Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The latest comical installment to the wedding saga is when mother told me not to smile so wide at my wedding.

"What do you mean?"

"Just try not showing your teeth."


"Because it's not elegant."


"See photos of your friend's wedding in India. Her smile and demeanor was very elegant. She didn't have to look overly smiley and happy."

"She was also somewhat unhappy, Mom."

"But one can express happiness without having to be overly expressive about it."

"Sure. Okay Mom."

It goes without saying that I will show teeth at my own wedding. When she's not looking.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Satu iman

Not long after I met Mr. Right, I gave Mr. Ten a call to tell him that I had met someone and would like to give it a shot.   He gushed the following expressions in approximate unison:

1. "Oh."
2. Respect and admiration that I had been honest at the outset
3. Full acknowledgement that we had never had "a conversation" about our relationship
4. "But my heart is melting a little."
5. "I guess it was only a matter of time"
6. A variety of praises on my virtues that he will always admire
7.  Wishing me happiness
8. and, "Is he Muslim?"

The response was lovely and a little more.... heartfelt.... than I thought it would be, considering the relationship had seemed to be something more of the kind described by Sarah Vaughan when she sang "it was just... One Of Those Things", or in other words "too hot not to cool down".   Response #8, however, made me laugh spontaneously.

It was the kind of classic question I should have expected from a militant atheist, but I couldn't decide whether the question was full of playfulness or full of bitterness. He knows that if I had a choice I wouldn't really care what religion I married into. He knows that I choose to comply with not having a choice.

He doesn't know that Mr. Right had a bitter fight with his parents over his ex-girlfriend's religion; and another bitter fight when his parents asked "is Stella a Muslim?". That he's read all the religious texts and decided they were all essentially leading to the same purpose; that he doesn't pray five times a day because he finds no peace in it and therefore no sense in doing it; that he believes faith is something sought and gained and experienced personally instead of swallowed from what preachers say and imposed on others; that he chose to be with me not because we are religiously compatible but because he thinks we are spiritually compatible; that he knows enough about himself to explain the above clearly, calmly, without frustration.

Mr. Ten didn't know these things and, really nobody would know or need know. But in this society of religious expectations and uniformity, on the surface of things I am doing it exactly by the book.

And so after I had finished laughing I answered, rather guiltily, "yes he is a Muslim."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Dress

Did you hear about the girl who ended up having four dresses on her wedding day?

Dress number one was all aglitter with sequins and crystals so dense that it could hardly be lifted by dainty bridal hands.  But the Queen thought that the cutting was coarse.

Dress number two was full of delicate lace and breezy tulle that you could see the wearer's skin through its filmy gauze. The Queen lifted her chin high and ordered the dressmaker to have it ready in three weeks, but you never know with dressmakers. You just never know.

Dress number three was made of silk imported all the way from the land where Marcopolo was born, in a shade exactly three shades darker than white and two shades lighter than gold.  But the Queen was so efficient, the fabric she bought was not enough to glide comfortably in.

Dress number four was made of silk the shade of exactly one shade lighter than gold. The Queen has not seen it.  The dressmaker declared in all his wisdom and all the bright green he wore from the tip of his collar to the tip of his sneaker shoelaces, that this was the fabric of all fabrics.

"The Queen will just have to deal with it," thought the Princess.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I went to a few poetry readings and have read out some poems a couple of times. They are becoming more frequent in Jakarta, which is a phenomenally good thing. But writing poems is not the same as reading it, is not the same as reading it out, and is not the same as listening to it being read out.

When I listen to it being read out I have a problem with accents.  Accents intrigue me too much it is distracting.  Instead of wondering what she means by "swooping gracefully, splattering gravity", I wonder why the roll of her "r" is implacable. The entire gesture of her voice imposes itself on me and forces me to wonder what she would sound like if I had a normal conversation with her. I become distracted by guesses on character and upbringing, I become unable to entirely enjoy the words.

Some poems lose their meaning when being read. There are phrases that you need to look at, and close your eyes, and look at again, and let it wash over you so that you can make sense of it, or make what you like of it. This cannot happen when you're listening to someone reading it once quickly through.

