For those who do not already know, I collect my thoughts in writings. But don't expect much – you will find that more than half of them are unreadable and too abstract to understand (most of the time due to my laziness for a better articulation rather than my philosophical intellect, unfortunately).
I believe that some self-introspect is worth sharing. So, please allow me to do so.
Reading through my 2020 journals, I came to realise that I had been challenged a lot by the very fine line between being bold and being reckless – or rather, being reasonably adventurous and being irrationally rebellious. So, in short, I have been on both the top and the bottom of the roller coaster. I have felt what it feels like wanting to get out of my own self because of how painful it is to face my own failures and grief. But I have also experienced what it means to say "what a ride!" Again, those who know me well often label me as someone who was ultimately straight as an arrow (whatever that means). But this year has particularly moved my ground – not in a negative connotation; but there have been some consequences of my own life choices that just... how do I say it... made me wanna rip my face off. But, you know... no crying over spilt milk. Sunk cost is sunk cost. Although, it is intriguing how much these encounters have taught me what self-forgiveness means, and therefore, what genuine mercy towards others mean.
I am also baffled by the fact that I am not as predictable as I thought I would be. I have surprised myself one too many times, not only by what I wanted, but also by how much I wanted it and my intention to pursue it. Of course, intention is never unidimensional; but it is only when I started being completely honest about the fact that I could be wrong, that is when I was most challenged by my learning and unlearning. And so the struggle for growth is not that of intellect but that of emotion. So... lesson #1: growing can be terribly hurtful. It's inherently ingrained in the very definition of growth: to grow is to admit that you have limitations. And to accept that within you, you will see and admit that you can be wrong, you can be weak and that there are things in the world you just cannot understand – and therefore, just cannot control. A hard truth to swallow.
This isn't necessarily a 2020 lesson for me, though, quite surprisingly. Life introduced this to me in 2019; but never had I been this emotionally affected by how this lesson had challenged me this year. And mind you, I am not one that easily gives up to my emotions. But I am one that often thought that there should be an explanation to why things take place and only when I understand it, I would be able to rationalise my reaction and the emotions thereof. But perhaps the most frustrating part is not really the fact that we cannot control or understand the situation – but perhaps, it is the fact that as a human, I want someone to be responsible (to blame) for things that happen in my life. But lesson #2: I was proven wrong.
Upon reflecting this, someone I trust most told me, "sometimes that hardest thing to do is to accept that things happen and the only thing you can do is accept it."
If progress is a struggle, then I should not evade struggles. It only means that I should choose my struggles wisely. So here comes lesson #3: some things are worth the investment and some others just belong in one of those closed books. I, for one, was particularly sceptical towards the notion of "I cannot wait for 2021 for a fresh start." For me, 2021 was just another day. 00:00 to 00:01. But actually, if a new year symbolises a fresh start, and a fresh start symbolises a new progress, then yes, I cannot wait.
P. S. I told you my self-reflections can be too abstract. You knew what you were getting into – now you are just as baffled as I am.
P. P. S. Here are some bonus lessons (I may or may not elaborate more in the future, depending on how busy I am).
Lesson #4: the best thing someone has ever said to me this year is "you are my best friend. I may not agree with your decision, but I do not love you any less."
Lesson #5: I have yet to figure out how to be more selfless. Isolation made it hard to (or has become an excuse). But... one step at a time.
When you study politics as an Indonesian woman, you will start to get used of being asked: “Why politics? Why waste your time in it?”
But I get it – there is a certain negative undertone to the term politics itself – it is a dirty game, an endless battle for power, they say. I know these accusations pretty well – I am not naïve (at least I would love to think that I am not). But my expectations to this were flipped when I signed myself up to that sport. Up until this year, I had been responding that question with the same imprudent answer over and over again – and it was exactly this: “politics and policy are a matter of problem-solving strategy – I enjoy that kind of challenge!”
I still nod in agreement with the past me – but the reason why I was interested in politics is different to what makes me stay in politics. So, let me tell you my story.
It was my very first semester. I carried with me a confidence rooted on at least thirty pre-read books of political ideologies. I came in, expecting to see a political case and scrutinise it. Oh, how much I was wrong! In my first week, I was challenged to see a case and analyse why such unethical action is a smart strategy. In other words, I was taught to ‘play by the game’ in order for what I believe to be a ‘well-intended’ political agenda to pass through.
