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Mall Rats AD 2000

September 27, 2015

What do you see in megapolitan malls these days?

Fashionable families in trendy culottes and pastel-shades bermuda shorts?

Adorable same-sex couples of all ethnics and ages?

Recently settled expats trying to find cold cuts, boxed juices and cheeses?

Those were yesterday.

Nowadays, it’s kids running around bumping into people without saying any excuse, screaming their hearts out as if they have just been released from solitary confinement for a week.

Kids touching and grabbing things they like, from toys to whatever they see in store shelves. When the goods fall down, very calm parents would put things back, saying in a very zen voice, “You can’t do that, Sweetie.”

Kids with strong feet sitting prettily on strollers, simply because they can’t keep up with the coverage area of their parents shopping spree trip.

Nannies shove a pair of shoes to kids, who are big enough to put them on by themselves.

Nannies wear face mask so that their breath are not in direct contact with babies and kids under their care.

Kids repeatedly screaming what they want, dying for their parents’ attention, oblivious to their surrounding.

Angry kids (without any behavioral issues) who are not getting what they want and putting up their best act for the world to see. Often involved stomping their feet the ground or yelling or crying.

Let’s not forget puzzled toddlers dragged into the cinema to see “The Ironnettes of Stark Industries” flashing their booties, Megan Fox’s lock lips with Shia LaBoeuf’s, or a gangster giving a pointblank shot to someone in a car.

Did you do something? Of course not. You’re their doting parents. Let’s find someone else to blame.

You’ve been too long in Jakarta when you..

April 19, 2012


  • Have been contorted, squeezed against the door of Transjakarta Bus and/or commuter train posing like a fridge magnet;
  • Are out of breath, feet don’t touch the floor in a commuter train;
  • Know every moves of pickpockets in a bus;
  • Have been sent home early/evacuated/displaced due to floods;
  • Can recount every single bomb incidents;
  • Have a personal tab at your regular (if not favorite) “warteg” (road diners, Jakarta style);
  • Opt for motorbike taxi to transfer you quickly from point to point;
  • Use of your swear words intensify during traffic jam;
  • Know that there is no such thing as “riverside view”;
  • Leave home before sunrise and get home after sunset;
  • Master the art of getting off from a bus using your left leg first;
  • Text like there’s no tomorrow to a person across the desk during a meeting;
  • Nap in a very noisy tri-wheeled vehicle called “bajaj”, made from World War 2 quality steel;
  • Do not wait more than five minutes for virtually anything;
  • Dengue mosquitos don’t freak you out. You’re too focused on saving your pets during on-request dengue spray by a neighbor whose child is hospitalized due to dengue fever;
  • Do not roll down tour car window, not because of high crime rate, but more because you cannot stand the pollution;
  • Consider the person next to you (whose visual features are very similar with you) as your long lost brother/sister;
  • Decide to write a book/write a song/make movies/produce a play/do photo exhibition about your stay in Jakarta;
  • Try (at least once) anything sold by the street, laced with carbon monoxide and tropical germs;
  • Plan 2-3 hours ahead before going anywhere, any distance;
  • Speak a word or two English and continue with local language;
  • Believe that the ubiquitous motorbikes are public enemy #1;
  • You’ve been too long in #Jakarta when you take rusty old buses while hogging on your newest smartphones & tablets..



April 19, 2012
tags: ,

Everybody wants to get higher education for thousands of reasons. Starting with thinking that it’s the right thing to do, following a boy/girl, getting better money (and not ending up poor later in life).

However, our educational background is often not compatible with our work. Many people who studied Literature ended up as stock broker; or there are those who studied their asses off in medical school but ending up as a writer.

There is a word called “passion”.
Younger and older people alike are keen to follow their passion.
Many people ditched their six digits salary to become a chef or florist.

Burnt out.
This might be another reason why someone with high-flying career with full-fledged company facilities decided to become spiritual leaders.

My professional education was international affairs, while my secondary training was applied sociology. During my career, I got sidetracked into developing websites, annual reports and feature writing. In my line of work, professional training is as rare and expensive as truffles in Asia (unless you work for big organization).

I self-taught myself to write quite properly in a language that is not even my own, take photos without blur and shake (long before anti-shake feature is installed in digital cameras), design print publication (down to understanding production process), learn how the media works (including fact that journalists are not morning person), embrace Twitter and Facebook beyond number of followers and high school nostalgia.

The work did get me into weird corners of the Earth. Various conflict spots, closed countries, places where women are advised not to walk alone, villages where boars run free, and squeaky clean cities. My worst nightmare (so far) was being arrested by military junta government due to misuse of my tourist visa and my employer disavowed any knowledge of me.

