Teachers Who Changed My Life

It is May, which is the national education month in Indonesia. The second of May is celebrated as the national education day.

 

So I took time to ponder for a minute or two, trying to come up with the answer of the question:”Who are the teachers that changed your life?”

 

After some time, it’s hard for me to tell which teachers have the most impact on my life to date. All of them are influential in their own way. But I have to choose, here is the shortlist.

My parents

I may have hated my father and mother for teaching me mathematics until I shed tears. I flunked the math test and got an alarmingly low score in the academic report after I hid the answer sheet distributed earlier.

Mr. Subur Wardoyo

He introduced me to Oscar Wilde (the queer Irish versatile literary star), Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (that Jazz Age American writer), Ernest Hemingway (a drunken, sturdy built literary giant) and a lot more American writers I can aspire to. Mr Subur Wardoyo was just an amazing, easy-going, open-minded, the most liberal-viewed lecturer I had ever had on college. She taught me both in my undergraduate and graduate program. He is simply one of the best and this year we – my college pals and I – lost him. You’ll be really missed, pak Subur.

 

Mr. Sapardi Djoko Damono

Yes, that renowned Indonesian poet! He taught me Literary Sociology and I chose it as the topic of my thesis. I was a bit slow in the writing process. I almost gave up but a voice kept screaming inside my head:”You’ve gotta finish what you’ve already begun!!!” So I rekindled my spirit and made it. He made me realize that learning is not a sprint; instead it’s a marathon. A long long marathon.

 

Mr. Warsono

I still remember him teaching Writing III class in my junior year and how he instilled the passion of writing into me. And the soft-spoken lecturer was just legendary, thanks to his moustache and smooth cursive longhand on the blackboard. I guess one of the most anticipated classes in a whole year was his class. What made me even love him more is the fact that I managed to earn a great final score at the end of the sixth semester, which boosted my confidence and without him, I would never become the writer I am now.

 

Ms. Indri

She is my Math teacher in high school. So outspoken, so mean verbally, so un-ladylike. She kicked, she was foul-mouthed, she was just what she really is. No pretense.

 

She taught us math like she never cared about what we would speak behind her back in breaks. Who didn’t? She threw bits of chalk at us when we were too slow to submit our answer sheets. She smashed the eraser when a student stood frozen, unable to figure out the answer of a math problem written on the blackboard.

 

As an anti-math student, I hated her so much. But I had no choice but to deal with her like every other day. Math was a subject I never liked and she made me like it.

 

So I tried my best to survive in her class in fear of getting physically humiliated (being pinched for example) and boom!!! I hit my all-time highest math score: 8.

 

There were nights I could not go to bed early because I still could not believe I made it. I was stunned by my own math talent. I therefore realize that nothing is impossible if I study. I may not be a genius but I know I am not useless looser. I can work hard and stay focused and claim the results.

 

Though she looked so frightening, Ms. Indri sometimes threw us some jokes with a flat-faced facial expression that made you wonder whether she was in fury or just was being crazy.

 

Ms. Tri Alfa Inayati

I still remember, as a fourth grader of elementary school, I heard a compliment about my cursive longhand. “You should be ashamed. You’re a girl and your handwriting is less neat than Akhlis’,” she said to a girl in the class.

 

I felt sorry for hear. But my heart could not contain my joy upon overhearing this remark. Cruel to her. Flattering to me.

 

Since then I polished my longhand and had ever since been often designated the secretary of class.

 

I appreciate her for making me realize I was that rare species of boys in class with clear, tidy cursive longhand. I cannot thank her more. Because now I write like every day and make money off writing.

 

How about you? Do you have your own list of teachers who have changed your life? (*/)

 

 

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Forest Bathing the Indonesian Way

The other day I read an article about forest bathing tradition in Japan. There is nothing new about it but when it is scientifically proven to be of great help for human kinds, suddenly this captures my attention.I knew that walking or hiking in woods helps us in some way regain our deteriorating health and well being.But that is nothing if done all by yourself.Walking in woods and breathing in lots of oxygen is good.And walking in woods and breathing the fresh air with close friends is even much better. So I guess.It was May Day holiday and we had a quick plan three days before that. We picked a relatively close destination that won’t cost us a fortune. We don’t have to spend a night there. We just wanted to have some, wait, as much fun as possible in a single day.We rented a car and off we went to Cibatok, somewhere in the foothill of Mount Salak, which you can see from Jakartan skyscrapers’ rooftops in an early morning with clear sky and lovely weather.Cibatok in Bogor is located around 90-minute trip by car from Bogor train station. And you would see a hilly landscape that houses many hot springs and waterfalls, big and small.

