Monday, September 30, 2013

The Tukang Urut’s (Masseur’s) Trust

The floor is slippery, making it a tad more challenging to get from one end to the other. A common scene in many Indonesian households, these floors are testament of one of the most common, yet bizaar, parts of life. A big chunk of surviving this concrete jungle is to relax, unwind, and drop a luggage full of stress, primarily associated with work. However, on this post, I would like to veer off the more obvious aspect of massage, which primarily focuses on the client, and instead walk towards the window to peek at the life of the masseuse.

Possible Occupational Hazard: Mutilation

Let me set the scene. On a Saturday evening, after a day of shopping for batik, a group of older friends and I came back to the hotel exhausted. I felt utterly humongous due to the speed I had consumed tonight's dinner, while my friends complained about some back pain and soreness. As we approached the hotel, we asked a friend of ours, who lived in the area, to arrange for a masseuse. Unlike most spa services in the U.S., most massages occur at the client’s residence. Within several minutes, a woman knocked on our door. Her husband had driven her to the hotel. A polite and modest woman, she entered without much hesitation and began massaging my friend.

Safety, I thought, came first. But this woman unknowingly walked into our room. She did not know how many people were inside, how long she would be in the room, or what would happen in the next few hours, and yet she still showed up. At first I, an overly paranoid and cautious human being, applauded her easygoingness. Of course, this isn’t the first time I saw a masseuse or masseur enter our own space, but I never fully realized the dangers until now.
She stayed in the room for an hour or two until she finished the massage session. Afterwards she asked to use the bathroom and took the money and left. It was as abrupt as she came. Nevertheless, it clearly left an impact on me. The dangers that we put ourselves into are, perhaps, motivated by deeper reasoning. The woman might have dealt with the possible risk by focusing on the reward. She might also be used to the scene. Unknowingly, she might already have experienced such a tragedy. Whatever the answer it, it still beguiles me how trusting people seem to be. The things that we do to be rewarded; the rationales that we make to justify our decisions; and ways we prepare ourselves for the unknown intrigues me.

Well hotel rooms aren't that bad

On the larger scope of things, the masseuse’s behavior, whether it is fully educated or lacks foreseeing and preparation, is reflective of how we lead our lives. “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all,” one friend muttered. Each of our limits, which differ from each other, is formed based on past experiences, knowledge, and other factors. We recalibrate the scale every so often. We regularly weigh benefits against risks. We learn that life is not made of just smooth sailing and tiptoeing around eggshells. And sometimes we do become the masseuse, entering an unknown place to be rewarded for our deeds. We grab the opportunity although the stakes are high. 

*Author owns rights to all of the photos above

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Have Not Written in Bahasa Indonesia in Over Two Years: Publishing an article in Bahasa Indonesia after dormancy

For the latest entry to, I decided to take quite a large leap of faith by writing in Bahasa Indonesia. Coming to a writing intensive school meant that I had little time to write in Bahasa Indonesia. However, the lack of time and opportunity did not stifle my desire to communicate through my mother tongue. Instead, the rarer it was to speak or write in Bahasa Indonesia, the more my fluency in English trembled. 

By the end of my first year, I began writing poems in my native language. Random whiffs of nostalgia made it harder and harder to distance myself from home. I wrote about the traffic, the world underneath the overpass, and the stench of wet trash. I longed to take a leak atop a squat toilet. I wanted to pause my dreaming to hear the adhan before the sun is barely revealed. All this madness translated onto the page, streaming out of my brain and onto my fingertips like leaking ink from a toppled ink pot. 

Even so, I did not have the support system to hone my work. There was only one other person on campus who spoke Bahasa Indonesia. No one at arms length was available to critique the words that I had put together. So, without thinking twice, I shoved it under a mountain of folders and files. My hunger to express myself in Bahasa Indonesia soon crept up in my work. 

Bunda inspired Set - F
For a set design class, I took the song Bunda by Potret as the foundation and inspiration for a set built of clouds and Tiffany blue material. Though the song barely resonated with my class members, I could feel the vibration running through my limbs as I put together a miniature version of the set. I did not need to justify the decision to use an Indonesian song like I had to in Indonesia. On the other hand, I felt misunderstood and detached from those around me. 

I was spending the present in the past.

I was speaking a language that no one understood.

