“TO MY DEAR EXPAT FRIENDS: Calling Me an ‘Abnormal Indonesian’ for Being Punctual Is Not Nice”

To my dear expatriate friends in Indonesia,

I am writing this to let you know what I have been feeling for so long. You see, I love hanging out with you. I love making friends with many people. To me, cultural differences are lessons to learn. I may never understand everything, but at least I am trying to accept and tolerate some things – as long as I still find them harmless.

I know you only mean well. I know you are just joking. I can understand your frustration in this matter. You feel like most of my people are too laid-back that they tend to take time for granted. They seem to not appreciate other people’s time, because they tend to show up late a lot. It has become a common bad habit that sometimes, they do not feel the need to apologise at all.

I dislike that either. In fact, I always feel bad when I do that, mostly unintentionally. As much as I can, I am working on to be more punctual – or early when possible.

However, you should not have been that rude when I showed up late for dinner by joking: “That’s alright. You’re allowed to be late. You’re Indonesian.”

What was that all about? Whether you intended that as a joke or a sarcasm, I found that an insult.

Then another event took place. This time, I tried to show up on time and thankfully I managed. But why did you have to look so shocked? You also made this comment:

“You’re not a normal Indonesian.”

Excuse me? What was that supposed to mean? Perhaps once again, it was either a joke or a compliment…or even both. Still, that came out wrong. When I hear something like that, I feel like being excluded from my own people. I am also sad that you find it hard to believe that there are still indeed punctual Indonesians.

When I turned up early at another event with you, I got called ‘an anomaly’. Perhaps you had meant it as a joke or a compliment. Still, I felt sad and alienated.

No, I do not want to feel superior towards my Indonesian peers for being more punctual than they are. This is not just to prove that not all Indonesians are tardy.

This is about me wanting to be better. I would like to keep this good habit, in hopes that others will feel inspired and start doing the same.

So please, do not discourage me.

R.

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“MR.KNOW-IT-ALL”

All privileged
with your life figured out
Opportunities are there
You get to do anything and go anywhere
Flaunt your college degree
perhaps some scholarship from another country
Still, that’s not good enough
if your heart’s devoid of compassion, empathy, and love
Mr.Know-It-All
You think you have the ball
but the field consists of many players
Going solo doesn’t make you greater
You don’t always make the call
so stop being dull
This world doesn’t revolve around you
Other people are important too
There’s that pride before the fall
Talking to you feels like facing the wall
Still, you hate to be ignored
but you look down on others
What’s all that for?
So, Mr.Know-It-All
I hope you still have a soul
With all that money and intelligence in your brain,
your rotten attitude towards others makes you an unbearable pain!
R.
 
(Jakarta, 2/9/2017 – 6:30 am)

“HOW ODD: Invisible Pain is Always The Hardest”

