Who Do You Think You Are? I’m … (Insert any Nouns Here)

After watching BBC’s documentary series “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I decided that it must be cool to know my family history. I saw the episodes of J. K. Rowling, Stephen Fry, Kim Catrall, Emilia Fox. And I felt like, “Wow, I really really wish I could trace my roots back like that.”
But I live in Indonesia. This is one of the places on earth where you cannot rely solely and happily on the recording and documentation systems. Not to mention about the accuracy. We have no idea that the National Archive (Arsip Nasional) still holds papers like birth certificates, marriage documents, census records or whatever that showed precious information on how, and how and when my great great great grandparents with their offsprings lived their lives.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Indonesians hate their roots but we are more of an oral society by nature. Writing a journal, publish a book or posting on a blog like this means we one step ahead than our predecessors. You spread the words not only to people around you physically and emotionally but also people around the world.
Maybe documenting our important life events is not one of our strongest genes but one can find stories of familial journey in the minds of the people. I find Indonesians mostly are great storytellers (well, most people are) but not many eventually pour their words into printed stuff for the next generation to read.
Yet, knowing how our predecessors lived their lives is not a mere attempt at understanding our identity and origin (which in turn may humble us) but also understanding how the entire nation and the world of that era in general worked. So I can more easily relate myself to historical events, simply because I know some people living in that era were . Suddenly, the long history of my nation seems closer and more relevant to me because I have that strong connection. Knowing my family history proves to be helpful when I have to understand and make sense the history in a larger scale, both national and international. And boy, why should I care about the history in the text books every school student must read in the country? What I find there is a compilation of compromised pieces of so-called facts gathered and assembled by the winning parties, the corrupt rulers ready to distort anything at their advantage. Some cynically said the word “history” actually derives from two separate words: “his” and “story”, which is not necessarily an honest recount of facts or real events. Anyone (a story teller) can manipulate it, improvise as s/he wants to, emphasize this but conceal that, overstate that and understate this. There are abundant rooms for anyone’s creativity and imagination.