“If you don’t play by the game, you have already lost.”
I could not have the bravery to swallow that fact – after all, doing so meant that I had to gag my sense of idealism (or pride) and my confidence that things could work the way they should work. I thought learning was hard – but I have found that unlearning is much harder.
What I have come to learn is that my initial premise was proven to be true: both the challenge and the benefit of getting into politics are that we never ever run out of problems. It is a challenge, obviously, but it is also a benefit because… well, if we run out of problems – I won’t have a job.
But what I have come to unlearn is unquestionably heartbreaking. It is that this: all of the problems happening in this world that people have constantly tried for so long to eliminate– so long as humans came to be – are not of external casualties but are the sullied footprints of our very own existence – the mark of our own ego.
This summer, my heart was crushed in humiliation as I read the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari for a discussion material. Brilliant man; brilliant book! To prove its brilliance, I will quote his last remarks:
“We (humans) are more powerful than ever before but have very little idea what to do with all that power (and) more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc (…) on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”
Politics is ingrained within us as humans: we seek power, entitlement and the comfort that comes with them. We are hostage to our own selfishness. I, too, am guilty of that. If that premise is true, why would it change the way I perceive politics, you ask?
This leads me to the second lesson I came to unlearn. It is that the way out of this cycle is not by saving ourselves out. I am disheartened by how foolish I could be to think that this was possible. I was knocked awake to my deepest conscience that what keeps us from the so-called 'ultimate freedom' is not things outside. There is nothing more restricting than our own capability of self-seeking evil that constantly pursues an egoistic authority over our world and over others to follow our rules. Marx has famously tried theorising this in his books as the predominant cause to the world’s greatest problems: war, violence, rape, murder, poverty and greed; but has miserably failed to find a successful antidote.
By this point I realise that if we are to eradicate evil, the first thing to destroy is us. The remedy should not be in us, but it is for us to be separated from our own desire to live as arrogant gods who strive to build our own dynasties.
So, then, I returned to the question myself: “When is this ending?” “If I really am getting into this field, where is this even going?”
If we know undoubtedly that solving a problem would create another, really, though, I thought to myself, what is the point?
But that was exactly when I found my reason to stay. And all these words are precisely why. The fact that the brokenness of humanity is endless – so endless that life seems pointless – is the more reason to stay. Because with bad news comes the good – and it is this: that we have been liberated from our brokenness when Jesus was nailed on the cross on our behalf and said, “it is finished!” After reading a bookshelf of policy literature, this is still the finest and the most unthinkable problem-solving strategy I have ever known in my life! No other leader worthy of throne would abandon their pride to give the ultimate freedom that we need. And you think the concept of democracy is pristine? Think again.
I have discovered my purpose; and it is not to find peace for myself anymore – but to share that peace that I have received; to mirror what has been done on the cross; to practice his justice and his love; and to partake in the brokenness of this world and sacrifice myself so that others could be as hopeful!
I thought I came to help humanity, but he came to restore it. I thought I came to establish justice, but he unveiled to me one that is true, one that comes with pure love (and mind you, I don't mention 'pure love' too liberally). I thought I came to build a legacy for humanity, but he revealed to me the story of his victory over evil and death and welcomes us to partake in it! I thought I came to pave the way to a better future, but he paved his way to the cross to make a new life to come that is full of joy forever and ever!
Almost two months ago, I got back to Melbourne from my intense experience overseas. The next morning I woke up, I sat there in bed, taking myself to this imaginary time machine, traversing my own memory. Of course, I recorded my day-to-day in my journal, as always, but it didn't mean that I understood what I had gone through, because you know - you only start to comprehend when you look back from the present.
So, I turned my journal over and I unfolded it with my left hand. On the very corner of the first page from the back, I started writing the '10 major things I learnt from January 2018 - March 2019'. I had been meaning to expand what appears to be a list, into a beautifully curated blog post - but, oh dear, I just realised how much my talk is just a talk. So, after almost two months, I decided that a list is 'okay enough'. If I could advise you, please, when you read this, take a minute or two after each point to 'digest' it - or perhaps, to generate your own thoughts!
So, here is the list.
1 When the unexpected happens, I shift my question from "why is this happening to me?" to "what are the opportunities that are carried by this?". I have been surprised too many times by how much the unexpected has challenged me to grow beyond what I thought I was capable of. A hint of pragmatism allows me to enter a new world that I would have never expected I would enjoy.
