural and taught love

Little things recharge my love for Indonesia
Sepiring Indonesia by Eridanie Zulviana (Best of the Best Design JSDA 2012)

Having gone to a national plus school, I endured years of ideological force feeding. From TK (kindergarten) to high school, I slowly advanced the civic ladder, starting from memorizing the Pancasila to political system, to the Soekarno's, the first Indonesian president's, long list of wives (luckily, I am a natural kepo/nosy person). For several weeks, I've been scrambling to find a few friends to attend the National Day Ceremony or Upacara with on August 17, 2013. "That sounds fun, NOT!" one friend said. Another asked if I had smoked any weed last night, while watching history documentaries. Nevertheless, although to set the record straight, it is fun and I have never smoked weed in my entire life, I am still enthusiastic about the National Day events.

Reactions to Forced Ideological Messages

Attending the ceremony under the sun, waiting for someone to faint, singing Indonesia Raya (the national anthem), as well as watching the Paskibra team, were one hell of a huge highlight of the school year. After high school graduation, each year, I'd spent the fateful day, salivating in front of the screen as the televised ceremony from the Presidential Palace repeats itself again and again.

One day, as I was reading another story on love, I stopped myself, thought, and came up with the idea that perhaps, what separates me from those who groan and moan about spending two hours under the sun to commemorate a day that may not even really be the day that Indonesian reached independence, is the experience of naturally coming across this gushy feeling of love, instead of having it force fed down my throat. Of course, I also experienced the latter, but it occurred parallel to the former.

Slowly, through books and the telly, and perhaps, some old man's controversial tale or conspiracy theory, I fell in love with Indonesia. I know that I did it in, what might be, an odd manner, but that's not the point. Instead, what I am having so much difficulty saying is that it blossomed, with a lack of well-thought and planned fertilization. If the force feeding sessions urged a deep seeded hatred, while the movies and books entrance were delayed or the old man died too early, I might not be this miserable at this moment in time. Instead, I would go through the August 17 weekend with nothing but a tiny, meaningless inkling. I might casually peruse the malls, which are often covered in red and white, and maybe even, complain about the color palette. If only life were that simple!

Though I should really start appreciating my misery, as it fuels these flying words and arrange it on the page, it has clearly grown from years of getting to know Indonesia, as my country, instead of being told that it is mine to love and cherish, as well as receiving it at face value. So, who'd like to attend the Independence Day Ceremony with me?

P.S. You're not the only one to realize that the content of this blog has sort of become much more engrossed by short commentaries about life's phenomena, but fingers crossed (I pledge) that it will have the sun at its face soon enough.

*All photographs by yours truly

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#IAmAHypocrite - Continued Pouring of Feelings on Weight

"Wonder what it would feel like to be both fat and a piece of art"

I am a hypocrite.

Relatively Overweight (, a comparison of the differing perspective of weight in New York and Jakarta might be one of the most, if not the most, popular piece on Who would have known that a combination of cultural observation and a hot topic could spark such heavy traffic? And yet, minutes after the post became cemented on the internet and gone through the habitual process of minimal marketing, I could not help but, hypothetically, attach a string to a board, paint the word Hypocrite on it, and tie it around my neck.

In reality, it took me much longer to somewhat face the facts that I may have past the point of no return (cue Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera's Point of No Return). It took several responses, both of applause and anger, as well as standing in the changing room of a U.K. high street brand, which compelled me to peruse a Korean plastic surgery website, to really face the uglier truth. Yes, I have weight issues, or perceive others to have issue with my weight, which compelled me to perceive myself as having weight issues, but I am a hypocrite, which, at this moment in time, seems much bleaker.

I am torn.

On one side, I believe that no one should be defined by their body, including the number on the scale that stares at them blankly, as if saying "I told you to lay off the infinitely delicious profiteroles" (oh! I know that voice all too well, especially after failing to fit into an "all size" dress). I often have red, burn scented fumes coming out of ears and nostrils when a friend comments on another's eating habits and weight, or see a boy lead his girlfriend to a slimming clinic. And I can't help but clench my own fist when I catch myself eye a round figured lady.

Even so, I tally the consequences against the benefits of a piece of pan seared foie gras. Forget about that bodycon dress or this cropped top. Forget about stopping that boy's heart beat, just by wearing shorts and bending over the billiard table. And yet, as I type, I feel bile creeping up the pipeline. I am human, one who adapts, much like everyone else naturally would, to survive.


