The Importance of Being Lucky in Landscape Photography

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These two shots of the same spot were taken with the same camera, same lens, almost the same settings, at approximately the same hour of the day, yet five months apart.

The season has decidedly changed, from dry to rainy one. The difference of mood and overall tone is astounding.

Oftentimes, when we travel to some place, we just have to make do with whatever in front of us. We can't be lucky all the time, can we? :)

Ode to My Mother

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You know in movies, when the main protagonists are losing their loved ones, how they’d lament and wish they could spend one more day together, and then cue some sort of tear-jerking orchestration. I’ve always thought that those kind of scenes were a tad too melodramatic.

How wrong was I.

Apparently, there’s nothing like losing your family, mothers, fathers, sons or daughters, sisters and brothers. It really leaves a hole in your heart like no other.

Forty days have gone since my mother passed away, yet the grief and the sorrow still lingers. Especially since, she left us so suddenly. None of my family was prepared of her being gone. She was just so healthy and cheerful in that morning.

Anyway, so there I was, in our family living room in my hometown, one of the more unreligious person you’d ever find, reading passages from the Holy Quran. I did sometimes read the whole translation curiously, because truth be told, I was doubtful of the relevance of that particular verses. However, I kept reading them knowing that she would be sad otherwise.

I wrote a piece in my blog about my father a while back. When he found out about it from my in law, I was told that he was so touched he had tears in his eyes. And I know deep down my mom probably wondering when I was going to write about her. I was going to, truthfully, but somehow it got postponed. Then all of a sudden, she’s not here anymore. I am disappointed at myself so much for this.

My mother was the real ambassador of our little family. She was fluent in five traditional languages, and got along very well with the neighbors or organizations she’s into. The one who single handedly kept everything beautiful in our home. Everything just seems so drab and empty now that she’s not among us anymore.

If I have even an ounce of creativity in me, pretty sure that it belongs in her gene pool. It’s just I don’t have her tact and grace in social life.

My father and I talked the other day mourning the fact that two most social members of our ever so decreasing family, both have gone now. I on the other hand have always been built like him, timid and awkward when socializing with other people.

I know that one could get carried away exaggerating facts when talking about one’s family. However, my late mom and late sis were indeed very well liked throughout their life. The many people that visited us during their memorial service were a testament to that. I’ve got to thank them for their prayers, hopefully it will somewhat summated to my inconsistent and unreligious way of praying for her.

Forty days have gone and here’s an ode to you, Mom. I’m just throwing the sentiments out in the air, hoping that it will reach to wherever you are now. I’m truly sorry I didn’t write it sooner, but know that you always live in my memory. Me, Dad and Fitra miss you so much …

Argh there goes that tears again …

Of Doodling

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At first, I thought it was only me. But if you were elementary schooled in Indonesia during the 80 and 90’s perhaps you are familiar with it too. I am talking about the formulaic recipe of drawing Indonesian scenery.

At one point or another we probably drew bright blue sky, two mountains and a sun, green rice field to the left and right of an asphalt road. The variations generally on the shading technique, additional hut and car, birds, and the lamp post.

I asked some of my friends in the office, and they confirmed it. We had fun joking about it afterwards. It was pretty nostalgic and brought back recollections of our childhood.

There was this program called ‘Gemar Menggambar’ on the telly hosted by the late Pak Tino Sidin. All of us have a very fond memory of him. It was so fascinating to see him brilliantly create illustrations from some simple lines and curves.

He also had this session where children all over the country send their works and given comment by the good man. He’s the one coined the ever popular phrase, ‘Yak Bagus’. Definitely The Must See TV show back then and we’d be hard pressed to name any of today’s offering as inspirational and educative as that.

Back to the scenery drawings, just like other aspects of public schooling back then, they were all too rigid. During Suharto’s three decades in power indeed there was a vast expansion of public schooling at primary and secondary levels, alongside a significant growth in private education.

The New Order however required public and private schools to teach the same nationally mandated syllabus to all school children. National history along with the Morals of Panca Sila were compulsory subjects, right to the way we dressed and cut our hair.

I’m not saying this is necessarily bad; it probably has its own merit. There’s a tie that bound us all together as a nation. But on another level it killed creativity and suppressed individualistic expression during the times when school kids need to be more expressive and imaginative.

