The problem with cancel culture…

… Is not that it exists in the first place, but because it often has undeserving targets.

Yes, I am saying that cancel culture can be a force of good. You cannot expect me to believe every mistake made by public figures are trivial and inconsequential.

Chris Brown physically abused women. Louis CK masturbated in front of women who did not give their consent. Unless you were raised by morally fucktarded parents, you would not see their actions as something to shrug off.

They do not deserve a simple and quick forgiveness. If anything, they either have to be convicted, have their careers ruined or both. But, in the cases of Brown and CK, they suffer neither. So, not only cancel culture targets undeserving people, it also fails to punish deserving ones!

It is interesting how people oppose cancel culture in general because it has wrongfully punished people. When I say interesting, I mean it does not any make sense.

It’s like opposing imprisonment of people accused of crimes simply because wrongful imprisonment happens. Unless you are an anarchist, you would definitely support imprisoning criminals and, unless you are a bootlicker, you would also make calls for reforms. The problem is not on the imprisonment, the problem lies on how the justice system is run.

If we can apply that reasoning to any justice systems, why can’t we do the same to cancel culture?

Oh, and one last thing: I will take concerns about cancel culture more seriously if some of the loudest anti-cancel culture voices are not diarrhoea-regurgitating cockroaches like Bill Maher, Sharon Osbourne and Pierce Morgan.

It is obvious some people oppose cancel culture because they are not adult enough to brave consequences of their words.

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Palatable fundamentalism

Let us compare Christian fundamentalists in America with Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia.

Notice how ultra-zealous Christians in America dress ordinarily. While some wear the usual formal apparels like suits and ties, many others are dressed very casually in T-shirts, hoodies, jeans; even the young women wear very short shorts while doing outdoor activities. Basically, they dress like the typical Americans.

I also notice they are media-savvy. They are able to create watchable media content watchable (assuming one can tolerate the messages). They know how to make themselves presentable for the masses.

In many cases, their music is far from highbrow. It is often easily digestible middle-of-the-road pop music.

Oh, and don’t forget most of them use English -the most spoken language in America- as their liturgical tongue. Consequentially, the spiritually does not feel burdened by the duty of learning a new language.

Compared that to Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia.

Fundamentalist Muslims -the ones in Indonesia, at least- have their own fashion sense. The men love wearing a garment called gamis (some Arabs may refer to it as thawb) and, when they do wear pants, they are always ankle-length. For headwear, they mostly wear either turban or peci (not to be confused with kopiah; for reasons, Wikipedia thinks peci and kopiah are the exact same thing). When they do sport facial hair, long goatee is the preferred style.

For the women, when they are not wearing face veil, they (unsurprisingly) wear jilbab (or hijab as many westerners call it) and very long dresses, so long you can barely see their feet.

Obviously, it is a huge contrast to how the majority of Indonesians dress: highly-westernised. But, it is also a huge contrast to how more pious Muslims in the olden-days dressed.

Judging from what I see in photos (they may not be representative), the men wore either batik shirt or baju koko and kopiah as their preferred headwear; when they did sport facial hair, it was never visually prominent. The women wore garments like sarong kebaya or baju kurung; when they wore headwear, it was usually headscarf which still exposes some skin and hair.

Speaking of pious Indonesians in general (not just the fundies), they are not that media-savvy. While we already had religious programmes on TV, entirely religious media outlets were unheard of for most Indonesians. Even now, with their recent emergence, they are still a niche in the country’s media industry.

Arabic is the liturgical language of Islam. Even among Muslims who are not fundamentalists but still pious nonetheless, there seems to be a burden to learn Arabic, as if the lack of fluency would invalidate their faith.

I don’t know if the fundies enjoy music or not. But, I do know that many musicians (not all) who create Islamic music seem adamant on including Arab influences in their works. With all things considered, if the fundies enjoy music, it would definitely be Arab-sounding.

Let me be clear: I don’t believe American Christian fundamentalism is as violent as Indonesian Islamic fundamentalism. But, I can confidently say its palatability makes it more sinister.

