The (so-called) United States of Islam

For years, I wondered why many non-Muslims insist the entire Muslim is one giant organisation in which literally every member knows each other and shares the exact same admittance, trainings and goals and acknowledges the exact same centralised religious authority.

Basically, they think the Muslim world is more structurally rigid than any Christian churches. You know, a factually incorrect belief.

I still don’t know exactly why they posses it. Maybe they have Christian-centric views of religions. Maybe they want an easy path of dehumanising the others (just like they do to Jews and LGBT people). But, I do notice something else: some of them are obsessed with the concept of ummah.

In Islam, the Arabic word for community also specifically refers to the entire Muslim community, transcending literal and figurative border. We Muslims are encouraged to unite with our fellow believers. Ideally, that’s how the Muslim world should be.

Of course, reality is never ideal. We are anything but united.

Sunnis and Shias waging war against each other, Sunnis violently discriminating against Ahmadis, Iraq-Iran war, Qatar Gulf crisis, the unstable relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia, Bangladeshis still harbouring grudge against Pakistan, the Arab spring, the Somali civil war, ISIS killing fellow Muslims, just to name a few.

When we do care about the plights of Muslims abroad, we only think about ones like the Uyghurs and the Palestinians. You know, the ones persecuted by non-Muslims. Even then, we shoot our own feet by ignoring the nuances, not realising that religion may not be the only factor of persecution, if at all.

From my personal experiences as an Indonesian, the word umat -the Indonesian spelling variant of ummah– has a strong nationalistic connotation; every time I hear Indonesian says the word, they almost always refer to Indonesian Muslims specifically.

In fact, if you add the word manusia after umat, you will have the Indonesian for ‘mankind’. Basically, when we use it to refer to a global community, it becomes entirely non-sectarian.

As I said, I still don’t know exactly why people insist on seeing us as one giant organisation. But, it goes to show that they really overestimate our ability to unite and they certainly take our terminology more seriously than we do.

It is so cute, they should have be the Muslims, not us.

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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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Diajarin ngomong yang “benar”, malah ngambek

Setiap kali ada Youtuber yang mengajari penonton mereka cara berbicara bahasa Inggris dengan “benar” (perhatikan tanda kutipnya), pasti saja ada orang-orang yang marah.

Kenapa mereka marah? Mereka bilang logat tidak hanya ada satu. Jadi, menurut mereka, terserah kita mau ngomong kayak gimana.

Memang betul setiap bahasa memiliki berbagai macam logat. Memang betul juga bahwa di ilmu kajian bahasa, tidak ada yang namanya logat “benar” atau “salah”.

Tetapi, saya punya pertanyaan: mengapa anda belajar bahasa?

Jawabannya antara anda memang pencinta bahasa… atau anda ingin berkomunikasi dengan lebih banyak orang. Jika komunikasi adalah keinginan anda, jangan asal ngomong!

Adanya berbagai macam logat bukanlah alasan. Sebanyak-banyaknya mereka, tidak semuanya dianggap baku. Setiap negara ada yang namanya logat baku dan kegunaannya adalah mempermudah komunikasi antar warga negara; percuma adanya bahasa penyatu jika tidak ada logat penyatu.

Negara-negara berbahasa Inggris sadar bahwa bahasa yang mereka gunakan juga digunakan di negara-negara lain; mereka sadar bahwa logat baku mereka harus bisa dimengerti oleh warga asing. Itulah sebabnya kenapa logat-logat baku mereka cenderung mudah dimengerti orang luar, walaupun logat-logatnya terdengar jauh berbeda.

Lah, lu memangnya siapa? Kok bisa-bisanya bilang lu berhak ngomong sesuka hati dan harap semua orang ngerti?

Bayangkan jika ada orang bule mengucapkan Rupiah seperti Rupayah dan mengucapkan huruf C sebagai K…. dan mereka marah jika dikoreksi. Gak hanya lu gak akan ngerti, lu juga jadi gemes sampe ingin nabok mereka satu persatu.

Jujur saja, kita-kita yang bahasa Inggrisnya tergolong jauh lebih bagus juga ingin nonjok lu pade.

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.

 

Makan seperti orang Indonesia 1: (tidak) merasa sah

Karangan dalam Bahasa Inggris.

Tidak ada yang namanya masakan Indonesia. Yang ada masakan-masakan Indonesia. Kata jamak.