If you ask me what do I do with my primary degree in International Affairs and secondary degree in Applied Sociology, I train people how to use Blackberry (the ubiquitous smartphone in Asia) to update Facebook Page 😀

Eh, bulunya rontok!

March 14, 2012

Dua ikan cupang (Betta sp.) dan dua rumpun tanaman air pindah alamat ke meja resepsionis sebuah kantor:

“Ikan cupang kan nggak boleh berduaan.”

“Yang berwarna dan lebih banyak bulunya, itu betina. Lebih menarik. Yang item, itu jantan.” (Sejak kapan ikan berbulu?)

“Eeehh.. bulunya rontok!” (Lagi-lagi “bulu ikan”)

(+) “Aduh kasihan, ikan ini butuh oksigen!”
(-) “Ngg.. Katanya ikan cupang nggak butuh.. Eh butuh dikit aja (oksigen).”

“Siapa yang bawa ikan ini?” (tiap orang datang pasti menanyakan ini)

“Ikannya idup?”

“Udah dikasih makan belon?”

“Paaakk.. Nanti ganti airnya tiap minggu yaaa..” (kepada office boy)

“Sebenernya aku punya mangkok ikan yang kotak juga. Tapi lebih lucu yang ini, ya..” (Fish bowl is so last year. It’s fish box now!)

(+) “Say, kalo cupang jangan dijadiin satu. Kalo cupang kan nature-nya gitu.. menyerang.”
(-) “Ini kan cowok-cewek. Di rumah seminggu nggak apa-apa tuh. Sekarang udah gak serang-menyerang lagi kan, Pak?”
(#) “Masih..”

Ice cream for dessert

March 14, 2012
tags: ,

The airline has graciously rewarded passengers of its two hours flight with a cup of chocolate vanilla ice cream for dessert. I’ve never had ice cream at 20,000 feet in my life. Even on international routes. The frozen cups came out from a freezer box, blanketed with frost. Obviously they seemed to have been sitting there longer than this flight.

The passengers lazily finished their bland dinner, but eagerly spooned the ice cream, letting it melts into foamy liquid in their mouth. Savoring the sweet, cold and creamy sensation. Making up for the bumpy ride.

I toyed my teaspoon in the cup, holding the paper lid with my left hand, thinking really hard whether I should have it or not, since I happen to have this lousy sore throat. I winced my eyes behind glasses, trying to read what is this dessert that fits for a king made of.

There is no single dollop of cream.
The eggs are still in the hens house.
There is no drop of milk. (Uh, powdered skimmed milk, if you count that as milk).

Water, vegetable oil, whey powder, soy protein were whipped together to substitute for heavy cream.

Powdered skimmed milk and water replaced liquid milk.

What holds the soft, creamy texture are glucose syrup, stabilizer and vegetable emulsifier. They’re basically whipped fats.

Adding vanilla extract into the mix would make the company bankrupt. So dear costly vanilla beans were substituted for artificial flavors.

Cocoa powder alone wasn’t strong enough to give chocolate color, therefore additional colorings with names as fancy as beach cocktails were added.

Don’t ask me what on earth maltodextrin is. Sounds like one of those glowing alien plants from Avatar scene.

I’m not asking for zabaglione with tropical fruits for an airline dessert in economy class. I just want sliced local fruits. It’s the real thing.

Been flying lately? Dinner/lunch/brekky was served on board? What was your in-flight dinner?

What have we been drinking?

March 9, 2012

You know there is an American in the house or in the office, when there is a four pack Diet Coke cans in the fridge.

A friend who had spent a year in the United States told me the household where she used to stay had stocked up crates and crates of Coke bottles, while her friend drank Dr. Pepper on daily basis.

When they went out and bought drinks, she remembered how her choice of drink, which was water, had generated a lot of surprise. She surrendered to a bottle of Sprite.

I remembered my summer in Germany as an exchange student. My host mother prepped our lunch bags and my host sister (her daughter) asked for a can of Coca Cola instead of bottled “Apfelsaft” or apple juice that her mother had bought in bulk and poured into small bottles for lunch bags.

“Coke is not healthy. You cannot have Coke. That goes for you too,” she said and I replied, “Where I came from, Coke is expensive. We only get to drink that for special occasion.”

That was the 90s.

Where I came from, my house didn’t have a telephone because installing one was way too expensive. Coca Cola and other sodas were only served at weddings and other special occasion.