Some poems even lose their magic for me when being read.  I was listening to Sylvia Plath reading out A Birthday Present yesterday, and I didn't like that her voice did not match the voice in my head when I read the poem years ago.  I thought how surprising it was that she sounded more English than American, which led me to wonder whether Americans back then generally sounded less American than they do now; or whether that was just her husband's influence.  She yearns for death but sounds harsh and stern. I thought she would sound broken and brave.  But perhaps that is what is interesting - she doesn't yearn for death, she demands it.  I wasn't entirely happy with how it messed with my existing imaginations. In any event, T.S. Elliot reading The Love Song is even worse. I suppose people are more expressive these days so it is unfamiliar and disturbing to hear the stiffness of the past.

What I do enjoy about the poetry readings I've been to is that nobody discusses the poems afterwards like I'm doing now.  Because that would have been really boring. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Here's a story I heard from a friend recently.

In the process of selecting underprivileged children to provide scholarships to, she came across a family with two children. The mother is a busker, a street musician; the father does odd jobs here and there. They insist on putting their kids into private school, which costs Rp.350,000 per month per child.  They complain that they can hardly pay the fees.

"Why do you put them into private school?  You do know you can put them into public schools free of charge, right?", asked my friend.

"We don't believe in public schools. We want our children to receive very good religious education, so that their religious values are deeply embedded.  We hear the public schools are not very good about religious education," said the mother.

Over the course of the conversation, my friend explained to them the scholarship program and how they might become eligible for it.  After listening to her intently this is how the father responded:

"As a Muslim, we must accept the intentions of those who wish to do good in the path of Allah."

My friend was taken aback and exasperated that he had the air of someone who was doing her a favor, with the fanciful wisdom of a saint.  She saw him as an ordinary man with a lack of competence over his family's financial management. A family deluded into believing that religion can solve everything and magically guide them into making the proper decisions in life. A family who has squandered many opportunities on poor choices.

But there was more.  There was this sense of entitlement, bordering on arrogance. Not to be confused with a peaceful and serene acceptance of their fate. Not to be confused with a humble gratitude of whatever life gives, no matter how small.  Theirs was an attitude of being poor, therefore being entitled, to be on the receiving end of what God obliges the wealthy to give away.  

Admittedly many of the wealthy are also arrogant. They expect their hands to be kissed (literally) and the poor to pray for their continuous prosperity / happiness. Happens every year during Ramadhan month at orphanages, overflowing with food bestowed on them by people who wish to reap 70 times more blessings by doing something good in the holy month. The little children are taught to kiss our hands and pray for us and thank us for the rice-boxes. The remaining 11 months at orphanages are dry and without event.

There is something very banal and commercial about the whole thing. Like a supply and demand of religious brownie points.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


They say writing is like bleeding, or breathing.  They say a lot of crap that makes me feel bad about my writing because I don't feel like I write like I bleed or breathe.  I have a life and friends and I don't always feel like bleeding/ breathing my thoughts out to survive the day.

I went to the Ubud Writers Festival the other weekend and went to see some talks. Jeffrey Eugenides was talking about how he wrote the Virgin Suicides over a span of three years, writing two hours every workday and three hours every weekend with a 9 to 5 job. He says inevitably that you will withdraw during the writing of your novel and come out at the end of it to meet people whom you haven't met in a few years, but they usually understand.  I wouldn't mind disappearing from this circle for a few years but when I come back my career might possibly have bottomed-out.

I've read writers who encourage excessive sentences and writers who value brevity. I've tried both and don't see why they can't coexist on one page. I have trouble "bleeding/breathing" words and don't see why I can't just spurt out my words in painfully asthmatic spasms. I like a little bit of everything but not everything in its entirety. I would commit but only if I didn't have to sacrifice.

Also, artists and writers seem to have this obsession with extremity. Case in point: "I would commit but only if I didn't have to sacrifice".  Who does that, truly?  It is an over-dramatization of a tendency towards a certain character but is by no means the absolute reality of such character.  Of course I have sacrificed before, who hasn't? 

For the plane ride back from Bali I bought a book at the airport, the collection of surprising short stories edited by Neil Gaiman titled "Stories".  My colleagues were with me, the ones I had separated from for one day so that I could go to Ubud and they could go do water sports. They made fun of me in a good-humored way, which I get quite a lot around here.  It's very peculiar, although it shouldn't be peculiar to me because I am no different to them, supposedly. They see something they admire, something they think is beyond their capabilities or desires, and as a gesture of appreciation they make fun of it. They exchange furtive looks and declare that I am intimidating and point to the perhaps least attractive person in the group (according to social jest and her own admittance, not my judgment) and laughingly tell her to follow my lead. She laughs and says, "even if I read a book I wouldn't be as beautiful."