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Galen Stolee and His Love-Hate Relationships with Photography

Galeen Stolee is an American doctoral student from the University of Harvard. His undergraduate was Film and Media Studies at University of Santa Cruz, California. He became interested in photography as a hobby.

How did you start to love photography?”

It grew out of my love of films since I was a little kid. I made the change over two still images. There is something more practical about photography. Film making is something that requires so much plannning. You must have a whole vision and it takes months to do. I am now kind of in the moment person. So photograph became a gate to the creative outlet.

I used to be shy and introverted. I liked taking photos but shy to talk with people. Haha. So my early photos are snapshots of people from faraway and abstract things. Actually you have to ask for people’s permissions when taking their photos but well it took time to be that brave.

I moved to Vietnam at 21 and went to teach English. I wanted to explore the world. And I lived in Ho Chi Minh City and took a lot of photos.

I then moved to Nepal after living in Vietnam. I worked as a photo journalist and documentary photographer but I also had my own small art spaces where I was teaching people photography, film making, etc. I did it partly because I started to get bored of seeing my own works and wanted to see others’.

As a photo journalist, I became closer to my subjects. Being a photo journalist gives the permission for you to do that. I got slowly better at approaching people.

“What’s your tip to better approach people?”

Start with familiar places where you visit pretty often. This place is where you can easily introduce yourself. Use the camera as your tool to open conversations. You can say,”Hey I’m a photographer. I’m taking pictures. And I like your place here. Can I take some photos of it?” And then once you have taken the place photos, you can work your way up to asking if you can take their photos.

The second tip is always remember that though some people say they don’t like their photos being taken, secretly everyone likes their photos taken. They might resist a little bit but we like attention. The fact that someone is curious about us is so exciting.

I also got to do longer term documentary projects with some organizations in Kathmandu. I knew some people whose houses were destroyed by the local government because their houses were illegally built and the area was about to be a public park to attract more tourists.

This proves to be the key to becoming a good photographer. It’s not always about the right setting, camera, etc. It’s really about how close you can get to your subject matter. At this point when I started interested in saddhu’s life in Kathmandu, I was going from ‘not wanting to get too close with people’ to ‘right into their face’. It felt okay because I spent much time with them and they had become more comfortable with me around them.

What is the most unforgettable experience when you took photos?”

I’ve taken some life-threatening photos actually. Several of them were in Haiti, when I was on the side of a mountain, in a moving big truck. I didn’t know it had gone off the edge.

Memorable experience can be when you take a photo and capture someone’s expression and there is so much in his or her expression that you can never forget that. Those mean a lot to me.

“Now that you’re studying Social Anthropology, is photography the ‘gate’ to your another passion/ academic pursuit?”

I started by traveling the world out of curiosity. The more I travel, the more I get awakened. I have responsibilities as a privileged American to be able to visit all these places. And I feel the urge to do something about it by telling people stories, raising people’s awareness, doing more non-profit work.

In my twenties, I still did things out of order, and I thought I knew how to change the world. And as a 25 year old, all of us don’t know how to change the world. And all I need to step back and slow down. And stop believing that I must feel guilty of all problems in the world and fix every problem.

“With your experience in the media industry, can you share some qualities that publications seek in photographs?”

That is complex. We are talking about the market, capitalism. What does the market wants? That’s what a media company listens to instead of what the photographer wants.

Sometimes photographers only need to take photos of criminals in jail. To me, it’s not a photo that I want. But when you ask me what’s valuable, it may be stuff like that. And it takes alot to change our habits around media consumption. It goes into my research what is happening in the election. Media companies tend to appeal to our most base instincts that part of ourselves that are so automatic.

But in photos like the winner’s photo of the competition today, that’s much quieter photo. That is a type of thing that we skip a lot in the click bait and Instagram age. It doesn’t offer much value.

I think for one who wants to have a career in this industry should know what is valuable and also don’t want them to give up what they see as valuable. There are not only just monetary values.

“For those who want to pursue a career in photography, what tips can you share with them?”

As a photographer, you will have enough to live on from time to time but it’s about counting months left to survive, living from job to job. Nowadays, everyone has a camera because they have smartphones. There is a lot competition. It’s a lot harder to get yourself out there. There is more and more online media are doing YouTube. There is still a lot of room to bring skills of photography in it.

