tempat teduh/


tanah air


The shadows move without me –

  these are people my age tossing Molotovs like basketballs screaming lullabies into speakerphones forming chain-linked fences lying facedown on tear-gassed streets    

Stones build inside them all

  and I watch through a screen as they tattoo the words this is home for us on statues of old, cobalt men.      //  

My grandfather comes from a Chinese village

  near the mountains. When I think of the place I  think of a soft light kissing his shoulder before forming stones and tanks and walls that break the sky.                                  

He arrives by boat to this archipelago

  and the war and the fleeing and the freedom dwindle into the hands  on his watches that still hold on to the village. Sometimes he hears them tick and closes his eyes  to watch the sun rise.       


  Where are you from and with it Who are you  Why are you here But he merely answers: Here. I am from here. Over time the watches lose meaning; he tells his son to get a less Chinese name and he forgets that home is anywhere but here.     //  

Decades later my father

  joins his neighbours as they grip cooking knives and airsoft guns, poised at gates like children guarding treehouses    

The orange flames, the smell of

  burning rubber wakes him up every time another protest sours and the messages come more clearly    

That he is half this and half that –

  Chinese and Indonesian, part of both but belonging to neither. That he is on the other side of the equation – the part protested against, not for.     //  

I was given a broken watch 

  when my grandfather died.  In preschool they teach you                            to submerge your hands in ink and translate an identity onto paper.                                                    Those lines that mark your birth, your relationships, your death.     

And how, if you don’t press hard enough,

  your palm comes up empty.     

I have never known

  my grandfather’s village. The crowded streets in Jakarta point me out like a fly on a window. The watch, with its confused hands, tells me jumbled ideas of home.                                                 

there’s no Indonesian word for a place where you belong


The Arrival of Hungry Jack

everything had to be rearranged incense sputtered smothered out now our shrine is a cash register the day Hungry Jack came to stay    homemade, fresh to buy a stall at our front door, step into your age of golden nuggets and the taste is not exactly what it says on the tin   here is the new menu,  local coconuts were cut cheeseburgers freshly unfrozen no, you may not  eat ikan bakar that’s just a thing of the past   palm trees once shaded, their habits  inhabit a place from the past, now the mighty Burger King cares little  for his subjects, here decree ‘first you must sever their roots!’   once our village is not your patronage although fake ‘meat’ may be  better than muscle, ships & guns for years they’ve killed  more culture  than cows   scented smoke will rise from ashes our gospel, the menu of old will push back Meal Deals to the sea forever since the day Hungry Jack came to stay 


The forest burns;  The sound of its Crackling spleen As it breaks into The arboreal heart Like an arsonist's  Well laid out trap, Is a piercing howl, Like a last gasp for breath As the flames spread Across the grid.   Amazon opens itself to us, With trepidation perhaps; Its uncertain fate Waiting to be mapped. A geo-spatial sprawl  Mercilessly cleared out By the indifferent state That doesn't feel the need To equitably separate The bare necessities  From unbridled greed.

Old Whaling Towns

in class we went beach-combing along the Derwent River they taught us about the spotted hand-fish kelp forests agricultural run-off overfishing toxic shellfish they say there were so many whales it wasn’t safe to cross   and people couldn’t sleep they were so loud we ran to the shore to watch them bleed   fill a bay with wine where now the pademelons eat bread from your hand and get sick it took two hundred years for whales to come back I remember being fifteen running to the beach to see two – a mother and her calf   now there’s more Airbnbs than affordable homes if those whales come back they’ll have to navigate an oil rig    that lights up like the trees at Salamanca place