One can only smile a baffled smile as if not understanding.

Which is phenomenally better than not having friends because they are too intimidated. In fact it is great. I get to be myself, and yet still be accessible enough to be an object of affectionate ridicule. I almost love it.  But it is peculiar because on that airport row at the boarding gate with all my colleagues I was the only person with a book in my hand. Well of course they would think I'm different, which is ridiculous because having a book in hand is no different from having an iPad in hand whilst playing video games - in that it is simply something to chase away boredom and avoid meaningless conversation.

But of course it is different.  An English novel full of words - who am I kidding?  It also dawned on me that there were so so so few Indonesians at the Ubud Writers Festival. And a sea of caucasians in Eat Pray Love attire - linen shirts and exotic sarongs, all gobbling up the literary festivities with thirst and wonder. In the airport I almost felt guilty about holding a book, about choosing to ignore the world to be buried in my book. I almost felt anti-social, literally, the antithesis of my social surrounding.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Most of my life I've had a habit of being best friends with my romantic encounters because these guys are cool and supremely interesting and understand exactly what things I like. The girls, or maybe I hung out with the wrong girls, are always so full of drama and confusion and over-obsession with things that don't matter.  So this is me being terrified that I will have no friends after I am married.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One weekend

It was a weekend in Singapore with a girlfriend from the past.  When we embraced each other at the airport we brought with us a suitcase of manners, languages, and stories that we had loved but had packed away to make it easier to go through life. We unpacked them and talked about past boyfriends, past parties, previous dreams, and how far or near we'd come.

She's still in the thick of student life. I stayed at her dorm and met her multinational friends and went to their parties. It was just like old times, but at a different place, with different people.  I remember Mr. Eight used to say, "I'm too old for this" whereas back then I felt like I had just been born. Now I think I understand except that I refuse to say I'm too old for this. I'll call it something else. In Singapore I noticed things I never used to notice before. I disliked the flatness of her dorm room pillows. I disliked standing in a long line just to get free drinks. The music wasn't quite right and I had to get drunk to enjoy it properly. I threw up for the first time in 2 years, out of a cab window. The conversations were as interesting as they used to be, but could not live up to my memories of genuine love at a time and place when my friends were everything I needed.

Still it was different and thus better than most weekends. I bought a hot leather miniskirt on a whim. When Mr. Right came to pick me up from the airport I told him to stash it in his wardrobe because it would be no use taking it home for mother to see. He laughed and said, "do you know that most people start wearing the veil after they get married, instead of strip down?"  He didn't ask me details of what I did that weekend. It is really good to be back.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


The discussion on moral values has made me so sick to the bone that I seemed to have developed a mental immunity strain against it. It has reached a point where if anybody tries to sell me anything with the word "God" in it I will literally turn my ears off.

Listen to the preacher who tells us at the dawn of Eid that we must elect a political leader with the same religious faith.

Listen to the teacher who told his students that if they wish to travel far around the world, they must pray to God.

Listen to the mother who tells her daughter that if she desires to be successful in life, she must respect her parents, not as a a form of gratitude to the parents but as a matter of obedience to God.

Listen to the friend who advises her closest friend that the hardships of marriage are simply natural satan-wrought challenges that come part and parcel with every effort we make to become closer to God, including marriage.

The preacher did not speak of leadership. The teacher did not talk about hard work. The mother did not talk about unconditional giving. The friend did not talk about communication.

My entire being became a blank concrete wall which would absorb nothing. Imagine what this could do to the impressionable. It would result in a society that is happy in forgiving and accepting everything that life gives. Because they can leave the rest to God. They are all so arrogant and complacent with God's gifts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I checked her out on twitter and read her bio, opened her timeline, scrolled down a bit to about two weeks worth of tweets.  Nothing special except that she seemed to have good intentions. Nothing threatening.

But it is always the well-intended friendly women who are the most threatening.  They work inwardly, embracing the joy of working, unsoiled by petty ambitions.

Later we fought a bitter war at the interviews and I gracefully admit a truce, if not defeat by a slim margin. It is true she was a threat by virtue of perhaps not intending to be one. She is now doing some exciting project which I always thought of doing but never got around to doing.  I toss my head at this and message her my support.  One must find joy in a world that is full of good ideas and activism. 