But in family history, there is no or much less political influence. Families here, as far as I know, don’t really care about their family history (not even document or record that carefully) because of course even if one can manipulate it, what can s/he benefit from the distorted chronicles? Not much.
In the process of writing, I need to really workd hard on understanding the explanation of my paternal grandmother. She hardly speaks Indonesian, and never ever learned English in her lifetime so the one and only language she employed is Javanese, which happens to be my mother tongue. Yet, as I have been growing older, Javanese has gotten less and less spoken around me because Indonesian (bahasa Indonesia) started taking place in academic and other formal contexts. Even English was first introduced to me when I was a sixth grader. I was happily embracing the foreign language just like a new toy. And it IS a toy to play with, linguistically speaking. I hoped to learn more by acquiring English, and I really did. I had always wanted to live outside my hometown, where almost my entire family reside. And English enabled me to do that. Reaching out something new. That is what I want: newness, novelty. I didn’t give stability a damn because it translates to boredom. I refused to embrace the teaching world in which the majority of my family members earn a living, partly because there is part of me saying:”You don’t have to follow them. Find your own path or you’ll be sorry for good!” So I did and thus far there has been no remorse in my life for listening to this voice in me. There are of course a price to pay but the excitement seems to be surmounting the ordeals.
Muntianah, my paternal grandmother, had been raised as an orphan since her being an 8-month old fetus. Her mother (my paternal great grandmother) had died many years ago. I still recall her face and remember her funeral back then. There was no hollow feeling or great terrible loss sensation because I was too young to even think of and experience such painful emotion. I knew people mourned, wept, prayed for her peace up there but I just couldn’t make sense of the whole situation, like “She died. Oh, so what?” All I cared about was that I knew I could still watch my afternoon cartoon series on TV and eat foods I liked and went to school with all of my homework that day properly answered and being free from the fear of being grounded by the teacher. So that makes me help understand why the younger brother of my deceased cousin looked lively and act normally still even after he found out his eldest sister lost her life following a series of legs amputation procedures. He has his own world and the sister was apparently like a nice-looking gadget to his eyes; something cool to have but not his (almost) entire world.
One day, young Muntianah was told by her mother to clean up the house in and out. In the meantime, the mother was doing her chore: preparing foods. Kudus, like other towns in Java during Japanese colonial era which only lasted a few yet very bloody years, experienced food scarcity. Muntianah knew first handedly people around her dying of extreme hunger. But that very day, the family was lucky enough to be able to find things to eat: waloh (pumpkin-like fruit) and kangkung (a type of green vegetable having thicker stalks than spinach). Young Muntianah was struck by a bundle of ‘treasure’ thrown away in the rubbish basket. She opened it and found that in it there was some garlic and onion. Definitely not something worth getting rid of! She shrieked at her mother who was still cooking.
“What’s wrong?” my grand grand mother said to her daughter.
She replied and showed the garlic and onion, “I found these, Nyai (yes, she seriously called her mom this way to show respect which in today’s context sounds more like a total derogatory joke)!”
She later found out Nyai had deliberately put all of them into the rubbish basket, only to test how much young Muntianah really cared about the entire household, even what was thrown into the rubbish basket.
Nyai was really really stern when it came to household management. Young Muntianah had better clean all the floor of the house, refill the bath tub (in which one couldn’t soak him/herself like in what we have seen in the West), and make sure the house chores done very well or else she had to miss the breakfast. The breakfast was ento-ento. It went without saying that it wasn’t the best or most delicious food ever but that was what they could afford that time. The texture of ento-ento was not particularly pleasant to the tongue. As coarse as pebbles, only you could swallow that safely.
As a good mother, Nyai also sometimes treated her daughter when she knew she still had enough money even that meant there was very little extra money she could spend. Off they went to “Menoro”, which was an area of Sunan Kudus’ cemetery (as it was told by the ancestors). Sunan Kudus is like a local saint here. Along with Sunan Muria (whose corpse was laid in Mount Muria, according to folklores). They were two of the 9 walis (Wali Songo) who helped spread the Islamic teachings around Java that used to be Hindu and Buddha-centric. Nyai was there to buy a serving of delicious home-made soup which was usually accompanied by rice. Young Muntianah jumped with joy. It was the word “rice” that made her act that way. Rice was a culinary luxury of the era. Japanese troops would choke any natives to death in case they caught one hiding or eating rice for themselves or their own family members. High quality rice was to be sent only to the Japanese. But Indonesians as we know didn’t accept that as it was. There were many methods devised to violate the rule. People could enjoy rice but only when there was no single Japanese soldier around. Nyai was happy to give what her daughter wanted but Young Muntiah was far than happy. She was disappointed upon knowing that gobet (I hardly know what this is but it is very likely that gobet is another pariah’s food) was the replacement of rice in her ‘extraordinarily nourishing’ menu.
Young Muntianah was never ever a fan of school. In almost every occasion, she reminded the audience (well, you know, it is her descendants) of how awful the system of education of the time to her eyes. She held begrudge towards a highly disciplined male teacher wearing blangkon (Javanese male attire).
“He (the teacher) was insanely inhumane. He made a student stand inside the school restroom all day long. The poor student couldn’t help telling his parents and everyone as soon as he was done from being grounded. Everyone dreaded such teacher,” she reminisced looking up to the house ceiling. It was still the same house she used to live with her mother decades past, only much bigger and taller. My father and uncles had helped her renovate the house.
(to be continued=> http://akhlispurnomo.net/2013/09/08/who-do-you-think-you-are-part-2/)

Tawang Train Station, Semarang (Photos)


This is heaven for web 2.0-minded people.


This is the sky I see. How is yours?


Cars are parked.


Only parking lots for motorbikes.







Lokakarya Regional IATIS Diadakan Maret 2013

Bahasa Indonesia: Universitas Negeri Semarang ...
Universitas Negeri Semarang di Jawa Tengah Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS) akan menggelar lokakarya regional pertamanya di kota Semarang, Jawa Tengah. Acara ini akan diselenggarakan tanggal 25 hingga 27 Maret 2013 mendatang.

Dengan waktu yang panjang ini, panitia penyelenggaraan lokakarya dari Universitas Negeri Semarang (UNNES) mengundang para akademisi untuk mengirimkan makalahnya untuk dibahas selama sesi paralel (20 menit presentasi dan 10 menit tanya jawab).

Tujuan lokakarya ialah untuk mengeratkan hubungan antara para akademisi yang bergelut dalam bidang penerjemahan dan studi antarbudaya di wilayah Asia Pasifik dan sekitarnya.

