Lessons I get from Indonesian national exams

This is an English translation of this article.

Lesson one: simply ‘studying’ is worthless.

Formal education demands us to ‘study’ to memorise things and to expect grades and bright future as the rewards. The demand becomes stronger once we are haunted by the shadow of the national exams, which easily kills students’ desire to obtain knowledge.

Ideally, we also have to learn critical thinking in order to not get deceived by the information we receive. We also have to learn because we love knowledge and we don’t expect any rewards; the sincerity is the thing which expands our horizons.

Despite university life being more demanding and the fact that degrees cannot guarantee a bright future, I prefer to study in universities.

Yes, the demand for grades is still there. But, because I chose my own major, most of the courses were within my interests. Moreover, we learned by analysing the information in front of us instead of simply memorising it.

The implementation of higher education is far from perfect and is not immune from indoctrination. It is also formal in nature and therefore, not everyone’s cup of tea.

But, compared to primary and secondary education, it is more successful in providing spaces for those who genuinely love learning.

Lesson two: In Indonesia, honesty is a weakness.

During my middle and high school exams, I was probably one of the few students who refused to cheat. Because I live in Indonesia, a country known for its morality, I was insulted by the people around me.

Both the students and my own parent perceived me as a smart-ass goody two shoes. The teachers willingly put blind eyes regarding this.

I passed the exams with relatively good grades and I achieved them without cheating. They were genuine results of my hard work.

But, to this day, I have yet to receive any praises for my achievement. In fact, some still insist I was just lucky. They are so obsessed with the final results, they venerate dishonesty and condemn honesty without any hesitations.

If that is not the case, they would have never spewed insults from their diarrhea-regurgitating face holes.

This experience teaches me that noble acts must be sincerely done, without any expectations of rewards. Besides fooling ourselves and others, the expectation gives us false hopes about our surroundings.

We will naively expect praises from others. If we are lucky enough to live in degenerate countries like Indonesia, the only thing we get is verbal diarrhea. We will end up dejected.

Even though I did not expect praises (and I already knew how degenerate Indonesians were), I am still a human being who can get hurt by insults.

Imagine if I had any high expectations. I would probably end up more cynical than I am now.

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‘Practical’ education, still misguidedly elitist

I think many of you -my non-existing readers- agree schools need to teach practical skills. Even if there are no specialised vocational trainings, at least there should be introductory classes for high schoolers.

But, it seems others take a much more extreme approach to the suggestion.

My idea of ideal education compels students to study both the theoretical disciplines and the practical ones. Liberal arts and vocational education all in one.

I don’t know how much people out there who share my idea. But, I do know some people want to go as far as eliminating theories from the curricula altogether. Replace algebra with finance, they say. Things like algebra are only suitable for universities, they say.

Basically, they want literally every high school to be a vocational high school. Their reasoning? They want to get rid of elitism and they want to improve socio-economic mobility of lower-income youths; studying ‘useless knowledge’ would hinder them from achieving the goals, they believe.

Yeah, that’s a load of shit.

Yes, practical disciplines do teach us about what is and isn’t feasible. But, it does not encourage us to question our worldview. Do you know what can encourage us to be sceptical? The so-called ‘useless’ disciplines!

They teach us about how the world works socially, politically, economically, biologically, physically, chemically, philosophically, you name it! The more you learn about those different perspectives, the easier it is for you to widen your horizon, to think more critically and creatively.

With better critical and creative thinking, it would be much easier for you to move upward. Well, ideally.

But, even if critical and creative thinking does not guarantee social mobility, I still think only teaching students practical disciplines is detrimental to our society in the long run..

The thing about the so-called ‘useless’ disciplines is they encourage us to learn for the sake of knowledge, to learn without expecting any rewards. If pre-university education teaches nothing but practical disciplines, people will perceive learning for the sake of knowledge as an elite endeavour.

People will believe this endeavour is only suitable for anyone who can afford university tuition fees AKA the wealthy. Even if the tuition fees are affordable for everyone, the misguidedly elitism would still be there.

Why? Because -while no longer reserved for the wealthy- learning for the sake of knowledge is still reserved for a handful of people: anyone who can handle university settings.

The already-existing ivory towers will become more towering and more indestructible.

Seriously, why is the idea of teaching both theories and practical skills so alien for many people? Why can’t we learn both pure mathematics and finance at the same time? Physics and engineering? Chemistry and medicine? Sociology and marketing? Literature and business communication? Studio art and carpentry?

Why can’t we learn both? Porque no los dos?

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There is something wrong with math education

I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it. But, there is definitely something wrong with it. I mean, if there isn’t any, why do many end up seeing math as a monstrous entity?

