Kiwi Winter Wonderland

A few years ago my parents were invited for a private event at the residence of then New Zealand’s ambassador to Indonesia. As it coincided with my birthday, my parents were kind enough to bring me along. The ambassador and his team put together a great promotional presentation of New Zealand’s nature wonders and a luncheon featuring the country’s best dairy and winery products. I talked him into opening a Twitter account, he intrigued me of his homeland.

My trip didn’t materialize until this month, at the high of Southern Hemisphere’s wintertime. Having seen countless pictures of summertime New Zealand, my friends and I decided to see something else.

New Zealand’s winter feels like four seasons rolled into one. Green pastures, multi-colored autumnal foliage, blooming buds under bright sun, silent snowfalls—all of them happened in a day, or like that midmorning we drove across Canterbury, in an hour.

Many people had said not to bother visiting North Island, but I’m glad we didn’t heed it. Auckland is a charming urban city where we rented a modern flat in a centennial building on the famed Queen St., with vintage postbox by the lobby and a Yayoi Kusama lookalike across the courtyard. There were well-spent trips taken to Devonport, St. Helier’s and Mission Bay for a wintry-beach feel. The cherry was certainly Hobbiton, the vast Alexander family’s farm that was used to shoot Lord of the Ring trilogy and The Hobbits and is now preserved as a tourist destination with Peter Jackson reportedly still on board. I’d seen a few movie sets to appreciate the meticulous details and precise scaling shown in Hobbiton; worth all the awards they won and flying into North Island.

South Island indeed packed more adventures. Aside from pleasant drive for a few days, we enjoyed different experiences on scenic bus tours and Kiwi Rail’s Trans Alpine. Most bus drivers on scenic routes over South Island worked as a semi-guide, bringing information, anecdotes and wit into the hours-long journeys that could be rainy, like the day through Hokitika and Lake Wanaka, or snowy, like that morning to Fiordland National Park.

But the Trans Alpine was something else altogether. Trekked from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass (737 masl), it offered breathtaking landscapes that were so versatile—from dreamy farms and bridges that mirrored Thomas Kinkade paintings to all-white terrain that might’ve been borrowed by Hallmark’s Christmas cards to foggy dark mountains that eerily reminded me of Mordor. The train featured an open carriage that I braved for several minutes to snap pictures and videos, shivering under my mohair coat as the temperature marked zero.

Low temperatures were the norm as we traveled further south, usually under 10C during the day and under 5C after dark– with a few nights under zero including one particularly stormy night in Queenstown when it hit -4 C and the heater at our rented lakeside townhouse went bust. We mostly just bulked up and soldiered on— wine tour in Central Otago under the rain, chilly boat cruise to chase Milford Sound waterfalls where the captain offered me his steering seat for a moment, and the windy horseback-riding in the idyllic Glenorchy where, I’m pleased to report, my ride Pressley was one of the 150 horses handpicked for Lord of the Ring. To ride a horse that has battled orcs in the valley that was the set of Isengard was definitely worth the stiff neck I suffered that evening.

It’s hard to fit a 2-week trip into a column, let alone pick a favorite, but as far as memories are concerned, glacier hiking and stargazing made the most. The helicopter ride to the mountain was nice, but the real adventure began when we landed at 0 C and started to explore Franz Josef Glacier for over an hour. Maneuvering in mandatory Goretex over-clothing, crampons and ski pole was a challenge on its own when beyond hiking straight up you must hike sideways on narrow patches, slide on your bum through curved corners and get on all four underneath glaciers so blue for they don’t get sun exposure year-round. I never liked hiking, but the very unique experience made me want to hike glaciers again.

The stargazing took place on another mountaintop near Lake Tekapo. I was drowned inside the mandatory Arctic-expedition-grade down-jackets that must’ve weighed 2 kgs as we stayed on the outdoor deck for one hour, listening to our astronomy guides. What turned out to be -7 C that night was worth the 90% sky clarity that enabled us to see countless stars with naked eye, not to mention Saturn, Jupiter, and Jupiter’s three moons under telescopes.

The land is beautiful, the people are friendly and helpful, the culture is colorful—it was heartwarming to see not only the indigenous Maoris were represented in many walks of life beyond the rugby’s haka, but that global migrant faces were tending to us along the way. I spent too much money this time on lamb, venison, Bluff oysters, wine and merino-possum, yet without a doubt there’ll be a second time.

Ka kite ano au i a koutou, New Zealand.

As published:

Posted in Art & Culture, Travel & Tourism, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

The Business of Making Memories

I noticed something when a friend traveled with her daughter recently. She noted “making memories” as she posted their travel pictures on social media. I thought that was sweet, and smart.

Any grown-up with even the most boring life has some kind of memories, mostly were made along the way. But to intentionally make memories when your children are still in the early phase of filling up their memory capacity is another level of awareness. In the age of 24/7 news cycle where things get distributed, hashed, rehashed and cast aside at neck-breaking speed, leaving scant memory in sight, consciously making memories is almost a Zen-like awareness of the age we’re in.

Last week’s Eid, more than any other major holiday in Indonesia, is basically the ultimate family reunion for most Indonesians. For the Muslims it’s the holy day following a monthlong religious meditation, for the non-Muslims it’s the chance for family outing since the weeklong break shut down pretty much anything in this country. For most families, I suppose, it’s the prime time for memory recording.

