Friday, May 31, 2013

7 Years Living with The Scars and Stitches : 27 May 2006 - 27 May 2013

Here comes the final day of May 2013. Before June arrives, I'll share another story why I'll always tell you (and myself, more importantly) that May shall be the month to remind myself to be grateful for life, in its most fundamental way.

27 of May, seven years ago,I experienced my closest-to-death moment by far, the Jogja earthquake. It was 5.55 in the morning, and occurred on the Richter scale of 5,9 or maybe 6,2. It was pretty huge, unanticipated natural disaster and has cost 5,782 lives.

I wrote a pretty extensive email about the detail of my experience that day to my exchange friends from all over the world (I participated in an exchange program in Japan from 2004 to 2005), and thankfully, I also copied it here, so that you can read it today.

That day was probably the bloodiest day I've ever experienced. Probably the only day that I ever felt the feeling of "almost fainted". (In my life, I have never fainted, so it was pretty new and strange experience) I remember I did not cry for the injuries I suffered . I cried when I've heard that it was not a volcanic quake, which confirmed that my parents and my brothers who lived around 20 kilometers from the volcano were safe and sound. The earthquake has left me some souvenirs, some scars and stitches. Oh, and the stitches were made in some tents outside a hospital without anesthetic help. Ouch.

Seven years living with those "souvenirs", I've realized that the Almighty has been so generous to me. If you were there that day, witnessing how terrifying the quake was, how devastated the house was, and that there were several died neighbors, you would see I could have easily been one of those 5,782 casualties.

But no. I survived to reach that hospital, met my tearful mum there, was carried by one of my bros on his back to the parking lot, and arrived safely in my own room. It is true that I remained helpless (and super cranky!!!) for almost a month, became very dependent on others for I could not walk, but apart from this, I recovered just in time to catch up with my undergrad thesis writing! It was just two days ago that I came to realize how much ease He has given me, when a friend of mine who graduated in the same day as mine told me that she has done her thesis prior to the earthquake. I had not even finish my social service when the earthquake occurred, and probably was in the middle of nowhere on thesis writing. Yet, I was eventually able to graduate at the same day as hers.

I could recall that despite my imperfectly-healed foot I would ride my War Machine (yes, that's how I named my old AB3400CY!:p) to meet my supervisor in the university, discussed about the revision, and finally presented it to my supervisor and the examiners, exactly on my birthday that year. It was not the most brilliant thesis (I wish I had paid attention more on the methodology!), nor most impressive presentation, but they kindly granted me an A (I suspiciously think that this particular A stands for "A-tasbelaskasihan" a.k.a pity-based :p) , and I proceeded to the graduation in August! The following months that year granted me no complaints. I got an interesting job before even graduated. I was not even applying for job vacations, literally. There were ups and downs, pitfalls, confusions, and broken hearts (#uhuk) during the following years after, but overall, 2007 to 2013 have been equally interesting and full of countless blessings. :)

Seven years living with those little scars and stitches, I really think I should have nothing but gratitude. I'm grateful for the Lord has decided to given me my life despite what happened that day, and I'm grateful that the people around me have been the kindest and the most supportive with their utmost patience during those difficult days of recovery. You could imagine how someone, who dubbed him/herself to be mr/miss independent, could be very frustrated and cranky as he/she could not even walk to the bathroom by him/herself. Those scars and stitches have taught me that the experience and the feeling of helplessness (especially at the very moment when others need your help) only strengthen my conviction that I need to be more thankful for my current state. For the life that I often take for granted.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

15 Years After The Reform...Piye Kabare?

I've told you once, May is the month that will always remind me to be grateful. Now I'm telling you why.

May 1998, was a month that changed the whole face of the country, Indonesia. Every Indonesian may have different memory on what they can recall those days around the day when Presiden Suharto finally stepped down, but the world and the history books noted that it was a fundamental milestone that changed the fate of the nation. The 1998 Reform, the decision to take democracy as the new national consensus replacing authoritarianism (whatever the Orde Baru defenders call it), I believe should be one reason for me to be grateful today.

However, some other Indonesians disagree. These people think that Suharto's New Order is better compared to the current era. They started to put on this banner/posters/murals, with Suharto's fatherly smiling face, waving his hand as we all can remember, captioned with these sentences: "Piye kabare? Enak jamanku, tho?" . Two sentences, literally translated as: "How are you? My era is still better, isn't it?" Few days ago, a former finance minister from Suharto era convincingly argued on TV talk show that the majority of Indonesians today would opt for Suharto's era rather than today's so-called democratic era. His arguments were mostly anecdotal, such as premanisme, worse quality of public service, gini ratio, the quality of infrastructure and more news on corrupt and lavish bureaucrats and politicians.

I choose not to stay silent on his argument.

I have mentioned here that democracy has been the safeguard of many positive changes in Indonesia. And until today, I haven't changed my mind.

Although it is still far from ideal, nobody will disagree if I say that we have so much more freedom nowadays that in Suharto's era. And wouldn't you agree that freedom is one of quintessential sources of happiness for every human being? Even in Islam, freedom is cited to be one of 3 most fundamental blessings given by God Almighty (see it here).

