Finding My Nation's Footprints On My Family's Bloodline

The 1920s. Western Java. A woman sits on her front porch. In broad daylight, she’s wearing nothing but a cloth, and a brassiere.  Her children come home from school and shout, embarrassed, "Mom! Get back inside!" She smiles and follows them in, shamelessly. That woman was my great-grandmother. The mother of my maternal grandfather. She was what you'd call a nyai-nyai Sunda Her name was Katidjah. She never left the bedroom without her jarik – a batik fabric that Indonesian women would wrap around their waists. Her everyday wardrobe was one straight out of those Indonesian films set in the colonisation era.  In the same town, there was a man. My mother described him as resembling Douwes Dekker, an author whose portrait I often saw in my 4th grade history textbooks. "Well, that's him," she joked, "that's essentially what he looked like." The man was big, tall, with a dashing mustache. He came from a different socioeconomic status, and of course, a different ethnicity.  This man, let's call him Mr. K, was a blend of Indonesian, Dutch, and Chinese. When Mr. K strolled around town, his broad frame in a slick suit, people would say he looked like a Compagnie, a term they'd use to refer to the Dutch in the olden days.  One day, Mr. K fell in love with Katidjah, this beautiful, shameless woman from the village, and their love story became a rebellious act. He was later shunned from his family for being with an ethnic Indonesian. It was not uncommon. Indonesia was a nation finding its feet. Increasingly diverse, but still repulsed by the idea of interracial romance.  It just so happens, however, that good stories come from acts of defiance. So when, regardless, Mr. K married Katidjah, their household grew with eight children.  The seventh of those was my grandfather. My Opa was tall and slender, much like his father was. Opa, who started his own family, then raised my mother. Whose big brown eyes then landed on me.
Before my late Opa Jan passed away, he would sit side by side with his 7 siblings, in warm little get-togethers in his home in Bandung.  In these afternoons, they’d chat and praise my grandmother for her delicious cooking. Bitterballen, risoles, and her famous pudding filling our tables. My grandmother was a Chinese-Indonesian woman, with roots from Central Java. But she had adopted plenty of Dutch customs and recipes during her day. These became generational recipes in the family – ones that would take years of practice to perfect. My mother spent a long time trying to ace her famous erwtensoep. No matter how much we tell her she succeeded, my mother would only laugh and say, “It’s still not quite the same.” My grandmother’s pudding was a family favourite. "You only get pudding if you nap," she would say to my cousins and I. We would race into bed, tuck ourselves in, and share whispers pretending we were asleep. Outside, the adults talked and laughed, revisiting my grandparents’ stories.  I would hear it from the bedroom – uproars of laughter interlaced with mellow family chatter. And I'd wonder, listening to the sounds of my grandfather's wind chimes, about our parents' funny conversations.
In some ways, the tales I learned from my mother’s side of the family helped me understand my country’s colonial past. The Dutch stayed on our land for centuries, so sure enough, they left fingerprints. In subtle things, like my mother’s eyes or my grandmother’s cooking, but also in more apparent ways, like the buildings that line the oldest streets of our hometown. But the Dutch weren’t the only ones that settled in our country. In the early 17th century, there were Chinese settlements on the northern coasts of Java. Most of the Chinese who resided on the islands were traders and merchants, attracted by our fine spices and rich soil. But when the Dutch unleashed their monopoly across our land, in the same way, many of the Chinese lost their freedoms too. In a shared land where the Europeans’ needs were prioritised, both the Chinese and the native Indonesians lived under the oppression. Together, yet alien to one another. It was like this until the 1940s, when the second world war broke out. Until the day my country claimed a hasty independence in August of 1945.  Swaying between celebrations and diplomatic battles, it was also during these years that hostility began to grow. Indonesia, a nation finding its feet, wished to retain their independence and newfound freedom. Specifically, freedom from any foreign blood – Chinese “settlers” included. Following years of prejudice and hateful attacks, in 1966, the New Order came into power. Disguised in noble sentiments around strong nationalist values, it came and erased the ethnic Chinese identity.  There was a government committee built to tackle what was called the nation’s “Chinese Problem”. Expressions of Chinese culture, language, religion, or festivals, were banned. The ethnic Chinese were pressured to conform by adopting Indonesian-sounding names.  Assimilation often means erasing your heritage for a chance to stay.  Among the many Chinese names being reinvented or disguised, was the name of my grandfather’s – the one from my father’s side. He was, by then, a businessman in a port city in Java. Loving, humble, kind-hearted, I’ve heard, a man who treated cab drivers the same way he’d treat his business partners. To continue raising his family in the hometown they’d built their lives in, my grandfather had to let go of most of his strong Chinese roots. So when the legislation was passed, and Chinese-sounding names were no longer heard of, the family opted to take my grandmother’s maiden name instead. My father’s mother, Martha Pangkey, was a Manadonese woman, through and through. My mother said, “She had dark skin, frizzy hair, lived near a coast line in a region called Amurang.” I’ve heard Grandma Martha was the most rigorous, assertive woman in the family. So it felt fitting that her last name would be the one passed down to future generations. Most of her features made their way to my father. In his Chinese-Manadonese family, my mother described, “he had your grandmother’s eyes.” Eventually, he met my mother, who came with her own mixed disposition. It was then that a new story began. And that story was mine.
When I was in kindergarten, I was playing with my best friend in the playground. She looked at me intently, the way a child does before a question. "Were you... born here?" she asked. Little Me answered, "Yes!" She paused, and continued, "Then how come you look so different?" In ballet class, my teachers said my eyes were too big for my face. They’d play with my hair, fawning over its colour. They'd whisper, "Maybe she's part Dutch but doesn't know about it."  By 4th grade, we had learned about the history of the Dutch's settlement. I learned of how they set foot on our shores one day, and took 350 years to get comfortable.  Some boys in class started calling me nicknames like “coloniser” by then. In 4th grade, all any child would want is to be just like everybody else. So amidst their childish laughter and silly remarks, I felt like an outcast throughout many points of my childhood.  But eventually, I outgrew the “foreign” features they thought I had. I grew up in an Indonesia that tried to grip diversity – although with trembling hands.  Unity takes effort, but we aimed to knit it in place. In many ways, we did. Some of us had Oom, Tante, and Oma, while others Jie, Ko, and A’yi. We celebrated Chinese New Year, as much as we would Ramadan and Christmas. The New Order was long gone. Multiculturalism was at our core, and it never left, no matter how we struggled to take hold of it. Questions of identity can often be questions a nation’s history has the answers to. Tracing my family’s bloodline, what I found was an interwoven history, comprised of the different cultures that crossed Indonesian waters, pre- and post-independence. Cultures that made its way into my parents’ stories; stitch its way into their being, and eventually, into mine.
2019. Melbourne, Victoria. I find myself at the heart of one of the most multicultural places in the world. Souls of all backgrounds brave the city one day at a time. Dreams at the forefront of their sight.  Back home in Indonesia, I’d hear, “You look different than the rest of us.” Yet in Australia, I’ve heard some people say, “Oh, you look Indonesian!” I used to rely on these remarks to somehow define my sense of belonging. But having learned about my grandparents’ stories, I know now that I longer need to. So I simply make peace, knowing well that embracing my heritage means never having to apologise for it. In fact, how could I? How could I do anything else but to honour, and lovingly introduce it?  And so I carry with me my Grandma Martha’s last name. My great grandparents’ reckless love affair. Slowly, through time, I reckon with my identity, and at the same pace, hope that my nation can do the same.  And one day, in a dinner gathering, when a friend asks, "So where are you from?" I smile. “Indonesia,” I proudly say,  “but it’s a long story."  

