The seas, the seas and the seas

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There are reasons why I love the seas.

First, seafood. I love it as much as I love the meat of land critters. Love it more than fresh water ones. Tastes extremely varied: savoury, sweet, pungent. For me, the fishiness is a lot more tolerable than muddied-water taste of fresh water fish. Seafood also makes perfect seasoning. Too bad it’s relatively scarce. I can talk about this whole day long.

But, nourishment isn’t the only one. For years, I’ve been having this inexplicable desire to live near the sea. No, this has nothing to do with my love of seafood.

Living near the sea doesn’t guarantee its abundance and quality. Not every cubic of seawater is biologically vibrant. The water’s rough for fishermen. Marine aquaculture is a difficult practice. Marine pollution is constant. So, why do I have such desire?

Well, the prospect of a thoroughly landlocked living unnerves me. My entire life, I was never that faraway from the sea. Sometimes, it did take hours to reach the nearest beach. Even then, it was more about the traffics than the distances themselves. Also, Indonesia is the biggest archipelago in on earth. My upbringing is an obvious contributing factor.

It’s one reason why I’m reluctant to live in continental countries. Many of their cities are inland, way inland. Chicago and Toronto, for examples, aren’t that far from the Great Lakes. But, they are lakes. Even saltwater ones won’t do much for me. They have to be wide open seas. I can’t imagine living far from them.

Actually, I can. In my mind, such inland living would feel isolating. The bigger it is, the more intense the feeling would be. I would be literally insane! Pure paranoia, caused by my emotional dependence on the seas…

…And I just used the ‘crazy’ card. As volatile as I am, I don’t suffer from any emotional disorders. Besides, I have never actually lived right next to a sea. I barely have any mental mementos from the beaches. Emotional dependence doesn’t make sense in my case. So, why am I attracted to those foul-smelling bodies of water?

Their spirits, maybe? Why would I be enticed by those personally unfeasible and revolting entities in the first place? Metaphysics always encourages me to see beyond the unappealing and deceptive physicality.

For start, our understanding about the deep sea is minuscule compared to the outer space one. We know little about the critters living down there. The ones we’ve discovered are usually grotesque and alien. So, why is marine biology significant here? It deals with actual physicality. It’s not metaphysical. Well, the question’s already answered…twice.

We know little about deep sea critters and the ones we know are often grotesque and alien. The marine spirits still exude strong mysterious and freakish auras. Things I easily fall for.

I love mysteries. I love to be ‘tormented’ by overwhelming curiosity. The sensation encourages me to not take knowledge for granted, to be humble about my understanding of life, to always be keen about learning.

I also love the ‘grotesque’ and the ‘alien’. They call out my judgy temperament, rebel against the mist of traditionalism that still plagues my mind, challenge what I perceive as ‘normal’. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up loving them.

How can I expand my horizon when I’m already satisfied by its narrow vastness? How can I improve my vision when I’m comfortable with my worn-out lenses? We eagerly dismiss the mysterious and the offbeat as cock-teasing and ‘abnormal’, respectively. It’s destructive to our state of mankind, more than we like to admit.

As much as I’m captivated by the marine spirits, they also taunt me. They make me feel vulnerable as a living being. I said something about how I have actually never lived right next to the sea. Well, I want to keep that way.

Visiting a beach is different from living on one. Living there means you’re at the sea’s mercy. You’ll be among the first pitiful humans to suffer its wrath. But, living further inland won’t make you safer. The sea still can torment you from faraway, albeit slightly less cruelly. Only slightly. I’m willingly submit myself to one rightful authority that is nature.

Nature. As a whole entity, it is an almighty menace that radiates mysterious and freakish charm…similar to my illustration of the seas. So, my sentiment to every territory in nature should be alike. Yet, the seas are the only ones that greatly shape my metaphysics.

Don’t get me wrong. I also appreciate the other territories. I acknowledge their innate power on mankind. But, except for the outer space, none of them evoke equally compelling (and pretentious) sentiment from me. As I have said many times, the seas, the seas and the seas.

I always thought the reasons for my marine obsession are too enigmatic to unearth. That or I let the spirits haunt my life, turning me too dainty about my dwelling. Either can be true. Can be.

Perhaps I deem myself too admiringly. Perhaps I love to perceive myself as a profound and mystifying individual who grasps what others fail to, whom others fail to hold in high esteem. The mirror I have been using all my life is possibly an illusive one.

I love seafood. I have very mild emotional dependence on the sea. They are equally valid as the probably causes. I shouldn’t be belittling just because of their supposed futility. I’m a humbug. Bear in mind how I loathe humans who belittle the ‘mysterious’ and the ‘grotesque’.

