“Aroma Karsa”: The Review

DEWI LESTARI and the literary prowess she is now having are quite astonishing, to be honest. Because I am not her huge fan, I am not quite familiar with her works. I once read “Rectoverso”, a compilation of short stories published back in 201. But that is all what I know. I have never read her works like Supernova and the family which are considered big in the contemporary literature in Indonesia.

And to be brutally honest, my skepticism of her work is partly – or maybe largely – because she had a celebrity status prior to her being a literary figure. Maybe people view her highly because she is just a singer-turns-writer commercial success. But I ask to myself again, is that a symptom of envy? I laugh out loud. Indeed, it is true. That IS envy. Literary envy. Apart from everything, she is just so lucky to have that fame which helped her in some way to soar. But I know that fame only won’t get her so far and Dee – her pen name – proves her literary journey does not end too soon. So okay, she has that X-factor that no other authors in Indonesia ever have but I am convinced she works hard, really hard for this and she totally deserves it all.

While I am writing this review, I am still reading her latest work “Aroma Karsa” which is one of the hottest recent published Indonesian novels this very year. I got this from a friend working at the publisher of the novel, hoping to get a cheaper price. I just believe that I made a good bargain even without comparing the selling price at bookstores around me. Why? First of all, no bookstores that sell Indonesian novels around where I live. Tragic I know. Yes, they just closed that Trimedia outlet which was the nearest I could get whenever I want to know some recent Indonesian novels. My place to go is then a local public library, but then I doubt they have that novel because the book is too recent to be displayed in the public library. I am not sure they have it already by now and even they do have some copies, people would just – I assumed – borrow them all. And I have no copy left to borrow.

My first impression upon reading the book is that the book was like fairytale set in the modern, capitalism age. We have got this corporate setting as the entire backdrop. Of course, the palace (keraton) and Bantar Gebang and Sentul are just real settings but I cannot find the proof that Dee is using these settings as more than just settings. She obviously focuses more on the plot.

That said, the novel is very much plot driven. And like her main character, Jati Wesi, Dee knows very much that curiosity is one thing she needs to sustain during the whole reading experience from beginning to end.

I can feel the pace is quite fast. Even a little bit too fast. Imagine you are in a journey and Dee as a tour guide is taking you to a series of destinations. But in every destination, you only have some minutes to sit and ponder and ruminate. On other occasions, she just lets you take a few minutes and take photos and leave. Isn’t it the Indonesian style of traveling? Maybe. But apart from that, I guess this is what a popular, best-selling novel has to have. It has to encourage readers to read on. Once they are bored and put the book down, that is considered failure. They must be glued to it all the time. It is even better if the book which sprawls 690-ish pages is so compelling that readers can devour it in one single sitting or night. Of course, it is possible provided that you are jobless so you have so much time to spend alone, and you are living alone in your apartment and no relatives can bother or disrupt you in the process of enjoying “Aroma Karsa”.

At the first time, I was stunned by Dee’s diction. So many Indonesian words that are infrequently seen in the contemporary works of literature can be found here. They emerge from Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia, I am sure. And it gives the impression that Dee is trying so hard to follow the rule. Or perhaps her editor made her do this? I have no idea. But I conclude that was quite impressive. I am glad that she takes her work seriously, now that N.H. Dini is gone. She may be her successor.

Another comment I have in mind is that Dee has a peculiar taste of naming her characters. Jati Wesi is not a common name for a Javanese man, as far as I am concerned. I am Javanese myself but never have I seen a man named this way by his parents. But then, hey this is a fiction work anyway! But if I were her, I would select another name which ensures audience that Jati Wesi is a real one. And Tanaya Suma? I have no idea. That is a very atypical name of a Javanese girl.

And the Javanese mythology involved here is unbeatable. Further research is needed to know if this is made up or not.

Speaking of the description of smell that Jati Wesi and Tanaya Suma have is just awesome. Yet, in a certain point I feel so bloated with all the names of essential oils, chemical substances that are hardly pronouncable for laymen like me. This to me slowly turns sickening because Dee does not bother to give even a short footnote as to what X means or is commonly used or discovered in what. Once, twice, thrice, okay I am impressed but the rest looks like a sheer show off of olfactory-related vocabulary. It stresses that the author does the hard work of researching but how can it be informative to us readers when we cannot even know a glimpse of it? That is it.