Negara ini, negara nusantara yang diapit dua benua, memiliki ratusan suku bangsa. Pemerintah secara resmi mengakui enam agama dan masih banyak agama lain yang tidak diakui. Adat istiadat kita juga dibubuhi pengaruh Arab, India, Tionghoa, Belanda and Portugal. Keanekaragaman tersebut adalah bukti bahwa kita memiliki berbagai macam budaya dan itu artinya kita juga memiliki berbagai macam cara memasak.

Masakan Jawa dan Sunda hampir sepenuhnya bebas dari pengaruh asing, walaupun kesenian Jawa dan Sunda sendiri memiliki pengaruh besar dari India. Masakan Jawa terkenal akan rasanya yang manis; itu disebabkan oleh penggunaan gula merah dan kecap manis yang melimpah ruah. Masakan Sunda terkenal akan rasanya yang ‘seperti tanah’ (saya tidak tahu cara menerjemahkan earthy); itu disebabkan oleh penggunaan sayur-mayur mentah.

Sebagai kota di pulau Sumatra, Palembang bisa dibilang aneh karena masakannya dipengaruhi masakan Jawa dan pengunaan rempah yang tergolong minim. Mereka juga menggunakan ikan air tawar dan ikan laut; di Indonesia, masakan-masakah daerah cenderung menggunakan salah satu saja.

Masakan Minangkabau dan Melayu terkenal akan kuah santan mereka yang berbumbu, kental dan penuh kolesterol. Mereka dipengaruhi oleh India dan Timur Tengah. Masakan Melayu juga dipengaruhi Tiongkok dan adalah kerabat masakan Peranakan, yang juga berakar di Tiongkok dan dengan mudah ditemukan di Singapura dan Malaysia.

Walaupun kita juga punya hidangan Peranakan, hidangan Tionghoa yang minim rempah jauh lebih terkenal. Mereka lebih mirip dengan masakan Tionghoa yang ‘asli’.

Masakan Batak terkenal akan andaliman, rempah yang membuat lidah kebas dan kerabat dengan merica sichuan dan hidangan yang menggunakan isi perut sapi sebagai bahan. Sebagian orang Batak Kristen juga terkenal doyan memakan daging anjing.

Masakan Minahasa memiliki reputasi yang lebih ‘bejat’ karena, selain reputasi mereka sebagai salah satu masakan paling pedas di Indonesia, mereka juga menggunakan daging-daging ‘eksotis’ seperti daging kelelawar, tikus hutan, ular, monyet dan, tentu saja, anjing.

Bisa dibilang masakan Betawi adalah masakan yang paling ‘blasteran’ di Indonesia. Masakannya dipengaruhi oleh berbagai budaya daerah dan budaya asing. Masakan Betawi mencakupi semua budaya-budaya asing yang saya sebutkan sebelumnya! Karena kecangkupan luas itulah saya bingung apa yang membuat makanan Betawi khas. Entah kenapa, saya mengaitkan hidangan Betawi dengan wangi sereh, walaupun jelas tidak semuanya menggunakan bahan tersebut.

Saya hanya baru mencicipi segelintir hidangan-hidangan Indonesia. Tetapi, pengalaman sempit saya sudah menyingkap betapa beragamnya masakan Indonesia; ‘penjelajahan’ saya masih belum dimulai. Bahkan saya yakin orang-orang yang seumur-umur belum pernah makan makanan Indonesia akan mengakui keanekaragamannya hanya dengan membaca sumber-sumber daring terpercaya.

Keanekaragaman tersebut membuktikan bahwa Indonesia bisa memuaskan berbagai macam selera lidah. Dari segi ketenaran, makanan kita bisa saja dengan mudah mengalahkan makanan dari Jepang dan Korea Selatan, dua negara yang terkenal homogen. Kita bisa saja menjadi salah satu pemain kuliner utama di tingkat dunia.

Sayangnya, dunia nyata berkata lain.

Ketenaran dapat diraih dengan embaran yang penuh percaya diri. Embaran tersebut harus dilaksanakan dengan kukuh dan kita harus percaya dengan kata-kata kita sendiri. Saya yang canggungnya minta ampun pun tahu soal itu!

Embaran kita terlalu lemah gemulai. Kita pemalas dan tidak percaya ucapan kita sendiri. Kita malu akan keberadaan diri kita sebagai manusia berbudaya. Kita merasa ‘sah’ hanya saat orang asing memuji kebudayaan kita.