Revisiting Home Through The Tunes

Walking briskly with my hands in my jacket trying to get as much warmth as I can, I stopped in front of the venue for the 2019 Soundsekerta event. The Melbourne Town Hall stood proudly, boasting its history in the central business district of the city of Melbourne. While waiting, I could feel the excitement from those lining up to get into the venue. Some people stopped by to ask what people were lining up for and I could see how this could spread awareness of the Indonesian community in Melbourne. The anticipation grew while I waited to enter the historic Melburnian building where I expected to feel back at home—in Indonesiaafter a long time.

As I entered, the lights were dim, and the air was cool. I looked around and caught a glimpse of the brightly lit stage and the excited faces of people chatting to pass the time. The spotlight shined centre stage, where the hosts stood. With a burst of energy, they opened the event, then asked the audience to stand and sing the national anthem, Indonesia Raya. Nostalgia struck me – it’d been a long time since I last sang the anthem. Afterwards, a fellow student, Swain Mahisa, stepped up on stage to sing Pusaka followed by a collaborative performance with the band Blue Room. It was later announced that they were the winners from an audition that was held. All I remember thinking was, “they totally deserved it”. Together they delivered the opening act covering famous Indonesian songs, such as Could it be Love, Kamu, Belahan Jiwa, Berharap Tak Berpisah and more. The performers built an energy on stage that transferred to the audience.

The hosts came back on stage and officially introduced the start of Soundsekerta 2019. The theme for this year’s Soundsekerta event is called Mosaic of The Nation, their goal to “acknowledge and embrace the multitude of different Indonesian cultures and show that music can be a powerful platform to bind them together to form the great nation of Indonesia”.

The first artist was introduced as she came on stage. Yura Yunita’s performance was heart-warming. She always added a little bit of something in every song which made it impossible to tear my eyes away from her performance. Despite having limited exposure to Indonesian songs in general, I kept on looking forward to her next songs. For instance, she had a dance break in one of her songs, and in others, she would invite an audience member on stage to sing with her, ask the crowd to turn on their phone flashlight, point and make eye contact with some members of the audience, and take videos of us. The segment I appreciated most was when she shared a personal story with the audience. She said that the song Merakit was from a rough time and inspired by a visit to an event for the blind. Moreover, she performed this song with sign language that showed her connection between her experience and the song. Yura performed other songs including Get Along with You, Untuk Kita, Buka Hati, Intuisi, Cinta dan Rahasia, Bahagia and more. With a soulful voice and jazzy vibe, Yura reminded people how music can bring us back home through old memories.

The second artist to come on stage was none other than Tompi. The first thought I had when he started singing was, “what a guy!”. A man of many professions, his current role as a singer did not disappoint. With such a raw voice, Tompi did not only make people listen, but also felt the lyrics he was singing. The highlight from his performance aside from his voice was the band. The way they played with their instruments made it seem as if they were in a studio freestyling in their own musical world. Although in a sense it created a disconnect with the audience for some parts as Tompi’s improvisations to the songs made it difficult for the audience to follow along, it was a great listen for those who loves to sit back and enjoy the music they deliver. Songs he performed includes Salahkah, Tak Pernah Setengah Hati, Menghujam Jantungku and more. Overall, Tompi’s stage transformed the event into a jazz club with quality music and vocals. It made me think that music itself creates the atmosphere and had the ability to carry people to different places.

The third and last artist to perform was the band RAN with its three members Rayi, Asta and Nino. Starting off with Selamat Pagi, the band got the crowd alive and hyped throughout the performance. I chatted with some people during their performance and I could see how at home they felt. Their songs brought back many memories, especially since RAN is a band that most millennials grew up with, their presence made it close to heart. Connecting with the crowd over conversations related to exes, RAN created a comfortable environment with the crowd. They were very engaging too – they invited a girl on stage and serenaded her, performed coordinated dance moves, had Rayi’s son come up on stage to perform with the band, and joked about past relationships. All of this made their performance really eventful and lively. RAN also showed a different side than what we usually saw; for instance, Rayi performed his solo song, Ain’t Gonna Give Up, which showcased his music style and rap ability in full English. Each member is releasing solo tracks, which further showcased their different talents as individual performers. RAN performed songs such as Sepeda, Kulakukan Semua Untukmu, Pandangan Pertama, Dari Hati, Dekat di Hati, and more. Overall, RAN brought about reminiscence for the audience with a lively performance.