But, and I ask you this, what must one do with that quick sting of jealousy?

As for me I have sat here and changed colors for the past hour like a malfunctioned chameleon. As my head starts to boil some ideas bubble up to the surface and demand to be manifested before someone else gets to it. 

This, right here, is a thin line between embracing my passion and posing a threat.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


It is always dark and a little chilly at dawn. We sit hunched in a circle on our praying mats and, although it is too dark and I am too sleepy, their voices sound like their faces are glowing. Mom asks forgiveness and Dad giggles; it is a half-joking half-serious ritual committed consistently every morning. Dad nods encouragingly at Mom so that she can start leading the prayers - the Indonesian part of the prayers.

She chatters forth quickly, her pauses not delivered at the comas or semi-colons, but at the end of her breath.  Dear God Almighty the most benevolent the most knowledgeable and the most. Forgiving please forgive our sins and the sins of our parents and the sins that we know of and. The sins that we do not know we have committed because we did not know and You are most. Knowledgeable Dear God and thank you we are grateful for all the blessings You have bestowed. Upon us...

The prayer goes on for 15 minutes. It is long and comprehensive. They say that when you pray for something you must be specific, so when people pray for a blessed life they leave nothing out. Not cars and holidays and worldly material, but blessing and forgiveness and health and clear visions and straight paths and, most importantly, "abundant fortune" - which humans can interpret as something material or something spiritual, but God would know best because He can read your soul and is Most Knowledgeable.

My boss quipped the other day during dinner, that we shouldn't pray too much lest God be weary.  "Especially Muslims!", he exclaimed. "we multiply God's chores by five times every day!"  I have that feeling when I am standing up by my office window looking down at the tiny cars and tiny people swarming by below. If I were God I wouldn't care about these ants. They are too many and too meaningless; and their problems are too petty. Unless I were inside them. One with them, part of them, each and every one of them. Then I would care but it would be less a matter of caring and more a matter of just Being.  Pulsating like a vein.

At dawn I appreciate the glow of their faces as they perform these rituals they hold so dear.  With a sense of urgency. As soon as the first calls to prayer can be heard, Mom urgently tells me to prepare. Quick! Quick! As if God couldn't wait. Dad's Arabic prayer and Mom's Indonesian prayer press upon me, forcing me to feel the calm that I should ideally be feeling instead of chilled and sleepy. They don't know that God is closer to me than my veins.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Questions

There's that book Oprah reviewed several years ago, which accidentally stuck in my mind for goodness knows why.  I don't remember the title, but it was something in the lines of "questions to ask before you get married."

No idea what's in the book. But here are some questions he's answered on different occasions, which I'm listing down for the sake of making lists.

Q: "I don't want to have babies until reeeeeally later.  Is that cool with you?"
A: "Sure. It's your body and your right."

Q: "I don't want to live in Jakarta forever."
A: "Me neither."

Q: "I would really like to have an organic farm."
A: "I would really like to have a brewery."

Q: "If we can't have babies for some reason would you mind adopting?"
A: "Of course I wouldn't mind."

Q: "If our child wanted to marry a non-muslim would you mind?"
A: "Of course I wouldn't mind."

Q: "If our child turned out to be gay would you mind?"
A: "I wouldn't mind. But I would be careful to protect him/her from our parents."

Q: "I refuse to force our child into a certain profession."
A: "I would encourage them into a certain profession so that they can rebel against it and find their own true calling."

There you go.  I'm thinking of having the list registered at a public notary or appendixed to our pre-nup.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Losing fields

There is something about old people that make me feel small, despite their silence, their wrinkles, their poverty, their withdrawal from life.

This particular elder was a landowner. Was, because after we were done, he no longer owned his land.  He needed the money. I got to see his land. Fields and fields of green rice sheaths bending and bucking gracefully with the wind. A symphony of rustles and whistles. A place where the world is too full to talk about, I thought.

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, 
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other", doesn't make any sense."

- Rumi-

It was there that I understood what made me feel so small in the presence of that old man.  His body was so, so thin, stooped forwards, his clothes hung off of him sharply, fabric folds plummeting from craggy bone-edges.  But he held his chin up and looked us straight in the eye. He had dignity. If I had a piece of land that beautiful, and I knew my own hands made it beautiful, I would be proud as well.  What could we do but purchase and destroy. We have nothing to be proud of.

