Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Memory of Marhaen

The Memory of Marhaen

My fascination with Sukarno, sometimes borders on the extreme. Sukarno's autobiography, as told to American journalist, Cindy Adams and published in English in 1965 provides the best account of his life. It was later translated into Indonesian, as Bung Karno, Penyambung Lidah Rakyat. (Bung Karno, Mouthpiece of the People).

In the book, Sukarno narrated the famous incident when he first met the poor farmer Marhaen while cycling around South Bandung one day. Sukarno then was still a student at the Dutch Technical High School (forerunner of the now famous Institut Teknologi Bandung, ITB).

A conversation ensued between Sukarno and Marhaen who was then toiling on his small plot of land. Sukarno found out that Marhaen and his family survived on what he could grow on that tiny piece of land that he himself owned. Everything that Marhaen used was his own. He made his own living using his own tools, labour and land.

That encounter with Marhaen made Sukarno realise that the typical common Indonesian is unlike Marx's proletarian whose labour were exploited by capitalists who own the means of production. Marhaen owned everything himself but yet he was still poor.

Sukarno then formulated his own brand of political ideology based on this piece of inspiration and called it "Marhaenism". Over the decades scholars have argued over the academic significance of Sukarno's Marhaenism to the existing body of political ideology. But Sukarno himself emphasized more on symbolic value of Marhaen as representative of the average common Indonesian, struggling to eke out a living under Dutch colonialism.

Most Indonesians today are somewhat familiar with Marhaen and its connection to Sukarno. Not many however know that Marhaen lived and died in obscurity in 1943 and his grave is located at Kampung Cipagalo south of Bandung.

Based on an old Kompas newspaper report, I managed to trace the grave. There I talked to one of Marhaen's grandaughters, Ibu Ayit and his great-grandson Pak Maman. Their ramshackle home and Marhaen's grave are located on the edge of the new middleclass housing complex of Nusa Tunggal Indah. The developer of the estate was kind enough to construct a proper shed to preserve the historic remains of Marhaen and his wife. An inscription stone at the head of the grave carries the following words:
(Loosely translated: Here is the final resting place of Marhaen who died in 1943. Marhaen is the inspiration for Sukarno, the golden bridge that led to the gates of the nation's independence. Bung Karno, Mouthpiece of the People).

Pak Maman laments that the government has yet to do anything to help preserve this historic monument even though the authenticity of this grave was verified in the 1980s. I asked Pak Maman, what he does for a living; he replied that he was jobless.

I suppose nothing much has changed in the lives of these poor rural folks since the days of Sukarno. It looks like the fourth generation of Marhaen still lives in poverty.

On my way back to the city center, the traffic was bad. I took the time to observe the vagrants, beggars and street vendors who thronged the sidewalks along the way. And everywhere I looked, I saw Marhaens.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Indomitable Inggit

The Indomitable Inggit

Not many people know that the term "ringgit" was popularly used to refer to the two-and-a-half rupiah (formerly two-and-half gulden) coin here in Indonesia some time ago. I wrote about it in a previous blog entry.

Because of inflation in the 60s and 70s, small denominations in single digits did not have practical value anymore, and the term ringgit together with the two-and-half-rupiah coin went out of fashion. It is a good thing that it is no longer used or it'll be confused with the Malaysian ringgit--like how the "dollar" is sometimes (Singapore dollars, US dollars or Australian dollars?).

Most people in Indonesia know about Ibu Inggit as the wife of Sukarno before he married Fatmawati (mother of the present President Megawati). But not many know that Ibu Inggit, was nicknamed "Si Ringgit" as a child. She was given the nickname because she was very fond of going to the market as a kid and was often given a ringgit coin to buy things. The name stuck, and evolved from "Si Ringgit" to "Inggit". Sukarno, used to call her affectionately by the name "Engget".

The love story between Sukarno and Inggit is narrated by R.H. Ramadhan--in the voice of Inggit--in the book "Kuantar Ke Gerbang", and is generally considered to be Ibu Inggit's autobiography. When Sukarno first met Ibu Inggit in Bandung, she was 15 years older than him and was already married to Haji Sanusi, good friend of Sukarno's political mentor, Cokroaminoto. Sukarno himself, at 20 years of age, was already married to Cokroaminoto's daughter, Siti Oetari, out of a sense of obbligation.

But both these marriages were unhappy ones. The two couples were to divorce, paving the way for Sukarno and Inggit to be married in 1923. Inggit was instrumental in providing the emotional support for Sukarno during the early years of his struggle against the Dutch, even surviving on her own by making and selling jamu during his years of imprisonment in Banceuy and Sukamiskin. When he was exiled to Ende, Flores and later Bengkulu in Sumatera, Inggit followed him.

Sukarno divorced Inggit after he returned from his exile from Bengkulu because she couldn't bear him a child and he wanted to take the young Fatmawati as his second wife.