On the most basic level, mathematics is all about counting numbers. On a more advanced level, it is about solving problems, both practical and abstract, by the means of numbers. Overall, not only it is a harmless entity, it is something that clearly benefits mankind.

And yet, many of us compare math lessons to torture sessions.

While I don’t know the exact reason, I have a conjecture about this phenomenon:

Math lessons force us to think ‘robotically’… and I personally don’t have a problem with that. Human civilisations would not exist without systematic and precise thinking.

The problem is we are never taught about the beauty of mathematics. Not only we are barely taught about its practical benefits, we are also never told about how abstract math is, despite its infamous precision.

If I were aware of such paradox early on, I would have never perceived math as a tool to robotise mankind. I would have seen it as one of those refined lenses which enable humanity to discern the universe we live in.

Just like with natural sciences, I also used to love learning math, albeit because I had fun with basic arithmetic… and just like my love of natural sciences, my love of math started to dwindle thanks to formal education.

Pop science has shown me the abstract beauty of math. But, unlike in the case of natural sciences, I don’t think it will ever rekindle my love of math. Considering I now hate the act of counting numbers, there is almost no hope to revive the love.

No, it has nothing to do with me being in an inattentive student. Inattentiveness would simply make me forget what was taught in the class. But, it would never compel me to see the fucking entire discipline as a monster.

And those students who excel in math classes:

Many of them also happen to be straight A students whose idea of ‘education’ is the pursue of grades and job opportunities instead of knowledge. They will do anything to fulfil their worldly goals.

If you ask them what is the purpose of learning math, I doubt many would give answers other than ‘learning how to count’ or ‘making us (look) smart’.

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Pop science, we will always need it

When I say ‘we’, I actually mean ‘I’.

Is pop science guilty of oversimplification and sometimes misinformation? Absolutely yes.

Should we get rid of it? Over my rotting, maggot-infested, bloated dead body.

Because I grew up watching Bill Nye and reading those Indonesian-translations of foreign science books (encyclopaedias included), I ended up loving natural sciences. I was mesmerised by how they guided me to unearth and cherish the allure of the universe. Together with my favourite films, they made my childhood magical.

My love of them started diminishing when I started studying them in schools. There was no more sense of awe and inquisitiveness, there was only obligation to memorise things for the grades; many others studied them because they wanted to look smart. For me, natural sciences had mutated into lifeless entities programmed to make robots out of us.

If it wasn’t for access to cable TV and the internet, my relationships with them would end like mine with math: dead with zero change of resurrection. The documentaries on Discovery, NatGeo and the BBC persistently illuminated the dying flame in me throughout my school years.

Of course, as I said in the beginning, pop science is guilty of oversimplification and misinformation and one may argue my understanding of science is deeply-flawed.

It is indeed a reasonable counter-argument. But, after becoming an internet addict, my favourite pop science works are now on Youtube; despite their imperfections, channels like Kurzgesagt, ASAPScience, Aspect Science, MinuteEarth, It’s Okay To Be Smart, PBS Eons and SciShow have upped my appreciation of science.

They have shown me how science is never about knowing absolute facts; instead, science is all about constantly enhancing our prevailing knowledge and acknowledges that even our physical world is full of greyness. Combined with their willingness to rectifying their own past content, they have also shown how science is all about embracing healthy scepticism (not to be confused with accusing everything of being a conspiracy).

As wonderful as they are, the books and documentaries I grew up with failed to show the wonderful nuances. While this can be attributed to my then-undeveloped brain, they do mostly focus on absolute facts and very little on the intricacies.

If you ask me ‘should we get rid of pop science?’ again, my answer would still be ‘over my rotting, maggot-infested, bloated dead body’. But, I would also say we need media watchdogs.

Yes, we have been having them since forever. But, even though I can’t say if there is a shortage of them, I can definitely say we need lots of them and we need them to distribute their findings to the masses rather than being content about having niche ‘audiences’.

Correlating to the topic in question, I believe every media watchdog must have at least two teams dedicated to scrutinise works of science journalism and pop science: one specialises in medicine and one for the other disciplines.

I want to emphasise on medicine because medical quackery is arguably the most dangerous form of pseudoscience. No matter how frustrating creationism or flat earth myth can be, I have never heard anyone getting physical harmed because of them. But, I do have heard of people getting physically harmed by scientifically unproven or debunked treatments.

I believe getting rid of pop science is a bad idea. There will always be shitty teachers who fail to show the beauty of natural sciences and their roles in profoundly shaping humanity. As flawed as pop science can be, it knows how to make science captivating for the laypeople to learn about.