He only spoke Javanese. Was he literate?  I don't know.  When he signed the papers his signature was awkward, slow, deliberate. It was so deliberate I could count how many u-shaped curves he made with the pen. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

They had their pictures taken, he and the new owner.  Smiling at the camera. Decaying teeth and white teeth. It's probably just me, but he seemed a little smaller when he left with his hundred-millions.

I went home to bed and cried a little bit.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On networking

It's been a while.

I entered the fray and scanned the vistas.  The place was packed and, like all the trending places in Jakarta when they've just opened, felt like it wasn't in Jakarta.  The girls were not overly pretty but were dressed up nonetheless in business dresses that are quite fashionable it seems at the moment.  I was wearing a silk blouse and a loose tie, because I had felt like it when I left for work this morning.  I forgot to wear my contact lenses too, so ended up wearing my big hipster glasses. Pangs of regret and insecurity, but I sallied forth into the throngs of savvy future-contacts nonetheless.

My first targets were a hit.  One girl was from Peru and the other girl from Mexico.  Perhaps I notice kindred spirits first and foremost, perhaps some maddening radar I had not realized existed beneath my ignorant skull.  But they were of course lovely, happy, and charming. They made me want to talk about beaches and dancing, which of course we ended up talking about.

The next targets were old friends whom I knew from all sorts of places on so many different occasions but who happened to know everybody else on that one occasion. Default exclamations on how the world is so ridiculously small. One happened to be a colleague of Mr. Nine and we had a good laugh at how I used to date him. We both laughed wholeheartedly for reasons unclear to the other. Another offered me an exciting  project, which actually rendered my official task for the night completed, much to my disturbance. What have I become if I join events to meet new projects instead of new friends?

The last targets were the business school types: one boyish young American, one fast-talking Indonesian Chinese with an American accent, one tall Chinese girl whose posture slunked in the sexy way that comes from having had a fourth drink and plenty of nonsensical things to say.  We accused the American of not looking like the Hawaiian he apparently is, because he wasn't wearing a wreath of flowers around his neck. 

The drunk girl put her arm around me before she knew my name and asked the American: "Is she your girlfriend?"

The American said, "No, she's not my girlfriend, and I believe she's engaged."

I laughed warmly and held up my telling hand.  "She is engaged," I said.  The girls tittered over how he noticed.

I felt charmed at how I felt charmed about being engaged.  This was apparently a test that I had unwittingly bestowed upon myself tonight and only realized post-hoc. If I had been single it could have been a game that I had not played in a while. Would I miss it?  As it turns out there were no awkward tugs at my heartstrings.  I was actually longing for Mr. Right to finish his meeting and pick me up from that glitzy place.

They were apparently going somewhere else for the night and asked what I was doing.  I told them I was waiting "to be picked up".

"You're waiting to be picked up?  Girl you should do something about that ring if you hope to succeed in that."

We laughed like college kids and went our separate ways and now I don't remember their names.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On happiness

For a while it was bad and then good and then not so good.  There is no single year that compares to that one year circa 2009-2010 when everything was always so good even when bad things happened. Not being sentimental.  Just remembering that I too can feel alive and had felt alive for a sustained period.  Alive despite the fact that everything was good.

In this country, in this city, in this room where I work and become distracted by my work from the interesting things that should be distracting me from work, I have lost a little something.  Time, perhaps. Imagination, perhaps.

What's been happening lately?  Not much, same old.  They are burning books and banning mini skirts and jailing atheists and harassing lesbians and decrying sex education and attacking churches. The women don't want gender equality because it makes women smarter and leads to higher divorce rates. But everybody is still having sex and enjoying it, thank God. Everything good is a blessing from God, and everything bad is a result of our sins.   Mr. Right seems to think that last bit is a little unfair and innately flawed. We think that the liberal-minded Indonesians are a silent majority but suddenly Kompas releases a poll that shows about 70% of respondents want a more conservative government. Well that's swell.

This country, according to a poll by The Economist, is among the world's happiest countries. I would agree because essentially, happiness is indeed the culture.  It is not like in Russia where it is taboo to say you are happy because that would mean you have individual freedom to acquire happiness and who, in the name of dead communist warriors, gave you that right? No this is not like that. In this country you do not say you are unhappy, because that would mean that you are not grateful for what God hath bestowed upon thee. 