Laziness or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Singapore prides itself with its multiculturalism. Just look at our food and our local language, Singlish. They’ve all been influenced by the various races that make up our population – Chinese, Malays, Indians and Others.    That’s right, if you’re white, you will be lumped into a whole group of minorities called ’Others’. However, behind the façade of the Crazy Rich Asian setting, creative Singapore Airlines advertisements, and Nas Daily sponsored videos, there are many gaps that prove we are not multicultural.  Ask any Singaporean for a Malay stereotype and they’ll give you a whole bunch of them. Some of them are funny, some of them are racist.    Nay, all of them are racist.    Examples include: Malays are always late, Malay are lazy,  Malays aren’t good at Math,  Malays like to lepak Malays only know how to make babies,  Malays are usually poor.   I used to laugh off because  me by friends and family. As I grew older, I started wondering where these comments came from and how did manage to cement to be representative of race. I why were some of these stereotypes so spot on – w a reflection or internalized biases by community?  stopped being funny and started to hurt once I learnt that institutionalized. It’s no longer child’s play the moment I realized these biases hindered me from opportunities.   Let’s take a look at the most commonly used  – (Malays are lazy). The root of the phrase “lepak malay” and its eventual perception that Malays are lazy did not appear out of thin air. Research has shown that the phrase was used by British and Dutch colonizer some 200 years ago in Southeast Asia when they found that Malay people did not want to work. When I say work, the colonisers meant being part of trade and constructions.   Malay were agricultural labourers, we spen days out in the sea or padi field gathering food for our families. The idea that we worked for what is enough for us without looking for surplus and profit unfathomable. To the colonisers, that kind of labour wasn’t work. Our refusal to  serve the colonisers’ and expectations resulted us in being branded as lazy.    Here’s a quote our lovely Sir Stamford Raffles (who we put on a pedestal for God knows why) about Malays: “he is so indolent, that when he has rice, nothing will induce him to work”.    What can I say? We really do love our rice. I personally start shaking if I don’t have rice for dinner. This prejudice worsened when coloni decided to unfavorably compare us to the Indian and Chinese immigrants, planting the seeds for racial hierarchy that eventually germinated.   But here’s the catch: how can we possibly be lazy when there Malay merchants before colonization? How could be lazy if we had state-of-the-art naval crew and was constantly warring with colonisers to stop their infiltration?   Today, the idea of a lazy Malay takes the form of someone who just wants to hang out at the void decks and spend his hours listening to jiwang Malay songs and smoking. You may think it means the harmless ‘chill’, ‘laid back’ dude but no, it still very much retains the negative connotation. What was once a myth has now become a truth so ingrained in everyone’s perception of race. There is a running perception that Malays are inherently lazy and as such are undeserving of employment and success. This understanding is exacerbated by other factors such as the perpetuation of the stereotype by our leaders, portrayals in the media and lack of helping hands from the Malay elites.   Firstly, it is very difficult to refute the fact when your leaders are out here giving quotes that perpetuate the stereotype. Lee Kwan Yew said “We could not have held the society together if we had not made adjustments to the system that gives the Malays, although they are not as hardworking and capable as the other races, a fair share of the cake”.    Thanks, Mr PM.    Other Malay Ministers were also found making comments faulting Singaporean Malays for putting themselves where they are now (read: lower tier of statistics). You really got to love a Melayu makan Melayu* scenario happening on a political level.   In academia, the stereotype morphed itself into a social theory to explain the inequalities between the races called ‘cultural deficit theory’. The theory attempts to blame inequalities to one’s biology and culture. Sounds a lot like a cop out, doesn’t it? Also, imagine being in an education system which constantly upholds the narrative that Malays are lazy through pointing at the fact that we are always in the lower end of the academic tier. Yes, it is true but surely, we are all educated enough to understand that there are other socioeconomic factors at play here. It is not an inborn trait; it is systemic conditioning.   Secondly, the media plays a huge part in shaping the perspective and narrative. Malay news media is often found painting the narrative that successful hardworking Malays are the anomal. The magnitude of coverage insinuates that it is abnormal for Malays to do well during exams or in various us employment sectors. Furthermore, the angle that has been used to death is the fact that these success stories usually by persons who are from underprivileged backgrounds. Some argue that they are merely celebrating the success, I argue that its excessiveness makes it seem like the community is overcompensating for the lack. When it comes to reporting on race-focused government initiatives, English and Malay media alike love to use the phrase “low income Malay families”. Rarely does this phrase get applied when reporting on other races. While the initiative may  help those less fortunate, the constant bombardment of such phrases on newspapers ingrains the sentiments to readers.   The effects of this perception  is detrimental to the community. Off the bat, we can already see that non-Malays and Malay elites believe that your average Malay is undeserving of payouts from their hard work. Even more so the perception has been tightly in the social psyche that it is used as a means to explain the societal inequalities and also becoming this unspoken ‘status quo’ explanation for Malays behaving in a certain way. Now I’m not saying that the Malay community is the passive audience, but it has been observed multiple times that reinforcements of narratives have dug way into the community. The institutional grooming worked. We have internalized the biases from a very young age, I mean how could you not?    *Melayu makan Melayu is a malay proverb which translates to the act of Malay people tearing apart and backbiting others from the community.