Itulah sebabnya kenapa kita bisa menemukan banyak Youtuber asing yang membuat video tentang makanan Indonesia.*

Saya pernah bertemu orang Indonesia yang bangga akan masakan bangsa sendiri. Tapi, sebagian besar dari mereka hanya bisa menikmati hidangan Indonesia; bahkan, sebagian dari mereka hanya menyukai hidangan dari suku mereka sendiri.

Pada dasarnya, mereka bagaikan katak dalam tempurung.

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*Saya seolah-olah mengatakan bahwa kehadiran Youtuber asing (entah kenapa, banyak dari mereka adalah orang Korea) yang mencari nafkah dengan makan makanan Indonesia adalah hal yang buruk.

Saya tidak merasa begitu. Bahkan, saya merasa kagum dengan sebagian dari mereka. Saya hanya ingin menegaskan bahwa orang Indonesia masih mendambakan pengakuan dari luar bak remaja yang tidak percaya diri.

Ada juga kekhawatiran kalau orang asing memanfaatkan ketidakpercayaan diri kita. Saya merasa kekhawatiran itu sah. Tapi, hanya karena sah, bukan berarti semuanya memang melakukan hal itu!

Jika mau menuduh mereka secara terang-terangan, usahakan kau punya buktinya. Perasaan kau yang dodol itu tidak bisa digunakan sebagai bukti!

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Pelajaran-pelajaran yang saya ambil dari UN

Pelajaran pertama: Sekedar ‘belajar’ itu percuma.

Pendidikan formal menuntut kita ‘belajar’ hanya dengan sekadar menghafal dan mengharapkan nilai dan masa depan cerah sebagai imbalan. Tuntutan tersebut semakin menguat saat kita dihantui bayangan UN yang tentu saja ampuh membunuh keinginan siswa untuk menimba ilmu.

Idealnya, kita juga harus belajar berpikir kritis agar kita tidak mudah terhasut oleh informasi yang kita terima. Kita juga harus belajar karena kita suka menimba ilmu tanpa mengharapkan imbalan; keikhlasan tersebutlah yang memperluas cakrawala kita.

Walaupun kehidupan kuliah jauh lebih menuntut dan gelar tidak akan pernah bisa menjamin masa depan cerah, saya lebih suka belajar di universitas.

Memang betul, tuntutan nilai masih ada. Tetapi, karena saya yang memilih jurusan sendiri, sebagian besar mata kuliah cocok dengan minat saya. Ditambah lagi, kita belajar tidak dengan sekedar menghafal, tetapi juga menelaah setiap embaran yang kita terima.

Penerapan pendidikan tinggi memang jauh dari sempurna dan tidak luput dari masalah indoktrinasi. Pendidikan tinggi juga bersifat formal sehingga tidak cocok bagi semua orang.

Tetapi, dibandingkan pendidikan tingkat dasar dan menengah, pendidikan tinggi jauh lebih berhasil dalam menyediakan wadah bagi mereka yang ingin belajar dengan sepenuh hati.

Pelajaran kedua: Di Indonesia, kejujuran adalah suatu kelemahan.

Di UN SMP dan SMA, saya bisa dibilang adalah satu dari segelintir murid yang tidak mau menyontek. Karena saya tinggal Indonesia, negara yang terkenal akan budi pekertinya, banyak orang di sekitar menghina saya.

Baik murid dan orang tua saya sendiri, mereka menganggap saya sok pintar dan sok suci. Guru-guru dengan bersedia tutup mata tentang kecurangan yang dilakukan anak-anak didik mereka.

Saya berhasil lulus UN SMP dan SMA dengan nilai rata-rata yang lumayan bagus dan saya raih itu tanpa melakukan kecurangan. Nilai-nilai itu adalah murni hasil jerih payah saya.

Tetapi, hingga saat ini, saya masih belum menerima pujian akan keberhasilan tersebut. Bahkan, masih ada yang bilang saya lulus karena keberuntungan semata. Saking mereka mementingkan hasil akhir, mereka dengan gampangnya memuliakan kecurangan dan merendahkan kejujuran.

Jika mereka tidak memuliakan kecurangan, mereka tidak akan melontarkan hinaan dari mulut comberan mereka.

