Canadian bilingualism: my definitely non-Canadian perspective

The problem with French language in Canada: it is both unique and not unique at the same time.

First thing first, Franco-Canadian cultures are basically western cultures expressed in the French language. French is one of the world’s major languages and, as an umbrella word, western culture is arguably one of the most dominant on earth. In the context of the entire world, it is certainly not one of its kinds.

Their extinction would undoubtedly be a painful loss for anyone who treasure human cultures. But, the pain would be more unbearable if they have unique language-culture combo (e.g. French language and a South Asian culture) or when the language and/or culture involved is endangered… you know, like indigenous languages and cultures of the Americas.

If Franco-Canadian cultures are unique on a global scale, Quebec’s harsh language policy would be more understandable.

Focus on the word “global” because I am going to contradict myself.

Every knows damn well Canada is often mistaken as the US. Its accents, TV shows, music, films (if you ever encounter one) and celebrities are often mistaken as American. Countless of American TV shows and films were shot in Vancouver and Toronto and no one – apart from the cities’ residents – realises.

When I say Canada, I clearly mean English-speaking Canada.

Admittedly, not everyone cares enough to try distinguishing cultures from each other. But, some of us will always try our best. Personally, I know how to differentiate Metropolitan France and Franco-Canada from each other. Well, at least, when it comes to their TV news broadcast.

Franco-Canadian TV hosts speak with lighter-sounding accents and behave more exuberantly than their Metropolitan French counterparts, the graphic design looks similar to the one on American TV (albeit less garish-looking) and there are lots of shots of suburban areas.

Obviously, those are narrow and superficial observations. But, it proves that anyone who pay more attention can easily spot the differences between Franco-Canada and France, no matter how surface-level they are.

With Anglo-Canada, it is a different case. If a Canadian TV show or film does not showcase the Canadian flag or mention the words Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, I would have mistaken it as American. I find standard Canadian English accent and Anglo-Canadian aesthetics to be indistinguishable from their American counterparts.

You can argue the official bilingualism is burdensome for the federal government and the Quebecois people are being a dick about their language. But, you also have to admit French makes Canada stand out in North America.

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Angry for being taught to speak “properly”

Note: this is a loose translation of this article. Context: it was written with Indonesians in mind.

Every time an Indonesian Youtuber teachers their audience the “proper” English pronunciation (mind the air quote), there has to be people who react angrily.

Why angry? They say there are more than one accents. According to them, it is up to us to speak with any ways we desire.

it is true that every language has a variety of accents. It is also true that in linguistics, there are no such thing as “right” or “wrong” accents.

But, I do have a question: why do you learn a new language?

The answer is either your love of languages… or you have the desire to communicate with more people. If communication is your desire, you should watch your mouth!

The variety of accents is not an excuse. No matter how abundant they are, not all of them are considered the standards! Every country has their own standard accents and they are used to ease communication between citizens; it is pointless to have a unifying language that lacks a unifying accent.

English-speaking countries realise their language is also spoken elsewhere; they realise their standard accents must be intelligible for foreigners. That’s the reason why their standard accents are easy to understand for outsiders, despite sounding different from each other.

And you, who do you think you are? How can you think you can pronounce as you desire and expect everyone to understand you?

Imagine when foreigners pronounce Rupiah as Rupayah and the letter C as K… and they are angry when corrected. Not only you won’t understand them, you want to bitch slap them one by one.

Frankly, even Indonesians who speak with relatively better English also want to punch your faces.

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Something the English-only crowd need to know about

Nobody falls for your superiority complex.

You can argue that speaking any other languages is divisive. But, the fact that you berate others simply for being harmlessly different means you are the divisive one. In order to feel better, you project your own flaw onto others.

You can brag about being monolingual all you want. But, scientific studies have proven that multilingualism make us more perceptive, better learners and more cognitively resilient in our old age. Basically, monolingual pride is a celebration of weakness.

You can bash us foreigners for supposedly having shit English. But, you are obviously jealous when we speak and write English eloquently while you are still too dumb to understand they’re, their and there.

You can also bash our English when you don’t have any comebacks. But, deep down, we all know you are jealous that we can outsmart you using your native language, literally the only language you know.

You can think highly of yourselves. But, nobody -apart from your fellow sufferers- fall for your Anglo superiority complex.

We are literally laughing at you! Even your fellow Anglophones laugh at you!