Not only the Muslim fundamentalists dress different from the rest of Indonesians, they are also extremely obsessed with anything Arab (or what they perceive as such), more so than the actual Arab-Indonesians themselves. They stick out like sore thumbs.

The American Christian fundamentalists, on the other hand, dress like ordinary Americans and they are culturally very American-centric. Basically, they easily blend in with the rest of the populace.

I believe that makes the American Christian fundies more terrifying because not only they have an easier time recruiting new members and infiltrating the establishment, they are also more likely to have people defending them. In fact, some people may accuse the critics of being a bunch of leftist snowflakes who get offended by everything.

For shallow morons who always take appearances for granted, it sounds absurd that normal-looking people can be a threat to humanity.

For them, we should always judge a book by its cover. Reading is for losers.

Considering how some westerners defend the alt-right, insisting the extremist movement it is not run by extremists, my assumption is within reason.

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Memories are weird (for me, at least)

It is a thematic sequel to this essay.

When I travel, I no longer feel the need to take photos and to buy souvenirs; it took me a while to realise that photos and souvenirs cannot bring the memories back to life.

My sense of awe when seeing beautiful sceneries, the tastes of foreign foods on my tongue, the feeling of hot or cold weather stinging my skin, the feeling of cultural shocks.

In theory, photos and souvenirs should be able to revive those sensations. But, they make me feel nothing. The photos only remind me of how fast time has passed. The souvenirs? Well, the T-shirts eventually become rags and the other souvenirs either end up as dust collectors or slowly disintegrate.

With works of entertainment, however, it is an entirely different story.

I always ALWAYS make sure I have access to my favourite books, films, TV shows, music, you name it. I always make sure they are not lost to history.

Okay, I admittedly sound paranoid. In this DNA age, it would take extraordinary events to make any works lost into history; even obscure works would still be preserved in some ways. But, that does not extend to ones published exclusively digitally.

On Youtube, there are quite a lot of Youtubers’ videos which are either made private or deleted entirely for varying reasons; they can be for obvious reasons like the appearance of unsavoury individuals and copyright strikes or they may be entirely undisclosed personal reasons. From what I observe, those missing videos are almost never re-uploaded.

And I hate that.

Unless they are taken down because of the unsavoury individuals, I miss them greatly and I hate myself for not downloading them. In fact, this makes me fearful about the future of Youtube: what happens if most -if not all- of its videos are deleted?

You can see how starkly different my reactions to the memories of travelling and watching Youtube videos are.

I don’t know why. But, it seems my mind perceives experiences like travelling as intangible and experiences like watching Youtube videos as tangible.

Travelling is all about immersing ourselves in different human and natural environments, which are impossible to describe unless we experience them ourselves. Enjoying works of entertainment is all about immersing ourselves in things stored in physical containers; for examples, stories are stored within books and, of course, digital videos are stored within hard drives.

Somehow, that’s how my subconscious defines what is and isn’t tangible. Dumb, I know.

Because of the supposed intangibility, I am content about having memories of experiences like travelling erased from my mind. I am content about the fragile longevity of the intangible ones.

Because of the supposed tangibility, I hate the prospect of losing memories of my favourite works. In my subconscious, tangibility and sturdiness are synonymous; there is no reason for my favourite works to be lost to history, at least not in my (probably short) lifetime.

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Great Big Story

To summarise the content: it is a set of mini documentaries showcasing “trivial” facts about human lives from all over the world.

In theory, I should hate the videos, being a cynical adult that I am. In actuality, it has the complete opposite effect on me.

I don’t know how they did it. But, every video successfully reminds me how the world we live in is inherently worth exploring. Every video successfully convinces me how even the most “useless” facts can enrich our lives.

No, it has nothing to do with the visual artistry. If anything, I find “shallow” videos with beautiful packaging infuriating; it is a pathetic attempt of overcompensating which only flimsy minds fall for.

So, why do I love GBS videos when they are beautifully-packaged and “shallow”?

If I want to apply Occam’s Razor to this, maybe deep down I don’t see those “useless” facts as useless. Maybe I am one of those nerds who believe everything is worth learning about.