If there is no pop science, they would definitely be more people who see their favourite preachers, conspiracists and snake oil salespeople as their ‘science teachers’.

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Creating brilliant and cultured human resources in Indonesia

Note:

I initially wanted to submit this essay, which was originally written in Indonesian, to a writing contest. But, because of technicalities, I missed the deadline. Oh, well.

When one talks about the quality of human resources, education is often the first thing that comes to our minds.

It is true that education is the biggest factor. Quality education equals quality human resources. But, what do we mean by quality education?

We all agree discipline is crucial in our learning experiences and, as a nation, we are from disciplined. It would be bizarre to dispute that.

But, what I am going to say will be contentious. I am not sure if many of you will agree with me.

If I say we need to respect those who are more knowledgeable and more experienced than us, you would nod in agreement. But, the problems is many still believe ‘respect’ and ‘worship’ are synonymous with each other.

We love to make Gods out of those people, forgetting they are also ordinary human beings who are prone to any faults. They can make mistakes in their ways of thinking. They may also have ulterior motives and intentionally deceive others for their own benefits.

But, at the same time, we also have the guts to accuse the experts of being know-it-alls. We look down on knowledge and critical thinking. We are proud of our own ignorance and stupidity.

To overcome this issue, we have to teach the incoming generations to think more critically and to be more analytical. Moreover, we have to instill the sense of curiosity, humility and courage to resist falsehood, especially the one regurgitated by people of higher social standings.

If this suggestion is implemented, I am willing to bet the incoming generations would not only possess brilliant minds, but also would not want to trample and be easily trampled on by other people.

I also have another suggestion, a more abstract one: teaching them about the nation’s traditional cultures.

Obviously, many will agree with me. I am definitely not the first Indonesian citizen who yearn about conserving our cultural heritages. But, you must be wondering: what does this have anything to do with human resources?

If a country preserves its traditional culture, it would have a unique identity. If it is blessed with rich cultural diversity, the distinctiveness would be even more striking. If a country has a unique identity, it would be able to create works which are very unlikely to be created elsewhere. In the end, it would stand out on the international stage.

Even if you are an Indonesian who has been culturally westernised and who perceives traditions as backward entities, you would still be benefited by knowing your ancestral heritage.

Besides learning about the history of your ancestors, you would also learn about the life philosophy they held on to. As a result, you would encounter perspectives that you have never considered before. Ideally, you would expand your horizon… and, when combined with good reasoning, you would have easier time generating groundbreaking ideas.

Of course, you could have refuted my suggestion by stating that my dream can be fulfilled without studying Indonesian cultures. But, as I stated before, uniqueness is key.

Western cultures are already emulated all over the world. If you fix your gaze solely towards the west, your ideas would not be different from the ones initiated by foreigners. If the works of Indonesians are similar to the foreign ones, why should other countries make use of Indonesian human resources?

Yes, Indonesians with sufficient skills can still get hired by foreigners. But, if we are only good in professions in which our duty is to simply obey our bosses and/our clients, we would only excel behind the scenes.

Obviously, those behind-the-scenes jobs are also crucial to our lives which we all reap benefits from. Maybe you are already satisfied by our fellow countrymen’s behind-the-scenes success. But, I am not.

As important as those professions are, they can be done by every country on earth. Meanwhile, the ones in which we become the stars on the international stages have been proven difficult to attain. Very few countries have achieved high level of innovation and creativity.

The more we raise Indonesians who are capable of producing ingenious ideas, the easier it would be for us to be take centre stage internationally…

…and, once that is achieved, we as a nation would have successfully used all of our might to achieve a level of triumph which most countries on earth have yet to obtain.

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Menciptakan SDM yang cemerlang dan berbudaya

Catatan:

Sebenarnya saya berencana untuk menyerahkan karangan ini untuk perlombaan menulis. Tetapi, karena permasalahan teknis, saya melewati tenggat waktu. Ya, sudahlah.

Jika kita membicarakan mutu SDM, satu hal yang sering terbesit di pikiran kita adalah pendidikan.

Memang betul pendidikan dapat dikatakan sebagai unsur terpenting dibalik SDM. Pendidikan bermutu, SDM juga akan bermutu. Tapi, apa yang kita maksud sebagai pendidikan bermutu?

Kita semua setuju bahwa disiplin sangatlah penting di pendidikan dan sebagai bangsa, kita jauh dari disiplin. Saya rasa akan aneh jika ada orang yang mau menyanggah pernyataan tersebut.

Tetapi, hal-hal yang akan saya bicarakan mungkin akan menyulut perdebatan. Saya tidak yakin bahwa anda semua akan setuju dengan saya.