Freedom has improved in various fields of life: freedom of speech, freedom to choose in elections, freedom to celebrate our identities, freedom to critise the government, and so on and so forth. Indeed, problems still emerge here and there, particularly related to the freedom for the minorities to express their identities. But really, we should remind ourselves that few years ago, saying something like "duduk, diam, dengar, duit" (a criticism to the legislature who simply became the rubber stamp for government's policy) in the House of Representatives would instantly cost you your life. Your very life.

Is it true that the quality of public service today is generally worse than in Suharto's era as argued by that former finance minister? I wonder how many examples of public service samples that he analyze to come to this conclusion. It seems that either he's been lock inside a closed ward for several past years or he simply picked the failure E KTP project as the only supporting argument. Clearly, there seems so many problems, and there are indeed sooo many problems regarding the quality of public service in this country, but it is largely due to the freedom of speech where the people now can voice their complaints, critiques, and frustration to the public service. As for the quality of public service itself, I'm pretty confident to say, we have improved, as you can see innovations are emerging along with the decentralizing governments and in response to the more "demanding" customers, a.k.a the people.

Speaking about the public service, I often consider myself as a real evidence of the difference between the two eras. I did not pay any cent to get into the public service, nor I knew anyone in the ministry. I doubt that this could happen if there was no 1998 reform movement. I believe that the public service recruitment system is something that will continuously improve.

As for the former finance minister's argument on infrastructure, gini ratio and the very loud noises on rogue bureaucrats and politicians, we have to admit that to certain extent they are real problems. Less authoritarian government often take longer to take decision that may result in slower physical infrastructure progress. But hey, consultation with more stakeholders are often necessary for a better decision, no? As for the gini ratio, I'm not an expert on this. Maybe it is true that the economic disparity in our society is widening...but please keep in mind, that the authoritarian regime of the new order were very good in manipulating numbers and data for no one were able to hold them accountable for what they said.

The critics of democracy also often argue that democracy hampers the economic development. Well, I have(i think) a good counter-argument for this that I've coined on a BBC debate that you can see here (part 3). An essential consequence of democratic system is the bigger guarantee for peaceful-non violent political succession through elections. Do you remember that we had two bloody political transitions caused by the authoritarian regimes in 1965 and 1998? Please kindly compare with the 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections. Maybe the elected president sucks and the legislators are dumb by your standard, but the number of violent incidents were so much lower compared to 1965 and 1998. I believe the stability resulted from such process is more likely to guarantee the economic development.

On the the news on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats...the former finance minister actually brought a very interesting point, that there are increasing exposure on these corruptions. Which is to some extent good. Why? Because in the past the situation was probably equally ugly, or even worse, but just because there was no freedom of press or freedom of information in general that the public did not know what happen.

This is also what Pandji underlines in his book, Berani Mengubah. We often think that the current post reform situation is so much worse than the New Order era just because we hear and see so many bad things on the news, but often forget that the New Order government were so (much more :p) manipulative, AND there was no freedom of press
in Orde Baru.

I still remember what my Conflict Resolution lecturer said few years ago. The people in Aceh and North Sumatra know exactly the different between the Suharto's era and the current era. He said that in Suharto era, it was impossible to drive at night from Aceh to North Sumatra. You would surely be killed. While in post Suharto era, particularly after Helsinki process, people could travel safely from North Sumatra to Aceh, even at night. Did you, especially the Indonesian people living in the island of Java, know about this? I did not know either. And I believe that we should not leave the judgement on which era or system is better to those who live around the center of power.

Finally, I would like to note what one of my favourite foreign ministers said. Hassan Wirajuda once said that we often underestimate what we have achieved from the reform movement in 1998. The changes that I've mentioned above are the sources of recognition in the so-called "pergaulan internasional", of course minister Wirajuda knows best about this. I've read his speeches in the UN General Assembly, that reflected how much the international perception have changed on our country. From a country that once was considered as authoritarian, human rights violating country, to so-called "the next Balkan", potentially-failed state, into finally the third largest democracy, an emerging economy. Many countries are queuing "to learn" from the Indonesian experience. An Indonesian diplomat told me that now they have so much lighter burden in doing their tasks, as they no longer need to lie (as much as in the past :p) about the human rights violations and many other things about their country. (If you're interested in this issue, please read this book :D).

I want to conclude this post by reinforcing my argument. Anyone who thinks that the New Order era is better and more preferable than the current era should really think twice. Do you really have the idea of living under the government who will not hesitate to kidnap, torture or kill you when you disagree with them? Our frustrations with our "homeworks" should not be enough reasons to return to the darkness that we could only imagine as a better place. Oh, and thank God, another person invited to the talk along with that pro-Suharto former finance minister said that actually a survey said that the bigger percentage of Indonesian people still prefer for the current era. Hah!

Echoing what former minister Wirajuda said, we need to be grateful for what we have achieved this far. On the other hand, being grateful does not mean that we have to stop thinking critically. We are on the right track, but we have to struggle to stay on the right track and to be better.