I am (somewhat) a defeatist.

I hate settling, whether it is for a pair of Chuck Taylors that are half a size too small or for an undercooked salmon. Even so, my brain plans on finding other ways to survive, whatever it may be. Whether it is to work my ass off, hoping to forget other fantasies. Or to start looking at adoption procedures. Then my body refuses to exit the loving envelopes of my blanket.

I am an excuse maker.

As I descend into this valley and feel my limbs squeeze into the tiny gap that may not want to release me after a sudden, un-calculated slip, I enter a bout of paranoia, and fall into the tendency to somewhat announce this newfound characteristic at the sight of a pair of rolling eyes. Conveniently, I attach myself to the long standing perception that women are crazy, hoping that my "craziness" would excuse the flab on my belly or the inability to attract a suitable member of the opposite sex. Blame the crazy hormones and the arrival of my monthly friend for the inability to defecate, in hopes of losing a few meaningful pounds, to prepare for the ball. Finally, blame something, other than myself, whatever it is, for the insecurities that flood in and out on a sporadic, yet reliable pace.

And so, with this piece, that I have laid out in response to a variety of social encounters, as well as the numerous resulting conversations, I do wonder what I have left behind. Yes, one part of it is not to let others define you, especially based on your appearance and weight. However, this may not prove universally efficient to the entire human population. If we're lucky, it might work for some of us. It is a fact, but it might never necessarily heal you or help you deal with your reality.

This watermelon was really to die for, especially under the Florida sun

Before I ventilate or dwell on defeatism, I do need to say that there are other, perhaps more or less useful, ideas out there to hear. Fingers cross they may heal you or stop you from viewing yourself as less than a wonderful, fabulous person.

Tim Minchin, the genius (I do not take this term lightly, but really this ginge (sorry Tim, but I said it!) is really a GENIUS) is the composer of the award winning new musical, Matilda. In addition, he sings and composes wonderful other (funny) works of art. Mr. Minchin, believes that things are "not perfect, but it's mine". Ownership, according to Mr. Minchin, is more important than perfection.

I spend so much time hating it/ But it never says a bad word about me/ This is my body/ And it's fine/ It's where I spend a vast majority of my time/ It's not perfect, but it's mine

Ms. Robyn, the devil's advocate: Mr. Minchin, as marvelous as he is, may not have it 100 percent correct. He has a couple of good points. But just because my body doesn't, or rather can't, say anything bad back to me, it does age, it does have bad metabolism, and maybe my decisions are part of the equation, yet if my body is a saint it should work in a certain, near to perfect way.

As I peruse the net, or speak to friends, I'm sure I will encounter other remedies. Ones that may sound fantastic at face value, however, nevertheless disappoints me. Or another that may not appear to be such a good idea, such as ordering a glass of Lychee Martini or going to the theatre on the onset of Hurricane Sandy, but ends up your best decision of the week. Of course, do leave a quick message or holler with your suggestions. Both good and bad will be posted, as long as it is rather enticing to yours truly (yes, yes, I know that it is absolutely subjective).

If all else fails, then maybe I might just have to settle for a lesser man or pursue a job behind a desk, or continue to peruse the net for plastic alternatives.

P.S. This is a rather depressing piece, so maybe I should place a warning upfront, but I have an inkling that you are all big boys and girls (no pun intended).

To settle or not to settle...
(Sent by a lovely friend, with a great sense of humor)

*The first three photos presents the author, who also owns the rights

Monday, August 5, 2013

Abundance on a Virtual Page: Thank you readers! XOX

As a lover of conversation and critical inquiry, I have often found myself trapped in a corner, afraid to reach out into the future. A large percentile of my being definitely wants to return to Indonesia, yet the slivering portions left question whether or not Indonesia will offer me such possibilities. Mortal issues, such as this, are often shoved under the bed as I hope that it would either be devoured by a monster or forgotten by the bustling sections in my mind. The big question of doom may not seem as tragic to most, but it definitely has drawn unwanted creases on my complexion.

The BIG question reads: Who will I have these meta-conversations with?