(More review to follow as I finish reading the book)

My Ultimate 2019 Digital Resolution: Going Un-mainstream

I have been giving it so much thought.

While Facebook and its giant business tentacles like WhatsApp and Instagram are robbing away our privacy, I decided to bid farewell to Facebook earlier this year. And I prove myself capable of living without it.

Now that WhatsApp shows lack of intention to curb child pornography (go read Techcrunch report on this issue), I guess this is the right time to slowly and gradually limit my use of the chat app before totally switching to the surrogate which I love more but less populer, Telegram.

At the same time, I also focus on my use of Google services. On my mobile phone, I have long time ago ditched Chrome. I turn to Mozilla Firefox and Focus which way more private.

When it comes to search engine staple service, I have another alternative that is more user friendly than Google:Duck Duck Go. It is a search engine that is not evil, plus it doesn’t sell its users’ data.

Speaking of Instagram, I resolve that this end of year is just the right time to detach myself slowly but certainly from the addiction of posting anything on it. No more will you find an impulsively produced piece of content whether it be stories or feed content. And to begin with this, I have uninstalled the Instagram app on my phone.

As for email service, I have made up my mind that MerahPutih.id is my main preference. It is made in Indonesia, which is my country of origin. Blind nationalism, you may assume? Probably true, but until I find a better service, why not? Using my nation’s products gradually builds our people’s confidence. And what is even better than that when we want to be a more developed nation in the future?

While it is impossible to be free from Google Maps (because of my being a faithful user of Gojek app), I can delete my Google account whenever I want to. And that starts from stopping to use and open Gmail.

You may think these all resolutions are pointless. But think again. While this might be unfeasible on so many levels, I hope this resolution gives me and you a heed of the importance of conscious and prudent way of making use of all these digital services that are free of charge but stealthily lead your life, like a sly shepherd gently dragging his gullible sheep to a slaughterhouse. (*/)

Combatting Fake News in 5 Simple Steps

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Fake news is bloating the web. How can we do about it? Here’s some steps anyone can take to take part in the campaign against fake news. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Within a few months, Indonesia is about to undergo a five-yearly political ‘ordeal’ called presidential election. In 2014, we saw how the loathesome politics before our naked eyes.

And it takes no time for us to see fake news circulating around the web in a glimpse of an eye. Last presidential election offered us a cruel description of how disgusting this band of political clowns with their intrigues could become play with people who knew almost nothing about their grand plans ‘behind the screen’.

And this fake news plague make all of us without exception prone to deceitful plots of their digital troops responsible for claiming the presidential throne.

In response to this alarming phenomenon of fake news, every one of us must be involved and feel obliged to combat it.

Here’s how you can combat fake news around us as cited from Quartz.com.

Ensure sources of information

You may be familiar with popular and large news outlets such as New Yorker, The New York Times, or Tempo (in Indonesia). But be aware of the fake domains that are manipulated in such a way to trick the careless eyes. For example, the official site of New Yorker Magazine is http://wwww.newyorker.com/. But there are some other almost similar domains that are made to deceive internet users, such as thenewyorker.net or newyorkermagazine.org. This may look the same with the official site, but to the untrained eyes, those look pretty much similar.

According to Quartz, don’t just trust a news outlet domain only after reading one article. Try reading other articles or even navigate through the entire site to get to know what the site is really about.  Does the site really qualify for the quality journalism standards? (Read more here to learn more about journalism standards and ethics).

Assess headlines’ tone

You’d better be cautious when a webiste you read shows headlines that are too provoking emotionally. The tone of headline is another criterion to assess in a news website if you are to avoid spreading fake news in the internet.

The tone of headline in a trustworthy news outlet must be neutral and unbiased.

But how do you can define neutrality?

Let’s say you read a headline, and suddenly you feel a jolt of anger or sadness or disappointment, chances are the news you’re reading is fake and the website you’re visiting is a fake news website.

Find out who the writers/ reporters/ editors are

Do you know what sets the trustworthy news websites apart from fake news ones? The availability of information of the identity of news makers/ people behind those articles or web content.

On trustworthy news outlets such as NewYorker.com, we can see information of writers/ reporters/ editors. This includes what they have written so far so we are not in the dark about what their motifs are. If they are true journalists, there is no way they would compromise and trade their integrity for financial or personal gain.