Ultimately you have to combine photography with something else. It cannot stand alone. You can combine it with journalism skills, social media skills, and other skills that the world needs. In short, try to diversify.

“Why do you now take less photos?”

When I went to Haiti, I had just felt there was something more that I wanted to do than just capturing people’s images. There is something even about the word ‘capture’, you feel like you’re taking something from someone. And I didn’t like how that felt. In some cases I thought I was just helping but there are cases when I felt just exploitative. And I went to Haiti because I saw stories from there were just so negative. Everything is about poverty and their dysfunction. There are more about it to be heard.

I think one of the things I learned through that experience is the meaning of taking photos. Is there something about that that just doesn’t feel right. And it ended up becoming reflected back at me from people in Haiti. There is a lot of belief about the power of the camera. Many people belief cameras steal our souls and took away something from us. In Haiti, natives are so used to seeing foreigners especially Americans and Europeans coming and taking photos and leaving. And they just don’t know what these foreigners do with their photos. Did they become rich and successful?  No one knows. They took these people’s souls and now they are gone. I hear such complaint from people in Haiti. And it really shook me to the core because I had been feeling that for a long time. But most people never said so because they are too polite.

So when I came here in Indonesia, I took very few photos. I just never really wanted to want that previous relationship with Indonesia. I just wanted to be present, to meet and interact with its people. One day when I met Bajau people, I took photos again. And this was perhaps the last photos I took.

Now I move to Anthropology to learn about people and cultures in a different way than just the visuals. I still love photos but my time of doing that is over for now.

“Some young people want badly to live such a life, traveling around the world and experiencing the life of photographer. But how is that feasible, financially speaking?”

That is a difficult question to answer. Obviously I have a lot of privilege: I grew up in California; my parents made good money; they sent me to good schools. I was lucky to have that to be honest. Yet that being said, at 21 years of age (in 2009) I was Googling to find ways to live in other countries. What kind of jobs that made it possible for me to live overseas? And I found the answer: working as an English teacher. These teachers teaching English in other countries get paid well. That was my entry way.

And I started to freelance in different magazines. And I got paid by photos and articles I generated. It was enough to live on. It was hard but I don’t think that is possible for everyone else. It depends on what your skill sets, expertise, studies. There are more ways aside from this. If your background is tech, you can work as ‘digital nomads’, working online from anywhere around the globe. I find more and more Indonesians doing this.  You also have to live modestly and accept that life can be very unstable and precarious. (*/)

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Why Gymnastics for Adults Is the Coolest Thing I’ve Every Tried

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We all know how awesome gymnastics is. Small and muscular males and females tumble, jump, and do all the maneuvers only superhumans can do.

Impressive, it’s all I can say about gymnastics.

But sadly in my hometown I had never had a chance to take any gymnastics class because it was never a popular sport. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming  (all of which I never quite liked) were way more popular among people in my hometown.

So it took me like forever to finally find a gymnastics coach that is really professional, experienced, and willing to train me with all these skills.

And I cannot be grateful enough to God that I moved to Jakarta and in 2018 ran into Jonathan Sianturi, who used to be a competing male gymnast in Indonesia. He won several international medals, one of which was Commenwealth Game, I suppose. And his gymnastic artistic prowess was no joke. He had a long career as a pro gymnast and also is now training a lot more young boys and girls to compete as well. He founded his own gymnastics club named Jonathan Gymnastics Club (JGC) at Gedung Senam, Buaran, Jakarta. This is a place to go when you feel you’re too old for a gymnastics class but still want to give it a try. Jonathan opens a gymnastics class specially designed for adults here and hence I signed up instantly once I got the information.

In February 2018, I started to take up the class and have always liked and enjoyed it (well, there are just few moments of desperation of course but they were nothing compared to the joy and satisfaction it had brought in my life).

So when I saw on YouTube the BuzzFeed videos, I totally can relate to what BuzzFeed’s Spencer Althouse stated throughout the video.

Mind Over Matters

Imagery, that’s what my coach always says when I get stuck with my back handspring. I have been experiencing obstacles in the process of mastering this particular acrobatic skill.

A lot of things that gymnasts do in their routines look risky and too crazy to do but are actually doable just because they can focus their mind. This is made possible of course after the physical body has been prepared through an intensive conditioning session prior to every skill training session.