This probably has an indirect effect on our ability to accept and embrace differences. The one official history is, without a doubt, essential in uniting the diverse Indonesians. The doctrinal curriculum on the other hand eliminated any disputes between classes or ethnic groups; social and religious conflict was focused towards the Dutch and Communism.

Critical discourse of issues and alternative interpretations were frowned upon. The social classroom functioned to curb knowledge of difference. Yet the root of conflicts and tension between differing groups were brewing silently in the background. After The New Order collapsed, this tension and conflict has reared its ugly head on plenty of occasions.

When I was little, I used to scribble a lot. I can’t see a white paper or a blank wall without the need to doodle something on it. My parents bless them, luckily allowed me to do just that at the expense of the living room. My drawing teacher though once rebuked me because I drew Superman and Batman on a class assignment. Although I was unhappy, I get back to the usual standard of scenery drawing in no time.

I certainly hope teachers nowadays are astute enough to let little children be as creative as they want to be. Many Tino Sidin, Affandi, Basuki Abdullah, or more could possibly emerge from amongst them.

Of Success and Happiness

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A couple of weeks ago, some old high school friends took a trip back to Magelang to inspire the ‘would be graduates’ currently in their third grade. It has been a tradition for sometime now and I’m proud to say that the bond between alumni and the high school is as strong as ever.

I was told that the event was a big hit. A student came to contact me online via one of those social networking site and told me how impressed they were at their older brothers. It’s hard not to be impressed really, amongst the alumni were a vice president of Danamon, members(?) of the honorable KPK, several successful entrepreneurs, air force pilot of the F16, and others holding important positions in some elite organizations at a very young age of thirty.

The student then went on to ask me, what I do for a living and tidbits about my career so far. It was a harmless naive curiosity, yet when juxtaposed with the above, I have to admit that it got me thinking for a bit. When I did mention my occupation, I don’t know if it’s insecurity kicked in or something else, but I could’ve sworn that his reaction was like, meh …

Parading successes of some alumni would do a world of wonders to motivate the students. I certainly hope it will not give a false sense of security among them and thinking that success will come for granted. Life outside the dormitory could be pretty harsh. Even the best and the smartest of alumni had to work hard to get to where they are now.

I also believe that success is a relatively loose term and that in life it's no longer solely linked to privileged or even overseas academic venture, as it once was. Nevertheless, I understand that society at large has its own yardstick to measure success. In the end, most things come down to money. Sad but true. It is still traditionally associated with these five things: beautiful spouse, elite professions, luxurious cars, lavish houses, and expensive hobbies.

I can safely say that I have none of those, well except perhaps beautiful spouse (I had to put this one in, otherwise no dinner for me this week). I am at my early thirty now and while some of my colleagues have set out to do stuffs that would make people around them proud, I had to dig deep to really find things that would stand out from mediocrity.

This usually don’t bother me that much as I’ve accustomed to the fact that there are people who could make things look easy and sharper at responding to the general public demands of success. Or just plain lucky, but you gotta make your own luck in life.

As it happens, I stumbled on a TV program some weeks ago, a motivator, went on to say that The Biggest Mistake a person could make is to aim low and then achieving the target. As I watched there and saw the large audiences nodding in unison, I wondered, have I been one of those? While I can see where he's getting at, I also remember thinking, so what?!

However, add that factor to some nonchalant questions from my junior, and several events that happened during the last holiday, I began to seriously muse on things. Although, true to the form, after questioning my philosophy, instead of actually aiming higher and planning to pull them off, I blog my way out of it. I suppose it's inertia of protracted custom where predictability carries its own comforts.

In my defense (as if I need to), success does not equate happiness. When I look around and look behind, I think I’m pretty happy and content with the way things are in my life. Cynics may cite that I’m easily satisfied, or worse, making the biggest mistake by aiming too low. I’m the only one who knows where I came from, the limitations and the road blocks, my effort all this time, and my contribution to my family and people around me.

Thinking back, it may be simplified over as; have I been a worthy son and a worthy friend? Have I been paying my duty, taxes and brought about benefit to the society?

I could have done better, there’s no question, but when it comes down to that, I could have done a lot worse too.