A college friend of mine, though having been born and raised in Jakarta, has spent her Eids since childhood at her parents’ hometown in East Java. Her parents would load the family into their SUV for a road trip days prior to Lebaran. When I asked her what her best memory was, she said it wasn’t from the visiting around relatives in her parents’ hometown that she saw for only a week annually, but from the long hours spent in the car, between siblings and suitcases, as they trudged along the jammed inter-city highways.

Being in Ramadhan there were no snacks to consume, and being in pre-smartphone days there were no gadgets for distraction, so they were forced to choose between their father’s outdated music selections on car stereo or having conversations. Snappy repartees were bound to happen once everyone was too hungry or tired, but so were hearty laughs. The first Eid homecoming trip after her mother passed was the hardest for them since they missed her turning around from the front seat to yell “Don’t make me come there!” whenever they got too boisterous.

The funny thing is, in the past several years my fun memories of Lebaran were made after the 2-3 day craziness of hosting family gathering, visiting around and putting my parents’ house back in order. To me, those rituals, however nice, almost seemed like a routine and mandatory. To me, the real Lebaran break would start after all the aforementioned rituals, spent unglamorously being couch potato in front of the TV with Dad. And every year, as I looked back, it always had something to do with sports. Some football league championship in some years, the Wimbledon last year, and American Ninja Warrior reality show this year—the latter which, as I delightfully discovered, can be more of a nail biter.

Each stage calls for upper-body strength, mid-section flexibility, leg reach, mental agility, or all of the above. Rock climbers could slip off doorknob-sized hooks, gymnasts might fail trampoline, and tall contestants could leap farther while losing on low-hanging challenges. Every second counts for record and stamina—the longer you hang the more burned out your muscles for the next obstacle. So strenuous the game that on-site viewers and competitors get sucked into the intensity, and so do viewers at home like me and Dad.

There was something strangely addictive, and bonding, of being completely sedentary while watching someone else fighting with all they might. We see unseeded champions made, and celebrated giants fall. No wonder Roman elites invented gladiator game; it certainly is an excellent pacifier. Whatever disagreements I might’ve had with Dad were gone as we watched sports, even as we were supporting different teams or athletes. After sleeping off her post-Lebaran fatigue Mom, an avid sport spectator herself, usually would join, and for those few days, before reality kicked in, those would be our family’s most peaceful days. No arguments, no misunderstandings, no pent-up disappointments—just us munching on random cookie leftovers and rooting for strangers on TV. I’m not sure what it says about us as a family, but I know that those days make my most cherished Eid memories.

Yet, just like my old college pal with East Javan roots, our best Eid memories aren’t consciously made, unlike the 2-week road trip my friend took up to implant memories into her young daughter’s mind. Spontaneity is a wonderful thing, and serendipity often makes the best experience, but I begin to think that consciously making memories should be on modern families competing with hurriedly-circling world out there. When I have a nuclear family of my own I will do that, and in the meantime I can start with the perennial 3-ring circus of life that my parents and I share.

What about your memories? Are there made by chance, or choice? Would you care to consciously make memories, or would they be too much of a utopia and a sign that I had too much downtime to contemplate?

Either way, Eid Mubarak, everyone.

As published:

Posted in City Life, Entertainment, Sports, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

The Milestones of a Lawyer and a Designer

The word milestone is, by definition, a marker of distance—length of the road traveled. On literal roads milestones are measured the same way, yet on life journey the distances and how they are marked vary greatly.

Although, sometimes, a couple of people celebrate theirs on the same week.

Recently seasoned fashion designer Biyan threw his annual fashion show. A longstanding entry penciled in Jakarta’s society swans’ scheduler, which pre-invitation is distributed a couple of months ahead to ensure attendance of everyone who’s anyone. When the soiree finally unfurls, the traffic surrounding the chosen 5-star hotel will be almost chaotic, as perfectly-coiffed invitees bedecked in Biyan’s latest gowns trade air-kisses and pose for the mandatory backdrop picture before show and continue their merriment at the post-show delectable banquet.

Past his 30th career anniversary, Biyan’s gorgeous creations started winning many hearts in the 1990s, and for over a decade now have gained sizable devotees, ladies usually occupying the first a few rows during his annual show. I believe this is where Biyan’s direction now comfortably lies on—as illustrated in his latest show. The recognizable A-line silhouettes were ubiquitous, the renowned embroideries were prevalent, and the usual exquisite fabrics made up the entire collection. Aside from culottes and palazzos that are departure from Biyan’s signature pencil pants and a play with patchwork, the collection remained on the familiar ground.

For someone who still lovingly keeps my Biyan sheath dresses circa 1990s, I was actually looking forward for Biyan to journey into new terrains. I believe there is still a lot that Biyan Wanaatmadja as a designer not only could tap into, but also could afford to risk for, that wouldn’t necessarily cost him the current clientele yet very possibly welcoming a completely new demography, in a way that is perhaps best illustrated by Karl Lagerfeld’s bold move to issue Chanel Boy handbag a few years back. If Biyan were to do this, I can only imagine the genuine excitement and bated breath awaiting the collection when the label hits its 40th anniversary in the next few years. That’d be a serious milestone to celebrate.

A different kind of milestone was celebrated on the same week as Biyan’s aforementioned show, which was the 87th birthday of Kartini Muljadi, one of Indonesia’s first and most renowned female lawyers. Specializing in corporate law, her roster clients are so vast that almost every multinational company I’ve ever worked for during my corporate career retained her legal firm’s service.

