Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Power of Love

The Power of Love

When men fall in love, they don't always behave logically. A man will do stupid things for the woman he loves. A man in love is one who is blessed and cursed at the same time. The love of a woman is a powerful force--it can spur a man to the most glorious of victories or condemn him to the most miserable of sorrows.

If only women knows how to wield this weapon called love wisely, they will certain control the world, if they have not already. But fortunately for men, the cunning of women is rooted in emotion; the more devious ones are capable of manipulating men instinctively but very few understand the machinations behind this powerful force, and thus fail to wield the weapon in a strategic manner. And thus, men are spared the dominion of women.

Men, in their more sober moments, posess the cunning of foxes. But they are often blinded by their ego, their pride in power and posession and the instinctive lust for the female flesh. It is all well and fine if they are aware exactly as to why they are going after women with so much zeal and madness but when a man is in love, he is such a confused mixed of all these different impulses--he is at his most pathetic and vulnerable.

Thus both men and women, lunge headlong into each other, with the desperation and helplessness of lost children. Love becomes a wild roller-coaster ride of emotional peaks and troughs; and more often than not ends despair, for love promises so much, yet inevitably hurts, simply because we fail to comprehend its power.

But still we struggle on, for we tell ourselves that the promises of love is worth all its pain, and we go after it as if there's an itch in our souls that only love itself can soothe, and a thirst that only it can quench.

Love at is purest, is like sunlight. But we do not posess the wisdom to harness this light. Instead, we lunge at it like doomed nocturnal moths, with an emotional savagery, with a steely death wish in our eyes.

We've never understood this force called love. Perhaps we never will. And so we, men and women, resign ourselves to live or to die by its all-consuming fire.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Romance of Jakarta

The Romance of Jakarta

It's the rainy season here in Jakarta and the threat of flood is always present. I know of friends who go to work with an over-night change of clothes in the event that they get trapped in the city by the flood and the resulting traffic jam.

I've resumed my life in Jakarta (at least for this short duration) as if I've never left this place--same hotel, same routine and same kind of food. Sometimes when I think back of the time I'd spent here, I wish I had done more. But then again, what is considered more? Visiting more tourist locations? Sampling more of the local food? Checking out more nightspots in town?

My priority has always been to understand the country's people, history and culture. I might not have taken the trouble to check out Dunia Fantasi at Ancol or taken a cruise to Pulau Seribu but I'm grateful for the opportunity to have embarked on some crazy pursuits like visiting the grave of Marhaen at kampung Cipagalo (some Indonesians don't even know who exactly Marhaen is), tracing the bungalow houses designed by Sukarno in Bandung and identifying the exact location of Fromberg Park, mentioned by Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Tales from Djakarta.

There are lots of other things that I could have done too: I wished I had travelled around the archipelago a little bit more, visit places like Manado, Bengkulu and Pontianak. But during the time that I was here, I was too enamoured with the many things that I could discover in Jakarta itself (even visiting a place like Kampung Kebun Jahe Kober was a great adventure to me) that I didn't bother to venture further.

Whenever things started to become dull, a bomb would explode somewhere, and the whole city would be abuzz again with rumours and knee-jerk reactions. But people here have no time to fuss too much about such occassional setbacks; mouths have to be fed and life has to go on, like how their ancestors here have done for centuries.

What amazes me is how little Jakartans complain about the intolerable living conditions in their city--the congestion, the pollution, the poor or non-existent water supply, the blatant abuse of the law. Well yes, you do hear some noises being made every now and then--the press, the NGOs--but not the kind of anger and venom that the typical Malaysian would hurl on their authorities had such a similar situation arise in KL.

But the daily gridlock traffic, the cramped living conditions, the smell from the garbage-choked canals, the squallor, the poverty and the ever-pervading air of Javanese nonchalance, they are all part of the romance that is Jakarta. I could spend the rest of my life here and would still die a happy man.

Someday, Jakarta will be like Singapore, and perhaps everyone then will be yuppie-happy, living in an urban utopia fringed by well-manicured gardens, in an air-conditioned catacomb of glaring billboards and techno-kitsch; and then there probably will not be anymore pengamins spoiling your lunch at the warung with bad renditions of Dewa's Separuh Nafas or ojeks zipping dangerously between between rickety bajajs and fume-spewing mikrolets or ojek payung kids scampering around offering umbrella service on a rainy day.

That day will come inevitably, and when it does, perhaps I'll have to find my romance elsewhere.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Now Listen...

Now Listen...

I think a lot of conflict, misunderstanding and inefficiency in our daily interactions with people are caused by miscommunication. And why does miscommunication occur? Most of the time it is because we never learn how to listen to the other party properly.

What's so difficult about listening? We do listen all the time don't we? If not, how do we respond to anything?

Now, true listening or what is usually called "empathetic listening", goes a lot deeper than merely "paying attention". Empathetic listening is a skill that needs to learned, not unlike the ability to debate or to conduct presentations. Unfortunately it is often a neglected and under-appreciated skill, because we all assume that we know how to do it. But we don't.

What then is involved in true empathetic listening? Isn't focussing on what people are saying, understanding their points precisely considered good listening?