Jika saya berkata kita perlu menghormati sosok-sosok yang jauh lebih berilmu dan berpengalaman, banyak dari anda yang akan mengangguk setuju. Tetapi, banyak manusia yang menganggap penghormatan dan penyembahan adalah dua hal yang sama.

Kita cenderung menuhankan sosok-sosok tersebut, lupa bahwa mereka juga manusia-manusia biasa yang juga rentan terhadap kelalaian dan kesesatan. Mereka bisa saja melakukan kesalahan dalam pemikiran mereka. Mereka bisa saja memiliki maksud-maksud tersembunyi dan dengan sengaja membohongi orang lain demi keuntungan sendiri.

Tetapi, pada saat yang bersamaan, kita juga berani-beraninya menuduh para pakar tersebut sebagai orang-orang yang sok tahu. Kita memandang rendah ilmu dan pemikiran kritis. Kita bangga akan ketidaktahuan dan kebodohan kita sendiri.

Untuk mengatasi ini, kita harus mengajari generasi yang mendatang cara-cara berpikir dengan kritis dan meneliti dengan seksama. Lebih penting lagi, kita harus menanamkan rasa keingintahuan, kerendahan diri dan keberanian untuk menentang kebohongan, terutama bila kebohongan tersebut keluar dari mulut sosok-sosok yang berderajat tinggi.

Jika usulan tersebut dilaksanakan, saya berani bertaruh generasi yang akan datang akan menghasilkan SDM yang tidah hanya berotak cemerlang, tapi juga tidak mau menginjak dan dinjak-injak orang lain.

Saya juga punya satu usulan lagi, usulan yang jauh lebih abstrak: mendidik mereka tentang kearifan budaya-budaya tradisional bangsa.

Tentu saja, banyak yang akan setuju dengan usulan saya. Saya sudah pasti bukan satu-satunya warga negara Indonesia yang ingin melestarikan warisan kebudayaan. Tapi, anda pasti bertanya apa hubungannya warisan budaya dengan SDM.

Jika sebuah negara giat melestarikan budaya tradisionalnya, berarti ia memiliki jati diri yang sangat khas; jika negara tersebut diberkahi keragaman budaya yang kaya, kekhasan tersebut akan semakin terasa. Jika negara memiliki jati diri kebangsaan yang khas, ia dapat mencetuskan karya-karya yang kemungkinan besar tidak bisa dihasilkan oleh negara-negara lain. Pada akhirnya, negara menjadi menonjol di pentas mancanegara.

Walaupun anda adalah warga negara Indonesia yang sudah sangat kebarat-baratan dan menganggap tradisi sebagai sesuatu yang terbelakang, mengenali kebudayaan nenek-moyang masih bisa bermanfaat.

Selain memelajari sejarah kehidupan mereka, anda juga dapat memelajari filsafat hidup yang mereka pegang teguh. Alhasil, anda menemui sudut-sudut pandang yang belum pernah anda pertimbangkan. Idealnya, wawasan anda semakin luas…. dan, jika ditambah dengan penalaran yang tajam, semakin mudah bagi anda untuk meluncurkan gagasan-gagasan mutakhir.

Bisa saja anda menangkis usulan saya dengan mengatakan angan-angan saya bisa diraih tanpa memelajari kebudayaan Indonesia. Tetapi, seperti yang saya katakan sebelumnya, kekhasan adalah unsur penunjang.

Kebudayaan yang berbau kebarat-baratan sudah “diteladani” di seluruh dunia. Jika anda hanya berkiblat ke arah barat, gagasan anda tidak akan begitu berbeda dengan yang dicetuskan orang-orang asing. Jika karya-karya anak bangsa tidak begitu berbeda dengan karya-karya luar negeri, untuk apa bangsa-bangsa lain mendayagunakan SDM dari Indonesia?

Sebenarnya bisa saja warga-warga Indonesia diperkerjakan oleh orang-orang asing selama keterampilan kita memadai. Tetapi, jika kita hanya andal di bidang-bidang pekerjaan di mana tugas merek hanya sekedar melaksanakan perintah atasan dan/atau pelanggan, kita hanya akan berguna “di belakang layar”.

Tentu saja bidang-bidang pekerjaan tersebut sangatlah penting bagi kehidupan kita dan hasilnya selalu kita nikmati. Mungkin saja anda sudah cukup puas dengan keberhasilan orang-orang Indonesia di balik layar. Tapi, bagi saya, keadaan tersebut masih belum cukup memuaskan.