But, that does not make any sense. Similar content is abundant online and most fail to inspire me. With that in mind, it is hard to believe I am one of those people.

I have a more abstract hypothesis: maybe it has something to do with the personalities behind the scenes.

When other media outlets make similar videos, the results feel less like mini documentaries and more like miscellaneous news reports. It seems they treat trivia as mere “fun facts” instead of things that can potentially broaden our horizons.

It is either the people behind the scenes perceive their audiences as shallow OR they themselves are shallow. It is the complete opposite with GBS, who assumed their audience are as inquisitive as they were.

Their inquisitiveness also makes me feel nostalgic. At one point as a young boy, I was genuinely curious about literally everything! I mean, my idea of fun involved reading encyclopaedia sets, watching science shows on TV and fantasising myself as a genius scientist/explorer who master every discipline imaginable!

In a way, I am being reminded that I should relive my childhood sense of curiosity and quit being picky about what I should and shouldn’t learn.

It is a shame GBS shuts down for good. Frankly, I wish it happens to CNN instead; I am sure the world would be just fine without CNN, if not better.

Oh, and one more rambling: the fact that GBS focuses on human stories also reminds me how exploration is an inherently human endeavour. Not only it is normal to be curious, it is also abnormal to not be curious.

I know that is a big stretch. But, that’s how my dumb mind works.

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Bad excuses to prefer dub over sub

Do you have problems with your eyesight? Do you have an actual problem reading rapidly appearing and disappearing texts on the screen, either because of a learning disorder or because you had limited access to formal education growing up?

If you answer yes to at least one, then I have no right to shame you for preferring dubbing. You have no control over your conditions and you have the right to demand its availability.

Here are another questions.

Do you feel uncomfortable hearing languages other than the ones you speak? Do you dislike reading in general because you are lazy and NOT because you suffer from actual learning disorders?

If you answer yes to at least one of them, then you can go fuck yourselves.

Millions of people all over the world have no problems befriending and even marrying those who don’t share their ancestral languages. If the mere presence of other cultures upsets you, then it is your problem. Get a fucking grip and accept that differences exist and will always do and not all of them are a big fucking deal!

Lazy to read… do I have to explain why that is bad? Do I really need to treat you like a child? I don’t know how you can live your life when reading short sentences is too much of a burden for you.

Stuck in a bubble, lazy to read. Even though they are obviously weaknesses we can easily overcome, you refuse to do so. Worse, you have the gut to demand others to respect your flaws.

It is either you genuinely don’t see them as defects OR you are one of those entitled losers who think your unwillingness to grow must be respected.

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No, illegal immigrants are not home invaders, you dumbfucks

I always wonder why some people are extremely offended by the idea of people trespassing the borders. From all the fucking things in the world, they choose to be offended by the disrespect of imaginary and arbitrary lines.

Obviously, bigotry has something to do with this. Considering how the immigration opposition tend to emerge when foreign countries with differing racial backgrounds are involved, calling them bigots is not far-fetched. But, I still find this unsatisfactory.

Then, one day, I noticed that some people compare illegal immigration to home invasion. That explains why people take it too seriously.

Of course, right off the bat, it is bullshit.

Comparing illegal immigrants to home invaders means you believe their mere presence always directly affect your personal lives. Unless they take over your country’s government and instil a totalitarian rule, I don’t see how the analogy makes sense.

I am more inclined to compare them to apartment squatters. It makes more senses because their presence do not always directly affect the lives of the legal occupants. But, even then, this still does not make any sense.

Why? Because there are illegal immigrants who pay taxes (sometimes, more than those rich xenophobes). While it seems to be an exclusively American case (as far as I am concerned), that one fact makes it harder for us to create a nuanced analogy for illegal immigrations.

I mean, squatters who pay the bills? Do they even exist?

Speaking about analogies, I think there are people who can be perfectly described as home invaders: European colonisers in Australia and the Americas*.

If they were not busy killing off the indigenous populations, they were busy subjugating totalitarian rules upon them; they loved brutally punishing anyone who still clung onto their heritages.