So, happy 15 Tahun Reformasi, my fellow Indonesians. This poster below sums up the whole point of this super-long (but i hope not boring :p) writing. This is a brilliant response to the original Suharto poster mentioned above. For you who doesn't speak Bahasa Indonesia, it says: "How are you? My era is still better, isn't it? Everything was cheap...including YOUR LIFE!"

Just brilliant.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

17 Years of Inspiration: A Farewell

“You started in United when I was 3. Your team caught my heart when I was 13. And now you say "it is the right time", when I'll be 30. I've just realised that I've been taking you for granted along the way, thinking that you'll always be there, yelling at your players, chewing gum, checking at your watch, regardless the changing from Cantona, to Keane, and to Vidic. On May 8 this year, I've finally realised that it has been a great 17 years of inspiration. I know I will miss you so much. :( Thank you, Sir Alex, it has been an utmost gratitude to know you, and to be in the same Old Trafford with you and your team at one point in my life. You will definitely be the most important part of the Manchester United that I will remember. :')”

That paragraph above summarised my feeling ten days ago, 8 May 2013. I submitted the message to the Manchester United’s facebook page under the #thankyousiralex section, hoping that the old man himself read it, and smiles, thinking that there is someone whose name he can’t even (correctly) pronounce, from a land far-far away, who cares about him. Oh, and maybe he will also read and recall that the message comes from the country he and his team once failed to visit, due to the bombing.

In addition to that message, I want to write a more elaborate note for myself. Partly, this was inspired by Pangeran Siahaan’s rather emotional note that you can see here.

I still can recall vividly the first time I knew his name, as the part of Eric Cantona’s team. It was practically my very first encounter with football, at the end of 1995/1996 season. It was against Newcastle United, and it was not even a real match, a highlight instead. I remember the program was called “English Premier Highlights”. I did not pay so much attention on the stern-looking, gum-chewing Alex Ferguson until the FA Cup final that season. It was the red devils vs the reds. Cantona vs Fowler. Eric Cantona, the initial reason for my loyalty to the club, has scored a goal. Near to the end of the second half, the man in his black suits caught my attention, cheerfully checking at his watch, happily looking at his boys, still chewing his gum. They’ve got the double that year.

Since then, just like what Pangeran Siahaan experienced, I started to faithfully cheer for the team. I compiled and collected newspaper articles about the team, stapled them on papers, wrote extensively in my diary about the matches, in loving details. It may sound slightly crazy, but I felt the overwhelming excitement (rather felt like “butterflies in your stomach”) every time United played. To make it sounds crazier, I started to connect the feeling I’ve got from watching United to my life and its ups and downs. As for my version of “my life” at that period, it would be literally translated as “my academic life.” For some of you it may sound boring and nerdy, but yes, indeed, the team’s consistently best-est performance in the decade may have a statistically significant influence on what I’ve done during my high schools years. :D

Later, after Cantona’s sudden resignation, and with the increasing life burden as a grown-up (:p), I did not spend as much as time watching United as before. However, years later, I was lucky enough (even luckier than Pange!) to visit that very theater of dreams, M16 0RA. That day, Old Trafford was also attended by Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Ryan Giggs, and Sir Alex Ferguson himself. It was the United that I will remember. I really could not ask for more. It was, indeed, one of the most important days in my life so far. :)
(Later I admitted publicly in a video for the UK FCO, that to be honest, being a United fan was one reason why I applied to study in the United Kingdom. :p )

That day, I actually confirmed that even a dissertation deadline, a lengthy 5-hours London-Manchester journey, and the absence of companions, could not hold me back from witnessing the team for which I’ve developed this particular feeling. Additionally, it was Ramadan and iftar (fast break time) was at 9 o’clock GMT. I even forgot about my anger and disappointment several weeks earlier, when the English media fiercely attacked Ryan Giggs, told the world what kind of man actually he was, with Fergie still stood beside him, furious at the journalists who had the courage to pop up the sensitive question prior to the Champions League final. (That time, I did pray for United to lose, for I was really disappointed by Giggs, and was pretty sick of the arrogance of the United’s alay fans).

Sometimes I still could not believe that I did what I did that day. But after all, love in football is something really hard to explain. It’s often illogical, most of the time irrational.

As I have said in my #thankyousiralex message, most of the time, I have taken for granted for Sir Alex’s existence in the team. I have always been optimistic with the team, regardless news about star players leaving the team behind, because I unconsciously believed that Sir Alex would stay and would always be there. As a democracy believer (and sometimes proselytizer :p), I even believe that Sir Alex should be the only dictator who deserves to dictates (while in any other place, democracy shall prevail :D).

As 8 of May arrived, I’ve come to a conclusion that for this past 17 years, I often overlooked the role of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Maybe it was Manchester United’s consistency in doing the most impressive things that inspire many of its fans, but it is the ethics, the discipline, the commitment for hard work of its architect (for the past 27 years) that plays enormous role behind the consistency.

Dear Sir Alex Ferguson, I thank you.

*I’d like to note that there are interesting numbers in my message: 3, 13, and 30. Another note: the bombing incident in JW Marriott Hotel Jakarta that has made United cancel its Jakarta’s leg happened on my birthday, 17 July 2009.