Most octogenarians might prefer to lounge around at home with their grandkids, but the visibly healthy Kartini Muljadi instead published a book and threw an exhibition of her prized batik collection. So removed from the career she’s built and is popularly known for, I was quite surprised not only to learn how an avid batik collector she evidently has been, but also how well-rounded the collection is. Many people boast to possess a great batik collection, but Kartini’s is a league of its own.

Historically dating back to Dutch and Japanese colonial times, flowery buketan and Jawa Hokokai motifs are just small examples of the precious antique motifs in her collection. The fact that beyond foreign occupation forces there were also foreign merchants and migrants passing through or settling in this archipelago is shown by a number of antique batiks bearing motifs of Chinese dragons and Confucian altars.

The selected batiks displayed during the book launch were already enviable, yet the treasure trove could be discovered in the book. Written with the help of a couple heritage fabric experts from Museum Tekstil and University of Indonesia, it does a good job of explaining batik making and detailing meaning and importance of each of the batiks. For someone keen on learning history and culture, the 198-page coffee table book makes quite a rewarding read, as I discovered this past week. For someone wanting to appreciate batik, the pictures alone are true eye-candy.

As the nation has been consumed by escalating sectarian sentiments in recent years, books like this can serve as eye-opener for the young generation of how foreign elements have long and almost seamlessly been acculturated into the colorful fabrics, literal or metaphorical, that make up Indonesian heritage. I’ve met Betawi teenagers who didn’t know of the thick Chinese blood running through their veins, or Sumatran millennials who’ve forgotten about Indian cultures in the cuisine or henna manicure sported by traditional brides. Kartini Muljadi told audience that the book would be distributed to several universities, but these days, to the young generation, digital copy is the best bet. Having this book accessible to public would be a milestone that would keep on giving. Especially when, as she and her team hinted, more books might be coming as her heritage fabric collections aren’t limited to batiks, but also comprised of handwoven tenuns as well.

Two people. Two milestones feted. Depending on how they proceed next with it, it just might be a legacy to continue living in the next age and time. We shall see.

As published:

Posted in Art & Culture, Fashion, Glitteratti, History, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

Art: The Soulfood of Yogyakarta

Bandung, Ubud and Yogyakarta are some of the places in Indonesia where I never failed to feel at home. There is a welcoming sense, a grounding force, a rhythm that make things work in comforting pattern. At the risk of sounding New Age-y, I’d say because these places have a soul I just respond to.

For Yogyakarta, that soul is art. From the classics displayed and performed in the old Javanese palaces to the contemporary arts that breathe fresh air out of countless galleries across the city and into its countryside.

The famed contemporary art fair Artjog turned 10 this year, taking place in the 2-storey, all white, unassuming, old building that is Jogja National Museum (JNM). The month-long Artjog is also the centerpiece of a much larger Jogja ArtWeeks 2017, where art galleries competing to put best collection out. And just like the Artjog I saw and wrote here a few years ago, the hordes of critics, curators, collectors, gallerists and art aficionados flocked to Yogyakarta this time around.

The perennial clash between development and nature was the running theme I immediately picked up from the installations curated for Artjog. Since ‘tree-hugging artists’ is a long-running cliché, with pleasure I report that what I saw were far from cliché.

I loved how Hestu A. Nugroho, a.k.a. Setu Legi, created a roomful of site-specific installation to depict the hypocrisy of pledges to preserve environment often touted by Government-backed developments. The most memorable side of the murals smartly illustrated traffic-jammed flyovers circling into an eco-park next to public space traded off for dubious “green investment” projects, while the king sitting majestically nearby and saying none. Cheeky, brave—considering the Sultan of Yogyakarta also holds executive power over the province–, and pointed. Looking at the statistics of hotel development in the province, the mighty Sultan would better heed this particular note.

Aliansyah Caniago turned wood from a pencil factory’s waste by a lake in West Java into a gritty wall installation. The preppy pink and green finishes he chose almost blurred the toll borne by the local ecosystem, until you inched closer to observe the texture.

Bamboos hard-pressed by gleaming steels were perhaps the least subtle metaphor, yet I liked how the bamboos were intermingled like the convoluted human minds constantly wrangling each other—losing the ‘ultimate battle’ against the machines due to inner-fighting– so kudos to Joko Dwi Avianto for that encapsulation.

Can’t humans progress without pushing nature to digress? A project initiated by Angki Purbandono, in collaboration with actor Nicholas Saputra, managed to cast a light on the villagers of North Sumatra’s Tangkahan, living on the outskirts of a national park no less, gradually shifting from illegal loggers to elephant caretakers in a community-run eco-park. The villagers feel no more need to commit illegal logging to earn a living, while the elephants don’t feel the urge to stomp over the village to defend their turf. The win-win solution does sound almost utopic, until you watch the multimedia to see the struggling process and the feasibility of such approach to be replicated elsewhere. I immediately thought of West Papua’s Kaimana I wrote about in last column, where its almost unadulterated beauty and mostly impoverished population might benefit from this model in the coming years when tourists started descending upon their land.

Another side of development affecting nature is, naturally, on human resources. Communication technology in the last decade has leapt considerably, decreasing distance among people and supplying stage for ego. Thanks to social media, everyone can be a celebrity these days and holding on to it for more than 15 minutes, while status is a currency hotter than Bitcoin. Agus Suwage’s “Anatomy of Desire” and Farhan Siki’s “Unquenchable Sense of Deficiency” beautifully dissected the social phenomenon, yet it was Oky Rey Montha’s installation of shameless toilet selfie that just cracked me up. I personally know people who’s not above taking bathroom selfie, without the slightest inkling towards the too-much-information notion or the consideration that other people might just be bored off by their visage already. If only I could replicate that installation and sent it around. Sigh.