"How are you?"

"Alhamdulillah, thank God, I am healthy."

"And your family?"

"Alhamdulillah, they are healthy too."

You see.

So, since everything good comes from God and everything bad is a sign of ungratefulness to God, everybody wishes to have more God in their lives, in every aspect of their lives, in their spiritual, physical, sexual, and political lives. And to take it to the next level, everybody wishes to have more God in everybody else's lives.  My own mother laments and moans and complains. She worries that if I do not pray five times a day to God, how will she earn extra points to go to heaven if she is deemed to have failed to educate me in faith? And if I do not pray five times a day to God, how am I ever going to lead a happy life when God refuses to bestow me with blessings? It will be a tragedy of the worst kind, she warns.You will lead a miserable life.

I feel alive with anger and frustration and curiosity and the acute knowledge that I am happy of my own volition, even when I'm sick, or sinning.  I would be a little happier if I could make something of this stored pressure, instead of review contracts.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On beauty

At lunch today the friend I haven't met in a while commented on my relationship status and casually told everyone that a couple of his friends sent messages to him expressing dramatic heartbreak because of that relationship status.  His wife then laughingly commented that when I dated the disastrous Mr. Nine, people messaged his ex to say, "are you suffering attacks of insecurity yet?"

The table turned to Mr. Right and demanded to know whether he knows he's got rivals. Mr. Right grinned and said he knew that from the beginning.

I'm starting to feel flattered and uncomfortable with the topic as it is not something I know how to respond to very well, except with good humor, which I manage. I am a little surprised, and if Mr. Eight were reading this he would probably protest and say, "No you're not surprised. You can't fool me."

Mr. Right would often say "I think you're extremely beautiful, but you don't notice that much."

Well it is a moot point to argue, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I have no business beholding myself more than I behold others. And how much I behold others!

I behold others to the point of distraction. I notice when they wear black soft-lenses to cover their black retinas because they do not believe that their black eyes are black enough. I notice when they wear fake eye-lashes to a wedding party and I notice how they do not look more confident than they usually are despite that extra mile, or extra centimeter of eyelash. I notice the bags the shoes the bags the shoes the bags the shoes the bags the shoes. They are not more beautiful.

I notice the tan line on the broad shoulders of a friend who loves to swim. I notice the ridiculously loud laughter of a friend lying in her sick-bed. I notice the little curls on a forehead which escape the straightening iron. I notice how the swing of your hip gives away the comfort level of your shoes.  I notice a curious question delivered with widening eyes. These are extremely beautiful.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Perhaps 85% of my daily stress involves mother. She often asks me why I am so impatient with her when I can be so patient with other people. I thought of asking her to ask herself why but of course she would not know either.

I thought of how I feel that I would be very stress-free and happy if she did not meddle into my affairs; but a second later I think of how that does not really make sense because without her I would not be this happy person that I am today.

Nothing really makes sense.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On stereotypes

My clients, Americans, took me out to dinner after the negotiations.  They marveled at how Potato Head was so hip and vibey and gushed over the world-class cocktails and raved about Asians in general (except mainland Chinese, whom they "can't break through"). Talk turned to our counterpart, a tricky fellow with more money than he seems to have because he continues scraping at the bottom of the abandoned proverbial gold pit. I told them I used to date someone with the same surname i.e. the same clan and that was the worst relationship of my life. They laughed so hard they almost fell off their seats. Gave them a good lesson or two about tribal stereotypes, at the risk of over-stereotyping, and they absolutely loved it. I complained that Americans are so overwhelmingly over-friendly and they loved that too. They complained that most Indonesians are so afraid of confrontation that nothing gets done.

Apparently people high-up want a share in the deal, but then again that is hearsay and who knows who really knows anything? I told Mr. Right and he said it made sense, because how else would you ensure in good faith that the deal goes through for the sake of national interest, if you don't give the right incentives to the people in charge of ensuring those interests.  I told him that that may be the case for practical reasons based on the realities on the field, but a VIP with integrity would wave his sticks and ensure the deal goes through anyway, with or without rotten carrots.  Mr. Right is like Anakin, and he knows that if he ever goes over to the dark side I would rush over in a space-shuttle to say "you're breaking my heart, Ani". But there rarely is a black or white, I must concede, only a murky gray.