Yes, but there's more to it: The level of "understanding" involved in true listening requires you not only to listen intently but also to put youself in the shoes of the speaker, and be able to feel the emotional and intellectual motivation behind what is being expressed, as if you are saying those words yourself, without any judgement.

That is a difficult thing to do because our natural tendency when listening is to react and respond, rather than to dive beneathe the surface of words, and experience them at their pre-manifestation level. I've mentioned before that words are just signposts that point to the real thing; so the important thing is to be able to reach down into the source or impulse behind thoughts and ideas, rather than to read too much into the words themselves.

It is like asking you to become an actor or actress for the brief moment while you are listening, and to try and play the role of the person you are listening to. Only after you have successfully seen and felt everything from the speaker's point of view, have you earned the right to respond. This is also the underlying principle behind Covey's 5th Habit: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

There are two halves to good communication: listening and speaking. Unfortunately we place way too much emphasis on speaking well; if only we spend the same time and effort in developing our listening ability too, our daily communication--at the workplace, between husbands and wives, parents and children--will be much, much better.

Thanks for listening, your turn to speak.

Flight to Parahyangan

Flight to Parahyangan

The last time I was in Bandung was more than a year ago, to do research for an article I was writing for a magazine. Hence I was quite happy today to get the change to set foot on this so-called "Paris of Java" again.

Usually I would take the train--either Argo Gede or the Parahyangan Express--from Jakarta to Bandung. A car journey which takes more than 3 hours through the winding mountaineous roads can be quite tiring. But today, due to the tightness of my schedule, I found myself taking a flight instead to Bandung.

I had always wondered why there's a flight service between Jakarta and Bandung: who would bother to go to the airport to take a 25 minute flight? I soon realized that the service is actually quite popular; the propeller-driven plane was full when I took it from the Halim Perdanakusuma airport, which being closer to the city than the international Soekarno-Hatta airport at Cengkareng, is also an advantage. It wasn't as bad as I thought; it was quite fast, and you arrive without the usual fatigue of a 3 hour journey.

Being in Bandung is always a joy. But this is only a short one day trip for a meeting and then I'm flying back to Jakarta again. I'll probably need to be here again next week, but I'm certainly not flying again--for I miss taking the train. I'm looking forward to three hours of uninterupted reading on the Argo Gede...

But there's much work waiting for me. The delights of Bandung will have to wait. Hopefully, next week I'll get a chance to wander around the streets and perhaps convince myself for the umpteenth time that Bandung does indeed have the best-looking girls...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Homegoing for the "Monk"

Homegoing for the "Monk"

Perhaps it is not surprising that my first business trip for 2005 is to Jakarta. Actually it was quite unexpected; I only got confirmation last Thursday to be here for this coming week. I had originally planned to be in another country...but I'm certainly not complaining.

It's good that I finally get to be on the road again; being on the move all the time actually makes me more productive. Why? Because every journey is a fresh start and we usually get a fresh spurt of energy everytime we begin something. As long as we know how to harness this impulse of energy to the maximum, we get a lot of things done.

This time I decided to stay at the same hotel which I had called home for two years. Since leaving Jakarta at the end of 2003, I had chosen to stay in other hotels, usually in Tanah Abang or Kota, on my business trips, I suppose I wanted to see Jakarta from a different perspective. But I found that my old hotel still gives me the best deal. Feeling a bit nostalgic for my "second home", I decided to stay there again.

I was quite happy to see some familiar faces here when I arrived; Diki, the bellboy was smiling broadly when he saw me. Diki got married in 2003, while I was still staying here and now he already has a five-month old baby. He used to stay in a rumah kos nearby, but he told me that he commutes daily from Depok now.

In the lift, I bumped into Intan, my cheerful and bubbly little Sundanese room attendant. I have not met her for a long time because she was on maternity leave during the tailend of my stay here. Now she's back to work; I asked her: kerja di lantai berapa sekarang? Intan used to take care of all the rooms on the 7th floor, where I stayed. She told me that she's in charge of the mini-bar now, and is not assigned to one particular floor. Putar-putar, she said, with the characteristic twirl of the Indonesian tongue. I suddenly realized how much I've missed her cheerful voice greeting me every morning.

I have also forgotten how small the rooms are in the hotel. But it is sufficiently furnished, cozy and has a good view of Jalan Wahid Hasyim; when I was staying here, I had never been happier. I spent many quiet nights here writing proposals, building presentation slides, preparing lectures and marking exam papers. I used to think of it fondly as my monk's cell. (Strange thought I must admit, for Jakarta is the unlikeliest place for a monk to live! )

When I had to shift out from the place, I was surprised at how many books and other pieces of junk that I had accumulated in that tiny kamar. Took my some time to pack and discard away all the junk. I gave away my bulky items such as DVD player and mini compo to Wiwik and Ditje. I also had to use Setiawan's garage in Pondok Indah as my warehouse for a while. Took me a couple of trips before I managed to transport everything back to KL.

It's not going to be a long stay this time but I'll make sure that I get to catch up with every one of my friends in Jakarta. And hopefully I'll get to see Nilam and Sukma too...