2 If it is true that most failures are inevitable, it does not mean that it should be the reason we settle for less.
3 I have learnt to look at myself from the outside in the hardest way I can imagine. I realised that I am enslaved by my own ego. The freedom that the world offers does not free me from it. I have observed that this, too, is so often the root of major human problems.
4 Questions lead me somewhere I have never expected I will discover. Questions allow me to sail to the land of the impossible.
5 In the self-entitled world where people are demanding freedom, it is too easy to overlook responsibilities. In the world where people are trying hard to pursue happiness, it is too easy to forget to seek (or question) meaning.
6 Writing is like having a conversation where I can set my own parameter and where I can control where it goes. It allows me to structure my own thoughts. Receiving information doesn't always mean that I understand it. Understanding it doesn't always mean that I am able to conceive a conclusion.
7 Committing to wake up at 6 and actually doing it don't only mean waking up at 6. It trains self-control.
8 Reading is like traveling in time and space. Or better - it allows me to borrow someone else's eyes and mind for a little while.
9 Most of the sophisticated-appearing people I have met are those who avoid to (or almost never) talk about others - not even when it's positive. They tell that to their faces.
10 It is difficult to actively listen, without building up something in our heads.
“When I see things from the present, life seems like a maze of doors. One door was closed, another one opens up for you, and another one, and another one. But when I look back, it all happened for a reason—choices that I made and what I ended up doing.” he smiled.
Let me tell you a story about a guy I know. Let’s call him John.
Today was just another day for John. He woke up in his ripped red shorts and worn-out white shirt. He would look at himself in the mirror, as usual, in his primary school uniform – which, for him, was the only outfit he had. He would eat up half a plate of rice topped with drizzles of sweet soy sauce and a garlic cracker for his breakfast.
“If I could have half a fried egg on top of my rice, it would be the highlight of my week” he said.
As always, he would eat up alone. His eldest sister and second brother were away for work and his eldest brother was in Bandung for college. John's mum was rarely home, traveling back and forth for work in Mojosari, a little town that was a 3-hour bus ride away. Meanwhile his father slept the whole day and gambled the whole night.
“You know those trucks in the CBD? The ones that little village kids secretly climb up from behind and shout excitedly just because it’s fun? I used to be one of them.” he added.
His school wasn’t too far away so he walked. Sometimes he would see his classmate along the way and walk together, brushing up against each other and giggled. They often played around giving piggy-back rides to one another. That should have been easy to do; John was as light as air and he never had books with him because he could never afford one. All the things he had in his mended bag were found somewhere in the corner of his classroom. But he didn’t mind.
“I remember how embarrassed I was when a friend invited me to their birthday lunch. I always hesitated to go because my school uniform was the best outfit I had.” he chuckled.
He was supposed to finish Grade 5, but his marks were so poor that he couldn’t move up to Grade 6. Usually, when his mum returned to Surabaya, she would spank him and lock him up in the bathroom for hours after looking at the red marks on his school report. This time was different—he was actually failing. His mum begged the principal of the school to let him have a month of probation in Grade 6 and see if he could continue.
Afraid of disappointing his mum, John started to fix his grades and began his involvements in school extracurricular activities, including basketball.
This was the starting point of his journey. When he entered high school, he was recruited in a basketball club. In Year 11, he became a national basketballer. This is the sole reason he could stay in school despite his financial constraints as he attained a scholarship by working for the team. But this was also the reason he had to juggle with school and travel around the country for the games every week.
After he graduated, he started dating a lady he met at high school.
“The first time I saw her was when we had mixed-class exam. Her cheeks were very rosy pink. I was there and I was wondering how could someone be as beautiful.”
His intention to marry her led his pursuit of a better and sustainable job. This was when started working as a labourer at a textile company. A couple of years after, he was promoted as the cashier. And a while later, a salesman.
But of course, having to juggle between basketball, relationship commitment and work, he needed to rethink his decision. After a while, he finally left basketball for good.
When he was 25, he married his now wife. Ten years after, he offered his director with a business proposal to be partners in establishing a new textile company. Rejections after rejections, he finally approved. Now he’s a co-founder and owner of 15-branch textile company around Java.
John is my dad. His real name is Anton.
Every once in a while he would talk to me and say, “what are you most grateful for in life?”. What is it, indeed?