Tema lokakarya yaitu  “Translation and Cultural Identity” yang dibagi menjadi subtema sebagai berikut:

  • Penerjemahan dan masalah-masalah multibudaya dan multibahasa
  • Pemeliharaan, pembentukan dan memberi tantangan pada jati diri setempat/ nasional dalam penerjemahan
  • Kebijakan pemerintah dan dampaknya pada hasil penerjemahan
  • Masalah-masalah keberterimaan terjemahan antara bahasa-bahasa yang memiliki perbedaan budaya
  • Penerjemahan budaya populer dan dampak enkulturasinya
  • Penerjemahan dalam dunia maya dan tantangannya terhadap jati diri budaya

Untuk yang ingin berpartisipasi, diharapkan mengirimkan abstraksi sekitar 300 kata ke alamat surel: iatis_indonesia@yahoo.com paling lambat 15 Juni 2012. Makalah yang lolos akan diumumkan pada 28 September 2012.

P.S. : Informasi lebih lanjut bisa diketahui dengan menghubungi Issy Yuliasri di alamat surel: issyuliasri@yahoo.com. Sekretariat lokakarya berada di Gedung B3, UNNES, Kampus Sekaran, Gunungpati Semarang 50229, Indonesia dengan nomor telepon dan faksimile +62 (24) 8508071.

The Amazingly Mixed-up Indonesia (Position among the Stars-Part 1)

I had no Saturday night plan and there a tweet of Diki Umbara caught my attention. He mentioned SBM Golden Lens Award at Erasmus Huis, a free documentary movie to watch, and (most importantly) a free meal for everyone. I made up my mind. This could be something fun to watch. The last time I missed a public free occasion at Erasmus Huis, Jakarta, it was a music performance whose performers/ singers I had never known of  before. And this time, I decided to go out for this. As everyone knows, I’m not a huge fan of going out late wandering around somewhere. For God’s sake, it’s Jakarta! You’ll never know what is going to happen to you.

I’m proud to claim myself  a staunch supporter of walking, for two reasons: I love my planet, and I can’t afford a car, a personal one. And this time, as usual, thanks to the proximity of Erasmus Huis, it only took me 30 minutes to get there. I got the house just in time.

When I rushed as if I were the late comer, I discovered almost no one there. “Ok, it said 7.30 PM, and why is it too quiet around here?” I half cursed by heart. I tried to catch my breath, scanning the entire venue for someone that at least I could talk with. None…

I saw some Dutch (pure guess, actually), sitting on the yard, discussing something with a laptop at a sunshade. As they seemed to be involved in warm exchanges of ideas, I felt like I didn’t want to interrupt. Some committee members at the entrance ignored me. Great!

I went in after asking them if it was allowed to get into the theater first. They allowed me, which was good because I had no idea what to do. The foods were served there yet no one was around me eating. So I guess it was  a bit early. I sat down, posted some pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter, and all of a sudden, there they came. It was like a couple of minutes only after I left the banquet table and moments later the queue  grew long.

Everyone took a seat in the yard. Chairs were already set there, a roofless setting for the diners. We were eating and munching and swallowing and chatting, until drops of water started to fall down. The outdoor dinner setting was ruined in a second. Everyone ran from the drizzle, saved themselves and their dear foods and drinks.

A not-so-thin guy came to us and let us come into the theater to continue enjoying dinner. I finished eating the broccoli as quickly as I could and dashed into the theater. And the drink, which looked like fresh water, turned out a glass of soda. I was dehydrated till I got home.

And oh,  before the movie (the title of which I had known before) started, there were awards for The Best Documentary “Rumah Multatuli” by Sapto Agus Irawan, The Best Student Documentary “Sop Buntut” by Deden Ramadani , and The Best Audience Choice “Hidupnya Bocah Ondel2”by  Mega F. Yohana. What we were abut to watch that night was “Position among the Stars”, the winner of the best documentary of Golden Lens Festival.

Being directed and produced by Leonard Helmrich et. all, this documentary movie was beyond my expectation. Documentary movies are generally ‘serious’ stuff. I didn’t expect to see something enriching and candid here but I did. As Leonard, who also was there, greeted the audience and gave a brief foreword telling how the movie was about, I thought I would leave my seat after 15 minutes (30 minutes tops!) but I was there sitting for like 2 hours straight. The movie, Leonard said, was inspired by the conflicts related to different faiths in Indonesia (in this case, Islam and Christian). It was nicely portrayed by the crew when the star-and-moon topping of a mosque minaret and the cross of a church were shot in the same frame altogether.