The funny thing, though, is that when something is sufficiently meaningful it will snowball into a mountain that will, sooner or later, experience a series of avalanches. Basically, the little character within me who was determined to communicate in Bahasa Indonesia was shouting at the top of its lungs, saying "Look at me! Look at me!" She shouted so loudly that snow began to fall and an avalanche was fully charging through my head. 

Now, after two years of dormancy, I published an article in Bahasa Indonesia on a dear topic., once again, became my chosen platform. My ambition to reroute and write in Bahasa Indonesia met its match, my ambition to write about the art scene in Indonesia. After copulating inside my mind, these two characters gave birth to an article that seems to equally represent either parent. Since the article is written in Bahasa Indonesia, I plan on translating it into English for the friends and mentors who are interested in learning about the Indonesian art scene. 

The moral of the story seemingly is the fact that organic desire will manifest itself with time. The right moment will come where these ambitions meet to create something meaningful for the host. As a writer who had not publicly written in Bahasa Indonesia for so long, it took dedication and determination to create something that I could be proud of. In this modern day and age, I tend to forget that the perfect opportunity will come by and sweep your characters into a world of satisfaction. 

Martin Tjioe for your guidance and reassurance. 
Afrizal Malna for inspiring me to dive into the Indonesian art scene and reemerge to testify on paper.

*Writer owns rights to all the photographs

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Make Up vs. Plastic Surgery: Where do we draw the line?

How far is too far?

One of many makeup looks that I created for the blog - Halloween 2011

Since I arrived in New York City, I have been hearing a lot of women saying that they feel naked without makeup on. For instance, "I can't bare getting out of the house without any make up on. I feel so naked without it, you know?" The thing is, I don't. It's not that I have a vengeance for cosmetics, in general, it's just that I can't fathom why a person, one who is presumably born in full nudity and would decay into nothingness, could have the fear of going out in public without a stitch of makeup on.

It baffles me even more when these women condemn women who go under the knife. You can't go out in public without any make up and you are against women who decide to change their face semi-permanently and/or permanently?

Hypocrisy has never been so abstruse.

Where do we draw the line?

First of all, let me draft a pro-choice clause that personally I do not intend to swerve your behavior and decisions. Do as you please.

A free form look

Second, as a lover of makeup, I have always been interested in how a dash of red and a brush of silver on the eyes could change a woman's entire look. I spend endless hours watching makeup gurus on YouTube creating both wearable and extraordinary looks. In fact, in high school I created a, now, dormant blog filled with my own makeup creations. On a daily basis, though, I do not wear much. I am well known for, perhaps, being the ultimate hypocrite: a person who buys and experiments with makeup but don't wear it in public. Throughout the years, I have gotten in arguments with my mother about the lack of make up on my face.

Having said that, I have considered plastic surgery, whether it is for the eyes or the stomach. To me plastic surgery is a new means of maintenance and reinvention. However, in my opinion, the idea behind plastic surgery is far from new. Yes, the technology is innovative but the underlying tenant isn't. For centuries mankind have fought to maintain his/her youth. The elixir of life has existed ages before the invention of a surgical scalpel or anesthesia.

Fundamentally, human kind strive towards immortality and idealizes youth. Cutting a part of your eyelid, wearing the eyelid glue, or putting on a dark flesh shadow on the contour of your eye are essentially the same. The only difference, perhaps, is in characteristic of the result. How long will the eyelid glue last? Does makeup contouring really have the same effect as eyelid surgery? How much effort do I want to invest to attain a certain appearance?

Third, what caused me to choke is the hypocrisy and lack of honesty of such behavior. Wear a ton of makeup for all I care, but don't preach when you, yourself have such a complicated (and dare I say, fake) idea of your own performativity in public.

So, where were we?

In Reaction to
Osama bin Laden's Death
Ah, I believe that someone who is afraid of leaving her house without makeup is mistaken for condemning another individual who undergoes cosmetic surgery as the motivation behind both treatment are fundamentally identical in nature. Again, even though the motivation is identical the result is not. Make up can be washed away at the end of the day, whereas surgical procedures lasts between a few weeks to a lifetime. Makeup rarely changes the structure of the face or the underlying tenants biologically, while plastic surgery does. The price also varies.