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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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My thoughts about Geography Now

As I am an Indonesian, it is not a surprise the first video I watch from this geography education channel is the one that encapsulates my home country; it was suggested to me probably because I searched for videos of foreigners trying Indonesian food. But, thanks to that one video, I ended up on a Geo Now binge and I almost watched every video on the channel in less than 48 hours.

As you can immediately tell, I am deeply impressed by the channel!

Okay, admittedly, there is one potential flaw: I have mixed feelings about how it depicts conflicts. Paul and his friends will take the roles of individual countries or sectarian groups and they will start ‘bickering’… which look very childish and comical.

Of course, it can be problematic as it seems to belittle the actual resulting deaths of said conflicts. But, at the same time, the petulant depiction is also fitting considering how clashes often occur simply because of ridiculous reasons, like our inability to deal with inconsenquential human distinction. I know I am reading too much into this as I am sure Paul also cares about the entertainment values. But then, I believe authorial intentionalism can be dismissed when a work has unintended effects on the audience.

Some viewers are starting to feel the channel has become more cringeworthy to watch due to its jokes. I am not on board with this criticism because I think the older videos are even more so with their poorly-delivered jokes. Nowadays, not only the performances have greatly improved, the humour has also become more self-aware; it depicts Paul as a shamelessly ‘punny’ person and, to a lesser extent, a big fat know-it-all.

I am also not on board with the criticism regarding the involvement of his friends; they believe having another on-screen personalities really ruin the channel. For me, their presence increases the dynamism. Besides, literally since the first episode, Paul has been receiving help in the post-production process! While the channel is indeed his brainchild, we must also acknowledge its collaborative nature. It is literally called Geography Now, NOT The Paul Barbato Show!

Mispronunciation is also a recurring theme/joke in the channel; in some cases, he never bothers to even try pronouncing foreign words and opts to speak gibberish or call certain individuals as ‘this guy’ or ‘this *insert occupation here*’. While some may perceive it as disrespectful, I perceive it as refreshing honesty. He acknowledges his linguistic limitation and, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us are too lazy to pronounce foreign phonology accurately! As someone who calls himself The Stammering Dunce, I cannot fault Paul for this.

Also, when he knows how to pronounce certain foreign phonology, especially one from the languages he has limited proficiency in, he will try his best; some people still deliberately mispronounce foreign words and names despite knowing how to do so properly… probably because they are hypocritical pricks who can’t care less about embracing other cultures and yet they get mad when foreigners mispronounce their names and languages repeatedly.

Unsurprisingly, just like any media outlets in existence, the channel cannot escape the criticism regarding informational inaccuracy and omission. But, even then, Paul does not seem to receive a barrage of hate in the comment sections… and for good reasons.

When he omits certain information and/or gives the wrong one, it is because of honest mistakes. He tries his best to produce relatively short yet very concise videos to the point where he literally forgets to include common knowledge; even his China episode fails to mention the Great Wall! There are no indications of him having any political agendas. He fulfills his promise to be as objective as possible; his Rohingya crisis video is a great evidence of this. Oh, and he uses Flag/fan Friday and Filler Week videos as corrective and supplementary components. He is cognizant of his own oversights.

And that’s not his only ‘secret’ for success.

Another important factor is his love of travelling. You know, the real act of travelling! Instead of being content about ‘experiencing’ the foreign lands by falling for the plastic charms of tourist traps, he prefers to taste how the locals live! That, I assume, encourages him to drop his own preconceived notions when researching for new episodes.

He also has a diversity of sources. Besides the scholastic ones, he also takes input from his viewers whose home countries will be covered soon… and I really love this approach!

Whether we like it or not, even with academic rigorousness, those scholastic references can still be prone to informational deficiency and cultural propensity. While the words of his viewers are purely anecdotal, they can provide vantage points that are raw and unobstructed by any methodical filtration. Of course, thankfully, he also strictly distinguishes which info is academic and which isn’t; when he cites anecdotes, he will explicitly present them as such! I believe this route leads him to destination success!

The materials are relatively meticulous and compact while maintaining some level of relatability to the average people who lack any ‘scholarly’ disposition. It is scholastic enough that some teachers actually play his videos in their classes, scholastic enough to convey the defects of the enquired countries… while still ‘populist’ enough to please some flag-wavers and over-zealous foreign cultures enthusiasts.

Of course, as an Indonesian, I have to talk about the Indonesia episodes.

One criticism I have is how he described Indonesia as a marriage of the Middle East and Southeast Asia that results in many babies. While it is not inaccurate, it is far from complete.