Unlike illegal immigrants -some of which tend to stick with their own kinds and leave others alone-, those colonisers would not feel joy until everyone only spoke their languages, embraced their customs and worshipped their Gods.

Unlike illegal immigrants, those colonisers were the home invaders.

Oh, and notice how the same westerners who love demonising illegal immigrants are also the same ones who love whitewashing colonial histories.

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*I have to be specific with the geography. While it is undeniable that many Asians and Africans suffered immensely under European colonial rules, the European colonisers seemed more eager to wipe indigenous Australian and Americans out, physically and/or culturally.

Yes, many African and Asian artefacts were (and still are) looted by European colonisers. But, at least, many Africans and Asians still speak their ancestral languages, eat their ancestral cuisines and perform their ancestral arts**. Many indigenous Australians and Americans don’t have that privilege.

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**Of course, that’s within the context of European colonialism. Unfortunately, Asians also colonise their fellow Asians. For example: the Ainus in Japan and the Taiwanese Aboriginals are losing their languages to the Japanese and Chinese languages, respectively.

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A fan of things

Films, TV shows, songs, books, why do I have my personal favourites among them? Why am I a fan of anything?

I always wonder how critics compile lists of works they consider to be the objectively greatest. If I ask them, it is very likely they would claim that they only take things like originality, executions and legacy into account.

But, do they, really? Do they actually care about the quality? Or do they only pander to self-righteous snobs? Or are they the self-righteous assholes who think their tastes are objectively the most refined?

Regarding the self-righteous pricks and the panderers, they are relatively easy to detect. All of you have to do is to see if the right to opinion or appeal to authority fallacies are being used. As long as they are a bunch of big mouths and you are capable of reading between the lines, you won’t fall for their deceit.

I do know people who can only enjoy arts and high-quality entertainment exist… and I have no doubt those on the opposite side of the spectrum also exist. Obviously, they frustrate me.

On one hand, I understand why some people can only love escapism; life truly sucks, after all. But, on the other hand, I hate it when they go full pseudo-intellectual populist and assert how there is no such thing as ‘bad taste’.

I also hate the ‘high-quality’ crowd because they can be a hoard of sanctimonious pricks; I have complained about this lots of times. But, recently, I noticed something potentially eerie about them. Let me explain.

When one thinks of a work of high quality, one thinks about the techniques. From my experiences, techniques can improve the human expressions. Can, but not always.

Sometimes, I encounter works of high quality (or seen as such by critics and snobs) which I have a hard time liking. I have a hard time finishing the unnecessary visceral films of Quentin Tarantino, I find Kanye West’s songs undistinguishable from many other pop songs, I find ‘common practice’ classical music too sugary at times and I am inclined to believe some ‘realistic’ films are emotionally heavy-handed just for the sake of being so.

Here’s a list of my favourite works and the reasons why I enjoy them.

I enjoy films like Your Name, The Man From Earth and My Dinner With Andre and anything by Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick. They thrive to understand humanity through metaphysical means. Even Bergman’s psychological films incorporate metaphysical themes at times.

I enjoy compositions by John Coolidge Adams, George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky. Unlike ‘common practice’ music, they don’t sound saccharine. If anything, they have an ‘edge’ which I find lacking in ‘common practice’ music.

Despite Rowling exposing herself as a shit worldbuilder and a TERF, I still have to commend Harry Potter for turning me into a book reader and for creating escapist works dense with social commentaries which I wholeheartedly support.

I love Michael Jackson for introducing me to music in general, Phil Collins for introducing me to more offbeat pop music and Chrisye for introducing me to quality Indonesian music.

I love Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code for providing me nuanced takes on religions’ place in our lives, despite Brown’s poor writing skills and the inaccuracies.

I love Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia for changing the way I see myself through the lens of Indonesian national identity.

I love Enya for her ethereal, borderline-spiritual music and I love Mahavishnu Orchestra for their ethereal Jazz Fusion.

I love some Marvel films for their ability to incorporate genuine emotions within  action superhero narratives.

From all of them, you can easily tell they have something in common: I love them because they personally mean something to me; it is obvious I don’t always care for virtuosity.