So when all matters are well prepared, now it is the time to work on the mind. Don’t be scared!

Trust Yourself (and the Coach)

I cannot stress more about this self confidence issue. I have some issues with my confidence and trust. I am no athletic-built person. I am small, tiny and short (that sounds so degrading but …). But guess what, in the gymnastics training I gain my confidence because of all of my aforementioned ‘weaknesses’!

How come?

I am tiny and thus I am light. Carrying only 48 kg body, moving is a lot more efficient. Of course, I still have to improve my overall endurance and strength but this lightweightedness that I have always seen as a setback is in fact an asset to start making a real progress.

As a result, I love myself more even after each class. This helps me embrace myself, with all the strength and weakness, plus and minus, without condition.

And training gymnastics also teaches me how to trust people. For example when I am told to jump backwards, which is kind of scary to me, I hold myself back a lot and that obstructs my progress, says my coach. “You don’t seem to trust me,” he says whenever I fail to throw myself back. I giggle, only to say it true in my heart.

Observance

Gymnasts have to observe certain ‘procedures’ in their training. There are steps to take one at a time. It’s like building a skyscraper. Get a brick as a foundation first and patiently lay it on the ground and put another brick on the previous brick and it continues over time. Little by little, a mountain of skills and builds up.

No shortcut, no cheating, no complaining.

All hard work, all perseverance, all determination.

You just have no other choice but observing all these fixed and fast general rules.

Enjoy Bonuses

I know some people just see me as the same person. But inside I feel a lot different, better than myself before.

There are some people who do gymnastics training to get a better-looking body or six pack abs, or bigger biceps.

I’m lying if I say I don’t want them all. But we have to see these as bonuses instead of the ultimate and final goal of our training.

If you want to get that super ripped, jacked, muscular body, go to a nearby gym and lift those weights. Gymnasts do sometimes lift free weights but more often than not they have to lift their own body weight.

I went to the gymnastics class to be able to do handstand effortlessly. And I start to have a grasp of the skill after a year of practicing. And this is cool because I had been practicing handstand for years in my yoga classes but to no avail. I failed over and over again. In gymnastics class, I was taught to be strong from the foundation (i.e. my palms and wrists). And this approach is something I never learned in yoga classes where I was almost always told to kick up, which later I found to be a lot more challenging to hold the pose. The yoga handstand approach failed me but gymnastic systematic approach helped me effectively master it.

Now that I have been doing gymnastics for over than a year and reaped some benefits, I think I will continue doing it for the rest of my life to maintain my overall fitness and health, and above all, my life quality. (*/)

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Dr. James Bacchus: From a Journo To a World Politician

Some parts of his life is a typical story of baby boomers, a generation before mine. Dr. James Bacchus was the first person in his family to get a college degree. He got a full academic scholarship from Vanderbilt University and later received a fellowship to attend graduate school and study history at Yale University. And then he went to Law School at Florida State University while he was a young aide to the Governor of Florida.

“Having the opportunity to go to college changed my life and opened up a whole world of opportunities for me,” he said.

His time at Vanderbilt University opened his mind to a world in which there are many ways to think, believe and live. “It also made me realize that despite all the many different ways, all that unites us is more than all that divides us. And many of my travels to different countries, I have been reaffirmed in that belief.”

He was 14 years old when working as a journalist in a little newspaper in Florida. He learned a lot. At 18, he became a journalist for a much bigger newspaper in Orlando.

He worked there during summers and vacations while he was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. And he continued to work for them until he left Vanderbilt before he went in the army.

“And then after I got out of the army, I went to Yale University. In the summers when I was assisting in Yale, so I began covering statewide politics in Florida in the age of 20. I was a correspondence reporter at 22 and in my journalism career, I got to know a very idealistic Florida politician named Rubin Askew,” Bacchus reminisced.

He later became Askew’s youngest aide. “[T]hat gave me opportunities to serve after he finished his tenure as governor, he became the U.S. trade representative. I went to Washington to become his assistant and that is how I became involved in trade.”

This is the point when his story is atypical of baby boomers. Bacchus’ career has ever since flourished. He is now a distinguished professor of global affairs and director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity at the University of Central Florida. Prior to that, he was a founding judge and former chairman, and a key part of Appelate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO). (*/)

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Diary Burning: Horrible or Usual?