Sukarno was actually reluctant to divorce Inggit but she was adamant not to share husband with another woman. After their divorce, she returned to her life in Bandung where she continued producing her famous homemade jamu.

Sukarno was later to marry a couple more times; and his political life as President of Indonesia turned out to be a turbulent one. He died in 1970, a lonely man, stripped of all powers by Suharto's New Order regime.

Ibu Inggit managed to outlive Sukarno: she died in 1984. The house where she lived in Bandung still stands at No 8, Jalan Ciateul, now renamed Jalan Inggit Garnasih, in her honour--a fitting and much belated tribute to a strong and highly admirable woman.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Moving Thoughts

Moving Thoughts

Before I started blogging regularly, I used to jot my thoughts down manually on paper notebooks. These notes were taken everywhere--on the train, plane or sometimes sitting in a cafe at some strange city.

Flipping through my notebooks today, I noticed something that I wrote while I was travelling on board the night train to Singapore:
Why should we ever be stationary? Why can't we be moving and working at the same time, all the time? Killing two birds with one stone in the process? Many animals are migratory; our ancestors and many tribes today are nomads. This nomadic instinct is something primal, something hardwired in our genes...
I've also written in an previous blog entry that it is probably normal for us to be nomadic. The human mind yearns for fresh sights all the time. We probably have suppressed this instinct by using TV as a poor substitute.

Why can't we be travelling everytime we go to bed and wake up fresh at a different location in the morning, meeting new people? At the time when I was writing those words, I was having this wild idea that, maybe, I could just sleep on the KL-Singapore-KL train every night, and alternate between the KL and Singapore office everyday! It'll probably cost less than renting an apartment in Singapore. Well, it's just one of my many wild thoughts. Probably worth a thought, no?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Beauty of Chaos

The Beauty of Chaos

When I was working in Singapore, I telecommuted most of the time. I had a good home ADSL connection--which in fact was faster than the Internet connection that I got in the office. I was renting a small HDB room; most of the days which I wasn't travelling were spent happily working and surfing in my tiny room.

I was quite happy in Singapore because it is convenient location to operate from, if you are a regional traveller and a hassle-free place to live in. Singapore is the epitome of law, order and efficiency. I had no complains when I was living there. Only problem was I couldn't identify with the people. For some reason I could never see myself as a PR or citizen of Singapore.

Good thing about living in Singapore is, if one misses the "real" life--the chaos and and the tang of humanity--one could easily hop across the causeway to Johor Bahru (JB) in Malaysia. There are many cheap buses that depart every half-hour from Queen Street. Occasionally I would take the bus to JB to catch the Senandung Malam train from there because it costs almost half the price of a Singapore-KL trip starting from Tanjung Pagar. But actually for me, it was more for the opportunity to loiter around JB town for a while before I hop on my train to KL.

Here in Jakarta, chaos is everywhere. But it is beautiful chaos. Sometimes walking along Jalan Sabang at night, I feel like I'm in the middle of a Ridley Scott set; I would stand there and marvel at the smoky, neonlit river of people, bajajs, buses and cars like it is some fanciful Matrix-like illusion.

Many years back when I was still working in Singapore, a colleague asked me if I would be willing to live in Jakarta; I answered yes without hesitation. My colleague, a Singaporeanized Malaysian, could not understand why. Why would a yuppie choose to live in a city filled with slums and beggars?

But I love Jakarta precisely because it is not a city of yuppies. And surprisingly the chaos here does not irritate me so much--not even the traffic jams. You only get irritated when you are in a hurry. Here, things happen, or come to fruition in their own time. Yuppies will never understand that, for these upwardly mobile creatures with their cellphones and PDAs are forever in a hurry.

Living in Jakarta among Indonesians taught me a lot about patience, courtesy and humility. These are virtues that one could never learn in a yuppie city like Singapore or even KL. And I am eternally grateful to Jakarta for that.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

Many of my married friends here in Jakarta indulge in extra-marital affairs. As a bachelor, I am privy to the secret lives of my married male friends. They often share interesting tales of their trysts with me. But of course, I will not be exposing any of their infidelities here! There's always a secret brotherhood among men and I assume women have the same kind of understanding among themselves too.

One major problem for adulterous men is finding a place to meet their lovers without being spotted by people they know. Everyone has their favourite cheap hotels in town where they would normally conduct their secret rendezvous: Hotel Menteng, Ibis Slipi and Travel Hotel are some of the popular places. Some of them even asked me if they could use my hotel room when I'm not in town! But thank God I have successfully dodged such requests so far.

The cheap hotels that I've mentioned are also quite well-known. These men run the risk of bumping into other adulterous acquaintances there. When that happens, they have to rely on the that secret pact between men, typically reinforced in such awkward situations with a sly and knowing smile. Of course they are other cheaper love motels in town that even offer hourly rates; but still the risk of being seen is always there.