Suppose you’re touring Yogyakarta, I keenly suggest gallery-hopping. Sangkring Art Place in Bantul boasts some of the sharpest social messages like Hari Budiono’s slap over the country’s current racism undertone, Gusmen Heriadi’s imagined human perceptions, and Hono Sun’s sarcastic illustration of public discussion done in friendly manner. Not to be outdone by them is Erizal As’ bold strokes titled “Identity Politics”, part of the Bakaba6 exhibition by Sakato Art Community in Jogja Gallery near the Palace, that showed how power legitimized any kind of façade one could adopt to grab or retain it. If you’re lucky enough to have more than a weekend like I did a couple of weeks ago, there are more great galleries you can visit. Even as you roam around the small walkways, or have a cocktail by some royal-mansion-turned-hotel, you’re bound to catch a valuable artwork or two, even in the form of a street graffiti.

Yogyakarta is nothing without its hearty food like gudeg, many tourism websites would say. But to be more precise, Yogyakarta would be nothing without art that’s so ingrained in their home-born artists and gluing their highly-connected communities, the soulfood that nourishes you long after the gudeg has been digested. For that, Yogyakarta, I always heart ya.

As published:

Posted in Art & Culture, Travel & Tourism, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

Drama, Panorama and Kaimana

Senja di Kaimana by Alfian is a classic oldie many Indonesians know. The melodious song tells of a girl’s smile and the breathtaking sunset over Kaimana, now part of West Papua province. As I wrote here a while back my friends and I would travel to Kaimana in May. We did. 

Did we get to see the legendary sunset? Well.

Before even leaving the drama had started. We booked flights in February when Wings Air was the only choice from Ambon. The airline delayed our flight to Kaimana by a day only three days before departure, so we scrambled to secure a seat with Garuda Indonesia, which Ambon-Kaimana line had just become available in recent weeks. Barely done with that, Wings Air again notified us of a 2-day delay for our flight back to Ambon. After some collective cussing in the WhatsApp group, we decided to cancel our entire flights with Wings Air, asked for refund, and bought new tickets with Garuda.

Downpour welcomed us during overnight transit in Ambon and first days in the city of Kaimana. The Jakarta-Ambon flight suffered such turbulence the next passenger’s hot tea was spilled on my jeans, I lost an earring on the 1st day of snorkeling, and I scratched my vintage leather bag when I ran away from feisty fishermen’s dogs as we were sunset-hunting on the coast of Kaimana. So much drama, and yet no panorama.

Things started looking up after we left the capital of Kaimana regency to the offshore islands. Ermun Island is small, yet its beach curved 90 degrees it practically has two beach strips, each with tranquil turquoise waterfront and white powder sand that opens up to the famed Triton Bay. We spent a midmorning downtime watching flying fish, a school of fish dancing so close to the beach for not having developed fear over humans, and local father-son tribesmen hunting fish with long spears.

Mai-mai Island has a small wooden pier to reach its tree-lined white beach dotted heavily with purplish shells it was hard to walk without stepping on one that afternoon we stopped for a picnic lunch.

The Waikala islet boasts a couple of small pink beaches, just like over Komodo islands in East Nusa Tenggara. We were brought into the smaller yet pinker one, where nearby underwater would’ve been as beautiful for snorkeling had it not been for the strong current that day.

Deramai is a sizable yet relatively unexplored island populated by Koiwai, one of the few Muslim tribes in Papua. We stayed in a tiny fishermen’s wharf at a small, door-less, wooden stilt-house owned by a villager named Rudy, sharing the bare necessity lodging with five Japanese fishing enthusiasts, while his female relatives cooked for us. Rudy works with a natural conservation NGO while the tour coordinator Jafar is an anthropologist who works for the regency’s tourism department, and they strived to provide good services for visitors, but in general the infrastructures are at minimum on the islands, despite multiple constructions going around by the mainland and Jokowi’s multiple visits to Papua. Except for the fish, most foodstuffs we consumed had to be brought in by speedboats. The government-built inns in Mai-mai and Ermun were left unattended, even after the villas at Ermun were turned over to the community following public pressure. My friends ended up donating the inflatable mattresses and life jackets they toted from Jakarta.

It was the natural beauty around Deramai Island that paid off for all the drama throughout, including enduring the makeshift toilet by our lodging. There are so many picturesque sides, each boasts its own jewel– the shallow turquoise water where sea turtles call home, the secluded strip off a forest where the white sand is so soft you sink ankle-deep as you walk, or the long cove that provides the postcard-perfect sunset we’ve been after. Even the wharf we stayed in welcomed us with a long rainbow at sundown and a shimmering full moon the first day we arrived. The fish dishes were fresh, including sashimi of Napoleon fish the Japs were gracious to share and an 8-kg red snapper that was the catch of the day just before we departed.

While in Kaimana most people only visited Triton Bay or raved about the primitive cave drawings found off Marsi village, and I do marvel at the unique beauty of Triton Bay’s lush atolls—a denser version of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, one may say—and the mystique of the ancient cave drawings by the ancestors of the Marais tribe, yet the wonders lie on the islands scattered 1-2 hours off the city port. The colors are vivid, the natural forces are not tepid, and the panorama is solid. And if you take into account how genuine the smiles and kindness offered by the locals amid their simple circumstances, including by the Buton-hailed boatman or the Javanese woman teaching at the Christian school in Lobo village for 17 years, your sense of how colorful Indonesia is just gets more complete.