Pengalaman ini mengajarkan saya bahwa kemuliaan harus dilakukan dengan ikhlas, tanpa rasa riya. Selain membohongi diri sendiri dan orang lain, rasa riya juga membuat kita memiliki harapan palsu akan sekeliling kita.

Dengan polosnya, kita akan mengharapkan pujian dari orang lain. Jika kita beruntung tinggal di negara-negara bejat seperti Indonesia, yang kita akan dapatkan hanyalah mulut-mulut comberan penuh celaan. Yang ada kita makan hati.

Namanya juga manusia, walaupun saya tidak mengharapkan pujian (dan saya sudah tahu betapa bobroknya akhlak orang Indonesia), hinaan itu tetap saja menyakitkan.

Bayangkan jika saya mengharapkan pujian. Saya yakin saya akan menjadi pribadi yang jauh lebih sinis daripada sekarang.

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.

Chrisye: the one with smooth voice

His fans would probably describe him as the greatest Indonesian singer ever lived. But, I am also a fan of his and, even though I see him as one of the greatest, I don’t think he is the greatest.

For one, his singing was not that versatile. While other male singers like Ahmad Albar and Gito Rollies easily traversed various styles, his voice required more care. The melody of the songs, the music arrangement and even the phonology of the lyrics must be carefully considered. Why? If just one was disregarded, his smooth voice would turn harsh. He even said that on his biography.

But, it is not to say he was not a great singer. There was something about the smoothness that enabled him to express the full emotionality of the songs, regardless of the composers and lyricists. In fact, even though he mostly sang original songs, he was one of those singers whose covers were perceived as good as the originals, if not better.

Another thing that makes me reluctant to say he was the greatest was his artistic integrity.

Unbeknownst to most non-fans and those who don’t know much about modern Indonesian music, Chrisye actually started as a rock musician. A progressive rock one, to be precise. His first album was a project called Guruh Gipsy, which fused progressive rock with Balinese gamelan music and western classical one.

In fact, his earlier albums are still heavily influenced by progressive rock. His roots are heavily present in them, despite him already being a pop singer by this point.

That can be credited to his collaboration with Yockie Suryoprayogo, whose background was also prog rock. No matter what the songs are, the musical arrangements always feel “progressive” in a way.

Thanks to Yockie, Chrisye was able to become a pop singer who maintained his roots. Sadly, the professional relationship had to be severed.

Apart from not wanting to be musically static, Chrisye also thought that -as much as his commended his colleague’s talent-, Yockie’s style did not fit his voice. Two of their collaborative album also commercially tanked, probably because they were too damn weird.

But, while there were good reasons for termination, I don’t think his musical career improved. The commercial success was still there. But, he was no longer a pop singer with prog rock roots. He was just a pop singer.

None of his successive collaborators (that I know of) had backgrounds in prog music. While he stood among his contemporaries a bit, Younky Suwarno’s musical arrangements were quite stale. While they can be a bit daring with their arrangements, neither Addie MS nor Erwin Gutawa have backgrounds in prog music.

In fact, his post-Yockie career included something that I call the ‘artificially cheerful’ trilogy: Aku Cinta Dia (I Love Him/Her; our pronouns are gender neutral), Hip Hip Hura and Nona Lisa (Miss Lisa). They are albums in which most of the songs have very cheerful melodies and arrangements, evoking a high degree of lightheartedness previously unheard of in his previous works.

I see them as artificial because the lightheartedness was forced. He and his collaborators were just following a trend, not because he was interested in making very happy music. Not to mention that he was coerced (to put it mildly) to wear colourful costumes and perform choreographies.

Besides his smooth voice, he also had other two trademarks: ‘bloodless’ stage performances and simple costumes. The fact that he suddenly changed his fashion and performance style just for the sake of maintaining popularity undoubtedly made him a sell-out.

Don’t get wrong: I like some of the songs from the trilogy, even the one that plagiarised Footloose. But, the albums are clearly the least Chrisye-like Chrisye albums.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Guruh Soekarnoputra.

He was a co-founder of Guruh Gipsy, a project that gave Chrisye a once in a lifetime musical sensation. While it clearly did not make him an even more idealistic musician, it certainly cemented his passion for music.

But, that was not Guruh’s only influence on him.

For some reasons, there was something about his songs that just fit Chrisye’s voice. I don’t know why. But, it seems they were meant to be sung by him.

Because of this curious compatibility, Guruh frequently wrote songs for him. Some of Guruh’s most well-known works were originally performed by Chrisye and some of Chrisye’s most well-known songs are Guruh’s creations.

