Monday, December 1, 2014

Comfort in Reality

"Do you ever read fiction?" a friend asks as she places her things on the table. Class is about to begin and I am still scrolling The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani. I answer her with a nod, as I race to finish the first chapter. Once I'm done, I return to the library section on my Kindle app.

"I'm sure there's a novel in here somewhere," I say. Other than a short novel from writer, Heidi Liu, and The Habit of Art by Alan Bennet, the page was covered with nonfiction books.

My friend picks up A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, "Have you read the Kite Runner?"

I almost blushed. Despite having been a long-term avid reader, I have never really consciously delved into the "Best Sellers List". Instead, I have purposefully avoided the list all together. "I would not buy a book just because its on the best sellers list," I explain awkwardly, "but just because a book is on the best sellers list will not deter me from buying it." It's true, in the past six years, I have read Twilight and two of its sequels, the first Sixty Shades of Gray book, and Mindy Kaling's hilarious tell-all, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, all of which were on numerous best-sellers lists.

My taste in books rivaled my taste in boys. I am almost always turned off by men who other women adore, be it Ryan Gosling or that guy at work. Instead, I gravitate towards those who may not satisfy everyone's taste. The awkward geeky guy in glasses, who loves Star Wars and makes funny expressions, is not as conventional and is more attractive in my book.

"But statistically speaking, there are other girls who share your (strange) taste," she says on another occasion.

As interesting as being peculiar is, gravitating towards nonfiction seems much more fascinating.

Never before have I been exposed to as much nonfiction as I had been in college. Although professors still assigned fiction and scripts, I was awakened by a new world of experiences, analysis, and observation.

As a grade school student in Indonesia, I was taught to divide texts into two groups: fakta (fact) and opini (opinion). Years passed before I learned about fiksi (fiction), which was pervasively discussed in English class. However, I remember a distaste towards reading and writing as a whole because, at the time, I was uninterested in fakta and opini.

Today, the tables have turned. Today, I am much more invigorated by facts and opinion, especially when they are combined to create an analysis.

Perhaps, it had to do with this awakening, this drastic exposure to nonfiction pieces.

On the second half of this article I will delve deeper into how nonfiction rivals fiction. Let's just say, I've heard people say that nonfiction is not as exciting as fiction. Hmm...

*Photos were supplied by the author

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jokowi's Medok Java-English vs. My American English

In the 2014 APEC meeting, Joko Widodo a.k.a. Jokowi, the newly appointed Indonesian president, pitched Indonesia as an attractive site for future investment in English. Jokowi paced himself; referred to a simple, yet informative PowerPoint presentation; and took things one step at a time. He appealed to his audience, who were not native English speaker. He appealed to the primary school students who were learning English. And he appealed to Indonesians. Personally, he appealed to a part of me that feels conflicted about being fluent in English.

Though he received a standing ovation from the CEOs and heads of states which were present at the session, viewers on YouTube, many of whom are Indonesians, ridiculed his English. Some have dubbed his style as Java-English, which entails a medok* pronunciation style common amongst "Javanese" people.

A glimpse of Jakarta

A debate ensued over social media and in the wider net. The debate was two-folds: 1) Jokowi's accent and 2) Jokowi's broken English.

Written in London on November 25, 2014 at 9:34 AM, this article may seem outdated, especially in an era of constant publishing. However, let's backtrack for a sec. For the past two weeks, I've been trying to dig up this well of thoughts and debates on Jokowi's speech. When the recording first aired on YouTube, friends and family bombarded Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) with it. Major Indonesian online publications, and produced short snippets on the milestone, as well as people's responses. Instead of discussing the content of his presentation, everyone raved over his fluency or lack thereof in the English language.

After receiving numerous reminders (and running out of other YouTube videos), I watched the recording. To say that the thirteen minute clip felt like an emotional roller coaster ride is an understatement. First came anxiety, then laughter, followed by pride, confusion and a whole mix of other responses. I felt like a parent, a team mate, and a child at the same time. His promises did not sound empty, nor did it cause unnecessary euphoria to invest in my own country more heavily that I had.

Moments later, I snapped out of the trance and placed the video into the emerging framework on his linguistic performance. Like one-half of viewers, I laughed at his medok-ness and accent. Like the other half, I was proud to see him successfully go through the entire ordeal without a script in hand.

I guess, both parts of the debate did not occupy as much of my attention as it did others. What bothered me was the difference between Jokowi and I. Ego dominated my perspective of the debate. Ego made me question whether his broken English or my near native American English bore more benefits.

What makes one an Indonesian?

What is in an accent? And what does it mean to be "accentless"? 
Yesterday, in a class on Human Resources, students were paired randomly to conduct a negotiation simulation. When the teacher motioned to the Chinese girl in front of me that she and I would be a pair, my new partner looked surprised. Her expression could be interpreted as either disgust or intimidation, none of which comforted me. Minutes later she would confess that her mouth dropped because she was afraid to negotiate with me due to my ability to speak English. She was scared that she would not be able to keep up.

To be honest, the incident catapulted me to write a culmination of weeks worth of thoughts in this article.

While Jokowi was ridiculed for his pronunciation, he embodied most Indonesians who struggled with English. He was more similar to the rest of the nation than I was. Grossly speaking, in terms of the (in)ability to speak English, he was more Indonesian than I was.

Sitting in a class full of people from different parts of the world with different accents and living in London demonstrated how accents indicated ones origin. Hence, many a times, people have mistaken me as American.