Do come to Kaimana. Bring your curiosity, chat up the locals, bring books for the village kids as my friends did, snorkel with manta ray and whale sharks if you’re very lucky, and perhaps there’ll be richer drama sung soon beyond sunsets over Kaimana. Papua, tanah air beta.

As published:                                                                                                                             

Posted in Travel & Tourism, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

Old Nusantara in New Singapore

One of the reasons many Indonesians love to come to Singapore is to enjoy newer, better, often more advanced things. Things like underground subway, fully-automated system of whatnots, or tropical gardens hanging up in the sky.


I do, too, in addition to things that may seem less technically profound to most Indonesians seeking first world experiences in Singapore—walking around until my back almost breaks, and pay visits to museums.


Museums in Singapore are far more engaging and enjoyable than Jakarta’s best ones. They’re not dusty, let alone dowdy. When they display past treasures, they find a way to present them through modern eyes, to make a narrative relevant to the urban population and, often, even the millennial generation.

Much to my delight last week, some of the treasures highlighted bore traces to the old Nusantara—one lot dating back to 1,200 years ago.

Let’s talk about the Nyonya Needlework in the Peranakan Museum. Opened several years ago in a colonial building to honor Singapore’s multi-heritage, the permanent collection does a good job in casting light on Chinese, Indian, and Malay ethnics, proportionately more on Chinese that make up most of its citizens. Occasionally they hold temporary exhibitions such as the Nyonya Needlework that by the time it ends this June will have been almost a year.

The term “Nyonya” was first used to describe ladies of Peranakan, the subculture formed by Chinese diaspora mixing with the Malays around the Malacca Straits for centuries. Nusantara, then called Dutch East Indies, was already a large home for the Peranakan. Almost half of the dozens of showcased embroideries originated in various parts of Nusantara, some dated back to the 19th century.

There were household fineries such as bedpost draperies, wall hangings, dish covers and partitions. I also saw plenty of personal items such as slippers, money purses or vanity kit. One item stood out in particular; a women’s belt embroidered with the name Kweeng Soen, two Dutch flags and the year 1912. If we consulted the history books, that was the year after two major events—the fall of 4000-year Imperial China, and the Dutch colonial government stipulating that Chinese descendants born in Dutch East Indies were granted colonial citizenships. 34 years before a country named Indonesia rose from the colony and proclaimed independence, the Chinese diaspora born in its islands was recognized as a citizen. Kweeng Soen, rest her soul, had chosen to be a part of Nusantara.

History books also taught us that just because the Dutch stipulated so it didn’t mean it went along smoothly with the intended subjects. Even a decade into independence many Chinese diaspora still wrestled with the ancestral ties that in 1955 the Indonesian government asked them to choose. To their credit many of them did choose Indonesia then, and to our infantile foolishness 62 years later many Melayu Indonesians still view the grandkids of the Chinese diaspora who chose to stay as foreigners.

Maybe, if more Indonesians, Melayu and Chinese alike, venture out of Orchard shopping arcades or Universal Studios to visit Singapore museums we’ll come to appreciate our shared history and heritage better. It’s sad to note that both times I went to the Peranakan Museum for special exhibitions (there was one on antique Nyonya jewelry a few years ago), while many pieces originated in Nusantara they are now owned by foreign museums or private collectors. Where is the participation of Chinese Indonesian communities in these?

The same sentiments I couldn’t help feeling with the shipwreck exhibition in Asian Civilisation Museum. In 9th century a trading ship hailing from Abbasid Caliphate (now Iraq), on its way home after trading with the Tang Dynasty in China, sank near Belitung island. The fully-loaded shipwreck wasn’t discovered until 1998 by local Belitung divers, and in 2005 the Singapore government acquired it through the generous donation of the Estate of Khoo Teck Puat. Both the Singaporean government and people managing estate of wealthy people such as the late Mr Khoo quickly understood the importance of that ship to show how in 9th century Singapore was already a recognizable international port. Out of nearly 70,000 ceramics discovered almost intact in its cargo a handful bore Arabic letters, while 57,000 of them were kilns recognizably made at Changsa in Hunan Province.

Indonesia could’ve made the same claim. Looking from the detour it took from China to Middle East, the ship could’ve well been on its way for stopovers at Sriwijaya Kingdom in Palembang or even some northern ports of Java. A panel explained that in that time long-distanced trade ships only employed minimum native seamen, relying much on foreign crew working between ports in exchange for a passage. It was highly possible that many of the shipmates by the time of sinking were Chinese laborers catching a ride to Nusantara. The Changsa potteries alone have been discovered at archaeological sites in Java, and I bet there are still numerous ancient ships lying on Indonesian seabed. Now, I ask, where are the Indonesian government and Chinese Indonesian tycoons in excavating these treasures and put them as historical museum exhibitions for all Indonesians to learn from?

Perhaps one day we’ll grow up and learn. Perhaps one day we’ll be a better nation. Singapore museums to the rescue, until then. Sigh.

As published:



Posted in Art & Culture, Econ & Biz, History, Society, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

IDR 350 Million Houses & FPI: A Ludicrous New Normal for Jakarta?

What a week it’s been for Jakartans. If you’re one of the people who are now worried whether the city would commit to make a progress for someone like you, you’re not alone. Most minorities or advanced-thinking Jakarta residents carry that doubt now, secretly or openly.