Overall, I would say that the Soundsekerta team really brought it home this time. The audience really enjoyed the performances and sang along, the songs and the artists brought a small piece of Indonesia to Melbourne and showed us that home is never that far away. Additionally, the event was run smoothly with no major errors and delays. With the warmth I felt going out of the event and the successful operation of the whole thing, next year’s Soundsekerta is definitely an event worth looking forward to.

the language we speak. 

my childhood memoirs, a language so effortless, always bittersweet.    the picture perfect family, but underneath lies lost innocence.   always so loved, and always on our tippy toes, line forever blurred.   the scars and regrets, invisible but still there, a strong reminder.    my childhood memoirs, are now the intricate roots  of my olive tree.   

Should Have

I heard their voice Seemed so far behind Baby girls with intellectual poise Ears under one’s nose nearby   I should have listened Strained my ears to wisdom Baby girl, you seem so stressed That’s because you never cared   I should have observed Attentive to the signs occurred Baby girl, have you realised You were always one step behind   Those foolish years seemed so fine Life seemed great and all that aside Baby girl, you were blind Now that your vile left you behind   I’m one baby girl, I need to grow up I learned my lesson, thank God I survived Baby girl, you’re now all grown up You learned your lesson, regrets no longer thrived   The elders, they’ve known all along That’s why we should listen, they’ve been through it all Baby girls, back then we were wrong That’s why we remind you, we don’t want you to fall   Listen to the sound of wisdom   Time after time, the same knowledge lives A thousand times, the same story repeats   Those who listen, never fear What was invisible would be crystal clear   Priscila Komala  

Thoughts from a Girl Far From Home

“Where are you from?”

The question comes up almost every time I meet someone new. It’s a fair question; I’m at university, I’m an international student – it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to want to know where I’m from. (The implications of that question directed towards someone who is an immigrant is another issue entirely, and not one that I’m qualified to talk about.)

I answer easily, “Indonesia.”

“Oh cool, which city?” they continue.

Here is where I pause. “It’s complicated,” I want to say. “My parents are from different parts of Sumatra, but they both moved around a bit before settling in Jakarta for work. That’s where they met and where I grew up.” The split second it takes me to think up this response is enough to realise I was way overthinking the question.

I look at the person still awaiting my answer and say sheepishly, “Jakarta.”

I get used to answering the question over time, but the internal conflict I have every time it comes up haunts me long after the conversation is over.

I’ve always been around a large extended family growing up, as many Indonesians are. My dad is the seventh of twelve children, and my mom’s family all moved to Jakarta, making family gatherings an amalgam of second cousins and grandaunts. My dad is Batak and my mom Chinese-Padang, but there was no confusion around the cultural differences I had to navigate back then; 10-year-old me was just concerned about getting both the red envelopes and the less subtly packaged bills of money at weddings.

I had always been much closer to my dad’s family than to my mom’s because my dad was closer to his siblings than my mom was to hers, so it was only natural that I thought of myself as Batak. But as I grew older, I found myself pulling away from the culture I had come to identify myself with. It was certainly not my intention to distance myself; rather, it happened because I felt distant from it. Anyone who’s Batak or had a family member marry into a Batak family will know that our wedding ceremonies are complicated as hell. The reception lasts all day (or several days if you celebrate back at the hometown), and it is entirely conducted in Bataknese. Sometimes I look at the bride and groom’s families up on the stage and wonder who actually knows what’s going on. You can see how I would have been completely uninterested in waking up at the crack of dawn to prepare for events I didn’t even understand, where everyone else was older and I couldn’t even read or play games or talk to someone to pass the time. So I stopped going.

That being said, I was still adequately exposed to the culture. I still saw my cousins, aunts, and uncles frequently, and I had even gone to my dad’s hometown on the outskirts of Medan for a cousin’s wedding. I laughed at memes about Batak culture, I knew the famous songs and superstitions, I would even slip into the characteristic intonations whenever I spent too much time around it. I was still very much Batak – or so I thought.

I had a rude awakening when I met someone who would later become one of my best friends. As the new girl, all I really knew about her was that she was Batak, which her surname gave away. Later, we laughed about the fact that she was flirting with someone at a wedding and later found out he was a distant relative. She brought up the antiquated concept of pariban, essentially cousins from your mother’s younger siblings that you were allowed to marry because it would strengthen your familial bond (I guess incest transcended the European monarchies!). I was floored. I wasn’t as surprised about the idea as I was at the fact that I hadn’t heard of it before. Over the next few years, my friend would continue to tell me about random Batak facts and even experiences that I was unaware of, and with each new tidbit I questioned myself more and more. Was I really Batak if I didn’t know anything about my own culture or its history?? Growing up with it, I was aware of a lot of ‘traditions’ my dad and his siblings still upheld that I thought were outdated. Its constant enforcement made me want nothing to do with the culture, despite still feeling proud whenever I talked about our cultural traditions with friends. I was very, very confused.

When I came to Australia for university, I thought it would be the first time I could truly be free of any oppressive cultural influences. I was right, in a way. I only have to expose myself to probing questions once or twice a year when I go home now, and I no longer have to pretend I know what traditional ceremony I’m at because I rarely go to one anymore. What I didn’t expect was the longing. Being part of the diaspora has reduced my identity to ‘foreign’, or at the most, ‘Indonesian’, and I longed for the sense of comfort that I had back home (which I know not everyone has had). I wanted to be part of the family gatherings again, go to a ceremony or two, maybe even learn the language. I realised that I couldn’t be rid of the culture without being rid of family too, not when my family is still so connected to tradition.