Of course, there were several possible explanations: 1) the American accent is much more noticeable than an Indonesian accent; yet 2)instead of one accent, we have multiple depending on geographic origin, kinship, and time spent in one particular area; but then again 3) these accents were not very recognizable.

Accents are assets in an ever globalized world. As we move further and further away from our roots, we rely on basic characteristics to find our place in the larger schema. When communicating, however, we walk a thin line of being understandable and authentic. Certain accents are more clear than others, depending on the audience. For instance, in primary school, most of my friends preferred American English teachers than Brits.

Find your roots

Can Indonesians be fluent in English?
One could also argue that an individual's accent is often what is left after he/she conquers the grammar, structure and rules of another language. Here's where the broken English debate comes in. During the presentation, Jokowi made minor mistakes, much less than expected from a man who never studied or lived abroad and was speaking without text. At the very least, Jokowi is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, the country's national language, as well as in Javanese, the native language of Surakarta where he grew up and subsequently became governor.

The debate on English vs. Bahasa Indonesia has been a hot topic for the past few years. In 2012, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture seized English as a mandatory class in the national curriculum for primary schools, in order to make room for more classes on religion and civics. On the other hand, many upper-class Indonesian students are unable to communicate in Bahasa Indonesia, let alone Bahasa Indonesia Baku or proper Bahasa Indonesia.

An in-betweener from primary school to high school, I achieved average test scores in Bahasa Indonesia and excelled in English. Unlike most of my cousins, I am able to speak, read, write, and listen in Bahasa Indonesia. However, there is no denying that I find writing in English much easier than in my own native tongue.

My fluency in English has helped me achieve various accolades, from writing and newscasting competitions to graduating from a writing-intensive school in the U.S. and being an editor in several online publications. It has allowed me to create relationships with people from different parts of the world freely, without feeling insecure about my English-speaking abilities. Being a fluent English speaker has also given me opportunities that only made me appreciate and want to contribute to Indonesia even more. At the same time it has somewhat distanced me from my own country. Whenever I try to contribute, be it by speaking to high school students or working with local theatre organizations, I feel condescending, I feel like (what I would imagine) foreigners do to Indonesians, I feel like an outsider.

Unlike Jokowi, a man who is building a home for the people he represents politically and characteristically, I doubt that I represent the people who I am reaching my hands to. The very ability that equipped me with the necessary tools to join in on the movement to renew Indonesia has shunned me from it. And that is an internal conflict that begs to be entertained regularly. Sometimes I even wonder if Soekarno, who spoke several European languages in addition to Bahasa Indonesia, felt the same way.

Fortunately, similar to other large nations, Indonesians are not easy to represent due to its diverse language, culture and characteristics. Perhaps this is the loophole that Indonesia's founding fathers, men who communicated in Dutch and were educated in Hogere Burgerschool (HBS), used when they created Republik Indonesia.

As you can see, much can be dug up from a thirteen-minute clip. As Jokowi presented Indonesia as an attractive investment site, he represented the Indonesian potential. In Indonesia nothing is truly set in stone. Nothing is universally and definitively right or wrong. Indonesia's diversity allows for different perspectives and experiences. Much of which are left undocumented and unheard. Right now, I just feel relieved that I did not think of this question sooner in the month: if Jokowi represented Indonesians with his medok Java-English and I have an American English accent, is he representing me and my peers? Hmm... now, that's something to think about!

*Medok means that one's local accent is very noticeable.

All photos were supplied by the author.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Ed·i·tor at 19

At twelve, I saw editors as the human version of Microsoft Word's Grammar and Spelling checker. At nineteen, I saw editors as influential voices behind a publication. Depending on its readership, a publication could potentially change people's lives or at the very least, determine their decisions.

As I've written in other articles before, I became a part of in mid-2013. I spent the first few months as a contributor. By February 2014, I was an editor for the North American region. Much like a literal roller coaster ride, I needed some encouragement and reassurance to step up to the plate. My then-editor and current-mentor at IM, encouraged me to apply as an editor, although we had only known each other for less than a year. He granted me what appeared to be a coveted, yet intimidating chance to join the team.

At the time, I had developed the confidence to be an editor. Having to write 80-100 pages per semester not only developed my fingertips into a well-oiled typing machines, but it also developed my critical thinking skills, especially when it comes to reading and writing. A byproduct of various classes with different writing requirements pushed me to gain confidence to assess and understand diverse texts, be it an article in the New York Times, or a scientific journal. I befriended articles that once intimidated me. I used my grown ability to read and write critically to boost my confidence to venture out into the world of blogging, publishing, and editing, even in a leading publication such as IM.

IM has a prominent presence in Indonesian education. In a country where many believe that options to study abroad are slim and unaffordable, the online publication provides first-hand insight to Indonesians with Internet access (12.3% of the population in 2010). Through regular publications, social media arms and events, IM answers questions from the Indonesians who are interested in studying abroad. More subtly, it connects Indonesians diaspora to those within the country, creating a means of communication that used to be limited to the 1%.

Though, I don't fully agree with common perceptions that a foreign-education is better than a domestic-education, it is unjustifiable to oversee the advantages that foreign-graduates have in Indonesia. In some ways, participating in IM is akin to lending a hand to those who are left behind.

To those who agree with the statement above, I believe that being an IM editor gives you the ability to continue promoting a foreign-education and "aid" more readers in the process.

To those who disagree, I believe that being an IM editor provides you with the platform to influence content, demonstrate other nuances of studying abroad, as well as add new voices to the overall message.

To those who are stuck in between, I believe that seeing two sides of the coin to negotiate the relationship, similarities, differences, and gaps between foreign- and local-education, without discounting each categories' cost and benefits.