I thought Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite was an anomaly. Immediately after watching it, I was mesmerised by the acting, directing and unpredictable plot. Not long after, I was mesmerised by how fun it was to analyse the film; the interpretations seemed never-ending!

I was surprised that I would have a black comedy crime thriller as a personal favourite, that I would like a work simply for its virtuosity. But, after I thought about it, that was not the full story.

The film is a cynical satire… and I love cynical satires; in fact, much of my earliest blogs are cynical satires that felt cathartic to write. The film also has an ominous atmosphere almost right from the beginning… and I am a sucker for subtle sense of terror, which I find more ‘traumatising’ than the conspicuous one.

Speaking for myself, I love the arts and entertainment because they make feel like a human being in a world where cold-hearted pragmatism is king and make robots out of us. Loving them solely for their techniques feels antithetical to what arts and entertainment are meant to be.

As frustrating as the exclusively low brow crowd can be, I still can relate to them on some level; their desire to ‘escape’ feels perfectly human.

On the other hand, I cannot relate to the exclusively high brow crowd at all; their inability or unwillingness to ‘escape’ does not feel human at all. What I am saying is I often wonder if they are even humans.

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And the world slurps… Indonesian noodles

That one bloody brand

As an Indonesian, I am very much aware of how ‘invisible’ my country is. But, it took me some time to be fully conscious of our instant noodles’ global appeal.

When I say instant noodles, I mean Indomie. Not only it is sold in many countries, many Youtubers have made many videos about it and they include Josh Carrott and Ollie Kendal, who seem ecstatic every time they eat Indomie Goreng.

Obviously, if you are used to with how under-the-radar your country is, foreigners liking anything from your country feels weird. With the Indomie hype specifically, I am weirded out… and annoyed.

Don’t get me wrong: Indomie is indeed tasty. But, for God’s sake, other brands exist! Sarimi, Supermi (both share the same parent company with Indomie), ABC, Gaga and Mie Sedap, the last is arguably Indomie’s strongest rival. Their products can be just as tasty, if not more.

While Indonesia did used to have even greater variety of instant noodles, it is still not an excuse to divert our attention to a single brand.

If I were a more dilligent fan of food Youtubers, I would have definitely send them Indonesian instant noodles of various brands. If the Youtubers have made Indomie videos before, I would exclude the brand from my packages and force them to acknowledge other brands as well.

A genuine source of national pride

In another blog post, I mentioned how Indonesia’s lack of international culinary success can be blamed on our lack of pride. This may also explain Indomie’s success.

Obviously, I have to credit the company’s marketing team. But, I also think our sincere pride contributes to the brand’s popularity. The sincerity makes the hype sounds more convincing. Unless our target audiences are gullible, believing in our own words is crucial.

We do import foreign brands. Nissin, Nongshim, Ichiban and even the (in)famous Samyang. In fact, the global popularity of Samyang’s fire noodles compels Indonesian manufacturers to create their own versions.

Considering how Indonesian cuisines are way hotter than the Korean one, it is odd that Koreans made super spicy flavours before we did. Somehow, for many years, we weren’t interested in having our mouths and digestive tracts burned by instant noodles.

But, despite the popularity of Korean brands, we still prefer our own. Apart from the significantly higher prices of the imported products, we also think ours are more flavourful.

And I rarely agree with my fellow countrymen on anything.

‘Weird’ taste buds 

In the year 2000, my eight-year-old self was excited. There was a new kid in town: Mie & Me!

It offered flavours that were considered ‘unusual’ at that time: pizza, burger and spaghetti; can’t remember if there were other flavours. I don’t know if it was the first brand to do so. But, it did make me realise instant noodle flavours should not be limited to what we consider ‘normal’.

Not long after Mie & Me was launched, I remember Indomie launching Chatz, which also offered ‘weird’ flavours like chicken lemon and BBQ sausage… literally the only ones I remember (and the latter tasted like shit). Basically, Mie & Me almost started a new trend.

Yes, almost.

In my memories, I didn’t know anyone other than myself who ate those ‘weird’ products. It seems they were not that popular. Unsurprisingly, they were short-lived, much to my dismay.