If you read this because you were feeling the same way and wanted to see what solution I found, my sincere apologies for disappointing (what else is new?). I’m still very much conflicted, especially now that my perspective has changed due to being in Australia. If I’ve learned one thing, though, it’s that identity is so much more complicated than people make it out to be. You can love your culture and not agree with all its traditions. You can live far from your hometown and still feel connected to it. Most of all, you can change your mind – your thoughts on these ideas are bound to change as you grow and learn new things, but who you think you are now is just as valid as who you think you were in the past. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to just get over your own pride and admit that you know better now.


The Spirit Molecule

Focus, speed, memory, productivity, alertness. Most of what the world values nowadays seldom relate to what we once used to. The doubling rate of technological innovation makes it inevitable that we will soon co-exist with a new kind of Being, be it Artificial intelligence, or genetically modified humans. With the values we now uphold, it is very easy for us to simply forget our ancestral values. With the voluntary prohibition imposed by the government on the consumption of psychedelia, we may conceive it as another testament to our “voluntary running away” from our past. Yes, we once used to live in a time where psychedelia is commonly used, for thousands of years, in rituals and spiritual occasions. Cluttered by today’s scientific and materialistic views, the spiritual views we once held dearly are in danger of extinction. One may argue, it is time that we dispose of all the irrational spiritual nonsense we once had, and finally live in a rational world. However, I do not believe it is so wise, since, maybe what our ancestors knew, what they were exposed to, and what they have learned, especially from these special compounds (DMT and psilocybin) hold immense and profound wisdom that directly wrestles with the forces that underlie the very nature of life itself. To further explore the role of psychedelics in the world, and why it might be important to society, let us first understand what they are and how we have coexisted with them in the past. Psychedelics are a class of drugs that have the ability to bring human consciousness on a trip to an altered state of consciousness , a psychedelic experience. They include LSD, DMT, Marijuana, psilocybin, and mescaline. For this piece, however, I would like to solely focus on DMT in particular, given its’ interesting capabilities, history and influence. DMT stands for Dimethyltryptamine, a molecule many have regarded as “the spirit molecule”. DMT is commonly extracted from plants for consumption, however, the molecule itself may actually be found in almost all living things, including plants, mammals, and even humans. One of the things temporary science have discovered, is that DMT is produced within humans, and its function still mysterious. Why would we produce them ? Why is it found in almost all living creatures on Earth? These are complicated questions that still require further study. However, a midst of the mysteries, we do know that DMT was consumed quite regularly in the past, in spiritual occasions and so on. When finally studied by scientists in the early 2000s, where patients were given DMT as experimentation, we then realized the capability of the molecule. Patients were struck in awe as they were injected with these molecules. They felt as if they were embracing for something, and then… they were catapulted forward to a journey of mysticism and surrealism. Impossible colors, doors, figures, Gods, and the universe. It may literally be a gateway to a dimension we may never have conceived of. The exposure to these experiences, have also been recorded to eradicate heavy cocaine and heroin addicts. The drug had a long-term effect on these individuals, with no rational explanations. This is quite fascinating, since who knew that an effective way to get people off these harmful drugs, is to give them another drug. Graham Hancock has suggested that these life-transformative effects may have been related to the individuals’ encounter with Mother Ayahuasca. As Hancock had discussed in his 2010 banned Ted talk, his encounter with Mother Ayahuasca made him stop marijuana after She guided him through a realm of hell and suffering. These experiences tell its users, what must be done in their lives, to live properly, the importance of living properly, and what may happen if they don’t. Quite surprisingly, these experiences also helped eliminate people’s fear of death (long-term effect), after these were given to cancer patients. It will shed a new light on life, and give you fresh new pairs of lenses in which through it, you perceive the world. This includes, your views on reality after the death of the flesh. Perhaps, there is a possibility that the soul endures after the death of the flesh. We far often think ourselves as a “machine”, that dies once it stops working. But, what if, we are the signals that transmit, and may only be physically perceived through its manifestation in a tv-set. The TV dies, but the signal doesn’t. This concept of a life after death had been echoed throughout different cultures in antiquity, and reflected in their artwork. Its parallel similarity with people’s description of their DMT trips, is quite uncanny, and suggests a real relationship between what our ancestors knew, and the experiences we may get through DMT. So far, there is a high probability that you are really skeptical about this. Really? A chemical gateway to another dimension ? Life after death ?! Even, if you give a speck of accountability to this information, your gut may still have a negative response to the idea of using psychedelics. You don’t like it, since drugs are dangerous and bad, especially ones that can alter consciousness ! This is an extremely common response, given that we all grew up in a culture that despises the usage of drugs, Indonesia being one of the biggest countries to have the strictest of laws in regard of drug trade and usage. But, that statement in itself isn’t wholly true. Society doesn’t really frown upon drugs , in fact, there is blatant evidence that we encourage it. Graham Hancock pointed this out in his ted talk, that given our supposedly defensive position against drugs, drugs such as alcohol are still legal to consume. Alcohol has the capacity to alter your consciousness in a way that encourages a risk-free attitude towards your behavior, and has no respect for the future of its users. It is a leading cause of car accidents, bar fights and many types of diseases, such as liver damage. Its harmful nature is evident, however does not stop us from putting them on shelves for people to consume. Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine, stimulants or speed that stimulates focus and grit, all consciousness altering, available at our disposal. Caffeine, another common drug that people consume daily for a kick in the rear-end for productive work throughout the day. DMT and psychedelics in general, on the other hand, are illegal for its consciousness-altering nature, which is quite ironic, given that the other drugs that are legal are not only consciousness-altering as well, but some even self-destructive. An examination of how the laws are governed surrounding drug use, would lead one to finally understand the shift in values within the very structures underlying society. The legalization of certain types of drugs reflects what our current society values. Speed and stimulants, a trusty buddy to trigger efficiency and productivity. Coffee, another stimulant to wake you up and quickly buzz. Then, you have alcohol, a drug that helps you unwind, escape from the daily grind, and live consequence free. Psychedelics, on the other hand, is a Stage 4 danger to be dismissed at all causes. “They have the ability to alter consciousness !” How ironic is it, that all the other “consciousness-altering” drugs are deemed “okay” to consume, whilst psychedelics are not. As I have mentioned before, “they” prioritize values that produces maximal gain, not spiritual liberation. DMT is a gateway to further explore one’s own consciousness. It was used in spiritual rituals back in ancient times. Heck, the Amazonians used to give newborns a tablespoon of Ayahuasca due to the primary importance they believed the drug possesses. Again, it brings the individual to encounter the realm of mystic figures. It holds ancestral knowledge and wisdom, and a guide to proper living. This is reflective of how spirituality is viewed in today’s modern scientific society that has now tried to completely shut down the concept of proper living , groundedness and love. I am not trying to argue for the legalization of these types of drugs, since I also know the severity it may bring if these drugs are abused and not treated with full respect. However, I am pointing out the current state of what society today values, through our drug laws. We risk losing our ancestral knowledge and wisdom. We risk losing our individual sovereignty to explore our own consciousness. We also risk losing our grasps on what’s truly important in life. Maybe, it’s not so much coffee-filled days of paperwork and innovation, maybe it’s not a Friday night of alcoholic intoxication, maybe it’s the acknowledgement of the importance of our lives and actions in the world. And to lose that, is a crime against humanity, since not only are you letting today’s values clutter the importance of proper living , and deem it spiritual mumbo jumbo, but you are also disrespecting what could potentially be the true nature of reality itself. Who knows what happens after death, who knows whether there is a God or not, but I do know that whatever happens, the guide to life these spiritual journeys provide leads to proper living, which would overall enhance and improve our experience on this planet. And to lose that, is a sorrowful loss.