Being an editor is not merely about spellchecking, instead it is a whole-host of opportunities to curate content for the readers, recruit and guide writers, maintain relationships, develop leadership skills, add an impressive point in one's CV, and network. Yet, at its core is a responsibility to highlight diverse experiences and communicate these experiences to the public.

All of this big talk may repel you from becoming an editor, but all you need is a dash of enthusiasm and a passion for the education of Indonesians.

Get Involved: is recruiting Regional Editors, Columnists and Social Media. Applications close on December 1, 2014.

*Photos were supplied by the author

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Ed·i·tor at 12


I remember being a twelve year old yearbook editor. 
I remember teachers and family members asking what an editor does. 

I remember how I'd confused myself when attempting to explain the job. 
I remember how I'd look for other editors in the "real world".

I remember how I found a myriad of figures in multiple fields. 
I remember how they shared one thing in common: influence. 
But now, I've added another similarity: responsibility. 

Being an editor, no, editing is the longest job I've sustained in my life. Of course, I've lead a short life, but still, it means something to a kid who fails at sports and musical instruments. As the godawful poem above suggests, I began officially working as an editor in junior high school. Unlike yearbook committees portrayed in American films and teen sitcoms, being an editor was not as glamorous or well-defined. I worked in an ad-hoc committee created by enthusiastic English teachers and ambitious children. I only got the job because I needed things to stuff in my resume and I knew a thing or two about English.

For several weeks, I edited the living crap out of some articles. Keep in mind that I went to an Indonesians national plus school that promised, but failed miserably, at teaching half of its subjects in Bahasa Indonesia and the other half in English. I loved the job because it was easy and breezy. As one of three editors, we had an adequate amount of drafts to review and more than enough time to do so. Yet, once I stepped out of the little temporary room we worked in, I was confused. 

On weekends, relatives would ask what extracurricular I was doing and I'd struggle to explain what it was. "I am an editor and I edit things," was the only thing I could come up with. Initially, I thought the title "editor" was self-explanatory. Perhaps, that was because I was doing the most basic and essentially part of the job. 

Fast forward to high school, when some of my friends and I began writing for fun. Us, geeks, were so invested that we decided to send each other drafts to edit. On the weekends, I'd go to Gramedia, a chain bookstore in Indonesia, to look for books written by young writers. Once I even caught a break and began sharing half-done stories with the writer of one of my favorite books, "Uomo Grigio". 

Tenth grade English was spent drafting different stories and submitting it to my English teacher, who initially appreciated the enthusiasm, but later on was horrified by the amount of pages she had to edit. Dogging her to look through my writing made me realize the amount of pressure editors had.

Surprisingly, there's a lot of juggling involved in editing. Editors need to juggle time, deadlines, and, for lack of a better word, influence. Editing requires a whole lot of back and forth between the writer and editor. Often, one writer may have several editors at once, but more often than not, one editor is responsible for several writers at a time. 

Editors also juggle different hats. In school, students who become designated editors may end up editing scientific papers, history reports, short fiction stories, and journalistic pieces. And even though, this may not ring true in the "real world", editors of the New York Times need to put on different hats to review different writers' pieces. 

After high school, I attended a liberal arts school that required me to be my own editor. The experience emphasized the importance of influence even more. The responsibility of an editor varies from one job to another. Editors may be in place to correct grammar. They might be tasked to shorten or lengthen a piece. They might also be asked to rephrase sentences to make it sound more appealing, whatever that means. Ultimately, they are given the privilege to see half-baked materials and provide their thoughts on them.

Though this reflection session continues, as an editor, I should stop writing here and pick up another set of papers to write on at a further date. So, keep tight and I'll be back with a second draft.

*All photos were supplied by the author

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You're Not That Dumb: Why I refuse to slow down and dumb down my presentations

In the past month, I have spoken at two events. Both connected to the world of English, the West, as well as some of the ideals that often accompany the language and region. On August 30, alongside three other Indonesian U.S. alums, I was a panelist at Indonesia Mengglobal's Seminar (IMSeminar), which was hosted by @America. Liberal arts studies was the core of my presentation. And since I thought the subject was well ingrained in me, I might have been rather complacent, rather quick and rather inconsiderate to the audience. My parents, two people who have consistently delivered constructive, albeit harsh criticism regarding my many performances, felt that my speech required a speeding ticket. According to them, I ran the risk of excluding certain audience members and preventing others from fully understanding the topic. Of course, in comparison to other speakers at the forum including Sophia Blake, the wife of American Ambassador to Indonesia, or the folks from Kaplan, I sounded much like a CNN news-anchor's morning deliverance.

Expect A Challenge, Even When You're Peeing

Yesterday, I hosted a knowledge sharing session at a laboratory located on the outskirts of Jakarta. The director of the lab and a member of his strategic planning team gave me the opportunity to introduce ways to write in English to their scientists. I am not an instructor, let alone an expert in English. In college, all of my classes were in English, but none of the fell under the English department. Unlike many non-native English speakers, I hardly know what tenses, verbs, and nouns are. I learned by listening, singing-along, reading, and practicing my English with those around me. I'd like to believe that this unique upbringing convinced the lab's director to hire me for the day. But, then again, I could have missed the mark entirely.

Whatever the underlying reason was, I still took my place in front of the projector and provided my views on how to write in English to a room of scientists, all of whom were older and certainly more experienced than me. Unlike the first speaking gig, this time I presented my ideas in Bahasa Indonesia, after a short discussion with members of the strategic team.