Race and religion cards have been dealt by both sides along the campaign trail. It’s well-recorded how now Governor-elect Anies Baswedan and running mate Sandiaga Uno didn’t restrain the conservative hardliners to ride on their wagon, in some occasions seemed too happy to be sharing a ride. Unfortunately the Ahok-Djarot ticket wasn’t exactly squeaky clean on the issue as well; some of my Christian or Chinese friends told me stories of serious peer pressure from collecting IDs when Ahok was still trying to run independently down to casting vote on election days, and the usage of Muslim-looking rioters circa 1998 in campaign video released a couple of weeks ago.


Living in Chinese-dominated housing complex on West Jakarta in 1998, our house suffered damages. I personally know how it feels running inside the house and scrambling to switch off any lights when a mob outside throwing rocks at you. I didn’t have the luxury to occupy the Parliament House with activists because I was too busy taking turns in neighborhood watch with the Chinese uncles and aunts in our blocks. The mob outside our house that evening, where my parents still live to this day, was a ragtag crew who wasn’t wearing any Muslim paraphernalia or chanting Allahu Akbar. The video gave me mixed feelings—I was reminded of one of the most traumatic events of my life, yet at the same time got confused with the Muslim generalization. I was sad the day the campaign video was released, because it meant both sides were officially playing race and religion cards regardless of the higher stake of national unity. The election was in Jakarta, the exemplary dirty plot was made available for all Indonesia.


Yet for all my disagreements with Ahok, I have much more serious problems with the likes of FPI granting access to governance. It was quite hard to see someone like Anies Baswedan who’d been known for outreaching voluntary teaching Indonesia Mengajar and profound phrases like tenun kebangsaan illustrating how a national identity formed like handwoven fabrics is now in bed with religious fascists. I suppose Anies read statistics and understood that riding on the momentum of conservatism for Governor’s seat was worth shredding his precious tenun kebangsaan. You, Sir, now gave tenun a bad name.


Besides turning the word ‘tenun’ into countless jokes, what will Anies bring for Jakartans in the next five years? He threw many promises on campaign trail, yet the one grabbing most attention was the promise of landed houses for the cost of IDR 350 million with front payment of either 0% or IDR 0 (I wasn’t sure—he kept flipping on the pledge). Anybody who’s been house-hunting in Jakarta, let alone involved in property business, knew how superfluous that promise was. Being a good resident who respects democracy I won’t debate the plausibility of that scheme anymore, I’ll just march down to Anies and Sandi after inauguration and demand to see the houses. I don’t own a landed house yet—if there are such houses for that price in Jakarta I’d like to purchase one before the end of the year, please.


Another promise was an improvement to the present, cash-less, smartcard program Kartu Jakarta Pintar (KJP). Now used to obtain goods and services related to health or education, the card would be made available to churn out cash as well. A tempting offer for any household on tight budget, yet I genuinely wonder how the government would guarantee its usage for the intended purposes. Cash is so liquid it can leave no paper trail on Indonesia’s bustling informal sector—I want to watch how Anies and  Sandi personally make it used to, for example, finance infant vaccinations instead of shiny contraptions.


Even if all the rosy promises came to fruition, one fact remained unchanged– race and religion cards are now proven effective for open political campaigns. There aren’t moderate Islamic clerics strong enough to lure back devout Muslims sidetracked by firebrand hardliners, despite the repeated claims of tens of millions of Muslims adhering to peaceful organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. It may easily go downhill now; if a non-Muslim man can’t be Governor, perhaps now a non-Muslim boy can’t be Class President? Since only men can lead a Muslim prayer, perhaps now a woman can’t lead the country? The post-1998 conservatism trend wasn’t started by Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno, but it was their 2016-1017 Gubernatorial campaign that openly milked it to the best. Rizieq Shihab cozily standing next to Anies delivering victory speech was possibly a new normal Jakartans would need to stomach now.

Brexit, Trump, Anies, and God know what can happen this Sunday in France. The continuing nausea may just be our new normal, peeps.

As published:


Posted in City Life, Politics, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

Deep, Blue, and Keeps Being Hip

“You hail from and live in the world’s largest archipelago, yet you don’t scuba-dive? How is that?”

A Frenchman, already a licensed Dive Master then, asked me point-blank over a decade ago. My bellydancing pal Hanna, a diving enthusiast, asked the same question rhetorically a few years later.

The answer I gave them is the same I’ve given to anyone since- I won’t be able to walk nor talk, while everything below 5 meters comes off blue and cold until you upload the pictures onshore later, so why bother scuba diving at all? No self-respected diver has accepted this answer kindly so far, I duly noted.

Well, you can never argue about hobbies now, can you? I’ve met Hawaiians who don’t surf, Masai folks who don’t run, Brazilians who don’t samba and Gulf Arabs who don’t know how to saddle a camel.

Now what about Indonesians who do scuba-dive? The exact number is anyone’s best guess as none of the diving associations operating in Indonesia ever disclosed the number of diving license issued, but if the 11th Deep and Extreme annual exhibition in Jakarta last week were to be used as a benchmark, the number is sizable, and growing. The stats I gathered from the organizer showed growth; from 50 exhibitors in the 1st year to 150 on its 11th year, from 25,000 visitors last year to nearing 27,000 this year. As many longstanding exhibitions in Jakarta have had a hard time attracting sponsors, participants and visitors due to economic slowdown in the past two years, this is quite a feat.