The Boundaries of Classroom Disobedience: Forming Healthy Resistance in the Name of Progress

Incited by the controversial bill known as the Revision to the Criminal Code (RKUHP), Indonesian students protested from the DPR/MPR building to the Ciamis DPRD building— marching for more than 6 hours—to demand the bill’s revocation while many others took to social media to voice their concerns. Students have every right to protest against the bill to avoid it being passed—however, there need to be boundaries to classroom disobedience for progress to occur. The protests against the RKUHP have a healthy root cause, but the movement has become unhealthy through widespread activism done without proper knowledge.  The KUHP (Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana) or  the Indonesian Criminal Code has been around since 1946 and was loosely adapted from the 1918 Dutch Colonial Law—the Wetboek van Strafrecht (WvS). The current bill is supposedly drafted as an attempt to remove its colonial roots, however, this intention is not evident in the drafting and passing of the most recent bill, which the parliament planned to enforce before the end of their term back in September 2019. The contents the students oppose include Articles no. 218-220, which criminalise those who ‘defame the President’s dignity’. This article not only threatens freedom of expression, but is taken straight from the WvS which was written to permit the silencing of the anti-colonial critics by the Dutch. To make matters worse, these articles bring Indonesia a step backwards as it had been annulled by the Constitutional Court in 2016.  Article s414 and 416 prohibits “unauthorized persons”—including parents and NGO workers—from educating the public about contraceptives and reproductive health, for doing so entails fines and imprisonment. In Indonesia, discussions on sexuality and sexual health are deemed taboo, causing a lack of access to contraceptives and a reported rise of HIV victims, with 73,000 Indonesians infected each year. The passing of the bill may worsen the sexual health issue in Indonesia.  But among all the laws written in the bill, what strikes me the most is its sexist nature and the subsequent disadvantages to women’s rights. For instance, Article 470 threatens to imprison women for 4 years for having an abortion. This article conflicts with the 2009 Health Law, which states that women can seek abortion in medical emergencies, which includes cases of sexual assault and life-threatening medical conditions. This makes the law inefficient and confusing. Indonesia’s democracy is built through student movements. I was born in 2000, but I am aware of the 1998 Reformation, which was made possible by mass protests led by students. The members of the Indonesian parliament, who were the student protestors then, are receiving a huge wave of protests from present-day Indonesian students. The strikes in 1998 worked, and so do the protests now, as the bill will not be passed during this parliament’s term but the next.  As student protests continue, Indonesians should understand that knowledge is not gained just within the walls of an institution, but it is also acquired in the streets. Many believe a more “civilized” method of voicing concerns should be adopted, but we do not live in an ideal world where students can safely learn in classrooms. Classroom obedience is not an option anymore, for their voices should be heard on the streets to reach the ears of the government. In fact, to ensure demands are met, these same activists took to social media as they attempted to recruit more allies.  I have seen many young Indonesians post their concerns against the Criminal Code on a collection of Instagram stories. As the issue turns into a trending topic, the government is further pressured to change the bill’s draft. Despite this, social media activism remains problematic due to the spreading of fake news. In an age where adolescents receive news via social media, many students base their opinions on posts, without reading the actual bill. For example, many students claim that one of the Criminal Code’s controversial laws threatens to fine women who roam the streets alone at night, when—though still controversial—the law threatens to fine homeless people who are being “disruptive”. Furthermore, Articles 417 and 418, which criminalizes pre-marital sex, violates civil liberties, but many students protest against it for its violation of privacy. This privacy violation is untrue, as the bill details that individuals are only criminalized if reports are submitted by spouses who catch their partners cheating, or by parents of unmarried persons over 16; children who catch their parents performing sexual acts outside of marriage are also allowed to report their parents. This means that unlike a lot of online activists claim, officials could not criminalize individuals without the consent of family members, and therefore they do not breach the privacy of Indonesian citizens. These articles are controversial, but protesting against them based on pretenses halts progress as the parliament would be able to quickly point out the incorrect claims made by online activists, dismissing the need for change.  Evidence has also emerged proving that students’ misinterpretation of the Criminal Code harms activism. Organizations, as well as alleged political elite members, have piggybacked off of the student protests to discredit the movement. Certain tweets spread by bots demanded Jokowi be removed from his presidential position, as evidenced through an analysis reported by CNN Indonesia. Many activists would dispute the movement against Jokowi as they explained the student movement is based on fighting against the Criminal Code, and not against the Indonesian government. Despite this, naive students will still be quick to assume the two movements are synonymous.  Indonesian students are right to accuse the Criminal Code as discriminatory and backwards, as they would reverse the progress many past activists have achieved. Young people wish to see their country move forward, and to achieve this a healthy cause of action is not enough to ignite change as it must be accompanied by healthy resistance.  In resisting, students should not be confined to the walls of their classrooms, as this will allow older generations to run amok making decisions other members of society don’t agree with. There is strength in numbers and perseverance. Students who were willing to sacrifice their time studying to fight against unjust laws for hours showed that activism works as the government promised to enact a redrafted bill next year. On the other hand, in order for activism to create lasting change, credibility is needed, for a crowd’s power diminishes when its cause lacks integrity. This means students must never fight for a cause because it is popular; instead, students must constantly research and fact-check to ensure that they agree with the cause, and that the evidence they use for their fight is credible. This is the right way to resist. As those who wish to participate in resistance educate themselves on their cause, then will the fight against the status quo succeed. 