Islam -the biggest religion in the country- is indeed from the Middle East, some regional cultures do have Arab influences and our national language does have Arab loanwords. But, some of those regional cultures also have South Asian, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences, our national language also has Sanskrit, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese loanwords, many government institutions use Sanskrit mottos and the Indonesia is a former Dutch, Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, British colony. But, because of our mostly Austronesian roots, we are still more similar to predominantly-Christian Filipinos than we are to the predominantly-Muslim Middle Easterners.

Paul mentions how most Indonesian mosques do not have the typical domes. In reality, most of them actually do. The ones who don’t were mostly constructed before the 21st century, designed with traditionally-influenced architectural styles. Back then, most Indonesian Muslims were less likely to equate Islamic identity with the Middle-Eastern one.

Paul also does mispronounce Indonesian pronounciation. But then, as I said before, learning foreign languages is difficult… and the majority of Indonesians, even ones who are not raised with ‘regional’ cultures, have a poor comprehension of our national language. So, him pronouncing ‘C’ as ‘K’ instead of ‘CH’ should not be a biggie.

And those are the only flaws I can think of in his Indonesia videos. I believe he does a great job in unveiling the intricate foundations of my motherland.

He showcases how the country is so diverse that the biggest and second biggest ethnic groups comprise about forty percent and fifteen percent of the country’s population -respectively-, that anti-Chinese sentiment exists here (albeit he said it briefly), how Islam is practiced differently in Indonesia from the one in the Arab world -especially regarding the rituals-, how Indonesian Papuans are extremely distinct in many ways from the rest of their fellow countrymen, how the government only recognises six religions and how our national symbol is of Hindu origin despite being a predominantly-Muslim nation! Oh, and I think his description of Aceh as the black sheep is very fitting!

When it comes to international relations, he showcases how our relationship with Saudi Arabia is very horrible, how we and Malaysia are frenemies (due to our cultural similarities and differences) and how we have a surprisingly good relationship with Japan (despite the history)!

And those short descriptions alone easily defy how most of us perceive Indonesia!

On one hand, it is certainly not a peaceful and tolerant haven many people love to advertise. Indonesians are still very racist, especially against every person of Chinese descent. We are still religiously schismatic to the point we disenfranchise adherents of indigenous beliefs by not officially recognising them as legitimate religious groups!

But, on the other hand, Indonesia is certainly not a carbon copy of Saudi Arabia and many Indonesians detest the idea of becoming Saudis! Aceh, one of the thirty-four Indonesian provinces, certainly does not represent the entire country! The citizens, especially the Muslim ones, are extremely diverse and any generalisations about them (which I admittedly still make from time to time) can be easily and deservedly labeled as shallow or even outright dehumanising!*

(*Yes, I know one cannot generalise even the most homogenous collective in existence. But, I do believe generalising a very diverse society is considerably more intellectually dishonest than generalising one that is significantly less so.)

I should also commend him for his dissections of the bicolour flag and the coat of arms. While the Hotel Yamato story has become a legend here, I did not know red and white represent the duality of nature in Austronesian mythology, ancient Indonesian Hindus also used red-white flags and teaks leaves and mangosteen rind were used as red textile dye!

I also didn’t know the number of feathers in our version of Garuda represents the date of Indonesia’s independence day! He is one of the handful of foreigners that have educated me things I genuinely didn’t know about my own homeland!

Overall, I believe Paul Barbato is a successful educational Youtuber. He has a firm grasp on the (often-needlessly) complicated domestic and international borders, he has a firm grasp on the (often-preventable) sectarian conflicts, he can be more knowledgeable about the enquired countries than their citizens do…

And, most importantly, he unveils how each of the world’s sovereignty constantly defies our racial, cultural, political and religious preconceived notions of them.

In spite of his rapid-fire and comedic performances, he still manages to demonstrate how humanity is not what most of us think it is… and judging from his videos’ comment sections, there are others who agree with me.

My suggestion for him is to expand his scholastic references; maybe add peer-reviewed academic papers into the mix! Knowing the nature of academic journal, it can be more burdensome for the production. But, I am also confident it can also bring an even greater depth to the content!

Postscript:

There was a criticism of his Eritrea episode in which he supposedly ignores the country’s human rights violation. The thing is… he never does!

In his summary of individual countries’ history, he often mentions their authoritarian leaders and historical violent events. Again, as I said before, the unintentional omission of information regularly happens as he tries to create relatively-short yet concise videos!

Maybe the critics hated how Paul did not spend the entire episode talking about the country’s human rights violation. Why should he? His channel is called Geography Now, NOT Human Rights Now!! His job is literally to teach geography, to summarise individual territories of the world, not to be a white saviour!