Sepenting-pentingnya mata pencaharian tersebut, semua itu dapat dilakukan oleh setiap negara di dunia. Sedangkan mata pencaharian di mana kita bisa menonjol di depan layar mancanegara sudah terbukti sulit dilaksanakan dengan sukses. Hanya segilitar negara yang telah sukses melakukan pembaruan dan daya cipta yang tinggi.

Semakin banyak kita menghasilkan anak-anak bangsa yang bisa mencetuskan gagasan-gagasan mutakhir, semakin mudah bagi kita untuk bisa tampil di depan layar mancanegara…

…Dan, setelah hal itu tercapai, kita telah berhasil mengerahkan ketangkasan bangsa kita ke jenjang kejayaan yang belum berhasil diraih oleh sebagian besar bangsa di dunia.

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My own museum ideas

  • I hate how I grew up in a country where we have an extremely weak museum culture. Most of the museums I have visited are abroad.
  • As an adult, I am no longer into having shopping malls and theme parks as my sources of leisure. If there are no cultural attractions that intrigue in the slightest, I would rather stay at home and watch Youtube videos…
  • ….And browse Wikipedia in where I have spent a significant amount time searching for every article about any museums.

    Being a major time-waster that I am, I now have a few ideas for museums which are not even original. But, if I have the financial means (and the skill and will), I would definitely establish them.

    Museums of hot sauces and fermented seafood.

    That’s my Indonesian tastebud talking.

    I grew up eating dishes which use fermented seafood as ingredients and were often accompanied by chili sauces, or sambal as we call them.

    I have always loved the taste of dried and salted fish. I used to hate hot foods. But now, even though my heat tolerance is still low for Indonesian standard, I am addicted to the hot flavours.

    It would not be a problem if the museums are Indonesia-centric. As the country is gifted with biological and cultural diversity, the museums’ collections would always be huge, assuming they are well-funded and well-managed.

    I am also open to the ideas of making the museums more international either by making a section dedicated to foreign content or making the entire collection international.

    But, my goals for each version differ from one another.

    If the collection is entirely Indonesian, I would want to remind Indonesians about the biological and cultural richness of their country and how the richness should be appreciated and NOT taken for granted.

    If the collection is international, I would want to remind everyone that despite our differences, we still have many things in common and our cuisines are not that different once we take a deeper look.

    I choose foods because every human eats. We can survive without the ability to play music, to dance or to show any forms of craftsmanship. But, we can’t survive without foods. Eating is universal.

    And because I personally love to eat.

    I don’t know where I should locate the museums, though. If they are Indonesia-centric, should I locate them in Jakarta, university cities like Bandung or Jogjakarta, or places with low cultural appreciations like my hometown?

    If they are international, I would definitely locate them in various countries. But, which countries I also don’t know.

    And no, I am not going to think about “maintaining” the perishable collections.

    Museums of Hollywood propaganda

    I think the name explains it and I don’t have to elaborate on why it is needed in the first place and I am focusing on propaganda in American entertainment.

    When it comes to locations, I would definitely establish one in Los Angeles, the headquarters of the industry. Of course, as it is the lions’ den, there will be lots of backlashes. Not to mention that studio executives might have connections in the government.

    Very risky. But, worth the shot.

    But, I am not satisfied about LA is its only location. The question is where else should we locate them?

    Should we choose other major, big cities like NYC, Chicago and Houston? Should we choose the nation’s capital? Should we choose certain university towns where anti-establishment attitude are rampant? Or should we choose urban areas known for unquestioning and zealous patriotism?

    If we want to branch out to other countries, which ones should we choose? Should they be America’s closest allies like Canada and the UK? Do the international locations even matter?

    Museums of human rights violations

    I am not talking about any human rights violations. I am talking about ones that are still controversial due to the persisting historical denialism and whitewashing.

    I am talking about cases like Armenian genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, the expulsion of Palestinians from their own lands, the atrocities committed by Japan in WWII, the 1965 violent anti-Communist purge in Indonesia, history of racism in Australia and the Americas and the coups committed by the US against democratically-elected governments in Iran and Latin America which were replaced with dictatorships.

    You know, topics of light conversations.

    When it comes to locations, I have to make sure they are not in countries where such museums can get shut down by the authorities.

    But, even if censorship is not a problem, I have to make sure at least one case from the host country is included in the exhibition. I want to give the impression to visitors that there is no such thing as angelic countries.

    It is also the reason why I want the museum to be dedicated to many cases instead of just one. It is a lot harder than dedicating to a single case. But, it is worth it.

    I also have to make sure it is located in localities which have lots of foreign tourists and residents. Those localities may include cities like NYC, Sydney, London and even world-famous university towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Grenoble.