Keeping the Indonesian Culture Alive

Literally meaning “ a peanut that forgets its shell”, the Indonesian proverb “kacang lupa kulitnya” reminds us that no matter how far we go, we should always remember our origins. Being the largest archipelago along with 4th most populated country in the world, it is no surprise that Indonesia is culturally diverse. With the increasing trend of globalisation that shows no sign of stopping, the slow erosion or diffusion of culture is inevitably a threat that the government has tirelessly strived to prevent. Below are some attempts that the government has made to maintain the longevity and livelihood of the Indonesian heritage: Redistribution of budget for the cultural sector In 2018, the government provided 1 trillion Rupiah exclusively for the cultural sector. This is contrary to the usual where allocation is shared between the Ministry of Education and Culture’s department. The money has mostly gone to the revitalization of museums. 119 museums across Indonesia are now nationally recognized, with almost a total of 30,000 collections being accessible online through the ministry’s official website. The allocation has also prioritised to preserving culture in hopes of being able to register them under UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. So far, Indonesia already has 9 heritage accredited by UNESCO which includes batik, keris, wayang, angklung and saman dance. Pinisi, the art of boatbuilding that originated in South Sulawesi, has also recently made the list in 2017 while Pencak Silat is still being reviewed. Strategic Expansion of Market for Tourist The government has set a target of reaching 20 million foreign tourists in 2019. In 2018, Indonesia only reached 15.8 million foreign tourists, reflecting a 12% increase from 2017 where numbers only hit 14 million. According to the data published by BPK(The Audit Board of the Republic of Indonesia) so far, it seems like things are going positive given that there has been another 11% increase in the number of tourists in January 2019, from 1.09 million to 1.21 million, compared to that of January 2018. In an attempt to accomplish the goal, Tourism Minister, Arief Yahya, has highlighted three strategies:Border Tourism, Tourism Hub and Low-Cost Terminal. These strategies were laid out to attract tourists from neighbouring countries while also allowing more layovers in Indonesia. Through layovers, the market for tourism in Indonesia is expected to rise given that more tourists would be inclined to extend their trip to include Indonesia as a destination. Additionally, the government has also relaxed the visa requirements by allowing residents from 169 countries, previously 84, to travel visa-free to Indonesia. Though one might argue that bringing more tourists to Indonesia will diminish its culture, it also enforces the practice of it. Gendeng Beleq, a traditional dance originating from Lombok, is an example of a cultural heritage that would not otherwise be practised anymore if it weren’t marketed as a tourist attraction. Now performed to welcome tourists, Gendeng Beleq used to only be performed on rare occasions such as when the local custom had won a war. Advertising of Usage of Local Dialects Indonesia ranks as the second country with the highest number of languages after Papua New Guinea. On average, Indonesians speak at least 2 languages with Bahasa Indonesia as a mother tongue followed by a local dialect. Out of the 668 recognized dialects in Indonesia, 11 of them were declared extinct in 2018. To prevent further declaration of extinction, the government has incorporated the use of local dialects into the education system. In Papua, the use of local dialects as the language of instruction has been enforced by the curriculum in a number of schools. Appreciation of Local Films Another effective way to showcase Indonesia’s culture is through film. Through local movies, Indonesian culture and stories are authentically portrayed as they are crafted through Indonesian perspectives. The inclusion of local sceneries can also help promote Indonesia as a tourism destination. Following the release of Laskar Pelangi, a local movie shot fully in Indonesia, there was a reported increase in the number of tourist arrivals in Bangka Belitung, the main setting of the movie. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of tourists arrival in total had increased from 223 thousand to 301 thousand. As of 2011, 97% of the movies played in cinemas are imported. By the end of July 2018, the number went down to 60% - almost half of the movies played are now local. In fact, the total number of views on local films has risen from 16.2 million to 50 million since 2015. Local films have also seem to be getting more international recognition given that more of them have been included in international festivals. For the first time in 2016, an Indonesian movie, titled Prenjak, was awarded during the Cannes Film Festival – specifically the Leica Cine Discovery Prize. Celebration of National Dishes A large part of culture is most often its food. When one thinks of home, it would not be surprising if a specific dish comes to mind rather than a person or a place. In 2018, the Tourism Ministry set five national dishes to promote Indonesian cuisine: Soto, Rendang, Sate, Nasi Goreng and Gado-Gado. In 2017, CNN published “World's 50 best foods” that ranked Rendang in first place with Nasi Goreng coming second. In attempt to upkeep Indonesia's reign over the world's best-loved cuisines, the ministry of tourism had also set 100 Indonesian restaurants from across the world as ambassadors of the “Wonderful Indonesia” tourism program. These restaurants are required to serve at least two out of the five national dishes. 17 of these 100 restaurants are located in Melbourne, including Ayam Penyet Ria and Pondok Rempah that are both located in the CBD area. The government can come up with a thousand new laws in hopes of preserving Indonesian heritage but it would be of no use unless we all take part. It comes down to us - the future generation of Indonesians – to preserve our heritage. Celebrating one’s heritage doesn’t have to require a big effort. It can be choosing to go for an Indonesian meal once in a while, reading Indonesian literature or participating in an Indonesian festival. A lot of these can be easily incorporated into one’s daily life. To reflect, when was the last time you made a conscious effort to connect with your heritage?