Before I sound more condescending, I beg you to remember past and current exchanges. As you sit at a Starbucks, have you ever heard anyone talk about the connection between these chain brands to the poverty across Indonesia for more than thirty minutes? As traffic ensues, do you ever wonder aloud how traffic is a metaphor for an extended list of phenomena in Indonesia? Or do you, instead, complain about the swerving motorcycles that suddenly come out of nowhere and sigh deeply as you come across what seems to be a deadlock?

To be honest, I have had these brilliant banters and sometimes they are much more exhilarating than the ones I experience in the U.S. Please note, that in the U.S. I go to a liberal arts school that naturally attracts endless sages. Unfortunately, though, I could count on one finger the amount of times I have had these conversations with a peer, which can be loosely defined as someone under thirty at 2013.

This blog, however, has changed the rhythm, as well as proven the attitudes that many Indonesian young adults possess. For instance, Relatively Overweight: New York and Jakarta battle it out as one girl struggles to define herself between the shifting paradigms, one of the latest blog posts, have garnered fascinating responses. A, an old girl friend, urged me to realize that it is more important to “adapt” than to compare. “You need to realize that this is Indonesia, not America,” she wrote in a text. However, the little voice in my head begs the question whether or not Indonesia is completely isolated from America. Furthermore, it wonders the downright futility of change. Of course, me being me, had to extinguish my pang of anger with some analysis and questions, not to mention an ‘A-ha’ moment. I was certain that if this conversation was being carried amongst American, English, and Singaporean college students, especially those enrolled in top or liberal arts universities, a fight would take place. A defeatist perspective, though often brought up, is rarely the end of the conversation. Thankfully, it has been proven to be the fuel for an extended discussion.

Another response, which I received from a male friend, lead to a confession: as a guy, he did find certain women more attractive than others based on their weight. What began as an awkward back-and-forth between close friends, who rarely says more than a short sentence via Whatsapp, grew into a much more interesting debate on the root of this phenomena.

Although, I am currently at the n=2, my mind has begun fluttering. As I look back on either conversation, I start wondering the influence of their upbringing, fluency in Indonesian vs. English, gender, relationship status, and educational background on their perspectives. Moreover, I question how my relationship to each individual influenced the results from the conversation.

Are we being age-ist or size-ist here? Just because I'm small- Wait, breathe, SMILE

Amidst this train of “what ifs”, I stop myself to smile. Even though, I am in Indonesia I was able to share critical and in-depth discussions with my peers. And perhaps, this blog has become some sort of doorway to the world of other thinkers and possible conversations. It triggers certain topics to emerge and be swayed back and forth. In addition, it has made me much more aware of other bloggers, who are in some ways equally and more critical, not to mention poetic, in thinking and writing than I have ever been. What began as a tiny endeavor on a boring rainy day has gained steam, with both the encouragement of a wonderful set of professors, as well as a great set of readers. Indonesia, though it may not house as many visible critical wonderers, is definitely home to a myriad of phenomena that are ready to be discussed in any casual passing. Finally, perhaps, it is about time for this little voice to thank the readers of her blog. The impersonal number that show up on the screen reminds me that I should be much more aware of what, when and how I write. And as for the future of this virtual page, I sense that it will involve you, the readers, in some magical way that I, a technically challenged girl, have yet been able to fathom.

Terima kasih = Thank you

*Author owns rights to both photographs

Friday, August 2, 2013

Relatively Overweight: New York and Jakarta battle it out as one girl struggles to define herself between shifting paradigms

Avocado + Chocolate

When I land at Soekarno-Hatta airport, especially from a twenty-hour journey, I could feel my eyelids close on itself. Left with sleep-deprivation and a wave of expectations, I drag my luggage through the halls that I know so well. Battling through, I sense ripples of familiarity rushing through me.
The scent. The humidity. The lights.

Although my eyelids are basically shut, I rely on three indicators to welcome me home: 1) the scent of humidity clinging to the wooden figures that line the hall, 2) the squat toilet at the newly furbished restrooms, and 3) the quick scan for accumulation of body fat by my family members. Yes, we have a routine. Quick 'hello', perhaps a hug, followed by the ever so subtle full-body gaze. At that moment, I usually either stare at the crowd or cross my fingers for what comes next. Of course, from time to time one receives a "healthy" mix of negative and positive responses, but after awhile I stop believing in their responses. Perhaps, this is one of the largest culture shocks that I encountered as I shuttled back and forth between Jakarta and New York. 