For the first twenty minutes, my mouth spat out the lines and my hand gestured at the screen. However, my mind was elsewhere, as my eyes scanned the room for responses. Much like a comedian at an open mic, I was looking for a way in, for some signal to slow down or speed up. Was I going way too fast? Or was I boring them? Only one or two people seemed interested in the talk. When it came to the first exercise session, which entailed the participants to write a 150-300 word essay in thirty minutes, I sat down and took a deep breath. Most took out their pens and began writing, a few made their way back to get some coffee. Was my paranoia speaking when I questioned their sudden rush of enthusiasm for obedience? Not once did I wonder about their understanding or lack thereof.

I brushed off my doubts and continued on with the program. When it came time for the questions and answers, only one person lifted his hand. Honestly, I was crushed. What did this mean? Maybe they did not need this session after all. After answering his question, I sat back down and sighed, "Payah!" to a member of the strategic planning team next to me. Payah is one of many Indonesian words that refuses to be translated to English. In some contexts it can mean crappy or suck, for instance "iPhone gua payah nih, masa sudah habis batere?" that means, "My iPhone is crappy, the battery is already empty?" Yesterday, I used the word to comment the lack of questions proposed. In return, the member of the strategic planning team explained how perilous enquiring is. One's question runs the risk of being deemed stupid or useless to the rest of the audience. Hence, many avoid doing so to save face. Though the comment pissed me off, it quickly morphed into a huge, giant question mark, one which I would ponder for hours to come.

Back in the car, on our way back to Jakarta, I asked my mother for her input. Once again, she said that I spoke far too quickly, which I disagreed with, citing the lack of questions as evidence that the participants were fully capable of writing in English. Then she repeated another comment that I am much too tired of hearing. "Expect the audience member to have zero knowledge about the topic that you are presenting," she said. Of course, this advise was taken more easily when I presented about an obscure subject, such as the Bugis tribe's recognition of five genders, a research paper that I wrote in junior year of college, at the Eastern Psychological Association annual meeting last March. However, writing in English is not an obscure matter. These are scientists that make a living from writing papers and publications. Though the crowd at IMSeminar was easier to forgive, they too should have had some knowledge about studying in the U.S. to have attended the session.

As usual, I readied myself for a debate. I geared some preliminary arguments in my head, before suddenly noticing what appears to be flaws in the very essence of her statement. I sat back and thought about it before drifting to sleep. Disappointment had certainly drained the life out of me. By nighttime, I cracked the code to this bout of calamity. Ever since I began talking and writing publicly, I have always instinctually refused to underestimate my audience and readers, whether it was sharing my adventure at the Baduy village to the Indonesia's Minister of Trade at the time or blogging about ways to find inspiration.

Me Too!

I hate dumbing down ideas, because it means that I perceived the audience to be dumb and needed to stay dumb. Maybe this is due to my personal pet peeve of being treated as a child who knows little or nothing at all, who knows! The problem is, I can't see how one can grow without a slight challenge. The challenge may not be perceived as a challenge at all. For instance, being raised in a family that watches CNN, Channel News Asia and the BBC meant that if I wanted to be involved I had to learn how to listen to English being delivered at high speed. I did not see it as a chore because it wasn't posed as one. Instead, watching these news channels has been a consistent part of our lifestyle, allowing me to acclimate slowly and effortlessly.

Dumbing down ideas puts audience members and the speaker at risk. Why? First, eventually the public will take comfort in slow deliverance. On one side they may expect similar treatment in the future. On the other hand, they may not be challenged to pay attention. And lastly they may sense the condescension that underlies the presentation. Second, speakers will also adapt to such a pace. Similarly, they may not be able to provide a meaningful explanation concisely. Many end up talking hours on end, lecturing aimlessly, still believing that no one understands and/or has the capacity to understand. If we continue dumbing down our deliverance, aren't we at risk of dumbing down ourselves and our audience further and further?

At the end of the day, we end up with a disparity between speakers and listeners, experts and laymen. Speakers are in charge of the messages that society spreads. While, listeners just receive, unable to step up to the plate and raise their own voice.

Ironically, this might just be the very idea that colonizers, such as the Dutch and Japanese, planned to convey to the colonized, such as us Indonesians. Continuing the tradition of asking for the audience to provide less and less, be it attention, interaction, reaction, participation, and even argumentation, might as well be a direct act to keep the colonized in their place, a position without power, liberty and independence to question, debate, disagree, and decide.

Unlike most colonizers, I believe that members of the audience are smarter than they themselves would like to think. Just because they are on the other side of the auditorium does not mean that they are inherently less capable, nor do they need to be handheld throughout the entire session.

Long story short, I strive to speak and write to the best of my abilities as an attempt to elevate the standard, to question common expectations of others, and to provoke a reaction from the many empty eyes I have met during similar sessions. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but maybe someone will meet the challenge and accept it.

*All photos are provided by the author

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fetishizing a Foreign (Western) Education

Does a foreign education open more doors than its domestic opponent?

Sitting properly on an awkward piece of furniture, I attempted to remember the rules that Julie Andrews' character in Princess Diaries had set for her granddaughter. Part nervous, part focused I listened as Ibu Mari Elka Pangestu, Indonesia's Minister of Trade answered my question. She explained how studying in Australia and the U.S. for a long period of time hindered her from developing a wide support network in Indonesia, which proved to be an issue once she returned home.

I was a few months away from starting my studies in the U.S. and I brushed off her story as if it would never happen to me. And yet, three years later, I am home in Jakarta, wondering if a foreign education was worth the sacrifice, glamour and investment.