Guruh’s lyrics are admittedly not that great; sometimes, they can get too pretentious. His melodies, however, are wonderfully unpredictable. He has a strong background in traditional arts and the influences are audible in some of his songs.

Yockie helped him getting in touch with his musical root. Guruh helped him in touch with his ancestral one.

Eros Djarot, another songwriter, was also a frequent collaborator. But, I don’t know how influential he was on Chrisye’s musicality and I don’t know why they stopped collaborating after 1984.

His best albums?

Obviously, the ones I will mention are my personal favourite. But, I am going to pretend they are objectively the best… because I can. So, here they are:

Jurang Pemisah (Dividing Chasm), Sabda Alam (Nature’s Order), Badai Pasti Berlalu (The Storm Will Surely Pass)-both the 1977 and 1999 versions-, Sendiri (Alone), Kala Cinta Menggoda (When Love Seduces) and Dekade (do I need to translate this?). Of course, I love them for different reasons.

1. Jurang Pemisah

There is nothing original about it.

Even though its concept is about combining ‘sweet’ Pop with thumping Rock, the result did not sound groundbreaking at all. In fact, it sounds like a typical 1970’s pop rock album. As far as I am concerned, it is mostly known among Chrisye’s most devoted fans.

But, I still love it anyway. It has catchy tunes and it is quite mature as a debut solo album.

Okay, I am not sure if I should call this his solo album. Not only Yockie arranged the music, he also provided solo vocals in three songs. It feels like every Chrisye album with Yockie in it was less of a solo album and more of a collaborative one.

2. Badai Pasti Berlalu, 1977

It is hard for me to dislike the original BPB.

It is often lauded as a pioneer of pop kreatif, an Indonesian variant of art pop (and yes, it is a lame-ass name). It is a proof that, with the right musicians and producers, modern Indonesian music can be elevated to a higher aesthetic level and still be commercially successful.

It was also a soundtrack album for a popular film of the same name, which was based on a popular novel of the same. Chrisye and the album became more legendary than the film and the source material themselves.

I have read the novel. It is a sterile melodramatic story. It is a big meh.

3. Sabda Alam

While certainly not his first solo album and certainly did not launch his career, it feels like a grand solo debut.

It successfully introduced him as not just a talented solo pop star, but one with an artistic integrity and willingness to keep improving. It is another great example of pop kreatif album and, objectively, it is certainly one of his best works.

It is indeed stylistically and thematically similar to its predecessor, BPB. But, SA did not copy BPB. The former was only inspired by the latter. It does not feel like a carbon copy.

4. Sendiri

It is his only artsy post-Yockie album in the 1980’s.

Thanks to music arranger Addie MS (who is now known for his symphony orchestra), it has a strong influence of western classical aesthetics. The titular song’s classical piano-dominant arrangement is quite unusual for an Indonesian pop song, even to this day. I still don’t know exactly how it became popular in the first place.

But, I do notice how the style accentuates the smoothness of his voice… which is unfortunate because it is rarely used in his works. If it was utilised more, Chrisye’s songs would be of higher quality even without Yockie’s presence.

5. Badai Pasti Berlalu, 1999 version

I love this version because, from all of his post-Yockie albums, it has the most unusual musical arrangements; one of the songs uses sitar, gamelan and western-style choir.

Here, Erwin Gutawa showcases his ability to create relatively idiosyncratic arrangements while still complimenting Chrisye’s unique voice. Too bad this album is the only one where Gutawa pushes his limits.

It is also a reason why I almost left out Kala Cinta Menggoda, which was released two years prior, from the list.

6. Kala Cinta Menggoda

Compared to its successor, KCM feels uninspiring; the musical arrangement (also done mostly by Erwin Gutawa) is very much middle-of-the-road pop with token traditional elements. While every song is enjoyable, only Untukku, Ketika Tangan dan Kaki Berbicara and the titular song that truly impress me.

But, I choose to include it in the list anyway. As critical as my review can be, I cannot help but respect art pop albums (and the wannabes), especially if they are Indonesian.

Before the mid-1980’s, while there weren’t that many artsy Indonesian pop songs, they could be commercially successful. After the mid-1980’s (around the time when the ‘artificially cheerful’ trilogy was released), their popularity is almost impossible.