So if you read a website that only shows “an admin” produced the article and you can’t find any real person name there, you should be suspicious.

Find the primary sources’ reliability

One main sign that a news piece is fake is that it has been distributed and quoted by so many people that we can no longer find who made the statement in the first place. Too often than not, we see rumors are distributed this way. People keep repeating it until no one can tell who or what produced the news initially.

And by “primary sources”, we also refer to reliable experts as sources for journalists to clarify our hypotheses. If an article says “Scientists state walking can fight cancer”, we’d better know which scientists the article is talking about, what institution they work at, and other details that support our investigation.

Beware of repurposed old images

We sometimes are instantly agitated to see a heart-wrenching photograph of – let’s say- a person’s calamity owing to someone else’s neglect, evil intention or thirst of power circulating on the web. This was especially true when the Rohingya humanitarian crisis broke. Someone with ill intention took an old photo and repurposed that in such a way to convince internet users like you and me that that photo reflected what really happened in Myanmar.

To find out whether those viral photos are repurposed ones or real and updated, you can simply go to Google Image to search when they were first circulated on the web.

Be aware as well of the possibility of context misuse. What I am trying to say is that a certain photo can be used to illustrate another event or incident. For example, we might see photos of victims of Aceh tsunami victims in 2004 circulating again after a tsunami hit Palu and Donggala this year (2018). Though the type of natural disaster is quite similar but they are different cases and scale of severity. (*/)

 

Office Workers, Sedentary Lifestyle and Mental Illness

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Office workers are prone to mental disorders, if it goes unnoticed. (Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com)

The year of 2018 marks my eight year of living in Jakarta. And throughout these years, I have been living most of my life as a corporate worker. In some other time, I also work as a freelancer, trying to make money with myself as the one and only employer.

Indeed, life as a corporate worker is a mixture of every emotion a human being can have. Office politics can be stressful but once you can get over it, you’ll see the intrigues as entertainment instead of sources of annoyance or frustration. That’s how I view it, to be honest.

Laughing out loud I was this morning to find this news on mentall illness that office workers are prone to. It is estimated that one of three people suffer from mental ilness, stated detik.com. But it wasn’t mentioned as to the scope of the research and further details. Probably Jakarta and greater area.

Director of Health and Sports of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia stated that there’re a huge number of people seeing doctors or going to clinic only to find that they suffer from no illness whatsoever. “But when they’re asked further, they admit they are stressed out,” said Kartini Rustandi, the director.

I can tell that this can be true around me. Stress and mental breakdown may occur when someone – not only office workers in fact – gets too absorbed with his or her life ambition or targets or goals. That may be sales targets, or material pursuit or winning respect or admiration from others. Human beings can have multitude motifs when it comes to this departement.

And this is where exercise can do us some favor. Stretching – which in this case looks like yoga – is one of the possible methods to destress and stay balanced in life. Kartini mentioned that exercising boosts the release of endorphin, a type of hormone secreted by the body in a natural manner when we are moving and stretching our physique.

So whenever I see some people who don’t quite like exercise and stretching, I think there’s something wrong with them. They need help. Sometimes solutions are there but we can’t see clearly because we’re too consumed with stress. And this is why exercise is really a staple activity on daily basis.

I’m not going to be a part of the one third of these office workers who would just collapse or break down in the office. And you? (*/)

Here’s My Secret to Not Gaining Weight After A Huge Huge Meal

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In my entire childhood and early adulthood and current adulthood, never did I lose the title of “thin boy”. Every time people see me, the first thought that occured to them is this:”You must eat more” or “You must eat more often.”

But they hardly know that it is all futile. Just a waste of resource. I liken myself to a small glass that everyone thinks could enlarge once they pour more liquid into. Which is of course unfeasible.

That said, they always get curious as to how I stay slim and thus never change my clothing size since the last day I left high school. That in fact irritates some of them to no end.

Whenever I am asked the question, I used to have no answer. I blabbered, saying,”It’s genetic…” And when they chased me more for accurate, believable answers, I told them to speak with my parents. That quietens them in some way.