Unlike most of my peers, I grew up expecting to study in the U.S. Studying in the U.S. or Europe is a norm in our family. Each generation, members of the family head out earlier and earlier. However, in the past few years, we have seen a sudden shift of exploring Asia, whereby some of my cousins have interned in Asian companies or volunteered with organizations based in Asia for a few months. Wherever the destination, going far is not unusual. Instead, it is a family tradition that is based on a basic philosophy of gaining knowledge.

The familial tendency to go abroad or attend school in Western countries have diminished the glamour that often comes along with it. On the contrary, we have grown complacent of the privilege to seek education in these developed regions. Depreciating Western education, as bad as it sounds, have pushed us to explore other types of education, especially in other regions, such as Asia. We start to wonder if a domestic education would yield equally satisfying results. Beyond that, we think about ways to use varying educational systems to our advantage.

So, what makes a good education? Does distance matter? Does the setting matter?

I ask these questions because of a rapidly increasing fetishization for Western countries. For instance, I have spoken to a lot of Indonesians, especially, from various socio-economic, educational, and professional backgrounds who strongly believe that studying in the U.S. or Europe promises success. Many make the mistake of underestimating a domestic education and professional experience. They prioritize on the setting first before weighing the pros and cons based on their needs, goals and current resources. Going abroad is not the only key to open the door towards job security, opportunity, and a fulfilling life, instead it is just one of many that each one of us have varying potential of reaching and using.

Believe me when I say that going abroad has its cons. Of course, with the internet, I am able to keep up with local and regional developments, as well as keep in touch with well-established contacts. However, I often miss out on various movements and events that would have widened my network and opened my eyes to endless possibilities located in Indonesia and the region. Certain opportunities, such as participating in a discussion with future leaders or working for a cause that is picking up steam, have made me thought about perhaps taking some time off from school.

However, as Ibu Mari explained, living abroad for a long period of time may cause us to lose touch with our roots and prevent us from making the necessary network that would help us once we are ready to contribute to our country. During my second year in college, I have learned how my Indonesian network has grown much, much slower than the one in the U.S., larger Asian region and Europe. To jumpstart the whole process, I began signing up for work involving Indonesians. I used the network that I already have to find jobs that would allow me to meet more Indonesians both visiting and living in the U.S. Over the years, they have provided me with invaluable opportunities and further network.

Camaraderie is another point that some Indonesians studying abroad may miss out on. This issue is an extension of having a small network in Indonesia. Since I left the country, numerous things have occurred. Buildings have been erected, governors have been elected, and roads have been redirected. As I witnessed the current presidential election, I wondered how my feelings towards both candidates and my vision for Indonesia are swayed based on the amount of direct exposure I've had to the changes that has occurred thus far. Being an observer and a participant are two very different things. While I studied in the U.S., I was an observer. I was relatively safe behind the computer, watching my country unravel before me.

On the other hand, a Sarah Lawrence education has changed and enhanced my ability to critically think about the events that has taken place. Stepping away from the epicenter has provided me with a gnawing feeling to return and contribute. It has made me long for the day where I could be in on the action, applying the knowledge that I have gathered abroad and combining it with the training that I have gathered here prior to college, as well as during holidays.

Conversing with Indonesians of various educational background has shown me how any education, be it domestic or foreign, equips us in contrasting ways. It has provided me with tangible prove that each of us have something to learn from one another and have something to give to the discussion or movement. However, in order to optimally do so, we need to refrain from fetishizing any particular type of education, be it a foreign education, one that is science-oriented, or one that is done in a "good school". Instead, we should strive to check our prejudices at the door in order to combine possibly differing knowledge and experience for a common cause.

Perhaps the thought is half-baked but attaining a foreign education will not promise you success. Although it may help you form the perception that you will be successful, you will still have to work hard and perform well. Hence, refrain from going abroad just in order to seem glamorous. Instead, go because you feel that you are able to receive the education that suits you. Aim for a learning experience that is both enjoyable and fruitful, one that will inspire you to dig the knowledge well even deeper. Search for an opportunity to learn skills that will support you at home and at work; in the beginning, middle and end; as well as when you are around people and alone.

A foreign education might be the answer, but where, what and when may not be as simply put as you may think. Or a domestic education might serve you better. To know you should do research, ask questions to those around you, and think about your nature, goals, and resources. Before creating a fallacy of what is best and worst, dissect yourself and the world that surrounds you. You may just find that the answer is right underneath your nose.

*All photos were provided by the author

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Workplace Sex Relations Part 2: Dissecting sexism

How does sexism drive institutional success? Change is hard, be it moving house or being promoted at work. One view regarding sexism involves the demotion of men’s position in society and the promotion of women’s. Demotion may include increased competition at the workplace, whereas, promotion materializes in the form of more likelihood to acquire more senior positions. Ever changing gender rights, primarily women’s rights, in the workforce has lent its benefits to men, as well. In Singapore, working fathers are entitled to one week of Government-Paid Paternity Leave for all births as long as the family fulfills the requirements. In the UK, a spouse or partner, including same-sex relationships, of the woman who gave birth may request a two week paid paternity leave. Moreover, being a stay-at-home dad has slowly gained acceptance in Europe and the U.S.
Nevertheless, some industries, such as banks, still rely heavily on male clients. In the institution that I intern in, men continue to be viewed as the breadwinner. Hence, more RMs target male clients over female, despite some culture’s tradition for the women to control the men’s income.