The Janusian Way

The People’s Broadcast is airing as we eat our dinner. They are currently live broadcasting Queen Solar’s craft landing on our planet. It’s only been a few cycles since we sent our distress signal but she promptly responded to it. “Queen Majel was a great queen,” my great-great-great-great grandmother (I call her Grandma Ahn) begins. She’s still full of fire as if she’s not many centu-eons old. “She takes care of us. Doesn’t go around telling other planets about our Fountain. For one day she’s out of the picture...” she clicks her tongue, “... and her daughter ruins everything.” “Queen Solar didn’t let the space pirates escape with the Water at least,” I say after chewing my food. “But she destroyed the Fountain, Qi. Are you not going to have your Christening? Nobody has aged past 21 eons. Do you want your generation to die?” I flatten my food against the plate. Grandma Ahn and I are always on opposite sides of many spectrums. Her generation always thinks their way is the correct one just because they found the Fountain. At my lack of answer, Grandma Ahn shakes her head. “You kids know nothing.” My fist clenches at that, but I stay silent throughout the remainder of the dinner. *** With the Christening in four deca-cycles, my schoolmates are all talking about how we would be the first generation in milleneons to turn 22. I usually spend my cycles alone, but one cycle, a classmate—Flora—invited me to a gathering at her family’s unit. I only attended at first to find out more about Queen Solar’s efforts to rectify her mistakes. I learn she’s gone to geographers to search for another Fountain; to historians and spiritual leaders to figure out how to enchant water sources; to her team of scientists to scientifically re-create the Water’s properties... “What do you think about the whole thing, Qi?” Flora asked at one point. I didn’t know we’re supposed to share, so I froze. Thankfully, Flora understood. She had a warm smile. “It’s okay. Talk to us when you want to. It doesn’t have to be now. Just remember this is a safe space. We’re all going through the same thing and nobody is going to judge.” *** Little Hal became a hero by accident. Literally. The young boy was playing around in the field when a small Pyrolian attacked him. Pyrolians are not dangerous. They’re defensive creatures who primarily guard the Fountain. However, now that the Fountain is destroyed, it’s probably lost and purposeless. By the time the toddler’s parents found him and rushed him to the healing centre, he was half-conscious losing consciousness. My mom who works there told me the Pyrolian gave Hal a deep cut spanning from his wrist to his shoulders. Getting hurt is a rare occurrence for Janusians. Everybody holds off their reckless desires until they’re 21. After the Christening, everyone can be as impulsive as they want. They can’t die, so there’s no consequences. “Thank god Queen Solar was there,” mom says as she types up her report. “Don’t say that to Grandma Ahn, she hates her,” I interject. My mom nudges me as her eyes dart to the door with high alert. “Don’t say that. She might hear you.” We both chuckle. “Anyway, Hal lost a lot of blood and the Queen suggested this procedure called a ‘blood transfusion’. We got Hal’s grandmother to do it and he’s good as new.” But he’s better than new. During a full body exam, Queen Solar’s scientist found traces of the Water in Hal’s blood. The royal advisor, Rigel, announces the findings on the Broadcast. “Because of Little Hal, now we know that the Water can be transferred from one Janusian to another, but it has to be done through blood transfusion.” “Are you saying…” the host’s eyebrows knit. “The Christening can go on.” “No, no. I mean... some of us will have to give up our immortality?” “Well, we’re searching for a way so that won’t be necessary.” My holo-comm buzzes with messages from my share group. Grandma Ahn sees it and tosses the device to the ground. *** Four cycles before the Christening and Advisor Rigel comes on another broadcast. Grandma Ahn watches nervously, hoping the advisor bears good news. But from Rigel’s sullen expression, that doesn’t seem to be the case. “We have done extensive research, but… we’re afraid the only way to do the Christening is through blood transfusions.” I feel Grandma Ahn tensing next to me. “The Queen, the advisor, everyone have tried their best,” Elder Banyan, another guest, chimes in. “Nothing lasts forever, but I think this is a good thing. We’ve become blinded by the Fountain of Youth and the pleasures of being immortal. We forget the importance of being good examples for our next generation. Just yester-cycle a fight broke out between two Janusians in front of the Consulate. That’s not who we are. I know this is not easy for you, my fellow Janusians, but I implore everyone to consider th—” The holo-vision cuts off. “This is a bunch of nonsense!” Grandma Ahn’s voice thunders in the room. Everybody freezes. “This is the best they can come up with?” “What’s wrong with it, Grandma Ahn? The Queen tried finding a solution and she did.” “But that’s not the solution we need. Giving up our immortality? You can’t make us do that. We need to carry on our legacy. ” She huffs in anger. “What do you mean you need to carry on your legacy?” I furrow my eyebrows. “Don’t you trust my generation?” Grandma Ahn raises her hand to slap my face, but I back myself away. I scoff, “You’re afraid kids my age don’t understand the Janusian values, but we’re more Janusian than you are. Being Janusian is about community. We want our community to grow, we want to share and pass on knowledge—that’s why you all became immortals in the first place. Now, the Christening becomes nothing but compulsory ritual, you forget the real reason why you do it in the first place. And you have the audacity to mock my generation instead of educating us.” My next words are venomous. “If immortality will turn me into a mindless zealot like you, then I’d rather die.” I storm out of the house and make my way to Flora’s. I’m ready to share. But I never reached her unit. As I cross the road, a weight of tonnes of force was suddenly slammed against my side and not a second later, everything turned black. *** I wake up with an excruciating pain to my head. Our dual sunlight leak through the blinds, making the sterile white room even brighter than it has any right to be. I blink a few times as I slowly rise up from my bed and realise that I’m at the health centre. I look around and find my mother and father rising from their seats to go to my sides. “What happened?” “You got hit by a loading transpod. You were in a coma for the whole deca-cycle.” “I told you to look both ways before you cross. You could’ve died! That thing was carrying neo-nucleo sludge,” my mom chimes in. I see a tube connecting my wrist and a bag of blue liquid. “I got a blood transfusion?” They both look at each other; Mom’s eyebrows knitting, and Dad’s eyes brimming with tears. “Yes,” they answer. “Who’s the donor?” My mom passes me a book. On top of it is a note that reads: Share to the world my mistakes, so there will be no other me.