The fact that Chrisye and Erwin Gutawa were able to produced a commercially-successful artsy pop album in the 90’s is something worthy of respect.

7. Dekade

When I mentioned how good he was in making song covers, I was thinking of this.

It would not be far-fetched to say this cover album revives people’s interest in the songs. In fact, I am certain most songs in the album end up more famous than the original versions.

Considering he had the skills, I am surprised and disappointed he didn’t do more song covers.

Wait, where’s Guruh Gipsy?

Some of my fellow fans would be bewildered by its exclusion. But, I have a good reason.

Yes, Guruh Gipsy is indeed a masterpiece. But, Chrisye was not that star. Guruh was. He was the project co-founder. He was the one in charge.

Chrisye might have a one-of-its-kind voice. But, the project would still exist without him.

Conclusion

The more I think about, the more I am disappointed by his career.

Yes, he was a talented musician who had created masterpieces and showed the true potentiality of modern Indonesian music. But, he was also a musician who had to compromise lots of times… and it shows in his works, which level of quality and idealism greatly vary from one another.

Of course, I cannot blame him. He was unfortunate to live life after the mid 1980’s, the time when idealism was almost entirely wiped out from the Indonesian music industry (and American one, if I may add).

It also does not help he was born in Indonesia, a country where the masses are culturally unsophisticated and have always been, a country where it is hard to find truly sophisticated pop musicians to collaborate with.

Oh, and I only use one source as a reference: his biography written by Alberthiene Endah.

Frankly, I hate it. It feels like it leaves out many things. I wish there are more detailed accounts of his creative processes throughout the years.

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Riots: my Indonesian perspective

Martin Luther King said it is the language of the unheard. I am not 100% on board with it.

In the case of the still on-going Black Lives Matter riot (as of at the time of writing), I do think it is the language of the unheard. It is undeniable black Americans are disproportionately targeted by the justice system. Considering how every single one of their peaceful protests is condemned as ‘inappropriate’ by the establishment, it is no surprise race riot is still a semi-regular feature of the American life to this day.

Even if I dismiss the reports of white instigators (I don’t), I still cannot blame the rioters for being violently angry… while also acknowledging that small business owners also have the right to be bitter when their properties are burned down. Yes, you can do both.

Regarding the Hong Kong riots, I also think they are languages of the unheard. Contrary to popular belief (and I notice its prevalence among online Singaporeans), the Hong Kongers don’t rebel against the authorities just for the sake of it. They rebel because they truly appreciate the liberty they have enjoyed for decades, the liberty that citizens of mainland China (and Singapore) have never experienced.

The citywide legislative council has functional constituencies which allow special interest groups like corporations (many of which are Pro-Beijing) to vote and their votes have more weight than the ones of geographical constituencies. The city’s chief executive is directly appointed by Beijing. Pro-democracy camp is only dominant in the district councils.*

In Indonesia, it is a different case.

There are the infamous ‘wrapped rice’ protesters, those who join protest rallies simply because they want the free lunch and cash. The presence of organised and extensive logistical support, akin to a meticulously-planned event, is a dead giveaway.

Even though many of them are working-class people, their acts are not languages of the unheard. They do not represent their own causes, they represent the determination of certain parties to keep destabilising the public life.

Then, there are the Islamist protesters, who may or may not overlap with the aforementioned people.

They protest because they claim to be against the second-class status of Indonesian Muslims… even though we are a predominantly-Muslim nation that have never embraced state secularism, let alone the laïcité type; we were never banned from openly expressing our Islamic identity.

If anything, Islam is the golden child in Indonesia and has always been. Muslims do have privileges that non-Muslims lack.

Basically, the Islamist riots -which there are quite a lot of them- are not languages of the unheard. They are languages of fucktards who demand even more rights to oppress the religious minorities, who think protecting them is the same as oppressing the majority.

If you want to find Indonesian riots who are legitimate languages of the unheard, I will refer to the ones committed by Indonesian Papuans.

They are a marginalised racial and cultural group who have never benefitted from “joining” Indonesia. Their heritage is nothing but a mere cultural prop, their existence is a mere tokenism to our national diversity.

When they aggressively protested against a racism case in which Papuan students were called ‘monkeys’, the majority of Indonesians condemned the Papuans for rioting and not once acknowledging the root of the problem. Sounds familiar?

I am writing this essay (and pretending to have lots of readers) because I don’t want well-intentioned yet gullible people to defend the wrong parties. I don’t want them mistaking the oppressors as the oppressed ones.

