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Written in London on November 25, 2014 at 9:34 AM, this article may seem outdated, especially in an era of constant publishing.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, detik.com and beritasatu.com 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 IndonesiaMengglobal.com 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: IndonesiaMengglobal.com is recruiting Regional Editors, Columnists and Social Media. Applications close on December 1, 2014.
Information: http://indonesiamengglobal.com/2014/10/join-us-at-indonesia-mengglobal/

*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