Sense of Humor

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What makes us laugh really? The easy answer would be; something funny. Although one could also questions what defines which are funny and which ones are not. The definition differs between each person with time and place as a variable.

A psychopath like Joker might laugh at the scary sight portrayed in the face of his victims, something that most normal people wouldn’t find funny in the slightest. Racist people may lol at some racist jokes which a lot of decent people would be offended by. An atheist would rofl at something considerably slanderous to some and vice versa.

Moreover, something that is funny usually comes surprisingly. The laughing meter might drop the next time it appears second time around. Public farting loudly in a college dorm obviously would be funnier than at some point in a family funeral.

It is tricky to learn when and where one should do or show anything funny.

Humor is different though. It’s a noun, which simply means an ability to provoke laughter and provide amusement. That means ‘sense of humor’ is a capacity to appreciate and experience humor.

Muslim’s sense of humor has been a topic of discourse in many places. So much so that Hollywood deemed it worthy of a dedicated film. The title is “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World”. It’s not a totally bad attempt, several low key sarcasm, interesting dead-pan delivery, and explains bits and pieces about what is considered funny for some Muslims especially in India and Pakistan.

Albert Brooks plays as himself and lightheartedly insult not only at himself and his non-famous career but also at world’s inability to understand why some Muslims have trouble to laugh at the jokes from the western world.

Fascinatingly, Mr. Brooks, the leading actor in the movie, is of Jewish descent. They’re renowned for their self-deprecating high sense of humor. I don’t mean to stereotype (but I already did so might as well continue) yet since this is a good stereotype I hope no body would mind.

One of their strength is in the knack of finding humor even in the most adverse moments. For thousands of years they amass a wide range of jokes laughing at their oppressors, problems they’re having, themselves, even their relationship with Their God.

The ability to laugh at one self is probably something us Muslims might want to learn. It really pains me to see the over reaction by some of us in the events of an attempt of humor by some party in the west mocking the ‘barbaric and stupid’ Muslims.
Question: How many Muslims does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. Muslims just sit in the dark and blame it on the Jews.
We should just laugh at these harmless or even the more offensive jokes and use it as impetus for self improvement. The extreme responses were probably just what they needed to bait. We have to learn that humor is not just about playful confrontation; it is also an amusing way in which people can recognize the tragedies of life without getting too depressed.

Although on flipside of the coin, sensitivity for ‘laughing at’ us probably required at the other side of the fence. I’m not talking specific about laughter and jokes aimed to ridicule Muslims, but to all group of people, especially sensitive issues such as religion, race, and sickness.

At least personally I hope they won’t do it too often. We might want to remember that for some of these easy targets, life is depressing enough without having certain high brow artists or some random party making a mockery of something they hold dear.

Certainly we haven’t been too deprived of other avenue of humors and entertainments to the point that we have to laugh at other people’s expense most of the time. It would be totally discouraging if people started to make fun of down-syndrome for example.

I myself laugh a lot. I laugh at children’s antics and smile at their cuteness. Banters between friends made me spill my tea to the keyboard, so probably am guilty of too easily amused. That’s why aged PC jokes still work well for me. Mr. Bean, Donald Ducks, Tom and Jerry continue to make me rolling on the floor laughing, so do other conventional comedy like Seinfeld and The Office.

Although I understand completely that: to each their own.

PS: Selamat menjalankan ibadah puasa Ramadhan bagi umat Islam.

Of College Graduates

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In some alumni gathering by my university, there’s several sessions of seminar by older members. Usually they’re business owners or directors of some ‘big’ national company. Their grief was most of the same concerning the younger generation; that is the lack of ‘ready made’ graduates from our educational system in general.

They claim that most of the new intakes are awkward and not necessarily skilled to perform even the entry level in their organization. It is arguable whether this is a hyperbole or not, considering most of these so called ‘big names’ were once awkward new graduates struggling to impress their bosses too back in the day.

Perhaps it’s a valid criticism. With them able to step into the highest ladder of their own respective company means that they have proved themselves, therefore they have earned the right to pass judgments.

In reality though, state owned schools and universities in Indonesia very rarely teach practical and technical skills to their students. They are usually aiming their curriculum to produce individual capable of future learning and develop their own internal ability to perform non specific tasks, broad in general yet merely scratching the surface.