Andy is a friend of mine who everyone will never thought to be a diary keeper. The 37-year-old guy looks too sturdy and manly. His biceps have girth twice as mine. So is his visceral fat level. Though I take pride that both of us share the same muscle mass percentage. While I’m somewhere between the ‘lean’ and ‘thin’ spectrum, he is positioned at some point in the ‘stocky’ side.

He one day declared that he had managed to successfully let go of anything that he used to clench tightly. These past things were among other things a stack of diaries he wrote and thus treasured for all these years especially during his adolescence years.

“I burned them all down… I am now relieved. I let them go. These past memories. I used to keep them like my gold and silver bars inside my safe. But now that I know it’s no use to hold on to them, I shall move forward, make progress with my current life, and leave everything in the past behind. Hence, total relief,” he went into greater details.

I never took him as a diarist before and I got even more surprised to discover he had burned all of his diaries. What a waste of time and energy and dedication. As a diarist myself, I know too well how much it takes to write a diary entry every single day in your life.

A diary writing session is my very precious time slot in a day. I liked it, as that is just the right time to write about things I cannot write publicly. Things everyone else does not need to know or think or care about. I write it down for myself. Not even for posterity. Well, maybe. But for now, it’s all about myself.

So all that said, I’m questioning my own aim of keeping a diary.

My favorite living diarist David Sedaris was asked by his friend’s 7-year-old child and he wrote about it in one of his books “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” that I love and keep reading for many times.

He wrote like this in response to this question:”That is the question I’ve asked every day since September 5th, 1977. I’d known on September 4th that the following afternoon I’d start keeping a diary without it consuming me for the next 35 years and counting. It wasn’t something I’ve been putting off. Once I began, I knew that I had to keep doing it. I knew it well what I was writing is not a journal but an old-fashioned girlish keep-out-this-means-you! diary. Often the term I use interchangeably though I’ve never understood why. Both have the word “day” as their root but a journal in my opinion is a repository of ideas. Your brain on the page. A diary, by contrast, is your heart. As for journaling, a verb that cropped off around the same time as scrapbooking, that just means you’re spooky and have too much time in your hands.”

“Diary” is about feelings and “journal” is about ideas and thoughts. A journal is more intellectual, filled with worthwhile stuff. But a diary is a feminine form of expressive writing (am I being gender-biased?).

So why is burning down a diary deemed horrible?

Although a diary tends to contain pointless rants, fleeting moments of daily grinds, I still believe that any diary is worth keeping. Keeping a diary is never a regrettable thing for me. Even, it’s a good thing for my psyche. Everyone’s psyche!

And if keeping a diary is one thing you regret, why don’t you just donate or give that away to someone else? But just don’t burn it down in purpose.

I liken burning down a diary to burning down a book. What makes it even worse is the fact that you had spent so much time and energy in the past for it and suddenly for any reasons, you exterminate it with fire. I never condone such a thing. It’s like murdering your past self but that won’t happen because burning down the diaries won’t erase the sad and grey memories we had in life. (*/)

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How Smoking Writers Quit Smoking Successfully

Creative people and caffeine and tobacco are like a trio.

When I was working at an advertising agency, I came to learn this fact the hard way. With me as an exception, everyone in the office is a smoker and coffee drinker. Even the female coworkers. Even the female coworker who just had a baby and then was breastfeeding it. I judgmentally questioned her motherhood moral and conscience. What a workplace!

Traumatized by this, I then quit working there and changed my workplace. I was appalled by how much smoke and fumes I had to inhale on working days, giving me a shiver everytime I saw them.

As a writer myself, I have never drawn inspiration from smoke or cigars or cigarettes or any tobacco products. Even the overly-hyped vape!

I am not fueled by those things while writing. I am fueled by fresh water, whole foods and ample night sleep and serenity.

So is it really necessary that writers must smoke?

Two of my favorite writers don’t seem to agree. Even in their professional journey as authors, they can stop smoking totally. And by making the decision, they are even more productive.

David Sedaris has a rather unique story of quitting because he did not quit smoking because of himself. It’s more because the Ritz Carlton staffers who prohibit smoking in all of their establishments. He told NPR that his mother’s tobacco-related death and being shown a lung of a heavy smoker did not change his mind about smoking but once he found out that he can never smoke while spending nights at any Ritz Carlton hotel is a shocking reason to pick from a lot of more logical ones.