    I don’t want the learning immersion being mostly exclusive to citizens of one country. Every person, regardless of their national backgrounds, must have the opportunity to experience it.

    Yadda yadda yadda

    It is obvious that my ideas are not only unoriginal, they are also fantastical. I will never create a small museum, let alone a few big ones.

    But, I just can’t help churning my own ideas, even in fields where I don’t have any expertise in. Basically, every field in existence.

    It is fun to write down my fantastical ideas.

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    A childhood treasure I didn’t know having

    When I was a toddler, I remember watching feature films from those gigantic laser discs and one of my favourite films to watch was Disney’s Fantasia.

    The original one, NOT the so-so sequel.

    Back then, I didn’t try to comprehend the plots. I was simply mesmerised by the beautiful colours and shapes, adorned with harmonious classical music. It felt like I was watching a magically-animated painting, accompanied by a live musical performance.

    Along with my beloved encyclopedias, I credit the film for making my childhood a colourful and vibrant life chapter where even the sky was not a limit. It felt like every inch of the universe was worthy to unearth.

    When I started attending primary school, VCDs had become widespread. I started to watch more movies on the smaller discs and I started neglecting their bulkier predecessors. So, between pre-school and adulthood, I forgot about the existence of the film.

    Yikes.

    I managed to watch it again when I was eighteen. As I already started becoming a snobby cultural critic, I started to appreciate its merit.

    Even though I don’t think it was an extraordinarily groundbreaking film*, it still effortlessly stands out among many Hollywood flicks. To this day, I am still surprised that one of my childhood favourites is of high quality. Most of them tend to be shit.

    And, because of its uniqueness, it shapes my taste in the arts and entertainment as an adult.

    Magically, absurdly and subconsciously realistic

    The segments that feature abstract animations are my very first exposures to abstract art. Now, I am one of those weirdos who genuinely enjoy staring at abstract paintings.

    I don’t care about the lack of coherent narrative. As long as the combination of shapes and colours impress me, I will consider the paintings beautiful regardless.

    I also have to credit it for inspiring me to love surrealism and magical realism, making me attracted to the weird and inexplicably fantastical.

    Nowadays, some of my favourite films include ones with strong metaphysical themes and/or ones that portray the inexplicable. They include Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and The Shining and much of Andrei Tarkovsky’s works.

    While Fantasia is of neither genre, its sublimely fantastical depictions of natural phenomena certainly help opening the path.

    And it is certainly metaphysical.

    Unhinged sophistication

    When I listened to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring supposedly for the first time, it felt like an inexplicable surge of nostalgia ran through my veins, as if I had heard it before. It turned out I had: it is one of the soundtracks of Fantasia!

    My early exposure to the modernist composition possibly influenced my taste in classical music. I prefer the more stylistically-eclectic and/or “unhinged” newer works -like ones by Stravinsky (obviously) , George Gershwin and John Cooliged Adams- over the older ones, many of which I find a bit too saccharine.

    In fact, I now love to complain about how films, especially fantastical ones, are too dependent on cliche-sounding orchestral music and are too afraid to utilise more ambient, more eclectic and more “untraditional” compositions.

    The lovely dread

    Chernabog is probably one of my first exposures to “scary entertainment”, even though I was never terrified by it. Again, I was too busy mesmerised by the beautiful animation.

    Beautifully haunting and sinister animation, showcasing something one can describe as a symbolic representation of the dark side of humanity.

    As an adult, I have a weird thing for entertainment with ominous atmosphere, as in you feel scared even though nothing scary is happening on-screen. You know, actual horror instead of cheap jump scares.

    I am not a fan of the show Criminal Minds due to its dehumanising depictions of mental illness sufferers. But, I do love the episode where the heroes unwittingly cooperate with a police station where virtually every officer is corrupt; it genuinely feels like they can be ambushed at any time. It feels like real life horror.

    Horror is not about what you explicitly show, it is about the feeling of terror you induce on your audience.

    Connecting non-existing dots

    Admittedly, what I just said do sound far-fetched.

    It is indeed absurd to claim one feature film dictates my entire taste as an adult. There are many things that can be taken account as the influencing factors.

    As I hinted in the beginning, I also read encyclopedias frequently as a young child and some of them not only discuss “weird” paintings and sculptures, they also display the photos. Basically, they partook in the exposure.

    One of my favourite musicians is Chrisye, an Indonesian Pop singer whose early works reek influence from Genesis -a Progressive Rock band- and the band’s genre does sound “unhinged” to the “untrained” ears. After discovering that particular musical style, I ended up craving for more “weird” sounds.