Besides, he will not talk about human rights violations in great details unless he comprehends the intricacy of each individual case; again, I have to mention his Rohingya crisis video! He is not one of those pseudo-activists who think human rights can be discussed simplistically!

I was planning to put this section much earlier. But, I called it off because I take this a bit too personally. The first time I watched the video, there was literally only one comment that criticised Paul for supposedly ignoring Eritrea’s dark reality (albeit with many likes). When I watched it again, the comment was gone. And still, that comment bothers me to this day!

I don’t know why. But, I am annoyed every time someone says the only appropriate way to chronicle certain countries is to babble about their human rights issues! Maybe it has something to do with their insistence to demonise the places they hate and yet know little or nothing about!

I wonder if Paul is annoyed by this as well. In the first Iraq episode, his friend Keith portrays a character who is agitated that Paul does not go straight to babbling about terrorism. Even though I cannot be sure about his motivation to incorporate the character, I am glad he did. It feels like a not-so-subtle middle finger to those white saviours.

Once again, there are times when one can dismiss authorial intentionalism.

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How to survive Facebook as a hateful monster?

*puts on the mask*

Obviously, don’t use slurs. Facebook will immediately block your account for that. Heck, even users who use them in the context of vehemently opposing hatred will have their accounts blocked. Why? Because Facebook does not hire humans to be its watchdogs.

The company believes the human mind is not black-and-white enough as it is still able to the nuances of words and detect the subtexts. They prefer to employ androids which are not only encased in actual human flesh stolen from war casualties, but also adorned with extremely unsophisticated artificial intelligence that only detect words individually and literally. This is why it feels like Facebook is managed by retarded human beings who don’t know what is right or wrong, just like what the Winklevoss twi… I meant, Mark Zuckerberg intended!

So, if you want to express your dehumanising hatred against your fellow human beings, be as vague and mundane-sounding as possible to the point where your opponents who criticise your prejudiced remarks will look like crazy libtards who see non-existing bigotry in everything.

But, at the same time, don’t be too vague. Make sure the messages are still comprehensible to yourself; I mean, they are yours after all. Of course, it would be better if you up your game by elevating their comprehensibility to your ideological allies. So, not only your remarks allow you to express your thoughts and feelings, they will also empower others who share yours and hence making your ideology even more politically powerful. I believe it is called a dog-whistling.

Follow my tips and I can guarantee the utopia where the people we rightly vilify are legally prescribed as subhumans will be more and more true to life.

*takes off the mask*

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The unimagined perspective of my ‘heritage’

I love (some of) the works of Bjork, George Gershwin, John Coolidge Adams, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Kurzgesagt, Jacksepticeye, Enya, Jostein Gaarder, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Phil Collins, just to name a few.

You probably haven’t heard many of them, let alone knowing what their jobs are. The ones you have, there’s a chance you aren’t familiar with their works. That gives me mixed feelings.

On one hand, it is isolating. I am very conscious about how my distinct taste is from other people’s. If I am a more social and talkative person offline, the isolation would be more intense as I would probably tell more people about my idols and hence stressing the differences between me and the others.

But, on the other hand, I feel like I am possessing an exclusive knowledge that not everyone knows about! I mean, even the most popular creators in history are not beloved by or familiar to every person in existence! Just imagine being a fan of creators of significantly more niche audience.

Call me pretentious. But, I feel special because I am intimate with the bohemian and unrivalled beauty of Bjork’s alien-sounding music, Andrei Tarkovsky’s incredibly unearthly films, John Coolidge Adams’ simultaneously surrealist and realist music, Ingmar Bergman’s unabashedly psychological films and Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s politically cynical literary works.

I should mention that Pramoedya Ananta Toer was a critically acclaimed Indonesian novelist whose works had been translated into dozens of foreign languages; This Earth of Mankind (Bumi Manusia) is one of my favourite books ever. While he was infamous back then for being an alleged Communist, a result of the then-regime’s slander who was too fragile to deal with his criticisms, I doubt most Indonesians nowadays know who he is.

Oh, and speaking about Indonesians…

I also have the same feeling about mainstream Indonesian entertainment which I find insufferable with its shameless lack of originality and veneration of mediocrity. But, there are occasions where I still love it (and hence why the word ‘heritage’ in the title has quotation marks on it).

At one point, there were two Indonesian TV shows I used to love: Opera van Java (or OVJ for short) and Kick Andy. I no longer love watching them because of the repetitiveness and the realisation of their poor quality. But, admittedly, I have some fond memories watching them.