My late mother used to boiled a very big pot of water for us to drink. We didn’t buy bottled water in gallons because that product did not exist. When we dined out as  family, my father would order hot or iced tea. I think because those two beverages were the cheapest.

When we took a trip to visit my late grandmothers two hours from where we lived, my mother prepared special cold drinks for my father, (because he was driving, so he got all the good stuff) which was water mixed with ice cubes and syrup.

For us kids, she prepared boiled water in school water bottles with plastic cups. No chug bottles. Chugging water straight out from a bottle was considered as inappropriate. I’m sure my late mother would have slapped me if she found out I’m chugging water from my bottles now.

Nowadays, drinking habits have changed drastically.

You have all sort of fruit juices, from the cheap ones with artificial flavor and sugars to expensive imported one with pulps, sugar free, and rinds (perhaps).

You buy your drinking water in plastic bottles or gallon bottles. People rarely boil their water anymore, thinking that it wastes energy. Although boiling water is still one of the healthiest and safest choice of drinking water.

There is even milk that doesn’t have any drop of real milk sold in supermarkets, hypermarkets, you name it.

What have we been drinking to come at this habit?

Wanita Baik-Baik

March 22, 2011

Seorang kawan berkunjung ke dokter untuk mencari penawar atas volume rambut yang kian berkurang di kepala. Ada dokter yang praktek dekat rumah. Berjilbab dan perempuan.

Kawan: Dok, rokok ngaruh gak ya?
Dokter: Kamu merokok? Agamamu apa?
Kawan: Islam
Dokter: Merokok kan haram!
Kawan: Bukannya mubah ya, Dok?
Dokter: Nggak usah cari-cari alasan. Kamu minum juga ya?
Kawan: Kadang-kadang, sih Dok.
Dokter: Minum apa? Topi Miring gitu ya?
Kawan: Nggak dong, Dok. Saya minum wine.
Dokter: Emang nggak bisa berhenti merokok?
Kawan: Dulu berhenti waktu hamil dan menyusui..
Dokter: Jadi kamu punya anak?
Kawan: Rambut saya gimana, Dok?

Ini Budi

August 10, 2010

Obrolan tentang Budi, nama yang paling sering disebut-sebut dalam buku pelajaran Bahasa Indonesia untuk SD pada 1980-an bermula ketika saya ngobrol di Internet dengan teman lama.

“Sekolah skarang overpriced, sok ribet. Sebel gue. Apa gak ada sekolah sederhana kayak jaman dulu.”

Di Indonesia, 10 tahun terakhir (saya baru selama ini mengamati) untuk masuk TK, anak sebaiknya sudah bisa mengenal abjad. Saya ingat teman saya yang syok ketika TK terdekat dari rumah kontrakannya menguji anaknya dengan pertanyaan, “Coba ceritakan jalan pulang menuju rumahmu dari sini.” setelah ujian membaca.

“Anaknya adik gue udah bisa mengeja pake Bahasa Inggris, tapi Bahasa Indonesia nggak bisa.” Tambah teman saya tadi. “Ancur lah.. Gak kenal Keluarga Budi.”

Budi yang kemudian kami bahas, adalah tokoh utama dalam buku pelajaran Bahasa Indonesia untuk Sekolah Dasar di Indonesia pada era 1980. Penerbitnya adalah PN Balai Pustaka. Balai Pustaka adalah penyedia buku paket untuk sekolah dasar pada 1980-an.

Waktu SD, saya merapal “Ini Budi” dan belajar betapa harmonisnya keluarga Budi. Betapa perempuan yang baik memasak dan mengurus anak dan laki-laki baca koran ketika semua itu terjadi. Budi punya adik Ima dan Andi. Ketika pelajaran makin kompleks, muncul tokoh Arman dan Iwan. Entah ke mana Ima.

Saya ingat nama seorang teman asal Jawa Barat. Dia juga dipanggil Arman. Saya curiga nama asli Ima adalah “Imah”, tapi supaya keren ditulis dan disebut “Ima”. Jangan-jangan penulis asli buku ini orang Sunda 😀

Melihat jumlah anak dalam keluarga Budi, nampaknya keluarga berencana atau KB, bukan prioritas utama. Anak perempuan juga bukan produk unggulan..