We can’t really fault the institution. In the understanding that ‘society’ is a massive and complex system with complicated interconnections between many subjects, consequently it’s not academic to direct the teachings to exceedingly specific channels. Unfortunately not many of their students realize this dilemma.

An easy example in the computer science education is regarding the many programming languages within the industry. Universities usually have classes that teach the basics and logical foundation of the entire programming languages popular in that period. They can’t be specific teaching in depth PHP and MySQL to all of their students. Who would know for sure that PHP will still be used in three or four years ahead?

The other factor would be that their professors are not well resourced to master all those different programming languages and following the ever-changing trends in the business. They probably feel they were not paid enough to do all that. Hence they simply teach the basics, the ones that will not change much overtime.

Back in the seminar, case in point they were using was of ITB and Binus. In recent years the growing trend absorption level of employment proved that Binus’ graduates were relatively more ‘ready’ than their competitors from ITB on computer science and informatics. For information in Binus they were taught that specific proficiency right from the bat.

The same thing happened in Architecture. ITB graduates, compared to Parahyangan University, in entry-level job would have more difficulties adapting to mundane drafting tasks. This is due to different approach in their curriculum. In my days of studying, we focused a lot on design methodology, history of architecture, rule of reporting, and evolution of style, instead of ‘how to actually draw’ using pen or CAD.

In fairness the professors may argue that they’re not preparing us to become mere coders or drafters, nevertheless in actual fact the industry requires graduates to pass three or even five years struggling with coding and drafting works before they can apply the bulk of knowledge they learned in the university. In the long run it may prove otherwise, yet that is still depending on plenty of other factors. It is a conundrum really.

Here we are talking about one of the better state university in Indonesia. I cannot speak too much about other leading institutions such as UI, UGM, and ITS. I figure they are just about the same.

Students who are motivated and ambitious enough would learn that specific extra curricular skill set themselves in their own time. Even though this may hamper their effort to attain good marks but in the long term it will help them greatly in the working arena.

So it’s no strange that one new graduate with perfect marks in his/her diploma would struggle to perform real entry level jobs in a company. They study all the time and forget to mingle with their friends in student’s organizations. In working place, teamwork and social soft skills would definitely help them a lot to find their feet.

There’s an unhealthy difference of paradigm between the educational society and business world in relation to the term ‘ready made’ and ‘qualified’. This shows a wide gap between those two planes, how detached they are one to another. Some institutions have acknowledged this and bridging the two worlds early by involving relevant business professionals in their organizations.

Conceivably that is also one of the reason more than one million of university graduates in Indonesia currently unemployed. This staggering statistic was the headline in national newspapers last week. They are probably smart full of knowledge yet very few able to translate it to practical level.

I think it’s high time the Education Department to worry more about this phenomenon instead of spending too much time choosing sound card brand of their department’s high end lap top that they’re going to ‘pinch’ by the end of this year’s budget.

My last trip back to Bandung showed that my alma mater have changed some of their education model. There's some buzz about the place and the word ‘techno-preneur’ is bandied around a lot, whatever that means.

Many Kinds of People

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For the past six months, we’ve been tremendously helped by our maid. Bu Sri is her name. She is around forty years old and obviously quite an educated widow. She dressed up well, wears glasses, and her mannerism is different from conventional domestic helper that we know of.

In fact, one of our neighbors thought that she’s the owner of our house and we actually rent the room from her. We told them she's an aunt. It feels like she is.

In a nutshell, we like her, so much that we’ve raised her salary twice in this short period.

Alas, just like every good story, there’s a complication. Apparently, Bu Sri, has an ogre of a brother. He is forty something brute of a man, a corporal in the army, and built like a bulldozer. Since the first time we meet him a while ago, we’re not that impressed with his behaviors. Always with sleazy innuendos, kinky stories, and often comes up unannounced when we were not at home.

It gets more intriguing for the fact that Bu Sri has quite a sum of savings from the pension of her late husband. She has earmarked that savings to build a house for her daughter, who’s married, and currently living with her in laws.

It seems that the big brother, being a twat person that he is, wants a piece of that stash. He asked her to buy him a Scorpio motorcycle and when she rejected that absurd request, he pushed Bu Sri to the floor so hard; she got bruises all over her arm and knee. He then stormed into her room and stole her hand phone (the one that we gave her) and important letters including savings book and pension papers.