    And those films that I love, I also have to credit my time wasted on Wikipedia and my Media Studies classes as contributing factors; I would not have heard of Andrei Tarkovsky if it wasn’t for the former and I would not have watched a single film from West Africa if it wasn’t for the latter.

    My love of ominous entertainment may also be rooted by many years of watching horror films and eventually ended up frustrated with the excessive amount of cheap jump scares, craving for actual feeling of terror.

    Oh, and don’t forget about my personality. Our personalities not only dictate how we interact with each other, they also dictate what we love and hate.

    I am a weirdo and have been called such since forever.

    Therefore, my current taste can still come to being even without Fantasia in my life.

    But, still…

    As I said before, the film is a huge part of my childhood. While it is clearly not the only factor that shapes my taste, it certainly is a major one.

    It certainly accelerates its formation and it certainly aggravated its potency.

    Without the film, it would probably take me a much longer time to love the things I now love.

    *I refuse to call Fantasia a groundbreaking film because I don’t think it is.

    Yes, it certainly has a relatively unusual approach in regards to moving image narratives and may be unappealing for those who want more glaring expositions, who think escapism equals quality and who cannot give more damn about visual artistry.

    But, if you dig deeper into the history of cinema, you would see there were already ground-breaking cinema movements -like surrealism and Italian futurism- that predated the film’s existence.

    And works of those genres are bizarre and incomprehensible for the masses. Not matter how weird Fantasia is, I still think it is relatively comprehensible.

    If anything, its audio and visual aesthetics were already conventional at the time of its release.

    The risk-taking was indeed high. But, it was not that high.

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    Do I regret my ‘useless’ degree?

    The answer is no.

    Yes, it does not help me in my job search. It barely teaches me any practical skills. It is not rigorous with its theoretical education. I wish it is both a vocational and liberal arts degree.

    But, thanks to my media studies major, I now possess a relatively high level media literacy. While it is too low for my liking, it dramatically increases after I started my media studies education. As a result, in my personal life, I am the least gullible person around.

    Admittedly, I still fall for fake news on some occasions. But, to my defence, I fall for fake news reported by the mainstream media which have sleak and professional presentations. The people I know, on the other hand, will easily fall for articles which utilise clickbaits as headlines and over-dramatic language in the content, lack any proper citations and, in some cases, include blatantly-photoshopped images.

    Those same people also easily fall for those arbitrarily-sad, tear-jerking and pseudo-inspirational content, whether on the internet or on TV. Also thanks to my education, I now take heed of the sappy or ‘uplifting’ background music, the unnecessarily lavish visuals and the flowery language. If those sad stories and inspirational words are given raw and unpolished presentation, they would not have the same emotional potency. In fact, their lack of depth would immediately expose itself. Nowadays, such content no longer moves me. It only nauseates me.

    I also no longer easily fall for any rhetoric (well, most of the time). Acknowledging that people lie to and deceive each other seems to be a common sense. But, in reality, we still take other people’s words for granted, especially when they are public figures. We often vote for politician NOT because the actual substances of their words and NOT because their track records, but because they keep appealing to our emotions.

    I also have another reason, a strange reason, why I don’t regret my university education: learning.

    It is strange because I am someone known for his poor academic performances. I always have a hard time finishing assignments and I often get low grades; high ones are anomalies. Overall, it is a miracle that I finished primary education on-time.

    But, I had so much fun absorbing every bit of information. I sincerely enjoyed reading the pages of the library books and academic papers I managed to get my hands on. I sincerely enjoyed immersing myself in research findings and complex theories. I never had any academia-related enjoyment prior to my university years.

    I blame the lack of enjoyment on the over-emphasise of rote-learning, the lack of encouragement to read and do my own researches, the fact that I have to take classes I have no interest in and my teachers made no effort to make them seem worthy to learn about.

    It is a contrast to my higher education in which reading and researching were compulsory, rote-learning was virtually non-existent (at least, in my chosen discipline) and, because I chose my own major, I did not have to take many classes I had no interest partaking. I enjoyed learning when I was a university student because that is how learning should be!

    The purpose of learning is not about receiving information for granted. It should be about the adeptness to gather new information and determine its validity by scrutinising the sources, the reasoning and evidences. It should be for the sake of being enlightened and not expecting any tangible or shallow rewards.

    It is not to say higher education is not susceptible to indoctrination. It is, especially when religion and politics are involved. But, considering how the learning process is executed, gullibility and irrationality are inexcusable. I am thoroughly disappointed by the severe intellectual dishonesty of some of my fellow university graduates.

    I also have to credit my university education for increasing my nerdiness.. After reading quite a handful of genuinely interesting papers and library books, I end up even more interested in the liberal arts.