The movie started with several random scenes showing the chronicles of Indonesia: BLT (Bantuan Langsung Tunai : cash for every poverty-ridden household in the country) riot, Soeharto downfall, an angry, threatened cobra being surrounded by peasants. Finally it was focusing on one central character: an old lady (whose named I forgot). She, apparently from Central Java, is a Christian while her one and only son left is a Moslem.  Theresia, or Tari, is her grandchild, a typical teenager with her long hair and high school life style.

It mostly tells about the harsh life that the family has to live both in the merciless Jakarta and the less promising hometown. Too many cute scenes to tell here. The fact is the movie does explore my emotions. I laughed, cried, stunned and it led me to much deeper understanding on my being Indonesian.


In spite of being called documentary, it’s not another serious, brooding National Geography trip to watch. Lots of funny scenes are scattered throughout the movie.

The first that caught my attention most is when the old lady tried to stop the train moving towards her She stood just right in the middle of the railway in hope that the train would stop like she wished. It was pretty much scarry as the train seemed to keep moving while the old lady stood still with arms wide open. People might think she wanted to commit suicide but she was doing that so as not to have to go to the nearby train station. What happened next is she and her son had to take an extraordinary mode of transportation. Moments later, the two passengers were on a board moved by motorbike but what made it cute is the fact that the driver had to face and drive backward to get to the station. And the laughter broke as we saw these people moving backwards on the railway. They moved with a mountain as the background. Lovely indeed!

Another is when they lived in Galur, Jakarta. The entire neighborhood was sprayed with the insecticides (as dengue fever prevention). The son, who loved breeding Cupang fish, tried as best as he could to save the mosquitos larva around the house because he needed the larva to feed his fish. In fear of losing his sole income stream (this man was jobless, he lived from breeding cupang fish as fighters and bets) , he got into the house while the white fog of insecticides covered the entire house. To avoid being choked by the fog, he grabbed his wife’s bra (yes, BRA) to cover his nose and mouth while running frantically to save the larva and fish from the evil insecticides. Everyone giggled and laughed to tears.

Compassion, homesickness and being home

I must admit I cried. I DID cry several times because of the touching movie scenes (Thank God it was so dark anyone wouldn’t notice!). Seeing the old lady and her friend simply reminds me of my own two grandmothers living in my hometown. They’re still alive (though not kicking) and I really wished to come and see them. I mean, we’ll never know how long our time on earth is. It’s really saddening me I can’t be with them but that’s how life should go. We can’t be with our beloved ones all the time, whenever, wherever we want. Each and every one of us is in fact a solo traveler, so separation is supposed to be no stranger to us. Nothing is as fresh as the pain caused by being  or having to go away from our craddle, our comfort zone, and experiencing homesickness. Something hollow inside us and we have to endure the emptiness.

Back to the movie, it was the compassion that made the old lady buy a Nokia camera phone for Tari, her granddaughter. It cost her IDR 600,000 , not a meager sum of money for the family. Tari finally got what she desired somehow. The grandmom wished Tari would study harder with the phone in hand. But that was such a huge mistake. The phone was derailing her from the right track. Once Tari came into contact with the virtual world, she changed. Even Facebook was presented here as one of the factors responsible for the drastic behavior and mindset change of the younger Indonesians, as far as I’m concerned. Tari, like most high school students these days in big cities in Indonesia, uploaded tons of photos with her so-called boyfriend and those were taken by the camera phone the grandmom bought her. Sounds familiar? To me, yes it is. Spoiling kids with gadgets never works, never! They have to earn those PlayStation, Blackberrys, and iPads!

And one more scene about being always attached to home is very well reflected by the old lady’s obstinacy as she argued with the son about how important it is for her to come back every 2-3 months to her hometown. “How on earth can I leave my hometown and stay in Jakarta for good? This is my home, I can’t leave it no matter what!” she yelled at the son when he talked her into living permanently in the capital on the train heading to Jakarta. Typically Javanese way of thinking, ain’t it?

The theater was packed with around 200 people!