So I met the person who is allegedly the proxy for the alleged VIP who allegedly wants a cut in this deal, who is your typical middle-aged pot-bellied almost-balding ring-wearing gold-buckled slow-speaking businessman who never seems to get to the point of what he means. In the beginning, he played the "I'm not stupid" game. At some point I made him laugh, and that's when I knew things would be okay. After he signed the papers, he took us all out to lunch.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On weddings et. al.

Every so often I get tired of the strange people I encounter every day.  I mean "strange" with shameless judgment; it is my personal view of others relative to my perception of my own self; it is a subjective sentiment of which I do not care to pursue objectivity. 

And my personal preference is to perceive this prevalent strangeness at or around or in relation to weddings. Because at least there is an atmosphere of joy, and grilled mutton. 

My cousin's wedding yesterday was as expected. Food ran out by 8.30 pm.  The bride's face is plastered in make-up and she is wearing a tall shimmering gold crown that must weigh 3 kg because it took her 10 seconds to rotate her head to smile at me. The photos we took look like we could be anywhere in any of the million wedding venues in the city because they have the same chandeliers and the same carpeting and the same bridal stage and the same catering stalls. 

We stood in the middle of it all wondering if we could ever manage to escape being caught in a similar cycle.  We counted our friends (thousands), and our cliques (hundreds), and people who would not be offended if they weren't invited (very few). We want natural foliage and poolside spots but his mother hates sunlight and my mother is worried about flies in our food. We want secluded locations outside the city but my father is worried guests will find it bothersome. The resistance against anything unfamiliar and different is akin to the resistance against winds of reform in the government offices I frequently deal with. Ask why. Why? Why? And they, them, society, will answer collectively, "this is just the way we do things around here."  

And nobody questions that.  The lack of a desire to be individual is mind-boggling.

A friend the other day complained, to the bazillion members of our blackberry messenger chat-group, that she kept getting into never-ending fights with her fiancée.
This was, literally, everybody’s reaction to this heartfelt confession (LITERALLY):
Beyonce: “Be patient. Don’t forget, getting married is part of our religion. And satan does not like when we become religious, and therefore satan will always try to disturb us from performing it.”
Rihanna: RT “Be patient. Don’t forget, getting married is part of our religion. And satan does not like when we become religious, and therefore satan will always try to disturb us from performing it.”  It's just a test! I'm sure you'll pull through! :-)
Gaga: Agree!! ^_^ RT RT @Beyonce: “Be patient. Don’t forget, getting married is part of our religion. And satan does not like when we become religious, and therefore satan will always try to disturb us from performing it.” 

Britney: "Yes agree! Try talking to him, get him to understand, and don’t forget to pray a lot so that Allah shows the way. Don’t worry, in the end everything will be alright." 

This is madness. Utter madness.  

I would have said, wait. I'm sure God is doing His thing but while we wait for Him to sort you out, how about asking a few questions to yourself. Such as "WHY are you fighting instead of communicating?" "WHY do you want to marry him despite the fact that he drains your energy every day?"  "WHY do you feel that you need to compromise your career to make him happy?"

WHY are you all looking at me like that? What, I sound like a wannabe Freud? I'm too "Americano"? I'm too logical and heartless?  Too posh for the masses?  Too classy to invite everyone?  Fuck you. 

Having unique individual desires is the only thing that makes sense. 

Friday, April 6, 2012


My parents are still discussing how best to say an Easter greeting to my aunt. 

Long ago she married a Catholic and converted. Nobody minded much. Her parents were more concerned that he was of Chinese descent. "Are you sure?" they asked. "You don't want to find a Javanese man instead?" 

She had had the kind of relationship that lasted years. He would get jealous for various reasons throughout the years and she would often sit hunched on the phone with him, crying, silently so that her mother would not notice, but her sister, my mother, always noticed. She could not imagine anyone loving her as much as he did, completely, possessively. In the 70's nobody had yet figured out that possessiveness was a sign of insecurity.

So she converted and over the years his insecurity started leaking out from various parts of him, little by little, like hair that sheds one by one and nobody notices until they see a picture of how the hair used to be. One day his insecurity decided it was comfortable there and enveloped him whole, leaving no cover.  It became his character. He appeared to be a faithless man, or faithful only to the tales he spun to cover his lack of achievement.  My aunt, by contrast, became more faithful.  She went to church, sang praises, sought peace, and new friends. Jesus was her savior. 