Any other day he would tear up thinking on his own—with all that he has had now, why can’t he be completely content with himself?
“I remember when my happiness was only playing in puddles with my friend and taking a bar of soap and running outside naked when it was raining so I could wash myself in the rain.” he said. “Who would have known a silly kid like that can teach me something greater than what I know now—joy and gratefulness.”
When do we ever feel enough? How do we start to receive by giving instead of demanding to receive and receive?
How many people out there who are down to do anything to be in our place? To have good education? A loaf of bread with peanut butter and jam? I even have a relative who teared up smiling when she touched my iPhone for the first time.
I once asked my dad, “papa, what can I do to be as successful as you?” He laughed and said, “What is success to you?”
In that moment I realised--what more of a better success than being content? And being content leads you to do your best because you know that’s the least thing you can do to express that? And what you achieve is only the fruit of it and not the other way around.
What have we really done as a contribution of our own thankfulness of what we have had so far? It’s too easy to think that it’s only us and we don’t have enough to give.
Since people love numbers, I will conclude with this:
According to Social Policy Research Centre (2016), Australia's poverty line for a single adult was $426.30 per week. That's way above the internationally accepted poverty line of about $2 per day. Even with this high of a poverty line, only about 13.3% of the population were living under the line.
According to Asian Development Bank (2015), Indonesia's poverty line, based on its government, for a single adult was USD 25 per month, that's about 82 cents per day. When that line was used, about 11% were living in poverty. If the internationally accepted poverty line of $2 per day had been used, 40% of the population would have been living under the line.
“If you ever had the chance, go. Go and try wearing their shoes. Try walking their walk. See how they think when you ask these little kids what they wanted to be in the future and they answered back ‘I want to be a president but—it’s impossible’ and laughed at their own dream. Then you will appreciate your place.”
We often think we give to give but we end up receiving. We often think we teach to teach but we end up learning.
Asian Development Bank 2015, “Summary of Indonesia’s Poverty Analysis”, ADB Papers on Indonesia, No. 4, October, Philippines.
Social Policy Research Centre 2016, Poverty in Australia 2016, Australian Council of Social Service, Strawberry Hills, Australia.
How many of you have heard of people saying...
“Women are stronger than you think.”
“Don’t be afraid to stand up just because you’re a woman.”
I agree--but I am not here today to tell you about all those again. I know that most of us have heard of them repeatedly, especially since a couple of years ago.
I was raised in a traditional German/Chinese/Indonesian family. My mother comes from a German/Chinese background and my father comes from an Indonesian/Chinese background. Being the youngest and the only girl among my siblings, I was taught in a certain way with certain etiquette in order for me to grow up in a safe and a protected environment to be a so-called ‘well-behaved’ and ‘morally decent’ lady.
I was trained to cook and serve the family because we believed it was part of 'women’s role'. I was expected to have my room perfectly clean and neat every second. It is even extremely common for people to assume that my handwriting should be as neat as freshly-printed script. I remember one time when my parents would tell me off because I used to scribble lot on my notebooks.
As I grew up, there was a time when I felt left out because my two brothers used to play video games and they never wanted to include me. They thought I must have sucked at it because I was a girl. Feeling challenged about it, I remember when they were still at school, I tried so hard to win Counter Strike on my own. Believe me, I wasn’t a huge fan.
I kept on practicing to prove a point to my brothers that I was, indeed, able. And I was right. The next night, I got the first rank among my brothers and all the AIs. I was so proud and I never let them forget until today.
It was surprising for my father when he knew how huge my ambition was since I was little. I have always been a strong-willed, determined woman and sometimes it scared my parents.
“What if you never marry because you are being too opinionated and it intimidates your partner?”
It didn’t make sense for me because I didn’t understand how such a huge ambition, which, I was very proud I had, could affect me negatively. Wasn’t that a good thing to have determination and motivation for the future? To push my talents and to constantly search for new challenges in life? Wasn’t it a good thing to be able to lead? To inspire people, to speak up and to be a good leader?
I became tired of hearing all those negative comments about my so-called ‘masculinity’. This distinct characteristic in me that became one of the biggest drives for me to go out there and bring a change was seen merely as a ‘rebellious’ act towards the 'norms' in my own culture. I started questioning myself over and over again.
And just like any other most women you may know in your life, I coveted the opportunities that men could have but women just didn’t.