Haruki Murakami in his running memoir “What I Talk about When I Talk about Running” said after he sold his club and established a more steady income from writing, he then radically changed his lifestyle.

From nocturnal to diurnal.

From unhealthy to healthy.

From sedentary to active lifestyle.

From an owl to an early riser.

Murakami saw the needs to stay fit because he is the type of person who easily gains weight if going physically inactive. And he is very grateful about this as it encourages him to stay in shape as long as he can so he can write more in life.

And he chose running because running is cheap and doable without any special equipment or infrastructure or supporting facilities. He doesn’t need a world-class jogging track. A decent lane will just do. While he started running, Murakami also gave up smoking.

“Giving up smoking is a kind of natural result from running every day. It wasn’t easy to quit. […] But the desire to run even more makes me not to go back to smoking and a great help in overcoming withdrawal symptoms. Quitting smoking is quite a symbolic gesture of farewell to the life I used to lead.”

So what’s the takeaway from these two authors’ journey to tobaccoless life?

Probably this: A combination of external interventions and some internal motivation could be of greater help for those who want to quit. (*/)

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Stressed Out? Go Blogging!

Contrary to popular belief, expressive writing that gets read by others apparently provides real benefits. The effects are real when compared with private diary writing.

At least that’s what American Psychological Association (APA) publicized in early 2012. These psychologists claimed following a study that blogging about their anxiety issues openly may offer psychological benefits for those who are anxiety-ridden especially due to social pressures.

Aside from that, teenagers who blog are more confident as they find themselves and their issues are not unique to themselves. They realize that no human is an island. We are all connected with each other and share many things together without our knowledge. This helps them grow unity and solidarity.

All this totally makes sense to me. If you just write a diary and no one reads what you are venting about, what’s the point? You only keep it for yourself and thus things won’t change. Once your thoughts get shared and read, that’s how a healing effect arises and your issues get solved.

This is why I cannot stress more about the importance of blogging instead of just being online on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. Again, I am not against social media but I am sure social media has somewhat destroyed blogging. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers turning into instant-gratification lovers on Instagram or Facebook. It’s just sad.

While we start to leave Facebook and witness the horrible effect of Instagram (from bullying to body image disorder), I am always reminded of the joy of blogging. While I am not saying that blogging is completely safe and free from digital bullying or disgusting online behaviors, I should be more certain that it requires more energy and time for people to write longer than an Instagram caption these days and this fact actually serves as the natural filter to keep those online trolls at bay.

My hunch is justified. Despite rampant cyberbullying and online abuse, researchers as stated by Azy Barak, PhD, found that virtually every all response to participants’ blog messages were supportive and positive in nature.

So everytime you think you’re stressed out and cannot stand this life, turn to blogging and find online friends that share your worry.

And I also need to emphasize that a blogger is almost always welcome and kindly treated by his or her peers when s/he is honest, frank, decent, positive and sensible. Once you make these mistakes for any reasons, you’ll taste the revenge online, too. Don’t believe it? Go googling to find a vegan social media influencer who got caught by the public eating fish. The public reaction is beyond kindness. Pray that you’ll never be in her shoes. (*/)

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A Review: “Monyet Bercerita” (A Monkey Has Stories)

PERSONALLY, I know Aris Kurniawan. He is a friend of mine with whom I occasionally meet at a local park on Saturday morning. We go there for the different reasons: he does aerobics training with a bunch of sedentary people who would rather spend their Saturday morning snoring in bed; whereas, I do my calisthenics routine and yoga practice, all mixed up to suit my own needs and flavor instead of observing a certain, fixed set of rules.

He is by no means related to the renowned novelist Eka Kurniawan because “Kurniawan” is a very very commonplace last name in Indonesia (a country where last name doesn’t mean anything except the extension of our first name). But he has a certain literary flair, too.

In spite of his humble beginning, Aris is a prolific writer himself. He may not garner as much praise and global acknowledgment as the other Kurniawan I just talked about. Yet, I should say he has got his own place in the local literary scene.

To my surprise, Aris had begun his writing career long before he is as settled as now. He got published when he was an eleventh grader. His first work is titled “Krematorium“, a poem published by then Weekly newspaper “Pikiran Rakyat Edisi Cirebon” (currently known as “Mitra Dialog“). Currently, he is working as a copywriter, just like me, by day. By night, we change into creatures with literary pursuits.

If you happen to love batik, Cirebon (or some say “Ceribon”, which is not a correct spelling) is no stranger. This coastal town in the border of Central and West Java saves a lot of history and mysteries.