The premise of OVJ was comedians making sketches which were chronologically linear and interconnected with each other. From that description alone, the show did not sound special. But, it still had its charm.

For one, while being told to enact or reenact certain scenes, the performers were not given any scripts. They had to improvise. As they were humans with their own minds (and they were Indonesians who love to take advantage of the slightest laxing of rules), the end results were always chaotic!

The last time I watched, there was a large amount slapstick (and sometimes, the performers slapped each other) which was encouraged by the mostly styrofoam-based props, a heavy use of drag (even though last time I heard, cross-dressing was no longer legal on TV broadcasting), extremely politically incorrect jokes that would not go well in the west, the performers’ rebellious tendency who had no interest in enacting the desired stories and the absurd, nonsensical nature of the humour. Even though OVJ was not funny all the time and some of the performers weren’t just that funny, I often found myself laughing out loud while watching the show.

Kick Andy was a talk show who often invited guests for their guilt-tripping inspirational and/or sob stories; to think that I used to love such monstrosity. But, what I love the most about the show was its occasional bouts of humour.

The host himself was one cheeky fellow. From time to time, he loved to make fun of Central Javanese accents. When interviewing the oldest Indonesian to ever get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate (yes, really), he asked if her typewriter was older than her. When interviewing a man whose job to eradicate corruption, he cheekily said many people would love to see him dead; in this particular context, it sounds like the host jokingly wish for his interviewee’s death. I love this kind of cheekiness. It feels like a slap to the face of double-dealing politeness which one is expected to conform to when living in Java.

I haven’t mentioned about the guests themselves. Some loved to troll the hosts by intentionally giving ridiculous answers. They also loved to make fun of his curly hair; after he shaved his head, the bald jokes were easily born.

Okay, I have lingered too much on just two TV shows. I should transition to two of my favourite Indonesian pop musicians before I state the point of this article.

Even though I love many Indonesian pop songs, there are two Indonesians musicians of such genre that I admire the most: Chrisye and Guruh Soekarno Putra.

Obviously, both have their own flaws. Guruh can be quite pretentious every time he expresses his nationalistic pride. Whether knowingly or not, Chrisye occasionally let some of his collaborators to plagiarise Western pop songs. But, from my perspective, their strengths stick out more.

Chrisye was a pop singer who did a relatively good job balancing his idealism and his realistic need of money. He occasionally composed songs for other musicians as well. Despite what I said in the previous paragraphs, he was very particular about choosing his collaborators. For some reasons, every time he did covers, they ended up as good as or even better than the originals.

Guruh Soekarno Putra is a songwriter notable for the traditional influences in his melodies and some of his most well-known works were originally sung by Chrisye. He sincerely appreciates both traditional Indonesian cultures and western ones equally and that’s a rarity considering many snobby Indonesians often choose one over the other.

Their first collaboration was Guruh Gipsy, an influential and ambitious one-time project where traditional Balinese music is fused together with prog rock and Western classical. Their experiences with fusion music make them stand out among Indonesian pop musicians. Not only they exude humble sophistication, their subsequent works also end up feeling distinctively Indonesia in spite of the western influences and the lack of traditional instruments in the arrangements.

Every time I listen to their songs, I always feel a strange sense of nostalgia, even though many of them were released years before I was born. On rarer occasions, the feeling is a weird concoction of nostalgia and contentment; maybe, the fact that a shithole country like Indonesia can still create beautiful melodies make living here significantly more bearable (and makes me realise Indonesia has strengths that other countries lack and it is not as bad as it seems).

Now, to why I write this article in the first place…

I tried my best to describe why I love certain features of Indonesian pop culture. Even if I try to be more descriptive, I doubt any foreigners reading this would relate to what I am saying. Why? Because it is Indonesian.

Even though Indonesian traditional performance arts are being taught all over the world, Indonesian culture in general is still poorly promoted abroad. Our national language is still not a popular language for foreigners to study. Our sensibility is still a mostly undisclosed entity on the world’s stage (no wonder some people think the we are entirely governed by Sharia!). The popularity of Indonesian pop culture only extends to our neighbours, whose national languages are intelligible to ours and members of the diaspora who are still Indonesian citizens.

When interacting with foreigners, I often feel isolated because I cannot share them some of the things I am passionate about. I did share them some Indonesian songs which they considered catchy or artistic. But, they (understandably) don’t get why those songs are culturally significant to Indonesians.