This thought I kept on carrying in my mind along with a wishful thinking that someday, when I finally leave a communal society like my cultural bring-ups, I could be free from normative expectations—until I started living in Melbourne in 2015.
I, then, realised that I was wrong. I started to think that I could never escape a set of expectations put unto me about what a woman should be. No. It wasn’t that women have to cook or clean. It was a total opposite. I just realised that I have entered a new world where, despite having been built by the same tradition in the past with all the new cultures revolving around it, it is what I never imagined before. The majority of women I know are valued more when they can only hear their own voices, become very individualistic, fiercely reject requests of serving men, and more. I was often put down for being ‘too weak’ as a woman because I seemed to confirm to some traditions and cultural values. I was often put down because I enjoy doing things that women were ‘assumed’ to do.
Yes, I cook for my brothers—not because I’m pushed to but because I enjoy looking at their smiles when they devour my cooking. Yes, I care about how I look—not because I care about looking pretty in photos but because I want to be respectful towards whoever I meet that day. Yes, I care about how revealing my dress is—not because I don’t agree with women’s rights to choose but because I care about what I might be silently expressing through my decisions in life. Yes, despite my aspiration in bringing social change to the society, I wish to be a full-time mother someday in my life because I feel called to be a loving mother and wife.
I came to realise that cultures take a huge part in shaping how the society perceives an issue. I would say that there is no better or worse definition for it. I like to be able to appreciate both cultures. And whether we like it or not, cultures, along with what we are exposed to and the way we were brought up, take part in shaping ourselves and our identity. The point of this life is not me. The world doesn't revolve around me - it is so much bigger than that.
Thinking that there is only one definition of being a woman only means we’re being exclusive to certain cultures. Thinking that jobs with most women are second-class jobs only means we’re being exclusive to certain women.
From these experiences, I gained a thought that having a freedom to speak as a woman is not merely the freedom to have equal opportunities as men, but also the freedom to be choose without being put down. That’s when we truly have the freedom to speak.
Be the best leader you can if you are a leader.
Be the best motivator if you are a motivator.
Be the best housewife is you are a housewife.
Do all those not only to prove a point. Do all those because you know it’s the best you can do. Do all those because you’re confident about yourself and you know what you’re capable of.
I have met a woman who has decided to become celibate because she had a mission in Algeria to help them with their education and famine. She believed that having romantic relationships would only hurt more people at the end of the day. At the same time, I also know a very wonderful woman who turned down a prestigious architectural role and decided that she would be able to serve her husband and her whole family better if she became a stay-home mother. It was, indeed, her decision. And never in my life have I known a time that her husband disrespected her. He knew what she was capable of. He knew what she was worth. He knew how smart she was and there was not a decision he made without neglecting her bright opinions—and he let everyone know about it.
These women are a huge inspiration and these are the women to look up to! The women that are happy with who they are. The women that can enjoy the things that they believe in. They prove to be great people.
And the question becomes: why, then, the more people know about this confidence in these women, they gain respect towards their decisions?
Instead of trying to define what it means to me to be a woman, I chose to push myself towards being a ‘good’ person instead—and through this, I let people decide what I am as a woman. I decide to be the best of who I am without forgetting to question back what I am politically-but-mutely saying by doing a particular thing. Let’s try out best not to define ourselves by what people say about us but at the same time let’s try our best not to disrespect people’s opinions or even their presence just because we only think about what we think.
I believe that being completely ignorant about what people think about us entirely is not the key to being confident. I believe that the key to being confident is to be self-aware and humbly strive to be the best of yourself—not because you are proving a point, but because you realise it is a way of growing. Think of people’s perspectives as a medium to reflect.
So why do we keep on feeling sorry for ourselves because we are women? Why do we keep on playing victims?
If we want to be respected as women, then we, first, respect them. If we want to be listened, then, first, engage with them. If we want to be included, then include ourselves. If we want to be included as women, don’t exclude men in return. If we don’t want to be victims, don’t victimise ourselves. If we are smart, be smart. If we are strong, be strong.
After all, it is not winning Counter Strike that made my brothers realise how strong I was as a woman. It was my great ambition and determination that did. My willingness to face new challenges and to push myself out of comfort zone was what first made my dad realised that I could be stronger than both my brothers—being my authentic self and the best person I can be. It was never about me winning Counter Strike.
Just some random thoughts worth sharing.