    I never knew that one could observe human beings through abstract lenses, beyond the surface of their observable behaviours; it gives me an entirely fresh approach to how I tackle my surrounding.

    Are those lenses practical? No, they are not necessarily so. But, they do turn me into a more contemplative person; with the risk of being seen as ostentatious, I even dare to say they make more spiritual.

    Consequentially, I also end up searching for more academic papers, despite the fact that it has been a while since the graduation day. I used to hate reading them. But now, I read them NOT because I want to be a researcher and am intending to publish my findings, I read them simply because I want to!

    Overall, I become a significantly better individual.

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    Religious clothing and secularism

    I’ll be straight forward: I disagree with the ban of religious attire in certain public areas and I disagree for two reasons.

    Reason one: the blurred boundary between cultures and religion.

    Take holidays for example. Christmas is a Christian (originally Pagan) festival celebrated by staunch atheists in the western world and the Laïcité-embracing French government, despite its prevailing spiritual significance among devoted Christians. Halloween, another holiday of Pagan/Christian origin, is also celebrated by secular and religious westerners alike. Nowruz is a Zoroastrian holiday celebrated by Persians all over the world, including the ones living in Afghanistan and Iran, despite its prevailing spiritual significance among Zoroastrians.

    In much of the world, we name the planets (and one former planet) in our solar system based on Roman Gods; NASA even has the Project Apollo, which is named after the Roman God. Garuda is a creature in Hindu mythology and yet it is one of the national symbols of Indonesia, a predominantly-Muslim country; in fact, none of of the country’s national symbols are of Islamic origin.

    When it comes to headcovering, many people associate it with Islamic dress. But, everyone with basic religious literacy knows it is NOT an exclusively Islamic thing; it has been used for non-Islamic religious rituals and even for entirely cultural reasons! That’s what both Islamophobes and zealous Muslims refuse to acknowledge.

    Reason two: it is just fucking clothes, for fuck’s sake!

    Okay, I don’t actually believe that.

    I do think what we wear matters depending on the occasions as we can emit impressions, both accurate and inaccurate, to others without uttering a single word. For example: one would never visit a funeral while adorned in party costumes; if one wants to be perceived positively, wear the proper outfit. One must always be mindful of one’s own image. While I try not to judge how people dress, I cannot expect them to do the same.

    But, some people don’t share my mindset. Instead, they genuinely believe our outfits are literally everything and therefore, it is acceptable for them to judge a person’s dignity and even morality solely based on how he/she dresses. I disagree with it because I have an approach called ‘living in reality’.

    Suits and ties are often associated with dignity, despite the fact that sleazy TV journalists, politicians, lawyers and businessmen are almost always seen wearing them. If I have to bring up Muslims, I have met ones who genuinely believe their adherence to strict supposedly religiously-obligated dress codes make them morally superior than me, despite the fact that they are anything but moral as shown by their supports of discrimination and their support of/unwillingness to condemn extremism.

    In the context of state secularism, it is often believed that donning religious attire is an indication of one’s commitment to put one’s religion above everything else. I have met hijabi Muslim women who think Islam should be their countries’ only state religion and their fellow Muslims should be given more rights than the non-Muslims.

    But, I also have met hijabi women who are either apathetic about the topic of state secularism OR are in favour of governance that respect the society’s plurality. I also have met non-hijabi women who are apathetic about this issue and do not see anything wrong with the presence of religions in public schools. In fact, I know one Indonesian Muslim woman who hates hijab and supports the policy of banning hijab… who also refuse to vote for non-Muslim candidates in the recent Indonesian parliamentary election.

    Admittedly, this argument of mine won’t convince many people. Not only it is very anecdotal (and we live in a world where we even don’t take peer-reviewed researchers seriously), it is also challenges the prevailing idea of state secularism.

    It challenges the notion that appearing secular is the same as actually being secular. It challenges the notion that secularism can be achieved simply by removing religiosity out of sight. It challenges the idea that appearances can or should be taken at face value.

    France, a place where religious attires are banned from public schools and government buildings, is arguably the most (in)famous secular state and often hailed as a model of state secularism. Yet, it also gives exemptions to the Alsace region, which funds religious activities of Calvinists, Lutherans, Catholics and religious Jews and makes religious classes compulsory.

    Pre-Erdogan Turkey officially banned hijab in certain places… and yet it already had Religious Affairs Directorate which controlled mosques and appointed Imams, who were officially recognised as civil servants. Iran under the so-called extremely-secular anti-hijab Pahlavi dynasty also had similar approaches regarding religious affairs.

    So much for Laïcité, eh?

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