Sexism is packaged as a practical approach to acquiring new clients and new money, indicators of success for RMs, as well as maintaining current accounts. From my own experience, RMs tend to spend more time with male clients instead of female clients, be it on the golf course or in the premium meeting rooms.

Sexism is multilayered as the assumptions vary between several dimensions. For instance, prejudices against women regarding math, objectivity, and rationale hinder many RMs from explaining certain features of the bank, such as trading securities. Such prejudices, in addition to other assumptions such as the amount of time that women can contribute to her career, extend to the recruitment process, as well. The HR team is female dominated, whilst the fish bowl or trading room is occupied by men. Same goes for the board of directors.

Sexism is universal, which means that many of us, if not most of us are sexist. At the beginning of the internship program, we had the honor of having lunch with the CEO, a man who dabbled in investment banking before entering private banking. During lunch he jokingly asked to the person in charge of the program, whether or not there was any “Red Chinese Princesses”, which translated to demanding children of clients who often came from China and required “special treatment”. Even the CEO, the face of the company and the ultimate leader, looks out for such individuals.

Sexism is harmful, be it in terms of pursuing a career or receiving all the benefits from having a RM. I doubt that I need to spell out the adverse effects of sexism, but with the amount of sexism that has occurred whilst I interned, I think we could spare time to read a paragraph on the particulars.
          Ultimately, sexism prevents entire groups from developing, much like other forms of discrimination. For instance, a study showed that when a group was told that African Americans will do worse in a standardized test, namely the SATs, the African American participants tested lower than their White and Asian counterparts, and vice versa. This is just one example of stereotype threat, which entails a person to potentially confirm a negative stereotype regarding his/her social group. In comparison to men, women are more likely to stay at home with the children than men and sacrifice their career, because they believe that they are much better at parenting and are less likely to attain high ranking jobs.

          The harm of sexism goes both ways. Less focus is directed towards the impact of sexism on an institution or organization. In the case of the establishment where I intern, the portrayal of sexism in the TV ads may prevent women, a group that will continue to gain financially, to become clients. More alarmingly, bringing the existence of sexism to light may influence current clients’ relationship with the company. After speaking to some clients, they often ask their RMs and confront them regarding the lack of female representation in the bank’s profile. Some have reviewed the benefits of choosing the bank’s services to see how sexism has affected the management of assets.

          During the first week of the internship, I heard a consistent message from all of the speakers: “Our clients are important to us”. This message is consistent with the ad, which assures that the bank treats their customers as the customers would themselves. Both points have caused me to rethink the benefits of such an establishment. If the employees could blatantly say that women should go back to the kitchen and the CEO shows antipathy towards demanding young women, I wonder how they will treat me if I join the bank permanently. Moreover, how will they treat me if I become a client?

*Images are supplied by the author*All the images were supplied by the author

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Workplace Sex Relations Part 1: When stabbing others means stabbing yourself

Jaywalking through Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD), I look back on my first day of work, retracing the steps towards an opportunity to intern at a relatively new establishment. Compared to previous academic and job applications, this one was short, too short, so short that it prompted my brain to generate preconceived ideas about the institution and its people. But, if there’s one thing I have learned all these years, it’s to be open-minded.

Sad to say, life is ironic. Halfway through the first day, I stared at a screen as three members of the institution beamed at the TV commercial that was being displayed on the screen. The first was of a seemingly accomplished man who helped his chauffer change the tires of his luxury car. The second involved the same man and his relationship manager, a man who was portrayed as a hard worker, family man, and generous boss.
At the end of the presentation, one of the presenters showed other advertising material before opening the floor to any questions. The other interns stayed silent, I stared at the screen again, revising the question that has hovered over me and my desire to remain open-minded throughout the entire session. Since the presenters reiterated the importance of enquiry, I raised my hand. The primary speaker, a lady in a polka-dot halter dress and a dark cardigan, smiled her red lipstick lacquered lips at me. Still struggling to contain my rage, I asked calmly, “Why are the advertising materials so male oriented?”
I did not know that the room could become more silent, but it did. The lady’s ruby smile dropped into a flat line. Fortunately, her heart rate didn’t follow suit. Her spidery framed eyes narrowed up. Flabbergasted was the only word that came to mind. “Hmm… good question,” she bought time, before explaining that she had neither realized nor had the matter brought to her attention. Then she proceeded to say that the staff is well distributed between genders. I just nodded, both disappointed that they did not realize the impact of such messages and too fatigued to press the matter forward.

Perhaps, the marketing team did not consulted with other members of the institutions. Perhaps, they were on a tight deadline to finish the commercials. Perhaps, the issue just flew over their conscience. Whatever it was, I managed to water down the issue to a short rail of crumbs.
A week later, all the interns sat through a compliance training session, a half-day program where new recruits are briefed on the dos and don’ts of being part of the institution. As dry as the presentations were, one stood out. One of the lecturers chose an interesting, albeit treacherous analogy. To explain the importance to comply, she said that a woman who has plumbing problems at home should call the plumber and that at the end of the day, women should return to the kitchen. Everyone else save for the interns stared blankly at the speaker, while our eyes widened. At the end of the day, I wondered if this institution noticed the underlying trace of sexism in their system. Amidst my struggle to dilute the issue, a disturbing thought popped up: does this institution need sexism to survive and grow, especially when they can and have gotten away with it?

*The images were supplied by the author

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Appreciating Indonesia: Republished by Jakarta Globe

When feedback is hard to come by, positive reinforcement does not even seem possible. However, two weeks ago I wrote a piece inspired by a particular dinner meeting. The message has stayed on the tip of my tongue for the past few years, but it took a whole lot of smoke and a milestone election to push it to the tips of my fingers. A few days after publishing the piece, I received several encouragements to present it to a larger audience.