Tender is the Night

In the search for a safe haven I refuse to open my eyes– For it was too bright, And the stars are only visible at night   Red is too passionate, too endearing Yellow too uplifting, too pretentious Orange is too joyous, too ignorant And everything else is too exhausting to keep up with   I’d rather Plant flowers of grey– Safe within my indecision,  Safe within the ambiguity   I am waiting in this barren land, Counting the days until the Sun comes, Because they said, ‘it will, it will’ And I’m worn out, saying ‘it will, it will’   But I need not wait– For I am not a fool Who wishes for rainbows and butterflies In the midst of a rainstorm   I’d rather Wait for the sky to clear, Waltzing alongside the raindrops And its hymn of Sorrows    Safe in the embrace of mediocrity Befriending melancholy, Replenished within the monsoon showers  Admitting defeat,    Surrendering to where the stream will take me: Where the dead fishes go Where the spiritless depart

Slash & Burn

There. He heard it again.  Help-- Unclear and distant but there nevertheless. He started running towards it and found himself transported beside the dying man. He knelt before the man who, for a person who was dying, was lying in a peculiar position on the ground. The man's limbs, pale and flimsy, were still thrashing about, splattering lumps of mud in every direction, soiling his clothes. The way the head moved terrified him most of all. An engorged, deformed shape of a head was spasming violently. He couldn't see the man's eyes, for the head was turned towards the ground. He must put an end to this, he thought. No human being should have to die this way. He clutched at the man's shirt, but without warning, a vine erupted from beneath the man, coiling around his body over and over again. More vines punctured through the soil until suddenly, he was facing a black abyss that had appeared before him, taking the man down with it. The vines had burst into flames, sending a thick plume of smoke and a dreadful smell of singeing flesh up into the air. A sudden gust of wind sent Basil falling backwards. "Protect us," the wind seemed to say. And then everything went black. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Basil Forst woke up drenched and panting. Releasing the tent bedding from his clutch, he saw the colour slowly returning to his knuckles under the pale glow of his lamp. "Somebody shut that thing off!" An irritated shout erupted several tents away. A portable radio was spewing out the latest update on President Jair Bolsonaro's pledge to make room in the Amazon for Brazil's agribusiness.  The clock read 4:07 am. Basil sighed. He thought it absurd for someone to listen to political debates at 4 in the morning. He knew Bolsonaro well, his father worked under him as a far-right activist. His father used to take him on trips to the Amazon as a child, searching for rare-sighted tribes while eating freshly-picked exotic fruits. Those days were long gone, and so were his father's passion for the rainforest. Basil rarely saw his father anymore and understood that the longer his father worked under the President, the sooner the Amazon would be destroyed, which is one of the reasons he decided to go to visit the rainforest by himself for the first time.  Well, not technically by himself. He remembered filling in the brightly coloured Amazonian Adventure sign up page that promised its campers the best tour of the Amazon. As Basil packed the day before his departure, he couldn't help but feel there was an apocryphal quality to the tour he was about to go on- The last few days of the tour fell on the last days of President Bolsonaro’s 60-day ban of setting legal fires to clear land.  In addition, Basil had his doubts on how professional the tour instructor was. A short, moustached fellow with a gold tooth in an oversized camo outfit, Aberto Costanza probably stole his campers’ money and hid it in his many vest pockets. A wild guess, but the more Basil thought about it, the more convinced he became. Yes, he needed to see the forest one last time.  He groggily searched for his flashlight, tore open his tent zip and stepped out into a coal-black world.  "What time is it?" Yawning, a tall man emerged from the tent opposite where Basil stood, furiously rubbing his right eye.  