A handful of people do still remember the brands. But, they are so obscure, it is hard to find their visual evidences online. With Chatz, I only found just one photo. With Mie & Me, no photos at all!

I don’t know why they were commercial failures. I assume it has something to do with us seeing instant noodles as proper meals… and associating pizza, burger and spaghetti flavours with children’s snacks.

But then, it just an assumption.

‘Traditional’ taste buds

Traditional dishes flavours are not exactly innovative; brands have been selling soto flavour since forever. But, I don’t know they didn’t think of having more varieties from early on.

Nowadays, major brands do produce those flavours with Indomie being the most prolific among them (unsurprisingly). Interestingly, I notice they were first released around the same time as the rise of Batik’s popularity among the masses.

I don’t think Indonesia has experienced a renaissance akin to the Hawaiian one. But, there has been a slow rise of interests in traditional cultures among us. Apart from the aforementioned Batik’s popularity, eating traditional Indonesian dishes is now considered cool once again.

And Indomie aggressively follows the trend. In fact, thanks to this, I would have never heard of a dish called Mie Celor. To this day, I have to yet to try the real thing.

Going glocal

Indomie has (or had, don’t bother to check) Taste of Asia flavours: Singaporean laksa, Korean bulgogi and Thai Tom Yum. Mie Sedap has at least two spicy ‘Korean-style’ flavours. Gaga has jalapeno flavour.

I cannot be certain if they can impress foreigners or not (probably not). But, the variety of flavours being offered is intriguing: it reminds me of the glocal (global and local) nature of Indonesia’s instant noodles lovers.

Unlike with our heritages, we don’t love our instant noodles simply for the sake of loving anything Indonesian. As mentioned before, we are wholeheartedly proud of them. Our pride compels us to promote the noodles to foreigners, consequently taking us out of our cultural bubbles.

But, at the same time, we are not snobby about it… not to my knowledge, at least. There is no shame in enjoying the foreign ones.

Usually, we are either too xenophobic or too xenophiliac. But, in this case, appreciation of both local and foreign things is well-balanced.

 

Japan: how it is stupidly idealised by western bigots

Let’s not sugar-coat it: if you unambiguously and proudly express your hatred of trivial human differences and even talk about the importance racial purity, making your view eerily similar to one of a Nazi, you cannot complain when others call you a bigot. You deserve the label.

Those bigots love to fawn over Japan for its cultural, ethnic and racial homogeneity and its strict immigration policies. They believe they are the secrets of Japan’s uniqueness and ‘social success’ (some people actually use the term).

Of course, if you just dig slightly deeper, what they believe is complete horse shit.

When they say ‘social success’, I am certain they are referring to the supposed lack of social problems in Japan, even though everyone with basic facts about the country knows it is not problem-free.

Karoshi and Hikikomori are two phenomena which Japan are internationally infamous for. The justice system also is known for being unjust, where presumption of innocence is not a thing.

Oh, and the calm and well-behaved stereotype is exaggerated, at least nowadays. PDR-San, a Japanese Youtuber whose viewers are mostly Japanese (but provide English subtitles for his videos), loves to rant about Japanese people who behave disruptively for the sake of internet clout; watch his videos and one’s romanticised views of Japan will be shattered.

One may argue anime, Japanese game shows and Japanese TV ads are uniquely Japanese. But, those game shows are no longer produced due to regulations, most Japanese TV ads are pathetically normal and Japanese audience prefer Disney over the locally-made animation.

If you see the big picture, Japanese culture looks even less unique.

Do I even need to explain the Chinese influences? The use of kanji and the presence of Chinese loanwords in the Japanese language, dishes like ramen, shoyu and gyoza, the Chinese-influenced traditional fashion and arts and the arrival of Buddhism via China.

And Chinese-influences are not the only ones prevalent in Japanese culture.

Tempura is of Portuguese origin and there are many yōshoku or western-influenced dishes, like katsu and omuraisu, in the country. Japanese language is also full of loanwords from Dutch, Portuguese and, of course, English; in fact, an elderly man sued the NHK for their excessive and unnecessary use of English loanwords.