With the available of numerous options, human beings are predisposed to make a variety of decisions. Culture, values, and the environment will definitely play important roles in determining ones behavior. We need to realize that other people make choices based on a series of decisions, which we, ourselves, make on a daily basis. A woman who chooses to buy a $300 cream is likely to have thought about plastic surgery. Someone who uses a certain tool to get a tight neck might have questioned the possibility of getting a neck lift. A
nother person who wears push up bras could have done research on breast enhancement surgery. And someone who is on diet pills has probably looked into liposuction. 

We are all human here, with different and often overlapping concerns. I regularly find that my friends and I worry about the same thing but act in contrasting ways. Prematurely barricading a door is foolish in itself. Remember to evaluate your own behavior before condemning others.

Clearly, I have committed the same crime, I have judged and critiqued another person's words and behaviors. This leads me to the fact that we need to realize our own actions. Call yourself out before another person calls you out. Don't hide behind phrases such as "These are just my thoughts..." in hopes that another person will not feel offended. I am a hypocrite and I know it, too. We all are.

When it comes down to it there is no stark right and wrong, everything is a continuum much like the cosmetic and plastic surgery. On one there is a woman who is au naturale and at the other end of the spectrum is a person who has fully modified herself. In the middle there are creams, makeup, non-invasive and semi-permanent surgery, as well as permanent surgery. Everyone, please be aware of the existence of this continuum.

Note: I use "women" a lot in this article because the situation that triggered the creation of this piece involved women, only

*Author owns rights to all of the photos

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Biomarkers: Could this be the future of mental illness diagnosis

*Originally written for The Neurobiology of Mental Health class at Sarah Lawrence College

The Future Is Nearing

Biomarkers have become, somewhat, of a sliver of hope within the mental health paradigm. Generating optimism for what could be a more accurate method of diagnostic and determining treatment, biomarkers is often met with open arms. However, I appreciated the skepticism shown in the articles written by Singh & Rose (2009) and Lackan et al. (2010).

As a skeptic who often finds herself concerned over the consequences of new theories, methods, as well as technology, I quickly took a noticed that biomarkers could potentially be another driver of global disparity, if not domestic, much smaller incidents of discrimination. Singh & Rose wrote that biomarkers, including genetic detection, could result in “discrimination on biological or genetic grounds” (Singh & Rose, 2009, 202). Moreover, Lackan et al. elaborated on the possibility of discrimination in the workplace, similar to incidences involving tuberculosis and HIV. Clearly, the social repercussions that could be caused by biomarkers are socially tangible and would highly influence one’s future in very real ways. In addition, these consequences, though equally strong in affect, could involve an individual or entire races or nations.

Refusing Not to See, Hear or Speak Seem Smarter Already
On a more pragmatic note, Lackan et al. focused on the high cost to diagnose using biomarkers. At the current estimate of $3,000, only a handful of people are able to afford the procedure. Much like brain scans, which are valuable information to have, biomarkers will be a sought after method that is only available to certain individuals, as well as nations. The sheer cost of biomarker procedures would make it exclusive to developed countries with top of the class infrastructure and comprehensive health policies.

The issue here is twofold. First, biomarkers will widen the disparity between developed and developing or underdeveloped countries. Second, international data on certain mental conditions will change drastically, which could be largely driven by the readiness of this new diagnostic method. For example, if biomarkers could detect depression, then countries such as the U.S., Finland, Japan, the U.K., and Australia would show an increase in number of depression cases, when in actuality the number could be similar in other countries where the technology is still unobtainable. 

Singh & Rose, as well as Lackan et al. created the momentum needed to evaluate biomarkers before it is readily available to be used regularly in diagnosing and treating mental conditions. Both teams glazed over several important ramifications of the biomarkers that demand attention from the public, especially researchers and mental health professionals. Yet, I believe that there are larger stake at hand that also require to be acknowledged when developing these biomarkers and preparing them to be part of the health care system. Having said that, I agree with Singh & Rose and Lackan et al. that these conceivable consequences should be addressed through policy, legal endeavors, as well as research. A sophisticated infrastructure would also be an imperative part of the launch of biomarkers. Overall, the biomarker provides a refreshing view into the future of mental health diagnosis and treatment, however there are potential challenges that might be dealt with through policy and further research. 

Lakhan, S. E., Vieira, K., & Hamlat, E. (2010). Biomarkers in psychiatry: drawbacks and potential for misuse. Internal Archives of Medicine, 3. 1-6.

Singh, I., & Rose, N. (2009). Biomarkers in psychiatry. Nature, 460, 202-207.

*Writer owns rights to all photographs displayed