Perceived to be a superficial city, New York, unfortunately, continues to carry remnants of Sex and the City. Many of my friends in Indonesia focuses on the fabulosity that many TV shows portray, i.e. wearing Louboutins and a size two dress on 5th Avenue, followed by a stop at Magnolia's. Rarely do they expect the group of hipsters that trail on their bikes with their rainbow colored manes. Fret not, New Yorkers are definitely as appearance-centric as Jakartans, however in very different ways. Weight in Jakarta is, perhaps, a larger focus than it is in New York. 

Women in Jakarta indulge in the idea that happiness comes at a certain size, preferably a small since we don't really go by size 2s and 4s. On the other hand, women in New York appear to embrace their size, whatever it may be. As a result, the range of ideal measurement and beauty is defined differently. In addition, the concept of the person within is also altered. 

The attitude towards eating in Jakarta contrasts the ones held in New York. In both cities, young people spend their weekends looking for the next big culinary hit, however New Yorkers tend to wolf down their meals, while Jakartans choose "healthier" and "skinnier" cuisines, only to stop halfway through. The responses to finishing a meal also differs, when I am eating with a new friend or acquaintance they often question my appetite, some even label me "The small eater" or "Little Robyn" for my lack of appetite. In Jakarta, my friends would either stop me a quarter way through or tell me to have a healthier outlook on food, i.e. taste it but don't finish it. A bowl of rice is often shared between two people to prevent overconsumption. 

For the record, there's a bit of green in that Pistachio Gelato! Tee-hee 

The attitude on food varies, perhaps, due to the perception of the ideal measurement. In the U.S. the scale ranges from a size 0 to 24, I believe. Plus size ladies are lauded for their shape. Being fit is key, even though this has almost nothing to do with the one's size, rather it is associated with the tautness of one's body. New Yorkers are encouraged to love themselves, both physically and emotionally. To change is not as big of a deal as being healthy. For instance, I have never been critiqued for having belly fat. No one has told me to suck it in. However, many of my friends have berated me with information and advice when they learn that I don't consume most vegetables. Health can be achieved at any body size and it rarely has anything to do with weight loss. 

In Jakarta, many friends have critiqued the lack of greens on my plate, but they often continue on by saying how fat I look or another person looks. Acquaintances have greeted me with "You've gained weight, haven't you." Or "You look prettier, but still need to lose weight," and "Exercise and dieting will help you lose weight, which will, in turn, make you a happier person." All my life, I have become accustomed to these remarks. Nevertheless, once I started studying in the U.S., both for pre-college summer school and after being enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College did I become aware of how abnormal those comments are in the U.S. Being called fat in the U.S., especially in New York, is an insult and ample reason to hit someone or blacklist them from your contacts. I finally learned that I the insecurities, as well as the rage I experienced when told to lose weight or labeled fat are far from exaggeration and insanity, instead they are normal and quite reasonable.

You calling me fat?! Well... Wait, why am I mad? Why don't I just move? I'm in a zoo, dammit!

Switching settings every few months can be hard, especially as it plays with your mind. In one place I am considered overweight, while in another I am considered lean. What's worst is that I am not a big fan of the food in NYC. Yes, they are an experience, but they are not as fresh and familiar as food from home. As a result, I tend to eat very little in NYC and devour tons in Jakarta. With jet lag and the change in environment, I often forget to alter my eating mindset, as well as control my tastebuds from salivating at the site of krupuk or ayam goreng

Even so, having to constantly adjust myself and be aware of the changes have certainly molded my views, as well as expanded it. More importantly, it has made me become increasingly excited on the dinner table, as I scan for different behaviors and responses to food, others, and the conversation. However, what I have realized is that there is no need to define ourselves, especially based on weight. To focus on our weight, is to gradually creep away from our passion and the chance to live a full life. Yes, the flip flopping ideas of weight, the ideal measurement, and food might have proven to be rough, glorious and depressing at times, but as one wise man said, "It is all about perception."

*All personal photos 

More articles to read on weight and the paradigm of "ideal weight":
The Beauty Bias: How our views on female bodies shape us -
Body Culture and When "Healthy" is the PC Guise for "Skinny" -
Regurgitated Headlines: Stop body shaming celebrities -