Oh, and I don’t think I should remind you that most Japanese people, even ones in the rural areas, no longer wear kimonos in their daily lives.

My point is if you really love isolationism, it just does not make sense to fawn over a country that is clearly also under the influence of globalisation; even under the isolationist Tokugawa shogunate, Japan was not entirely cut off from the world.

It makes more sense if you fawn over the most isolated and primitive tribes instead.

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This Earth of Mankind: How it took me to a bumpy journey

This Earth of Mankind -or Bumi Manusia, as it is known in the original Indonesian title- is a novel written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an Indonesian author who was so politically rebellious, he was hated both by the Old Order and New Order regimes.

In fact, the latter even went on accusing the Buru Quartet -a tetralogy of novels which includes the aforementioned one- of being communist propaganda.

This novel is set in 19th century Indonesian -then-known as the Dutch Indies- and it centres on the life of Minke, a young blue-blooded Javanese man who was educated among the Dutch.

He is opinionated, critical-minded and not afraid to debate the so-called superior white people. He also falls for a young biracial woman, a daughter of a lunatic Dutch businessman and his well-educated Javanese concubine.

Basically, it is a historical/political/romance/philosophical novel.

Anyway, this novel has brought me to both ends of an ideological spectrum: a zealous nationalist and an anti-nationalist… well, sort of.

It turned me into a nationalist because, after just one reading, it convinced me that Indonesians had the potential to be more cultured and civilised than we were.

To this day, I still think we do have the potential. But, I was about twelve or thirteen when I first read the book. I was a fucking idiot.

I did not see the big picture and I couldn’t comprehend intricacies. I preferred to focus on the main character’s intelligence and sophistication and some of the Dutch characters’ lack of thereof.

As a result, I ended up believing that a true Indonesian should only embrace Indonesian things. I did not care about what it meant to be one, I only cared about the label.

Of course, I was a hypocrite. Despite my outward nationalism, I still loved anything foreign; in some cases, I preferred them over the local ones. In fact, instead of reading the original Indonesian copy, I read the English translation due to my lack of interest in reading anything written in my mother tongue.

When I read the novel again as an adult, I realised how nuanced the story was.

While the story clearly depicts the discrimination faced by the indigenous population, it is anything but black and white. Not all of the Dutch characters are bad and almost every native character seems unwilling or intellectually incapable of politically empowering themselves and fellow natives.

After realising the existence of the shades of grey, I gradually lose my nationalism and end up as an anti-nationalist.

Okay, calling me an anti-nationalist is inaccurate. Me before reading this novel was an anti-nationalist. I hated everything about Indonesia and I wished I was a citizen of a foreign country.

I don’t know which label that perfectly describes me now. But, one thing for sure: I don’t see anything wrong about avowing love for one’s country… as long as one acknowledges it is entirely based on emotional attachments.

Yes, emotional. You love a country simply because it is your home sweet home, NOT because of its so-called absolute and divine perfection… which existence defies common sense, unless you live in the land of make-believe.

Believe it or not, you can praise and condemn your country at the same time. Millions of people have done it millions of times. It is literally that easy.

Oh, and I can relate to the character on a personal level. He is Javanese yet educated among the Dutch (back then, indigenous identities were mostly regional and ethnic). I am Indonesian who grew up almost entirely on western entertainment. He is too indigenous for the Dutch and too Dutch for his Javanese family, I am too Indonesian for westerners and too western for my fellow Indonesians. We are stuck between both worlds.

The more I see the complexities of my self-identifications, the more I find labels grossly superficial. The more I think so, the more I despise any forms of identity politics, nationalism included.

I don’t think this novel is the sole reason why I reject nationalism. My interactions with foreigners online and my curiosity about history and culture are also instrumental in my personal growth.

But, as it successfully makes me contemplate about my Indonesianness, This Earth of Mankind is a big deal in my life and I would be surprised if it does not have the same effect on my fellow countrymen.

No wonder the Soeharto regime banned its publication. Tyrants love their sheep.