Recently, a band of researchers managed to unravel the mystery for me. As I read on Jakarta Post, researchers of Flinders University, in the Land Down Under, just found out that there is this obesity gene called RCAN1. Not having this gene enables you to eat in a literally crazy amount without even gaining a slight weight. That sounds cool to some people having obesity issues. When removed, one would never ever gain weight no matter how much s/he eats. Without the gene in our body, we can stay slim without even exercising a single minute or restricting calorie intake or modifying diets. You can just eat liberally.

Of course, the news told us there are possibilities for future development of obesity treatment with genetic engineering. But if you’re someone whose health care is only covered by BPJS, that means nearly impossible to have such treatment owing to the costs. (*/)

Longing for Old Sundanese Authenticity in Parijs van Java

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Parijs van Java (Photo credit: Panji Nugnugroho)

A local historian in Bandung was upset to find out some people call the capital of West Java “Paris van Java”. Nonsensical, he said. If you wrote it in Dutch, then it goes like this: Parijs van Java. But if you prefer English, Paris of Java sounds more sensible. I laugh at this. This historian sounds more like me, a writer who goes mad whenever an erroneous piece of text is spotted.

Just recently, too, I found the fact that historically the nickname was coined by a Jewish trader who resided in Bandung. This is new to me. Though I know that there is a very small number of Jews in Java but I’ve never heard of their existence there.

One of my most favorite parts of trip is definitely the train ride. As majestic as it gets, the breathtaking view really stuns me. While the Argo Parahyangan train passes through Padalarang, I cast my glance at the surrounding ravines and green hills. Simply lovely! Hilly areas with a lot of splendid natural attractive landscape of ‘Pasundan Earth’.

Because I am such an old building lover, going to the increasingly congested city feels like paying a visit to seventh heaven. But I do witness some newly built establishments around the city as well, making me forget that this place is the national heritage on its own. Its adjacency with Jakarta makes it truly special. It offers Europe-like weather and temperature, thanks to the latitude. Yet, Bandung is no longer that cool and green, so I heard. And I found it true somehow. Global climate change is no joke for sure.

Farmhouse, Lembang is NOT a place to visit in this rainy season. Your excursion might get disrupted by sudden downpour, just like what I experienced here. As we (my coworkers and I) got off the bus, we could feel the breeze that gradually became a gust of wind. I could never thank myself more for bringing along an umbrella with me all the way from home.

The raindrops were still falling down when I got to the house of hobbits. One huge disappointment to us was that we – everyone actually – was not allowed to get into the house. And we didn’t see any worth-doing things here other than taking photographs to upload on Instagram. Which is quite sad to me.

Sitting down at the cafe inside the compound is truly joy to be honest. That lazy afternoon, we couldn’t help ourselves from sipping a cup of coffee or flavored milk that we just had gotten from a counter right before we entered the compound.

Theme park with European-style buildings, Dutch costumes for rent, a mini zoo & a hip restaurant. Nothing special. I in fact wished something more Sundanese, something local, something authentic, something you can’t find anywhere else on earth. This is good but well, this is a replica of a chunk of Europe. No matter great it looks, it still comes second to Europe or New Zealand where you can find cattle grassing on meadows. Here, I can’t find any of these cattle.

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Shifting to Chinese Town in Bandung, I can tell you it’s an overly hyped tourist attraction. When I was told we were going to the place, I thought it was a vast area where we can just wander around freely, where a whole-day sightseeing is possible and foods are made by authentic local food sellers with recipes that have endured and been tested for decades and treasured as family legacies.

It turned out to be a small, derivative, artificial version of China Town elsewhere.  Excuse me for being derisive but I thought it could be far better than this.

While I was trying to be positive, I found the China Town quite informative in some way to tell us a brief history of Chinese descendant people in Bandung and the surrounding areas.

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Overall, it was a lovely place to visit if you want to snap a photo or two (or two hundreds even because this complex was – I assumed – built to accommodate such Instagram-worshiper crowd) to upload on your social media feeds. But if you want something more meaningful and historically profound and detailed, this is just not for you. It’s no museum in any way, so please don’t expect there’ll be a guide here to tell you some history of the China Town in Bandung.

My brief visit here was ended with the showcase of barongsai , performed by a band of little boys with agility level far from one of professional performers. Anyway, you can just appreciate their hard work to put on a show by giving them some change in your pockets because that’s the norm there according to my Chinese Bandung native colleague. (*/)