In Jakarta, there are two English publications that I have worked with: Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe. Within five days of submitting the piece, it was published on the blog section of the Jakarta Globe. Sorry for the delay but finally I am able to re-feature this piece on Since this article has triggered strong feelings of many readers, I would be interested to hear your thoughts either on the comment section below or at the comment section underneath the Jakarta Globe article. Enjoy!


*The image was taken from Jakarta Globe blog section

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pressured to be Mean

A constant partaker of short sleep-away camps, seminars and internships, I have learned all the ways to remain low and undetected. Blatantly antisocial, building limited friendships was my shield of choice, persistently protecting me from bittersweet good byes and inevitable loss of contact. However, as I left behind my desk as an intern, I can’t help but think about staying, about continuing the relationships that were planted in the past few weeks. While social media assures me that we will stay in touch, in the loop of each other’s lives, the close proximity between Singapore and Jakarta diminishes the heaviness that I carry as I walk out the doors of this bank.

Part of the Between Us series by Sarah Choo Jing

Unfortunately, social media is located in a whole different realm than the day-to-day life. Years after Facebook’s rise to fame, the rush to connect online has tapered. Despite vague social regulations, generally, “real-life” relationships need to be established prior to connecting online. Some people say, small talk will do, others believe that numerous interaction should be a precursor. But, I have had limited interaction with most of the people at work. For one thing, all of us are at work, working, too busy to talk or joke about. On the other hand, some dash in and out of the office, diminishing any time to mingle during lunchtime or after work.

Yet, once I befriended one fantastic colleague, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more. And now, I pinch myself for not befriending more people at work. The professional environment in Singapore is rather different than the ones I’ve been exposed to in New York. Perhaps, this is due to the company, industry, and its values. In New York, I interned at a research lab at children’s centre and worked on photo shoots. Both required team members to work closely. Although, we did not branch out beyond our own teams, people were friendly with one another, extending the American culture of small talk to the office.

On the other hand, I was part of a small, tight knit team in Singapore. We were so small that we joined a larger team for team lunches and off-site events. Yet, very early on, I learned that saying, “Hello!” or “How are you?” was not the office culture. Hence, I refrained from asking people to go to lunch or after hour shindigs. Sensing the social pressure to go about my own business stopped me from being a friendly, albeit possibly annoying human being. Now, I regret my decision to stand-down as I have realized, a little too late, that some of my colleagues are great people with great personalities.

Forced to know one another
Peer pressure is a constant factor in life. As social beings, we generate etiquettes and traditions. Novel features, such as social media, may shift the balance, but it will still include some form of pressure. Years after World War II, we wonder how thousands of people watched as Hitler bulldozed Europe and exterminated an entire race. The world strongly stood against the Rwanda genocide. During the 2014 Indonesian Presidential election, many fought against a candidate with a chequered past who lead an entire army. In the past few weeks, millions have debated against or for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a blogger, I have realized the importance to join the conversation, be it the election or the conflict.

Pressure presents itself in various ways. It wears a mask that hides its true nature. Many have talked about social pressures ability to turn entire nations into villains. Much of the conversation talks about the extreme. However, what happens when social pressure stops you from being nice and friendly on a day-to-day basis in a peaceful country?  

Personally, I have learned to deviate from the social norm and ignore the social pressure the hard way. Although the ramifications are microscopic in light of racial genocide and territorial conflict, it maintains some form of influence on myself, at the very least. In this case, even the smallest mistakes could hold significance. Unlike a majority of larger issues, one does not realize the mistake and its results until it is much too late. Luckily, the conclusion is obvious: be aware of the social pressures around you, as well as use your instincts to prioritize and act accordingly. Don’t sweep a potential regret under the rug, instead take that leap of faith, one that might shake your reputation. The funny thing is this could go both ways, especially in a world where good and bad are becoming greyer and greyer. At the end of the tunnel, you might find a surprise waiting for you!

*The second photo was supplied by the author

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mr. and Mrs. Goo: Strangely inspired

A clumsy child at heart, I've always found curious bruises on my body. During the first year of college, I was strangely inspired by two bruises on my knee. Unlike most of the marks I've had, these two were close to each other but separated. What began as a pair of odd bruises manifested into a short reflection, which might be great reads to start the weekend with.

Mr. and Mrs. Goo

Knee. Two bruises stare back. Brand new, at least to me. Blue, no, black surrounded by yellow and sickening green. A ring of neon vomit around a black hole. Pathetically speaking, it isn’t so dark to indicate the illusion of infinite depth. Not gruesome enough, or at all actually. They are still watching. “What do you want from me?”, I want to scream, but can’t, especially in this bathroom. 

Are these Goos?

A thought crosses my mind and suddenly the walls chuckle. Stop right there! I am not as crazy as you may perceive me to be, yet. As they say, or I say, tiled bathroom walls that are too close to each other for comfort is infamous to be the ultimate copycat. Actually, I chuckled first then they followed. Not as sharp but certainly far more grandiose. 
Rewind, my darling brain, back to that zap of thought. If Mr. and Mrs. Goos, new names for a new couple, were actually just One Goo would I have noticed it at all? Black, blue, yellow and brown splattered all over my body. Not to mention gradations of skin color surrounding what used to be open wounds. Old, tattered and aged these markings were once representative of the foolish, yet often epic, accidents. Falling on top of the steps of the Sidney Opera House, tumbling in front of a llama, crushing my aunt’s rose bed in San Fransisco, and breaking my arm in Paris. How did scars become vintage memorabilia?

