Wednesday, October 1, 2014


When you stop writing you get rusty, and when you look at the blank white screen again it is not warmth you feel but terror.  Mind blank, fingers creaking.  I hate TV, I hate the iPhone with all its colorful apps bringing me information that I need not digest in order to consume.  In a way it is like fast food.  Consuming but not really digesting anything because after all what is in it but chemicals and flavorings.  

I’m supposed to write an article about mix-religion marriages, something intelligent and insightful on why it is important and particularly feasible to achieve in Indonesia.  The earliest recollection I have of this issue is perhaps when I was 20, back in a friend's house, practicing for the competition selections with a red-headed foul-mouthed Irish woman we all adored to bits.   She would talk of human rights from behind her cigarette smoke and make it sound natural and rebellious at the same time.  One day without prelude she said, “you know what Indonesia has got to fix guys? That whole having to marry with a person in the same religion thing.  Come on, guys.  That is against human rights.”

The thought had never occurred to me that it was a mistake, let alone it being a matter that could violate the ICCPR, so I was slightly taken aback by this.  And then at the time I shrugged it off, thinking, “foreigners”, and then didn’t really give it much more thought.  I wanted to graduate, get married with an intelligent Muslim boy, and have an exciting career that would still allow me to raise children. 

A few years passed and the country changed.  Slowly, but perceptibly.  Maybe I changed too.  I traveled, I lived in a foreign country, I dated different men. I met people who were profoundly kind, profoundly interesting, profoundly thoughtful and wise, and lived like they enjoyed life.  It is apparently not true that God punishes those who do not pray 5 times a day, at least not on earth.  Maybe they might still all go to hell one day, but it is a hard conclusion to come to.  At best, it feels very unfair.  They all had their faiths handed down from their parents and the cultures they were brought up in, like myself, so how is it that these kind, gracious, and happy people ought to be burned in hell for not choosing the right religion?   There was absolutely nothing inherently mistaken about their values. 

I found peace among these people.  They sought meaning in life by being of value to others, and they never burdened themselves with guilt when enjoying a dance, a glass of wine, a sexual experience.  Happiness wasn’t the ultimate notion of heaven, but was the incremental daily happiness achieved by being with soulmates, living to appreciate and nurture the world, respecting people and earning respect.  They spent charity not because it was required but because it was the right thing to do.  They respected elders not because they were coerced to do so but because their elders were truly respectable.  They loved not because of God but because they simply felt love and they knew it to be sacred.  And what made me most shocked was that they did not judge.

I have always lived in a country of judges. And when I came back, I found that they had multiplied.  They judged my thin hair, how dark my skin had gotten, how much weight I’d put on.  They told me to find a husband. They asked me if I had dated foreigners, and if so, whether I had sex with them?  More and more of them wore the hijab, got married and changed into a person who had nothing better to do than to be religious and overshare stories of their little toddler children who had just finished reading the Qur’an (in Arabic) from cover to cover.   

I suppose the bitterness of my tone and the way I stereotype suggests that I fall under the suspicious category of being a liberal. Maybe I have a bigoted hatred towards bigots.  Mother recently quite randomly asked me how it was that Mr. Six could possibly marry a catholic girl.  She wondered out loud why he wasn’t “thinking long term”.   I told her of course he was thinking long term.  I told her he first needed to wage a battle with himself and fight the values ingrained in him over the course of his lifetime.  And when that was done he then had to wage a battle with his parents to gain their consent.  I told her it couldn’t have been a decision he took merely for the short-term benefit of it.   Not surprisingly she was unimpressed by my answer.  She said, “but what about the children?”

There is something about a religious society and a conformist culture that fears anomalies so much.  Mother thinks I’m reckless, whereas I think I’m just better informed.  What's different here may be commonplace somewhere else, which therefore begs us to reconsider calling something different "bad".  All the other articles I’ve read about mix-religion marriages can’t help but discuss the morals of the issue.  Vehemently leaking out phrases like “Our country is based on God and religion,” and, sarcastically, “if the country wants to legalize mixed marriages they might as well officiate atheism”.

Now I’m going to write that article and it’s going to be informative and argumentative, and it's not going to mention morality at all, not once.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Repentant Populars

Highlight of the weekend was last night, getting dolled up for a wedding.  At the hairdresser I met my friend, and then in comes Mr. Right's ex, and her boyfriend in tow.  We were all four of us sitting in a row getting pampered for the same wedding party, it was funny.  My beautiful friend complained about how she spends far too much money on hairdressing because everybody is getting married all the time.  She said that she swore she was going to skip going to the hairdresser this time but then heard that her boyfriend's ex was going to come, so damn it, she had no choice but to move her ass to the hairdresser.  As she said this I studied Mr. Right's ex, getting her lovely tresses of wavy hair tossed to a silken fold.   I realized I like being around competitive young women.

The wedding was nice and plush at the five star four seasoned hotel. The carpet was softly thick and unnoticed by the many self-aware guests that arrived in pairs and drones.  The food beckoned stronger than the bride and groom, steaming fragrantly, proactively approaching noses with scents of peking duck, wagyu steak, and salmon en croute.   The bride and groom were perched high atop a stage at the far end of the room, before a backdrop of drooping red flowers and glittery gold sequins.  There they will stay for 3-4 hours, to be congratulated by thousands of familiar and unfamiliar faces. We mingle from 7 pm and towards 10 pm when the crowd had thinned, we were tired and thirsty.  No wine is to be found, alas, because it is not our culture.  The music is becoming upbeat but the most that anybody is doing is nodding their head, raising a shoulder, one half-hearted hand in the air.  Because it is not our culture to dance at a Javanese wedding.  Eventually the bride and groom dance to a little tune, a cute moment to be remembered privately, to be photographed, but not shared by their guests.

I don't mean to make conclusions about culture's blame on the character of a nation, but it should be quite obvious at least that free-style dancing makes one less strung up.  This country is a mystery to me, a familiar mystery that feels like home.  The people are so casual, so laid back, and so beholden of their social norms.  We don't particularly concern ourselves with what other people do, we don't go into confrontations every time someone upsets us, but we do notice when someone seems different than the rest.  We are friendly and judgmental, sociable and racist.

Last night we met an attractive young couple not yet in their thirties, who were recently married. Our friends describe them as "gaul tobat", or for lack of better translation, "repentant populars".  I asked them what that meant.  They explained that the couple, especially the girl, was once upon a time quite the party people, frequently seen in clubs with pretty friends.  But a year in advance of their wedding, the girl stopped clubbing and wanted no parties, not even a bachelorette. The bride had "repented" from being "popular" in preparation for marriage life. Her groom, he tagged along.

I did not quite understand this.  There had to be some better explanation.  When a person "repents", it is usually from a perceived sin, but I fail to see the sin in this case.

I am a result of some kind of oppression, with liberal philosophies tinged with anger at other people's choice of self-oppression.  It bothers me when it shouldn't, it bothers me while others are perfectly happy and peaceful with their choices.  But it should bother me if they whisper, like so many do, of other people who have not "repented".  If they whisper about those poor souls who have not received the kind of enlightenment and closeness to God that they have found to be ideal for themselves. If they judge me in any way, then I will judge them as stuffy idiots.

Of course it's none of my business, but I guess I can't help being a little disappointed that a person who has experienced the freedom of dancing chooses to go back and become the silent observer in the traditional wedding.