My mother went through an entirely different journey and ended up in the same intensity of faithfulness, the kind that is born from a certain desperation.  The only thing that differentiated the sisters were their choice in men, and their choice of religion. They had the same mistaken perception of how different they were from each other. 

My parents are wondering how to say Happy Easter to her in a way which is Islamically correct. The saying goes that if we wish someone a Happy Easter or Merry Christmas, we are somehow acknowledging the raison d'être of their celebration, acknowledging the very fact that Jesus was born and died and resurrected to save humanity and is some kind of God. We could, however, tailor it a certain way so as to merely wish them a happy celebration, or a happy day in which they can conduct their celebrations. 

So far we have journeyed, from the days when my grandparents did not even blink when my aunt chose to convert. These days it is ridiculous.  It is like a different kind of insecurity.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


It was heartbreaking, the expression in mother's face this morning as she picked and cleared away the chilis in my fried rice. But what could I do. What could anyone do. 

She said no child could ever repay their parents and the sacrifices made. They will simply move on and transform from a son or daughter, to a relative. They will probably call or visit now and then but they would mostly forget.  

"It feels wrong if they are unmarried, and it feels wrong when they are married," she said. 

"What do you expect?" I said.

She did not answer. 

I ate my rice in silence.  Thinking about all the things I wish I could say in my capacity as a mechanical voice of reason. 

How could you not have thought about this, this moment in time when your children's wings would span tip to tip and take flight. How can you not feel pride and fulfillment at having brought them up so successfully. How could you have ever allowed yourself to believe that your children are your own possession, instead of a "titipan", an "amanah", a gift that is lent for a short while by God like everything else in life, as those preachers love to say. How could you not have thought of life as yours and yours only to make something of and be happy about regardless of your children.  How can you ever be happy if your happiness depends on someone else. How can you measure your children's love (or suspected lack thereof) by the measure of your own happiness (and lack thereof). Lastly, how can you preach daily about praying to God to manifest gratefulness if you have never looked happy in our eyes. 

But of course I could not say these cruel things.  I am a daughter about to be married, and I have never been a mother.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Heel kick

As in, proverbially kicking my heels off.

Today I encouraged a veiled young lady that being an occasional bitch will save her many times in life.  I then endured an entire meeting dominated by four foreign consultants discussing how to improve Jakarta's water supply system. Letting myself feel strangely embarrassed that they knew more about the system than I, or the other Indonesians in that meeting room, knew.  I then endured a long conference call in which I had to pretend to care about my client's debt-to-equity conversion clause and the numerical base price per share. My mind quietly wandered and decided to remind me that I wanted to lose 5 kgs this year, speaking of numbers.

I'm completely spent.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


People are more interesting when they are interested in you.  By the same token, they would find you more interesting if you are interested in them.  I have unwittingly confused myself by coming up with my very own chicken and egg theory.  Who starts getting interested first in order to trigger interest in the other person?  It could happen spontaneously, or one person could start first and if interest vibrations could be visualized and plotted out on statistical graph then zig-zag lines would be bouncing back and forth from one person to the other, assuming the other is also, coincidentally, magically, interested.

This is basically an attempt to explain (to myself) the mysterious phenomena of why most of my friends are male.

Friday, January 27, 2012


There are days when I wish to be stick thin, dressed in skinny leggings and white t-shirt with all the simplicity of a girl and sexiness of a woman. My general rule is that if I can look at myself naked in the mirror without cringing away, I'm good.  This becomes a problem because I can never see my backside, which mother always points out to me. She would say, "that dress only looks good from the front. From the back your buttocks are stretching it out of proportion". She would say, "you've grown wider ever since you came back from the US. What have you done there?"  She would say, "you should be grateful that you have someone who cares about how you look."  She would say, "If not me then who?"

Such is the happy perfection of my home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The writer Geoff Dyer said "Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire."

Which perhaps explains why whenever I am happy - but not the desperate intoxicating happiness that comes from desiring something imperfect and difficult, not the jarring happiness of being an excitingly awkward angle, not the searching happiness of never quite arriving at the wanted journey's end; but the steady happiness of being loved whole and piecemeal, the magnetizing happiness of having an axis around which to spin my unquenchable thirst for life, the liberating happiness of never needing to choose the perfect shade of a sky out of a million, the unboring uneventful happiness that comes from framing laughs around every mundane moment - that is when I cannot write a single page.