And this is where Aris was born and grew up.

This fact alone promises us readers a lot of stories from local scenes that have not been widely discussed or brought to spotlight to the global audience.

In his excerpt, Aris explained that his short story collection “Monyet Bercerita” (roughly translated as “A Monkey Has Stories“) is built with two different premises, i.e. his childhood in Cirebon and his experiences as a grownup in Tangerang, now part of Banten province.

When Aris gave me this book a week ago as a friendly gift, I had no idea the depth of the stories inside it.

Feminism is one of the current issues that readers can find out in MB. “Nokturno” is his short story that tells a badass heroine that acts like a vigilante, trying to trap a dirty, corrupt politician with her own tactics. Too bad, she is outsmarted. Probably the failed eastern version of Amy ‘Gone Girl’ Dunne.

Local rural legends and myths also spice up the collection. You’ll find the legend of Prince Panjunan and Kejaksan. Also, there are some stories of the troops of betraying soldiers who got cursed into monkeys for violating their loyalty oath intertwined in narratives.

The book is not a heavy read, either physically and intellectually. It’s only 190 pages long and you’ll find it even more digestible when reading.

The only thing that may obstruct your reading experience is some local slang words (probably Javanese slang). I wish there were some foot notes to explain what they mean. Luckily, I am Javanese myself. Hence, it’s not an issue for me. (*/)

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Madesan Eatery: Healthy, Plant-based Catering for Health-Minded Jakartans

FINDING a reliable eating establishment where you can eat healthy foods and drinks in Jakarta is a huge challenge. At least for me.

As we all know, Jakarta is home to a vast number of both traditional (old) and emerging fast food chains. Some traditional food chains could be as small as soto or bakso (meatball) sellers with several branches in and outside Jakarta. And there are still many more fast food and snack chains operating in the capital, eyeing the curious consumers that are hungry for culinary adventures.

These foods that both the Indonesian traditional and imported food chains offer us could be great for occasional festivities.

But consuming such foods on daily basis would eventually put our health at risk. You can enjoy the taste now but must pay the higher cost later, says a quote that likens eating unhealthy foods to making purchase with a credit card.

If you’re living or staying in Jakarta and have been searching for a place to eat home-made, plant-based, healthy foods, but have no ample time to cook on your own, then I recommend MADESAN EATERY.

Santi Wibisono, its founder, has been always an avid advocate of conscious eating. She thinks our foods are our medicine. She strongly believes that plant-based diets are ideal for both humans and our ailing planet.

Having learned from Chef Made Runatha who owns and runs his own healthy restaurant in Ubud, Bali, Santi brings the authenticity and health benefits of plant-based dishes to Jakarta, where people are even more in dire need of prime nutritions from mother Earth and freedom of hazardous chemical substances in foods.

Aside from meat and its processed forms, you’ll find no peanuts, gluten, cow milk, and even white sugar in Madesan Eatery foods and juices, making it even more reliable as a catering for health-minded folks like myself.

Even though initially I thought veganism was just a fad, now I know why this diet style has been adopted by Buddhist Shaolin monks and yogis in India for many centuries.

Vegan diet clears up our body and mind, and because I am practicing yoga myself I can observe how my diet can make or break my yoga practice on a particular day. A friend even says to me how her last night’s sugary cake impedes her while binding her arms during her Ashtanga self-practice. That’s one big warning, she continues.

The menu consists of various styles, from Indonesian, Japanese, to European. That means you won’t be bored with the taste, plus there are more nutritions for the body to absorb, in comparison with a single style menu.

I loved “nasi hitam bakar” (shown above) which is a local recipe that is upgraded with organic black rice and fresh vegetables. I especially adore the ‘sambal’ and too bad I cannot have more. And today I got this stir fried noodles and Japanese style salad.

I totally guarantee that the taste is good although they are plant-based. How can I say so? Because many times I ordered so-called healthy foods but the taste is horrible, discouraging those who are new triers to stick to the diet. While there are also some ‘healthy’ foods that turn out to be delicious but not so healthy because there are some ingredients that they use or the way they serve it. For example, you order broccoli. But when you see HOT broccoli soup in a plastic container, you suddenly question how much this so-called healthy food seller is committed to the health aspect. Madesan Eatery won’t serve you hot foods in a plastic container because that is just carcinogenic! (*/)

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