Where then is the best hiding place for lovers in Jakarta? Bogor? Puncak? Or maybe even Bandung? But out-of-town places are so awfully inconvenient for an afternoon quickie. The best place is one that is cheap, convenient and safe from prying eyes.

Being the devil I am, I once suggested to my friend that the most "obvious" place is the best hiding place. (read Edgar Allan Poe's classic C. Auguste Dupin short-story, The Purloined Letter). I told him that the best place in town is Hotel Indonesia, located right in the center of Jakarta, in front of the famous Welcome Statue fountain--the busiest roundabout in the city. Hotel Indonesia is affectionately known to the locals as "HI", pronounced "hah-ee".

Why is it the best hiding place? This hotel used to be the pride of Sukarno: Opened in the 60s, it was the first air-conditioned international-class hotel built in Jakarta--the setting of many pivotal scenes in Christopher Koch's Year of Living Dangerously, likened by the author to a luxury liner floating in a sea of poverty. But now it is considered run-down, out-dated and very unstylish--and old man's place. The rich and the hip frequents more opulent places like Grand Hyatt, Marriott, Hotel Dharmawangsa or the Regent. Only lowly provincial civil servants and delegates of political party conferences are forced to stay at HI--because it is cheap and government-owned. No one goes to Hotel Indonesia anymore--except for Sukarno freaks like me. (In fact, I once almost decided to stay there long-term, but that is another story).

Surprisingly my friend thought it a very good idea and said he would try using HI for his next tryst. I will try to catch up with him next time to see if my theory proves correct!

Monday, December 08, 2003

My Addiction

My Addiction

Went to the QBWorld bookstore at Jalan Sunda yesterday and saw two books that I wanted to buy: Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Indonesia: Peoples and Histories by Jean Galman Taylor. Surprisingly I managed to resist the urge to do so.

Given my incurable addiction to books, it is a rarity for me to come out from a bookstore empty-handed. It forced me to adopted a rather brutal way of controlling my irresistible urge to buy books--by not stepping into a bookstore at all. But yesterday, I wanted to test my willpower by purposely walking into a bookstore, and I succeeded magnificent, in resisting its many allures.

Maybe I am being morbidly harsh on myself. Everyone indulges in something; we need to reward ourselves sometimes by buying the things that we like. And I suppose being addicted to books is not as bad as having a craving for cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or even food. At most it burns a big hole in my wallet. So what. I hardly spend money on anything else.

I suppose I am just wary of succumbing to immediate pleasures. Impulse buying is a fun thing--we see what we like and the next thing we know, we already own it. Instant gratification.

We all know what gives us immediate pleasure--we want to stop working on that difficult proposal and go surf the Net, chat with our friends, send an SMS, enjoy a cup of coffee or switch on the TV. That is the root of procrastination. We procrastinate because we do not want to take the pain now and enjoy the long-term pleasure. Instead, we choose instant pleasure and long-term pain.

Even though there is no great harm in buying books on the impulse, the act of succumbing to the immediate temptation is to me a damaging one in the long term. Everytime we satiate our desire, we give strength to it and we set ourselves up for a tougher battle the next time round. That's how addictions are formed.

I am already a book addict. This one addiction has already consumed my entire life. I don't need more.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Something Out of Nothing

Something Out of Nothing

Woke up late the past two days. I have to make sure that I make up extra early tomorrow morning for my Monday appointment.

It is good to be an early riser but it is something that I have not been able to do successfully all these years. I still have a habit of sleeping after midnight; and unfortunately I cannot do without 8 hours of sleep. I envy people who manage with four or five hours of sleep. While working on a project earlier this year in KL, I made do with only three four hours of sleep for a whole week. But I felt like a zombie throughout the entire time.

I suppose I have to stick to the formula of 8 hours sleep, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours work and try to make my 8 hours of work really count by increasing my efficiency and productivity. Maybe sometimes I impose too harsh a discipline on myself. Why can't I just relax, let go and enjoy life?

But I suppose everyone enjoys life in their own different ways. I used to enjoy clubbing with my friends a lot. Now I consider it a rather tiring affair. Our perception of things changes as we grow older. Now just using time fruitfully gives me great pleasure. It has become an end in itself. But what are the types of activities that I consider fruitful?

To be able to create something out of nothing, to make things happen, to influence lives; to be able to evolve intellectually and spiritually and to practise your God-given gifts---these are all fruitful activities. When we are born we have so much potential energy. But like coiled springs the energy is finite--it can either be wasted as heat or it can be converted into useful work.

Even seemingly mundane activities can be fruitful ones sometimes: A meeting with a friend, a report you have to write, a walk in the park. At the end of every activity, I always ask myself: What have I learnt from this activity?

I always learn something from every blog entry that I write. Every word that I type, every sentence and thought that emerges from my head is something created out of nothing. Some amount of my energy has been released into cyberspace. It now speaks in your mind (Hello!). And once released, they cannot be retracted. My world, your world has forever changed.