But, because of the isolation, I also feel special.

Yes, I know I am talking about Indonesian pop culture, which is mainstream in one of the most populous countries on earth. But, I have to remind you that its popularity is still geographically limited…

… And because of that geographical limitation, it feels like I am enjoying very exclusive cultural entities that not everyone will appreciate! I feel like I belong to an exclusive club which membership is notoriously difficult to acquire!

This begs the questions: do citizens of countries with globally influential cultures possess such sense of exclusivity?

When it comes to countries like Japan, South Korea and India, I am not sure whether their citizens possess such feeling or not.

Japan and South Korea obviously use Japanese and Korean respectively to convey their cultures. While English is widely spoken prestige language in India, the (bountiful) native languages like Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu and Tamil are still the preferred choices for songs and films.

But, at the same time, Japanese and Korean are widely taught as foreign languages overseas. Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil and many other Indian languages are still widely spoken by members of the diaspora who are no longer citizens of India. So, I have to assume the sense of exclusivity does exist, albeit less intense than the one I am personally experiencing.

So, how about the Americans and Brits?

Their entertainment is still distinctively theirs. But, not only it has a very strong global marketability, it also expresses itself using English which, while not the most spoken language in the world, is arguably the most widely taught foreign tongue.

With those facts in mind, it is extremely easy for British and American pop cultures, especially the latter, to penetrate (I am so sorry) every present-day cultural sphere. While American and British sensibilities are not universally embraced, there is no doubt many citizens all over the world are heavily exposed to at least either one!

There is no doubt some citizens of the US and the UK develop pride (and arrogance) seeing the muscularity of their ‘heritages’ on the world stage… and for that reason alone, they surely believe their cultures can be enjoyed and understood by everyone! Surely they don’t experience that sense of exclusivity!

Did I just use conjectures to assume what other people are thinking and feeling? Yes, I just did.

Obviously, I am projecting my own bias. I judge the exclusivity (or the seclusion) of pop cultures based on the territorial span of their popularity, NOT on how distinctive they are.

There are probably Indonesians who don’t see anything exclusive (even I get tired of this word) about our pop culture. They may cite its popularity in our neighbours, they may cite its inherently pop nature or they may cite reasons that I don’t have the mental faculty to anticipate.

Citizens of culturally powerful countries like the US probably see their pop cultures as exclusive entities. They may assess the exclusivity based on peculiarity, NOT on geographical limitation. From their perspectives, my shamelessly unoriginal pop ‘heritage’ may not be deserving of such characterisation!

Objectively, I also agree with said frame of mind. I believe unfeigned and harmless uniqueness is something we should celebrate or, at least, should not be judgemental about (easier said than done, I know).

But, even though I can be uncompromising and odd in social settings, loneliness and solitude are the more conspicuous parts of my social life and, for reasons I have yet to grasp, I let it affects how I perceive pop cultures.

As bizarre as it is, I am glad that is the case. It gives me a perspective that I didn’t know I could have… or need.

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How to be inspirational: the Indonesian way

*puts on a mask*

Well, it is a lot easier than it sounds.

The easiest way to be inspirational is to express how much you treasure old school values. Act like they are already forgotten, even though they are not. You don’t even have to practice what you preach. Just preach and people will listen to you fervently. Everybody can do this.

What if you want to elevate it to a higher level?

You don’t have to think anything new! All you have to do is to repackage those obsolete wisdom with a new lexicon and metaphors. Nobody will even bother to read between the lines. The surface is everything for them.

To intensify your messages, exploit your audience’s religiosity. If you involve their Gods and use a more scriptural language, they would feel more compelled to take you seriously as it has become a matter of heaven and hell!

Oh, and keep nuances out of your messages. Humans prefer to believe everything in life can be easily put into boxes. They hate to think life as an intricate and vague entity. Be a simpleton and treat your audience as simpletons as well!

Once you have a decently-sized devotees, you will have enough apprentices in your grasp. This is the time when you organise seminars…. and set the prices.

Making your devotees and potential-devotees pay for your services is good for you; it gives them the impression you are a teacher who is willing to teach! Offering free services insinuates you don’t care about quality. Keep that in mind: money equals quality!

In your paid services, there are two things you must include: anecdotes and emotional manipulations.

I initially wanted to say you must treat your anecdotes as absolute truths, more reliable than scientific data. But, subsequently, I was aware of its redundancy. Anyone who cares enough to listen the first place will devour anything you say. They will revere your words as ones of truth, more truthful than the ones of actual scientists and intellectuals.