A woman in yellow pyjamas emerged from another tent with a gigantic flashlight. With one hand on her hip, she clicked her tongue in disgust. "Well, isn't this just fantastic?" she said. "The Amazon looks even more beautiful at night. Who knows what’s lurking out there? Bats, snakes, creepy crawlies..." More campers were emerging from their tents, shuffling uncomfortably in the dark as the cool Amazonian air grazed their skin. Each brought a flashlight, swiveling spheres of light across the forest. It was an orchestra of tiny UFO lights in the heart of the jungle. Amidst the sudden illumination, Basil noticed that most of them were covering their noses with their other hand. First, the smell. Second, the coughs. Then, the--  "Everybody get the hell out of here!" Aberto commanded, zipping open tents in a flurry to make sure no one was left behind. "Take no belongings with you and go to the main camp up north!" The sight was horrifying. A wall of flames had engulfed the trees in the distance, shooting up sparks into the sky. It was the unmistakable spread of an illegal wildfire. Basil was already running with the others. They tore through the dense forest, catching bruises from every stumble and graze and scratch.  You’ll be standing tomorrow over the burned ground and I wonder if you’ll recognize your son’s ashes, Dad, Basil thought.  By now, the fire was closing in on them. A few of the campers shrieked as glowing tongues of fire licked at their heels. Basil stopped briefly. He didn't care if he lost the rest. He had broken into a cold sweat.  Somewhere in the distance, a faint cry for help. "Anybody, please!" The cry got louder with each step he took. He swatted at the vines and branches that grazed his face. Their leathery touch and hard spines felt like spider legs running across Basil's face, while the warmth of the fire on his back was a constant reminder of its presence. He reached a small burnt clearing and found at its centre a man choking heavily on the ground. Basil sensed that there was someone–or something–else in the clearing, but he could not see anything. A chill overcame him as he recognised the stranger on the ground.  "Mr. Costanza?" He rushed towards him.  "Hel-" Aberto bent towards the ground, moustache twitching as his choking worsened. "Smoke. Get-" Without warning, Aberto wrenched at the weeds and soil with both hands. As the man before him started heaving, Basil realised with amounting horror that his nightmare was coming to life. He slowly backed away, trembling at the sight. But unlike his dream, Aberto, with his wild, uncontrolled spasms and low guttural sounds, lunged towards Basil with a ferocity that could only be attributed to a wild animal. The last thing he remembered was a collage of fragmented memories that didn’t seem to be his: ash filling up the space all around him, grey flakes dancing in an orange-lit dusky sky, and the war-bonnet-clad heads of a tribe carrying several urns towards the trees, an immolation of some sort. He remembered shooting up towards the night sky. The stiffness of his body that had begun to swell and the height between his head and the ground scared Basil to his very core. He couldn't feel his spine anymore, and what was once feet were now fibrous roots planted firmly into the depths of the Amazon. "Basil, don't be afraid," the Wind gently spoke in the ancient tongue he had heard before. "You belong with us now." "Wh-why can't I stop growing? Why me?" He stuttered. "You will help us save everything from obliteration. Our greatest revenge requires the help of all like-minded beings." Basil was now at least 160 feet above the rainforest. Below, the smoke billowed through the black ecosystem; charred timber, ashy soil, and a charcoal forest floor. He breathed with a strange voracious desire for clean air and drank from the Earth with equal ferocity. "Why a tree?" The Wind laughed loudly, sending thunderous echoes across the still sky and the roar below. It no longer spoke in a gentle tone, "They can burn us and our home. But when we are destroyed, a dark, toxic world will be left behind. We will release all the carbon dioxide they fed us. And they too will burn.” The other trees shook in agreement. Their leaves rustled in the wind and branches snapped like they were high-fiving each other. A 160-feet army of soldiers that stood bold and proud; protectors of the Earth, the ecosystem, and the right to restoration. Basil couldn't help but be revived by the spirit of their cause and joined their chants as the saffron-yellow Sun announced its presence, taunting its arch-enemy below. There were two flaming balls, one in the sky and one on Earth, and as he looked upon the horizon where the two met, he wondered which one was brighter. Illustration: We Are Burning Our Home, by Erel Matita

United Nations

fins circling through warm water 1,000,000,000,000 million dollar companies bleached out species and kelp forests ripped up destroyed recovered destroying recovering superhero kids trying to save the world when they should be in class maybe you feel like you are screaming at a thick wall of glass and people only see a distortion of your shape, and hear only fragments of your muffled voice maybe you’re right but you are here because your ancestors built communities and protected the children who protected the children who protected the children keep screaming I can hear you