How odd, isn’t it? You learn something about yourself from pain.
When you were still a toddler, your mother took you to a clinic for a vaccination. You don’t remember much, but she said you’d always been an unusual little girl. While your big sister and your little brother were crying during the shot, you barely blinked. Instead, you gazed down at your little arm – where they’d injected you.
Then you looked up and just glared at the nurse. Obviously, you weren’t happy that she did that to you. Your mother said you had your father’s eyes, that familiar sharp glare every time he was upset.
How odd, wasn’t it? Some may have claimed what a brave, strong little girl you were.
When you were four or five, your father took you to his favourite secondhand bookstore in the east side of the city. That night, he was busy chatting with the store owner. You got bored, so you strayed away, completely unattended.
A black cat had attracted your attention. It was tame, so you were playing with it for a while. You’d wanted to take it home with you, but the cat just wanted to leave.
So your simple, childlike mind made you grab a dirty plastic bag from the nearby dumpster. You’d wanted to put the cat in it. You didn’t want it to go away.
You grabbed its tail.
“MREOW!” Slash! You pulled your hand to your chest. The black cat stalked off. There was a ghastly red line along the back of your small hand. It was stinging painfully.
You didn’t cry. You didn’t have the chance, because his thunderous roar was already right behind you.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! DON’T EVER LEAVE LIKE THAT AGAIN!”
You said nothing and just looked down. You let him drive you home. Too scared of being yelled at again, you hid your clawed hand. It was bleeding a little.
That night, while every one was asleep, you quietly snuck out of your bedroom to wash your hand in the bathroom. After that, you returned to sleep.
The next day, you caught a fever. Your mother frowned at the brownish line in your hand, but you said nothing. Besides, you were much too young to play ‘connect-the-dots’.
How odd. They always say children are the weakest.
Maybe it’s you. Like, when you walked with a cup of steaming hot coffee in your hand and your colleague accidentally bumped into you. Splash!
It wasn’t you who had screamed, though, despite your burning hand as the coffee dripped off your fingers.
“OH, MY GOD! I’M SO SORRY.”
How odd. You weren’t acting tough, because it had really hurt. There was a few seconds of a delayed reaction. Some of them had wondered: Is it even normal? Are you?
However, other forms of pain are different stories. When you were called a ‘freak’, ‘fatso’, ‘ugly’, and other nasty names bullies had used to provoke you. When you were laughed at or stabbed in the back. When people lied to you or disappointed you in any other ways, even when you knew that they didn’t mean to.
When love breaks your heart…again and again and again until you have grown sick to death of the same result. When every guy you have really loved either doesn’t feel the same, goes away, or just belongs to someone else.
Sometimes you wonder: Why even bother?
When your father died. When your hazel-eyed best friend moved back home. When your pets and two other friends died too.
When you feel like nothing but a failure, letting so many people down. Every moment of weakness you still openly despise, because so many have believed that you are always strong enough for anything in this world.
How come your eyes are always like two broken dams after somebody has planted a bunch of active C4s in them? Boom. Splash. Waterfalls.
Just like that. What a big, weepy cry-baby, some jerks may say. Too bloody sensitive for your own good.
How odd, but maybe not so much. Maybe it’s your own frustration, since invisible pain is always the hardest to handle.
Worst of all, you can’t even pretend it’s not there at all…
R.
 
(Jakarta, 5/10/2017 – for Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Caribou Coffee, Sarinah-Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Topic: oddities.)

“COMING HOME TONIGHT?”

Are you coming home tonight?

I’m waiting for you

I’d rather stay up

because your phone cannot be reached through

 

Where are you now?

The last time we talked, you sounded scared

It’s been hours and I have a bad feeling somehow

The night is eerie and still, my thoughts full of dread

 

I’ve been waiting anxiously,

keeping my eyes on the door

hoping that soon you’ll return to me

like many times before

 

But no,

that door is still closed

I’ve asked your friends and nobody knows

My fear is becoming a creepy ghost

 

Are you coming home tonight?

God, please tell me the TV news isn’t right

Bullets have taken lives at the club

and I remember where you’re at

 

No, you’re not

You can no longer come home

You couldn’t even answer your phone…

 

…because you’re already gone…

 

R.

(Jakarta, 13/6/2016 – 2:20 pm – inspired by all the random shootings that had taken places…and lives everywhere )

“THE UGLIEST SIDE EFFECTS TO ‘BODY-SHAMING’ “

Whether it’s fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, dark complexion-shaming, or else – it’s never okay nor acceptable. Oftentimes, people do it out of socially-influenced bad habits. They think it’s normal, only because many do it too.

Most of them don’t give a damn about what they put their targets through. They often make lame excuses like: “I’m just saying!” (Yeah, right) to “It’s just the truth, right?” (Yeah, we’re not blind and stupid, than you very much!)

Other times, they act as if they are giving a social service and their targets have to thank them for that. “We’re just giving an opinion.” (Which is never asked, but somehow – that never stops them.) “We’re saying this because we care about you.” (Oh, yeah – you care so much that you have to humiliate us in public like that!)