When Should Heritage Be Discarded?

Heritage is one of the most powerful dictators of our behavior. It provides us identity, morality, and grounds for sympathy. In dictating our behavior, sometimes one part of our heritage contradicts the other, and we are forced to choose. Japanese Americans in WW2 who chose to fight as Americans decided that the American national heritage takes precedence over their Japanese ethnic heritage. Indonesians chose to put aside their heritage as former ethnic enemies when we declared the end of our status as a conquered colony. The shared heritage of Christian values and Roman legal system allowed Europe to form a union. Heritage passed down from past conflicts such as that of India and Pakistan could trigger a nuclear war. The cycle of ignoring or emphasizing different parts of our heritage is a constant one. The question is, how do we decide which one is which? Initially, let’s understand heritage from the perspective of evolutionary science. Take the parallel between our heritage to our genes, and our behavior to our physical body. Both our genes and heritage are inherited from our parents, which we fuse, alter, and pass on to our children. Our behavior determines our survivability and passing on of our heritage just as our physical body determines our survivability and passing of our genes. As evolutionary beings, natural selection dictates that we discard genes that hold us back and pass on those that benefit us. The same applies to heritage. When civilization moves forward, we downplay or ignore heritage that we consider no longer relevant, and amplify heritage that we consider forward-thinking. Having established the parallel, the second point would be assessing and deciding which heritage to downplay and which to amplify. To do this, we would have to remove the sentimental value associated with heritage and observe it based on its macro products. For example, religion is a powerful tool to legitimize authority, enforce social norms and unite people beyond tribal or ethnic groups. Cultural cuisines maximize nutritional intake based on ingredients available in the region. Even heritage that does not seem to benefit the survival of the species must be relevant to our survival at the point of its creation. Things we dread today such as human sacrifice, slavery, and racism had benefits to our ancestors. They helped establish a social hierarchy that allows the formation of a cruel yet cohesive society. A cohesive society however cruel, is always more favorable for the survival of our species to no society at all. It is why so many historical societies had barbaric customs from our perspective. We despise these ideas now, and try to distance ourselves from it. We figured out that it’s better for our species to increase the turnover of the social order rather than preserve them at the expense of the suffering of others. This enables more members of society to contribute in an intellectual capacity and further civilization. It is no coincidence that feminism became widely supported and accepted along with the rise of industrially manufactured consumer products that lowers the amount of work needed at home and increases the need for capital income of the family. The process of the transformation is akin to the market process of determining the equilibrium price between demand and supply, driven by an invisible hand rather than by conscious collective thought. Societies with the right idea would advance and grow dominant, and those with the opposite would become subservient. One of the various examples would be the reversal of dominance between European and Middle Eastern schools of thought. When Europe grew more religious, they discard Greco-Roman science and philosophy, branding them as heretical. Meanwhile, in the Muslim world, these knowledge was embraced. The period became the dark age in Europe, but the Golden Age of Islam. One of the most obvious inheritances was the use of Arabic numerals worldwide. But when the Renaissance came along, the role reversed once more and the world became West-dominated. Understanding the process, then we should turn to the issue of speed. Change happens in an exponentially faster rate nowadays. The factors that determine them are the diversity of ideas and the presence of a catalyst. Therefore societies that are more rational and less dominated by an institution would be faster to recognize the need to discard and reinvent. The catalysts of change are often crisis and conflict. The world wars had opened the path to the rise of republicanism in Europe, decolonization of Asia and Africa, as well as other nationalist movements. The losing side in a war does not always lose their heritage however. Often they are reinterpreted and became accepted widely by the winning side. The ideas of Zen Buddhism became widely known in the US after WW2 when it was reinterpreted from the focus of preserving social in Japan to a spiritual alternative to rigid Christian morality. In practice, the process is closer to the thesis-antithesis Hegelian pendulum. Heritage with irrelevant parts could be transformed into a different interpretation that is relevant and useful for economic benefits like tourist-attracting cremation ritual in Bali. It used to be more gruesome when it was customary for widows to join the pyre of their deceased husbands. Once it was transformed into a tourist attraction, this part of the tradition ceases to be practiced. Irrelevant institutions could also be repurposed for highlighting national identity such in the case of modern constitutional royals whose throne is a disguise of the republic in practice. Reinterpretation and repurposing of old traditions and institutions are however not the biggest issues of the process. The biggest issue of the process is that the catalyzing conflict is often violent and bring with it casualties. Even reasonably peaceful ones such as the civil rights movement resulted in the death of the freedom riders. In more violent revolutions, such as China’s cultural revolutions, the toll numbers in millions. Conflict is inevitable, but the damage could be minimized by scaling it down. Through making the issue better recognized by both sides in a manner that is rational and civilized, the cost of conflict could be lowered. This is hard to achieve because naturally we are not accustomed to talk about conflicting perceptions in a civilized manner, especially about inherited ideas and perceptions that form our identity. We either don’t talk about it at all, or blindly defend our point and detaching completely fromform the rationale. Our heritage brings with it our value and esteem, and therefore it is really hard to admit its shortcomings. However, the alternative to communicating and challenging them is violent and damaging, and might even trigger a planet-wide suicide by nuclear war. Our heritage means so much to us. It dictates how we live, our esteem, and our values. Sometimes we have to ignore or reinterpret them to continue the survival of our species, and the process is often by violent conflict. We must acknowledge that our heritage is only a tool for advancing civilization and therefore subject to reform. Learning to talk about conflicts in civility and reason is key to prevent the conflict from escalating to the point of irreversible damage.