Do visitors spend, though? The organizer has no access to transactions booked by exhibitors, yet from what I observed in the past two years attending Deep and Extreme, visitors eagerly spend. And not just on needs but also for wants—like neon-colored oxygen tanks and Rp3 million suitcases made of materials able to store damp wetsuit just in case you need to immediately travel after washing up ashore. For the business girl in me, once wants-based purchases are apparent, the demand is in a clear uptick.

So, the interest keeps growing, but is it sustainable? I was fortunate to attend the exhibition this year with a journo-turned-seasoned-diver-and-explorer friend who introduced me to Andi Zulkifli of Master Selam, a Master Instructor and one of the most respected figures in Indonesia diving community. I appreciated how Andi admitted that while there are committed and genuine natural-loving divers, presently diving is largely a trend—a recreational activity one picks chiefly due to peers, hip factor, or the sudden grow of disposable income. The last factor which, I shall add, fueled by economic growth during the last presidential administration that gave rise to the middle class and has also boosted other leisure activities— this year the yoga-focused Bali Spirit Festival is on its 10th while Ubud Writers and Readers Festival will be on its 14th. The difference is while one only needs stretch pants to start yoga and healthy eyesight to take up reading, a basic wetsuit can set you back Rp2 million. Not to mention that yoga studios are plenty within city limits, while diving sites take farther distance and thus, bigger costs.

One would think the higher “barrier to participation” would’ve helped chopping off the bad apples on the onset, but facts remained that there are still plenty recreational divers ruining underwater coral reefs for pictures and polluting far-flung islands with plastic bottles—long before New Caledonia cruise ship crashed onto Raja Ampat or the aptly-named Great Pacific Garbage Patch made it to National Geographic. To be fair, all hip hobbies suffer from this self-sabotaging attitude. Just as my diver friend Lailai met a girl bedecked in the priciest diving gears nonchalantly tossing cigarette butts into the blue water, I’ve shared classes with people obsessed with Rp 2million Lululemon pants, perfecting poses for Instagram posts, or spreading their clique’s mattresses around so they won’t practice next to strangers—completely oblivious to yoga’s core principle to shed oneself of upadana (attachments).

The good news is, at least the diving community in Indonesia is trying to fight the garbage problem. From Andi I learned that about 20% of the fee paid off to PADI for each license issued goes to cleaning up Indonesian seas, a great initiative that will only be effective when doubled with constant individual discipline from every diver dunking their body into the ol’ big blue. Borrowing Andi’s answer on the aforementioned question of the diving sustainability as leisure and business— people would still come as long as Indonesia’s underwater was still worth enjoying. And that’s the insight every stakeholder in any watersport should permanently nail in mind, or our grandkids would only know the oceanic riches through reruns of Finding Nemo.

As for me, so far the siren call doesn’t die— alluring continuously for snorkeling. In fact, my pals and I are going again soon. So if you happen to see a group of girls gallivanting about West Papua’s Kaimana waters next month, wave. I’ll be the one in polka-dot tankini and matching red lipstick enough to make the fishes swoon.

Hip, hip, deep into the blue!

As published:


Posted in Eco Life, For Your Health, Travel & Tourism, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

Chicks Throwing Kicks on Flicks

Chick flicks. As a self-respecting, longtime moviegoer I despise that term, used loosely for romantic comedy, teen drama and musical genres. It alludes condescendingly to movies deemed lovey-dovey, fairy tale-y, or full of visual fluffs without much meat. Though I personally never liked overly sappy movies, but to insinuate only women can enjoy sentimental, substance-less entertainment is sexism. 

What about chick flicks that are about chicks kicking ahead—based on real chicks?

Let’s start with Dangal, the 2016 Bollywood production that made it to our cinemas recently. Based on a true story, Dangal narrates the uphill struggle of a former national wrestling champion accepting the reality of four daughters and no sons to achieve his dream of India winning international championship. What the movie ends up showing is the laborious struggle suffered by his preteen daughters once they trained as wrestlers.

Right off the bat was the restrictive kurti clothing and rejection from male-only training facility. The former champ built a makeshift tent by a crop field, got hand-me-down shorts from a nephew then enlisted the nephew as a training partner. When his eldest needed to test her prowess in a real match, then only available to boys, he pushed his way until an organizer relented. When the daughter defeated every single boy in roadside competitions, the father endeavored to procure a proper mattress so she could train for proper championships—where later she easily beat off girls in her class to win national medal and, after another arduous battle of a different kind, became the first Indian female wrestler to win international medals.

The journey was no picnic. Father and daughters faced jeers from peers, boos from neighbors and the garden variety of insults from perfect strangers—mostly because girls tried to excel in a male-oriented field. Never once “patriarchy” uttered, but that was what the movie was all about. Even as it ended happily, some critics pointed out that the girls were only kicking well under their father’s tutelage to fulfill his dream.

The critics had a point, yet taken into account how deep patriarchy runs in India – where you can still find a widow self-inflict death after her spouse’s demise—sometimes it still takes a man to help cornering chances to show women’s capability. Once the chance is grabbed the women can well prove on their own how they equalize the playing field. It is not ideal, and some hardcore feminists may hate me for saying so, but sometimes that’s the grim reality. Once the first layer of glass ceiling cracked, the pioneer women should give chances to their fellow sisters to form the critical mass needed to crack further layers. Geeta and Babita might’ve initially wrestled because of Dear Ol’ Dad, but now Indian girls could dream to become wrestling champs on their own. In the cutthroat corporate world that’s the practice that has been adopted by a number of advanced-thinking men and women, some of whom I was lucky to be mentored under.