Well, it’s taken me a while to have finally accepted the word ‘fat’ as just one of the (supposedly) harmless adjectives. It’s the same thing with ‘thin’, ‘tall’, ‘short’, ‘black’, and ‘white’. Obviously, it’s the people’s biased perception of ‘beauty’ that derogerates it.

Ironically, some of these people are also the same ones who tell you to be yourself or have more confidence. Ha-ha, talk about mixed messages. Not only that, they’re never happy when you defend yourself. All you get from them is either “Hey, I’m just joking!” or “Don’t be too bloody sensitive!”

Ha-ha, do they see you laughing? No? Is it so difficult for them to accept that their jokes are trash? Anyway, here are some of the ugliest side effects of ‘body-shaming’:

  1. As a kid and a teenager, you don’t feel like going out a lot. What for? Why bother? You’d rather stay in your room forever, with your books, writing kit, stereo, and perhaps a giant teddy bear on your bed. They don’t hurt nor disappoint you like some people do. It doesn’t matter when your dad pops in once in a while, just to remind you that “there’s a world out there worth looking for.”
  2. You kind of struggle making friends. Once you have some, you still don’t open up easily or act cool towards them – even when you actually need them more than you’d ever like to admit. Worse, in some cases, people like you can be slightly obsessive towards them.
  3. You seriously re-consider that person your real friend when all they do is mock and tease you about your weight and eating habit, especially in public. Once or twice is probably still okay, but – most of the time? Please, don’t they have anything much more meaningful to talk about – or are they just downright shallow?
  4. Some friends (who actually care about you) get tired of hearing you complain about…yourself.
  5. You find it hard to believe that anyone (especially attractive) would like to be with someone like you. You even need a second or third opinion from other people, like your real good friends.
  6. Sometimes you wonder what it’s like to hurt others too, the way you’ve been hurt. Once you try, you might not like it but probably get the idea of how really unhappy those bullies are with themselves.
  7. You despise those who look down on you, saying that you need to change your looks/lose weight/whatever in order to find your true love. Actually, it’s actually a lot easier and less dramatic if they’d just shut up and leave you alone.
  8. Sometimes you just want to cut yourself, just to see if you could get their ‘toxic influence’ out of your system. Some people in your situation actually do, which means they need some real help.
  9. You stop sharing stories with your (supposedly) loved ones. What for? The last time you showed them a video of you singing or reciting poetry on stage, all you got from them was either “You’ve put on weight again!” or “That outfit makes you look fat!”
  10. Some wives are sad that they can’t seem to get along with their mothers-in-law, because – pardon me for saying this – some of them can act like “Monsters-In-Law” How would a wife get along well with the mother-in-law if she keeps on being judged by her appearance? It’s like whatever she does for her husband and whole family is NEVER GOOD ENOUGH.

I know, I’m being especially harsh in this topic. You see, I’m sick to death of hearing that only victims of ‘body-shaming’ are being told to “have patience”, “just ignore them”, or “take it lightly”.

How about people who shame other people so much – even consistently? How come they don’t get told more often to “just shut the hell up” or “think before you speak”?

And why do you keep telling me to take care of my health – and use some brightening cream – but then you are completely missing the point of this whole issue?

R.

“A FEW MINUTES OF ‘HOME’…”

Sometimes a soul wanders
to find somewhere safer
not in the shape of a building
a house full of material things
A soul can fear a mirror
where the reflection might cause dread and terror
A soul can get overcome by voices in their heads
or a loud noise to drive every one mad
Once in a while,
that soul finds something that makes them smile
like a pair of welcoming arms
to turn their hearts warm
in a few minutes of ‘home’
R.
 
(Jakarta, 12/9/2017 – 10:15 am)

“CLOSE TO DESPERATE MEASURES…”

I know I still have enough money to last for this month and at least half of the next.
However, I’ve got to keep moving on. I’ve got to keep making more money – either through full-time, part-time, freelance jobs, or else.
On a freelance side: I still have two writing gigs and a new subtitling project I’ve got since last night. How do I manage? God’s Grace.
Still, I need something more stable than this, but without sacrificing my sanity like the last one.
Sounds like asking too much?
R.