We knew all this when we saw the giant tosser fled out of our house and we found her crying in her room. She told us all of the stories and we were just so incensed. According to Bu Sri, the man has been a bully all his life. She was beaten to pulp at least twice already, yet there’s nothing she could do about it. My wife consoled her that night. She’s asking permission the next day to leave for her hometown Magelang, taking care of the stolen documents.

Several days later, the lovely brother came to our house. I didn’t let him in, so he asked to speak from outside of the fence. The huge bastard told me that Bu Sri is no angel herself. He said that she’s been stealing from us a couple of times, some money, little stuffs like belt and bags and gave it to him. He came over to our house to return the stuffs, not the money mind you.

This however confirmed our mild suspicion. Some weeks ago, I found out that my wallet has been changing places and I was short fifty thousand rupiahs. Ira also lost an envelope with some money in it. Since those were isolated incidents and concerning small amount of money, we didn’t think much of it. On the other hand, we do think that because the thick plonker was asking for money all the time, she had to do what she did.

Back to the dastardly brother in front of the porch, the sodding man gave me an ‘ultimatum’, we have to fire Bu Sri, otherwise he’ll come back with his police friends and we’ll be in the world of trouble.

In the name of jumping elephant, what an unbelievable nerve! I was having none of that and asked him to leave immediately. He scurried away with his bike, and gave me a nasty look that would scare little children before he vanished around the corner. Clearly, by his minuscule dimwitted logic, if he has to suffer not to get a bike, his sister should also suffer.

When we confronted this with Bu Sri, she cried and plead to us not to let her go, she has no other place to stay. She said that she hopes to stay with us even if we don’t pay her. Of course, we won’t be doing that.

A few moments later, the charming brother called my wife and said that he’s not afraid to die, he’s an army trained for confrontation, and he is ready to be fired because he’s been working as a bodyguard to a famous artist. We were just laughing to hear all that. This is shaping to be reminiscent of a soap we get to watch on the telly.

I guess that is what you get when you gave a shallow immoral person a gun, train him to kill without giving proper education and value to live in a civilized society. The man is a remnant of a barbaric time and we were surprised that those creatures exist in our midst.

Not on an entirely different theme, we went to Bandung last week. I’ll write some journal about the trip later. I’d like to talk about something else for now.

We stayed in a hotel near our old campus and enjoyed a memory lane roaming around Dago area. Just like any other visitors from Jakarta, we were shopping like there’s no tomorrow in the plethora of factory outlets scrambled around Bandung. The prices are just so good, we ended up with dozens of paper bags by the time we’re finished.

We checked out of our hotels. Given that there’s still some time before the travel bus arrived, we decided to have a meal at Suis Butcher, one of our favorite places when we’re in college. With hands full of goodies, I accidentally left my hand phone in the hotel lobby desk.

After a good one hour then I realize that something was missing. I was totally stunned with the thought of losing that phone. Ira immediately called my number and some woman answered. She’s the receptionist from the hotel. The lady ensured us that the phone was safe in their hands after one of the bellboy found it. We were so relieved and slightly surprised at the same time.

I rushed to the hotel with a taxi. I received my cellular with glee and thanked the person who found it several times. I gave the man some money as a reward, yet he refused to take it. I did force it in his hand though eventually. Rahmat is his name and I’ll never forget him. In this day and age, there are some honest people left around us still. If the bellhop were bent, he’d have a cool three to four million cash in his hand straight away.

I shared this story with some friends in the office, and all of them shared almost similar experiences. One left her phone in Breadtalk’s table and was returned intact. A friend left an ATM card inside an ATM machine, yet losing no money and got his card back. This truly made me feel good. It brought back my faith that there’s hope in this place. Not all of us are twisted. Not all of us are corrupt.

These contrasting stories however were a lesson for me. Not to be too trustful yet not to be too bitter and cynics towards others. I remember the movie Crash, which we like so much. There is wide spectrum of antics people could do to one and another depicted brilliantly in the movie. Even the most crooked can have an angelic moment in their life, and the noblest person can have a bit of evil in their heart. After all, we’re only people.