Mixed Roots in Transient Times

The fabric of the dress was soft to the touch, light in the wind, and always had a certain joyfulness about it. The bright rainbow colours interwove to form flowers fluttering in the wind. The sabrina neckline paired with a blue cardigan and buttons down the back finished the look. It was quaint, simple, and belonged to my mother. I often imagine her twirling in it in her high school years, laughing with friends and dancing to ABBA. I decided to wear it to a family gathering in Jakarta, thinking it was a great occasion to show off the dress. My eyes locked with one of my aunties from across the room - she's serving lontong and sayur lodeh for everyone, and I soon moved to the front of the queue. "Apa kabar?" I asked. "Great! How are you?" She answered back in English. Peeved, I attempted to switch back into Indonesian, "baik sekali, gimana Tante Wisma and Irma?". Blankly, she smiles, "they're great - happy to see you here!" At this point, my bachelor’s degree majoring in Indonesian Studies, the year I spent living in Yogyakarta, and my constant (failed) attempts to add sambal to my KFC over the last 10 years felt redundant. I can't even convince my aunty to believe that I am one of them. All my life, I've always felt more Indonesian, but my skin colour, accent, and appearance say otherwise. At first glance, you'd think I'm just your average Australian: bule, with brown hair and hazel eyes. I often find myself saying, “Ibuku dari Indonesia” (my mother is Indonesian) to legitimise myself - I am one of you! I am Indonesian! But when I say, “Bapakku dari Serbia” (my father is Serbian), I am not. I am ‘exotic’, ‘interesting’, ‘unique. In other words, not Indonesian. Explaining this third culture experience has all become very well-versed for me now. This familiar, bittersweet feeling sits painfully on my shoulders as I maneuver through the squints and uncomfortable glances pinned at me. I do understand why myself and other mixed-race kids are looked upon with interest. Somehow our parents went against the cultural expectation of marrying within their race and religion and looked past the unfamiliarities of other cultures. To be a product of such dual cultures, I find myself in limbo, 'othered' by each culture, trying to navigate the social norms of each community. I can still vividly remember my very first visit to Indonesia as a five year old: walking out of Soekarno-Hatta Airport and being overwhelmed by the smell of burnt rubbish and harsh humidity - I loved it, sparking my curiosity with the country. Fast forward to my twenty-year-old self going on exchange to Yogyakarta and embracing university life and nongkrong terus. One particular student commented that my mixed background was like gado-gado, a traditional Indonesian salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, fried tofu, and tempeh with a peanut sauce dressing. Tantalising. I’d laugh, say that I love eating myself *ba-dum-tisk* and move on to other topics. There’s just something about Indonesia that has always made it feel like a home away from home. Language makes for a great tool to hide the fact that I'm not completely Indonesian, but does include some challenges. My thick Australian accent are not quite able to capture the rolled "r"s prevalent in bahasa Indonesia, nor does my lisp aid in this plight. Sometimes I can only catch every other word my Gojek (Indonesia’s version of Uber, but for motorbikes) driver says. I hide my lack of knowledge with expressions like sih, kok and kan to sound like a local. And just when I feel like I have the culture slightly under control, an ibu-ibu (Indonesian aunty) throws me a question in Javanese (a major dialect of Indonesia) and I'm back in unknown waters. Now, this is not to say I haven’t been interested in my Serbian background - I’ve just never had the chance to fully embrace it. I haven’t been there since I was 3 years old, and my vocabulary doesn't extend far beyond "kako ci" (how are you) and "lakcu notch" (goodnight). I never quite fit in going to Serbian Sunday school, confused by the little idiosyncrasies the other Serb kids my age threw around. I’m a splitting image of my dad, but only a splinter of his heritage. And so, ensues a conflict – in heart, belonging, and being. I will confess: there is a genuine worry in my heart that I won't be able to pass on this heritage to my own children (especially given I'm not even sure what to make of my own background). I almost feel like no matter what I do, it will never be enough. My first language was English and I grew up in Australia; one year’s worth of study in Indonesia is little in comparison to my mother’s entire childhood and young adult years there. Her background is a door into a world I so badly want to grasp, but I consistently struggle to find the key to unlock it. No matter how many times I’ll silently shout to my aunty, ‘I am one of you, ACCEPT ME’, nothing I do will change her mind. I’ve learnt it’s not my place to convince her but rather know that I’ve done what I can to bring myself closer to my culture with the best intentions at heart. It’s okay to not be one hundred percent into sambal (I only like a little bit of it!). It’s okay to not perfectly understand Jakarta slang. It’s okay to be somewhere in the middle, because my Indonesian experience is just one piece of this bigger jigsaw puzzle I’m trying to piece together. I’ve realised that the pieces of my heritage and self that aren’t meant to necessarily fit perfectly. They’re instead made to co-exist with one another, somehow achieving harmony. This midi dress once owned by my mother, whilst plain at first glance, speaks volumes. It may be tattered, worn through laughs and potentially tears, from the last 30 years, but it’s a symbol of what can transcend time. Culture doesn’t need to remain static – it’s a tapestry of experiences, people you meet, and the books you read. And so I'll continue to wear this midi dress, passing it on to my own daughter one day, knowing that heritage is hers to shape, hers to keep.