Make them emotional. Play soppy music, show soppy imagery on the projection screen, dim the lighting, anything to enhance the manipulation. But, the most important thing is to make them see themselves as pieces of shit!

You can do so by making them recall their own past ‘sins’. What counts as sins? Disobedience against conceited authority figures, refusal to do religious rituals which you never found rewarding, having the humane desire of touching another human’s tinky-winky with your own. You know, outdated moral problems. Once the tears start gushing like water out of the poorly-maintained Situ Gintung dam, you have conquered your audience.

Does it matter if they have sincerely changed for the better after leaving your seminars? No, it doesn’t. What matters is they act like they have changed for the better. How much boasting they have made determines the level of your success. The higher, the better.

Obviously, you will get your own haters. But, worry not. Launching scathing attacks against them is unnecessary. Your followers will do the job for you.

They will condemn your haters for being too unenlightened to cherish the transcedental heart of your sermons. Too hedonistic, too materialistic, too atheistic, too selfish, any empty insults imaginable.

Oh, and even though I doubt you can use them to create your own cult, I am sure they can make great stepping stones.

*takes off the mask*

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Defending my bias for English… walaupun masih hidup berdwibahasa

Not long ago, The Jakarta Globe published an article about Indonesian writers who publish their works in English. It asked its readers if English-language literature can still be considered as Indonesian. In the comment section, as an Indonesian who writes his blogs in English, I obviously answered yes. I believe the nationality of literary works should also depend on the heritage and the people they are depicting, not just on the languages being utilised.

It seems like a relatively harmless statement, right? Well, me being me, I followed it with a more provocative one.

I also described the Indonesian language, describing it as a lifeless, unyielding language with overtly-simplistic grammar, skin-deep vocabulary and clinginess on loanwords whose only purpose is to express pretentiousness, vulgarity and anger, unlike English with its richness and versatility which eases people’s efforts to express themselves. That’s how much I love my mother tongue. Of course, people weren’t happy with me and typical internet squabbles ensued.

Days after the arguments ended, I realised that I made errors in my reasoning. First of all, I implied that language was inherently sterile and rigid; I was trying to represent my opinions as objective facts. I am constantly guilty of this sin.

Second, every language in the world, even ones that have endured strict purism, has loan words! As someone who spends his free time on Wikipedia reading articles about languages, I should have realised that my ‘loan words argument’ is indefensible! If I remember correctly, I think one commenter called out this ignorance of mine. But, this is where I stop with the self-criticisms.

I still stand with my hatred of the simplistic grammar. Yes, English grammar is erratic. But, it is still quite detailed with its grammatical tenses and cases, lowering the chances of unintentional ambiguity. In Indonesian, if you want to make your sentences to be more specific, you have to elongate them by adding more words… and I hate that! But, what infuriates me about the squabble is my opponents’ false assumptions about me.

They argued that my distaste of Indonesian was motivated by hatred my own heritage. Yeah, no.

The older I get, the more I actually appreciate it. I love the unique ingredient and flavour combinations of Indonesian dishes; even ones of foreign origins taste uniquely Indonesian. I love our rich history, showing the drastic human changes the archipelago has endured. I love how we still retain our Hindu heritage, despite being predominantly-Muslim. I love musicians who make actual efforts to fuse traditional Indonesian sounds with western ones. I love the ethnic and cultural diversities; growing up with them, I often feel sorry for every person who sees diversity as a disease. Heck, to make it random, I even find myself enjoying performances of traditional Indonesian dances, despite never having any inclinations to dance!

So, when someone says I am a self-hating Indonesian because I bitch on my mother tongue, I call bullshit on that. In fact, my ability to see flaws in something I love indicates how my appreciation is still within reason and not motivated by blind love.

Oh, and speaking about blind love, one of my opponents, who constantly insulted me, explicitly said that anyone who dared to bad mouth his beloved language deserve nothing but ridicule and harassment; he considered my condemnation of the language as a personal attack against him. Not only he never bothered to hide his irrationality, he was deeply proud of it! Mentally, he is not unlike those religious fundamentalists. I am glad that my love of heritage is not plagued by such mindlessness.

The second thing they assumed about me was my Indonesian comprehension, guessing that mine was poor, which explains my inability to see beauty in the language and express myself with it. Yeah, again, no.

Long before I found comfort in English, I used to have no problems writing in Indonesian. But, as I get older and actually become more fluent in my native tongue, I find myself feeling more restrained writing in it and feeling more at ease doing so in the foreign one, even though I still could barely understand its basic grammar.