That was also the exemplary action of Dorothy Vaughan who supervised female black mathematicians working under NASA in the 1960s, as illustrated in 2017 Hollywood production Hidden Figures. Facing gender and race discriminations, Dorothy saw the opportunity to move her group ahead through mastering the then-novelty IBM computing machines— even as she had to trick her way into a computer programming book available only in the public library’s Caucasian section. Far from making their jobs obsolete, her self-learning expanded the group’s knowledge into the new technology that they became indispensable—prompting, eventually, white mathematicians to come for guidance.

Pivotal, door-opening, helps from the more ‘privileged’—male, white, or both— came in the form of risk-taking bosses, chance-taking judge and supportive husbands in the case of geometry analytic wizard Katherine Goble and ballsy engineer Mary Johnson. Despite creative generalization to arrive in a happy ending, Hidden Figures still serves up a monument of bravery many parents and women can aspire to foster—especially in Indonesia.

If you think Indonesia’s gender gap portrayed in the recent UNDP’s Human Development Index is heady statistics, let me offer more grounded pictures; to this day in Indonesia, regardless of merit, daughters can still be pushed aside for sons when parents have limited funds for education while female employees receiving less than their male colleagues. What Indonesia needs more, what we should keep marching for, is mothers who split chores equally to her kids, fathers who dare to invest the family’s limited funds in smart daughters than mediocre sons, foundation directors who open scholarships for capable women in male-dominated fields, HRD execs who fight for pay according to merit than gender, and political parties who offer patronage to female cadres more than just for their winning looks. I can fight off catcalls and gropes on my own, but opening windows of chance in education and work often takes another person to make it possible. That’s what Indonesia should focus more on.

Their only fault is having a crazy father, the dad in Dangal exclaimed. You need to see what your daughter can become, the academic advisor in Hidden Figures pushed. An advance for you is an advance for us all, Dorothy reiterated to Katherine and Mary.

Now that’s my kind of ass-kicking chick flicks, chickadee, which we need to see more of. Dissecting Beauty and the Beast, next?

As published:

Posted in Art & Culture, For Your Health, History, Learning & Education, UrbanChat | Leave a comment

The Ugly F-Word of Forecasting

Oh, the ugly F-word of forecasting. I despise that one more than any other F-word around. I didn’t like it much throughout schools, and I loathed it on monthly basis when pursuing marketing career in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

It’s not the numbers that I hated, for I’ve always been pretty good in math and statistics. It’s because forecasting is about sorting out, ironing out, and making models out of a jumble of quantitative figures and an array of qualitative factors to tell where customers will move to next. To make prediction one can often rely on general guestimate (guess plus estimate), yet to forecast a trend one needs to have a solid data-based analysis.

SPSS was the cutting edge software in my last semester at business school over a decade ago, and since then more sophisticated tools have emerged. Doesn’t mean forecasting is now a much less tenuous or a much more certain task to execute well. It has made or broken quite a number of high-flying corporate careers over the years.

That was why I attended the recent launch of Indonesia Trend Forecasting book by Bekraf with much interest. Forecasting the trend for one industry is hard enough, let alone simultaneously for four creative economy subsectors as Bekraf announced that day; craft, fashion, interior design and product design. I was intrigued.

I was more intrigued when I discovered at the launch party that the forecasters managed to formulate the same four trends for the aforementioned four subsectors; Archean (Earth shapes), Vigilant (calculated aesthetics), Cryptic (bio-engineering), Digitarian (Gen Z). There were corresponding product installations at the launch venue and, distributed to guests, the forecast books.

I’ve since devoured two of Indonesia Trend Forecasting books—Fashion, and Textile & Pattern. I like how each of the four trends uses Indonesian natural or cultural characteristics for visual references—a shape of ancient boulder here, a peek of handwoven fabric there, a splash of gemstones somewhere. I like how for every trend there are guidelines for shape, color and texture. I give it a due credit that each trend is preceded with narrative of the underlying concept—the narrative which, if I understood the speeches given at the launch party, was a product of discussions with industry’s stakeholders.

Yet in reading through the narratives that I started to develop my concerns. From my training and experience I understand that trends are supposed to be focused and pointed, not widening to include almost the whole spectrum of social phenomenon in the last couple of centuries. There is a considerable jump from Earth-bound elements to Internet-depended, Gen-Z urbanites, for example.

Trends are supposed to usher the users into a couple of defined corridors, not into several highways with multiple lanes each. There were too many trends to begin with, and each trend featured elements that may not exactly in sync with some of the elements of other trends. I’m not sure how to find red connecting dots between Primigenial and Post-Dynamic, for instance. At the end of the book I was quite uncertain which trend I had to follow if I were a designer. The choices were simply too wide.

My other question was how the four major trends came to be forecasted. How much historical quantitative data was inputted? How versatile the qualitative measures, including the aforementioned FGDs, were taken? Was there any specific, measurable forecasting tool used? It would support the books’ credibility much stronger if information about data sources, forecasting methods and other credentials were disclosed in the book.

How will these Indonesia Trend Forecasting books support designers? At their form now, I suppose they serve as a nice additional reading. For non-designers, they may serve as a visually-pleasing reference of how Indonesia’s rich heritage could be translated into design references. Yet as actual forecasting books, I believe they could use a sharper, more focal lens.

As I applaud Bekraf’s efforts to provide effective forecasts for the country’s creative industry, here’s looking forward to tighter editions in the future. By next year, perhaps? Cheers.

As published:

Posted in Art & Culture, Econ & Biz, Fashion, Marketing & Branding, UrbanChat | Leave a comment