Count the Goos

Glancing back at The Goos, I can’t help but wonder if I would have even noticed my battered knee if it was only a spot, not two, just one. Being accustomed to darker, bloodier, and certainly larger scars I often look over the little ones. Little bruises, usually caused by sheer clumsiness, somehow didn’t make much difference. Multitudes of black and blue do not change me ever so slightly, even now when I have noticed them. A scar, on the other hand, becomes this new definition of my existence. With every sting felt comes a promise to be more cautious, comes a prayer for the pain to leave and never come back, comes a plea which resolves in tears. But two, even ten nickel-sized bruises won’t amount to even a single paper cut. 

Life. My life. Is it really only molded by epic, gory quests? Or does every jump to the next pixelated box that little pixelated me makes matter? Does a boy have to break my heart in order for me to fall in love with him? Does a friend have to stab me in the back for the friendship to mean anything to me? What kind of life would I lead? A battered one at the most. 

*All images are provided by the author

Monday, July 7, 2014

Your Vote Counts: Will you count on your own vote? And will it count for you?

            “Hopefully, Obama will win. Hopefully, Obama will win.” I said to myself, despite not being American. The past few hours have been festive. A tent equipped with giant projections of CNN, Fox News and Huffington Post, as well as free pizza fuelled our growing anticipation. A colour coded map of the United States stood before us, nervous liberal arts college students with worries ranging from college loans to reproductive health. The end of the night was nearing, the votes were being counted, I was worried, worried for the election outcome’s possible impact on Indonesian-U.S. relationships, and beyond worried for my friends and my dear school.
Will Indonesia fly or fall?

            Today, I am equally worried. Two days away from the Indonesian presidential election, my stomach is twisted. I feel constipated, I am constipated, not to mention bloated. Perhaps, it is the stress of being away from home or the stress of not being able to come back to the same home, ever. As an Indonesian, who is mostly identified by others as Chinese Indonesians, I have never been so worried about Indonesian politics ever before. Born in the early 1990s, I lived through the end of Soeharto’s regime. The May 1998 riots were barely etched in my memory, as I had the privilege of being a bemused child with family members living in a Muslim dominated neighbourhood. My limited understanding about the tragedy stemmed from the disappointment of realizing that Walmart at Lippo Karawaci had closed down. Little did I know, it was torched down by rioters.
            In the next decade, Indonesia saw a slew of leaders, beginning with B. J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. All brought their own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn, influenced the tides of fortune that enterred the country and left. Indonesia grew steadily, despite various political, natural and terrorist threats. In 2004, Indonesians flocked to voting stands for the first ever direct election, which marked a momentous step towards democracy.
            I am a born and raised Indonesian. More often than not, I have to emphasize that I was born and I was raised in this country, an archipelago that is rich in natural and human resources. A country that is diverse, yet united. A country that believes in gotong-royong or working together to maintain our independence. Having privilege has allowed me to live in other countries, perceived to be much grander than my own. I have been given the opportunity to study about my culture miles and miles away from foreigners who have only lived in Indonesia for two to four years at a time. I have had the pleasure of seeing how others see Indonesia and how Indonesians see Indonesia. The sight may not be appetizing, but it still speaks volumes.

            In the past, I was taught that my political voice was unimportant. It would be counted as zero, not one. Being at the ends of a bell curve somehow made the negation of my civil rights logical and worst, acceptable. Whilst I feel entitled to an education abroad, I did not feel entitled to vote in my own country. I did not worry about representation because I didn’t expect for any in the first place.
            As my anxiety regarding the 2014 Indonesian presidential election intensifies, it slowly catches up to the feelings I had during that fateful night in the fall of 2012. The tent was white, but all I could see was red or blue. I bit my nails, helplessly. The word was and perhaps, still is helpless. During the 2012 American presidential election, I did not have the civic right to vote. I was and am not a U.S. citizen. On the contrary, I can vote in this equally terrifying election. According to a letter that sits on my pantry, the identity card that is nestled in my purse, and a myriad other documents, I have the right to vote in the Indonesian election.
            Unlike many others, I missed the opportunity to vote abroad, where I am currently stationed. Hence, I have booked a ticket home to vote. Nonetheless, I have not boarded a plane back. The decision is still tucked in my palm, enclosed and temporary. In yester days, I believed that the candidates, their words during the debate, and the surveys would determine my decision. However, after a good long day at work, busily attending meetings and toilling around with the idea to write an election piece, I realized that I needed a starting point. By writing the beginnings of this essay, I traced the root of the problem: insecurity. 
            Writing this piece has been hard, because I continue to struggle with the same insecurities. I do not feel that I have a political say. I doubt that my voice will be heard or considered, let alone counted as one vote amongst many. I fear that casting my ballot will only support this argument. In the dark, I could rarely see another person with similar battles. But, I can see many who have the same doubts or who have resolved their doubts by focusing on the tight race between Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo. I see this and I tell myself that my fears may be true, despite all the technicalities involved. However, I have the choice to see it through. Much like an experiment, I can put my hypothesis on trial to achieve an outcome, an unknown outcome that will determine the next step. Thus, I shall undergo this test, I shall attempt to use my political voice, I shall vote.

P.S. Politicians, ranging from Obama to SBY to Jokowi and Prabowo, consistently say that YOUR vote counts. Oftentimes, the emphasis is placed on the nation or the candidate who says it. Now, let me ask you this: will your vote count for you? And will you count on your vote?