In fact, to this day, my Indonesian is still better than my English! I am more likely to open up the dictionary when reading English texts than I am while reading Indonesian ones. I have written two Indonesian-language blogs and it took me only a day or two to finish each, compared that with my English-language ones which can take weeks to finish. Until last year, I didn’t know that ‘sheep’ was both singular and plural, didn’t know how to spell ‘privilege’ and I still don’t know how to spell ‘prostelize’! I use online bots to proofread my blogs!

Also, unlike many Indonesians I have met, I know how to say words like ‘download’, ‘upload’, ‘online’, ‘offline’, ‘computer mouse’, ‘link’, ‘server’, ‘edit’ and ‘orange’ in Indonesian*. I prefer the word ‘penelitian’ over ‘riset’**. I also know how to use ‘di’ properly; as a suffix, it should never be separated from the root words while as a preposition, it should remain a separate word***! Even Indonesians with university education still get this basic grammar wrong!

So, the idea that my preference of English has anything to do my language comprehension is also bullshit. Also, unlike my opponents, I proved my fluency as I made one rather long reply in Indonesian! But, they are too blind to see it, too simple-minded to acknowledge that distaste does not always mean lack of fluency.

Let’s go back to my mistake I mentioned. Besides shamelessly presenting subjectivity as objectivity, I also forgot that I still can enjoy the beauty conveyed through my native tongue.

There are no shortages of time when I listen to Indonesian oldies and indie songs and think, ‘damn, those are beautiful lyrics!’. People like Guruh Soekarnoputra, Eros Djarot and Titiek Puspa made me realise that songwriters are also poets! As a student, I often had to analyse excerpts of literary works that, judging from the richness despite the small number of words, were clearly written by accomplished writers.

Besides foods and music, Indonesian language is one tool I utilise to get in touch with my roots. Using it makes me feel closer to them, unlike English which seems to widen the distance. This is why I refuse to let go of my native tongue…

And still, I cannot manifest my inner self through it.

No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I expand my vocabulary, my native tongue always fails to satisfy my intellectual and emotional needs; my Indonesian writings always end up rigid, sterile and skin-deep. In spite of the cultural detachment, English embodies my thoughts and feelings with greater perceptiveness by seizing their more abstract and indistinct peculiarities. It also allows me to be more playful and light-heartedly sarcastic (even though contemptuous sarcasms are more pleasing to spurt out) and minimises my likelihood of sounding pretentious.

How did this come into being? Well, I am confident it has something to do with my identity. I do have Indonesian citizenship. But, personally, I identify both as a highly westernised Indonesian and a global citizen. This weird concoction of selfhood requires a somewhat culturally inclusive language to manifest itself through letters. Between Bahasa Indonesia and English, guess who wins?

Adding to my already-unconvincing anecdote, I also happen to know Indonesians who speak English better than they speak Indonesian and yet they still find their own native tongue more pleasing to make use of. Knowing them, those people definitely don’t share my cultural identity crisis!

Someone (I forgot who) told me that a language is just a communication tool. Emphasise on the word ‘just’. Focus on what the tool can do, not on what category it belongs to. Yes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But, what we choose to convey our deepest thoughts and feelings is none of other people’s business! Unless we are dealing with snowflakes, our trivial personal choices do not and will never harmfully impact humans with whom we share the world!

My plan is to keep writing in English and, to lesser extent, Indonesian, to learn at least one regional Indonesian language and one more foreign language. But, if I am more idealistic, I would love to learn six regional languages and six foreign ones, not including classical languages like Kawi and Latin and more obscure ones like Gaelic and Ainu which have been intriguing me for years! Oh, and I would love to write children’s books in Indonesian under a pseudonym; seriously, I would love to write calm-paced and imaginative children’s stories that contain assertive yet non-preachy messages about the importance of curiosity, reason and tolerance.

But, realistically, I will probably stay bilingual, will never be fluent in any of those classical or obscure languages and probably will never write a single book.

Oh, well. One can dream!

 

 

 

*’Unduh’, ‘unggah’, ‘daring (dalam jaringan)’, ‘luring (luar jaringan)’, ‘tetikus’, ‘tautan’, ‘peladen’, ‘sunting’ and ‘jingga’, respectively.

**Both words mean ‘research’.

*** ‘Di Jakarta’ and ‘di rumah’ mean ‘at Jakarta’ and ‘at home’, respectively. ‘dibuka’ and ‘dimakan’ mean ‘(being) opened’ and ‘eaten’, respectively.

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