Saya tidak tahu, seberapa banyak kontribusi buku paket wajib ini dalam penggunaan Bahasa Indonesia sebagai bahasa nasional, mengingat Wikipedia Indonesia mencatat ada 748 bahasa lain di Indonesia yang digunakan sebagai bahasa ibu oleh orang Indonesia. Sampai sekarang, banyak teman saya yang masih menggunakan bahasa daerah mereka, termasuk saya. Tidak terhitung jumlah penutur asli Indonesia yang masih menyambung kata “disini”, meskipun “di” adalah preposisi yang menunjukkan lokasi dan harus terpisah penulisannya.

Saya yakin generasi Indonesia dalam dua dasawarsa terakhir tidak kenal Budi karena dunia penerbitan Indonesia sekarang sangat kompetitif, termasuk untuk sektor pendidikan dan urusan membaca. Buku pelajaran anak sekolah di Indonesia juga makin mutakhir karena tidak lagi terbit hanya dalam Bahasa Indonesia.

Ada banyak cara membaca cepat, bahkan untuk para bayi, tanpa perlu kenal si Budi.

* Sumber gambar:

You’re an aid worker, when you..

July 26, 2010
  • Bottom up your drink, from whisky to rice wine,
  • Talk smart in English, preferably with American accent,
  • Smoke because cigarettes are man’s best friend, and the best ice breaker,
  • Be a bar hopper cum pub crawler. Party till dawn,
  • Poverty stays with the people, don’t bring it to the beer table,
  • Believe that flexi-time, business trips to exotic places and duty allowance are the best perks of your work,
  • Know what your donors want, give it, don’t question anything: this is life, not Law and Order or Congressional hearing,
  • Don’t burn any bridges, you’ll bump into the same people at both ends,
  • When you steal, the IRS nor any tax authority won’t get you, so enjoy what you reaped,
  • First, second and third nations correlate with your country of origin,
  • Don’t bother to be smart, you need to be sweet,
  • Visit places, so that you can recommend best local bar and joint to unwind the night,
  • Even Kabul has a golf course, make sure you have a hobby to flaunt,
  • Crowd pleaser is far more favorable,
  • This industry is pretty much like high school: the disaster junkie is the quarterback, the gender queen is the cheerleading captain, the Monitoring & Evaluation person is the valendictorian,
  • Work in places that have just flashed on world news headlines on your TV,
  • After 10-20 years of career, become a master of your own by establishing your own organization,
  • Moonlight as a consultant, take your annual leave to do the work, but never take “leave without pay”, that will set you back,
  • You’re ubercool when you read The Economist and Foreign Affairs, watch BBC but not CNN,
  • Get an SLR camera, big lenses will earn you big respect. Size does matter here,
  • The hotter (conflict) spot you went, the hotter you are,
  • Don’t let David Livingstone, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa inspire you. And Indiana Jones is not even a real person,
  • Spend money wisely, a 6 months contract will only feed you for the next 3 months, unless you call Asia home,
  • 1-3 months post, English only,
  • 6-12 months post: bargain in local language won’t get you any discount and will only make you look ugly when you have to twist your tongue and lips; but it will sure impress that cute guy in cargo pants or cute chick with ethnic bracelets,
  • 12-36 month post: Dude/tte, even babies start to talk properly around this time, so get your ass in a language course and start talking!
  • Heroism and adventures belong to Indiana Jones, so when the office asks you to work from home because of unfriendly-armed-people are seen all over the city, just do it,
  • When the going gets tough, no news, photographs or tell-tale story is worth your deliverables,
  • Know your limits, this is not Navy SEAL training,
  • Challenge and humanity are not always the case. Blame it on the money,
  • Hard post comes with hardship allowance. Caribbean, here I am!

Life is Easy

January 8, 2010

Its land warm, verdant and fertile. Its leaders are responsible. Its people love comfort and easy going. Mai pen rai. Its visitors always come back. For a piece of tranquility, a good dose of quirky culture, exotic foods.

The City of Angels bows down to you in two stretch of roads, where the scenes of only two lines of monorail trains criscrossing the shiny skycrapers set a futuristic tone, Sukhumvit and Silom. Your ultimate comfort zone –10 levels down your room will take you to mega stores of glitzy brands. Rodeo Drive looks archaic compares to Siam complex.

The whole city is on sale. Anything that will polish your looks, anything that’s edible and taste good: from plain steamed corn to corn milk and corn crackers. By the way, gaba rice is a trendy food nowadays.

It’s all good when you’re there holding a thick wad of any currency. Worry not, there are 7 levels of affordability.

Easy, life is easy. Not hygienic and orderly easy, it’s edgy. But yeah, after a year that’s just it. Hold on to your dear self. You may easily loose yourself over there. The canals of then Venice of the East seeps into your veins like ice cold brew served in frosted mug after a hard and long day.