We already have assholes who intentionally flip the narrative. We don’t need people to do it accidentally.

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*Yes, under the British rule, the governor of Hong Kong was appointed by the Queen and not by the Hong Kong people and all of the governors were white. But, the legislature was already dominated by Hong Kongers and it had far less functional constituencies.

Oh, and the government did not actively try to stifle freedom of speech. Don’t forget that.

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Eating like an Indonesian 1: feeling (in)validated

There is no such thing as Indonesian cuisine. There are Indonesian cuisines. Plural.

This country, an archipelago sandwiched by two continents, literally has hundreds of ethnic groups. The government officially recognise six religions and there are more unrecognised ones. Our traditions are also laced with Arab, Indian, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Diversity means there are lots of cultures and lots of cultures means lots of ways of cooking.

Javanese and Sundanese cuisines are mostly indigenous in style with minimal foreign influences, even though Javanese and Sundanese arts are heavy with Indian influences. The former is (in)famous for its sweetness due to the heavy use of palm sugar and sweet soy sauce. The latter is known for its earthy taste due to the heavy presence of raw vegetables.

As a Sumatran city, Palembang  is unusual for the Javanese influences in its dishes and their restrained use of spices. They also heavily utilise both freshwater and saltwater fish; in major Indonesian cuisines, it is usually either or.

Minangkabau and Malay cuisines are known for their rich, cholesterol-inducing and spice-heavy coconut milk gravies. Both are heavily influenced by India and the Middle East. The latter is also influenced by China and it is related to Peranakan cuisine, a Chinese fusion cuisine also existing in Singapore and Malaysia.

While there are Peranakan dishes in Indonesia, non-spicy Chinese-influenced dishes are more popular here. They share more resemblances to the ‘original’ Chinese ones.

Batak cuisine is notable for its use of the tongue-numbing andaliman, a relative of Sichuan pepper, and there is one dish that use cow’s cud as an ingredient. Christian Batak people -well, some of them- are also infamous for their consumption of dog meat.

Minahasan cuisine is more infamous because, apart from being one of the spiciest cuisines in the country, it uses way more ‘exotic’ meat from animals like bats, jungle rats, snakes, macaques and yes, even dogs.

Betawi cuisine is the most fusional of them all. It is heavily influenced not only by other regional cultures, but also foreign ones. Remember the foreign cultures I listed earlier? Betawi covers all of them! Due to the high eclecticism, I still don’t know what makes Betawi dishes uniquely Betawi. For some reason, I associate them with the smell of lemongrass, even though not all of them use it.

I have tried only a handful of Indonesian dishes. Yet, my limited experience already reveals how diverse Indonesian cuisines are and how I have only scratched the surface. Heck, I am sure people who haven’t eaten a single Indonesian dish in their lives would acknowledge the diversity just by reading online sources that get the basic facts right.

The variety means one crucial thing: Indonesia could have catered to a wide range of taste buds. Regarding popularity, our foods could have beaten the ones from Japan and South Korea, two highly homogenous countries. We could have been a global culinary powerhouse!

Sadly, reality says otherwise.

Popularity is achieved through confident self-promotion. The promotion must be consistently done and the promoters must believe their own words. Even I know that and I am awkward as fuck!

Our self-promotion is pathetically lethargic. We are lazy and we even don’t believe our own words. We are ashamed of our own cultural existence. We only feel validated when foreigners openly commend our cultures.

There is a reason why you can find lots of foreign Youtubers who make videos eating Indonesian foods.*

I do know Indonesians who are proud of their foods. But, more of than not, they can only enjoy Indonesian foods; in some cases, they can only enjoy ones from their ethnic homelands.

Basically, they are bubble dwellers who have yet to live a truly cosmopolitan life.

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*I make it sound like the presence of foreign Youtubers (many of whom are Koreans, for some reasons) who make a living eating Indonesian foods is an inherently bad thing.

I don’t think it is. In fact, I genuinely adore some of them. I just want to make a point that Indonesians still crave outside validation like insecure teenagers.

While we are it, there is a concern about foreigners exploiting our insecurity. I personally believe the concern is legitimate. But, just because it is legitimate, that does NOT mean all of them are guilty!

If you want to publicly accuse them, make sure you are backed with solid evidences. And no, your feeling is not a fucking evidence!

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