Intellectualism is a must…and so is being down-to-earth.

Those peculiar, fantastical and thoughtful genres

I am referring to three in particular: magical realism, surrealism and absurdism.

If you tell people to describe them, they would say ‘confusing’, ‘weird’ and ‘pointless’. Of course, they are wrong about them. But, the ignorance is understandable. The three genres are of acquired taste. Even not all of the lovers grasped them at first.

All three have one similarity: they encourage contemplation. They want us to reflect on our own life. They make us contemplate about what is true and what isn’t. They encourage us to reconsider our outlook concerning our own existence. Either that or they make you die of boredom or confusion.

Contemplation is not exclusive to strong realism. Even unworldliness has the ability to foster its growth. Realism reminds us about real life entities we are already aware of. Those three genres prefer us show us we failed to notice by ourselves: life’s ‘abnormalities’.

Their portrayal are always deadpan. No explanation to their existence and mechanics. They are just another life banalities we deal with every single day. What kind of ‘abnormalities’ they are depends on the genres. I’ll start with magical realism.

As the name says, its oddity is the magical elements. It encourages us to acknowledge the ‘magic’ in our real life. The stories feel both very real and fantastical at the same time. Those are more than enough to disaffiliate the genre from fantasy.

Unlike magical realism, fantasy is escapist. Magic is explicitly depicted as a non-existing entity. It abducts us from the real world temporarily (or permanently…). Viewing the two genres interchangeably is ignorance; unacceptable if it comes from actual fantasy writers and fans. Okay, I should go on to surrealism before I end up ranting.

The peculiarity of surrealism comes from its liberal blend of the conscious and the subconscious. It illustrates how both are inseparable from each other. All of our actions are, on some level, affected by something intangible deep inside us. Oh and it’s not to be confused with absurdism.

On the surface, it may looks similar to surrealism. But, instead of depicting the subconscious, it depicts the absurdity of life (the name’s obvious). It reminds us that even our conscious world can be senseless at times. Sometimes, we have to accept it.

Not only they want us take heed of the life abnormalities, the trio also inspire us to embrace them. They are benign and even enriching to our life. Forsaking them seem unwise; doing so, we are defiling our own very being. Those three genres can utilised as our guidance. Well, that’s my personal outlook, anyway.

I may also add a fourth ‘peculiar genre’: science fiction. I find it a unique genre because it has a place in the world of entertainment and the arts. I never thought sci-fi could be artsy until I found Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

From there, I managed to find other artsy sci-fi films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (artistry highly debatable, though). Each one has something in common: contemplation about our relations with science and technology. Yes, that C word again.

They dwell on how our life are tremendously shaped by the existence of science and technology. They supply us with greater practicality and alter how we regard our fellow human beings and even ourselves. That’s what artsy sci-fi films have to say. I never thought they could have such capacity until I found Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

From there, I managed to find similar films like Stalker (also by Tarkovsky), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. I am excited to watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe (I’m sure I butchered his name) and read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

I am even excited to explore new genres as well.

To be a cultural wizard

Am I already one? Let me see:

I am from Indonesia. With hundreds of native ethnic groups, it is one of the most diverse countries in the world. I have spent most of my life in the city of Batam. As it is a planned city, there is no native ethnic group and many of the residents were born elsewhere. So far, I have seen six dominant ethnic groups and that doesn’t include smaller ones. I have also spent some time living in Jakarta metropolitan area. As the nation’s centre of everything, it is much more diverse.

I have visited twenty two countries (thanks to my mom who could afford it). As Batam is located near Singapore, I have visited it more than the other foreign countries. Many foreigners reside in both Batam and Jakarta. When I was in junior high school, some of my teachers were Filipinos. I have also spent some time living in Melbourne for study. My university has lots of foreign students. I got along really well with some students. Not a single drama.

I am also bilingual in Indonesian and English. I am confident to say I am relatively fluent in both. Indonesian helps me to get closer to my roots and English helps to get to know foreign ones. Every time we speak a language, our minds start using cultural perspectives associated with it. Jokes that sound good in Indonesian sounds terrible in English and vice versa. So, my outlook should be more multicultural than monolinguals’.

A child of multiethnic parents? Have been to many places? Bilingual? It sounds like I am already a cultural wizard, right? No, I am not. I used to see myself as one based on those reasons alone. What experiences I have does not matter. What I learn from them matters a lot….and I have learned nothing, especially about stereotypes.

I still fall for them. Sometimes, in discussions about societal issues, I still use them as references! Some are indeed true. But, life is much more complex than that. I have been frequently slapped in the face by the impossibility of pigeonholing. But, I still do it anyway. All of those wasted epiphanies. I am just getting started with my sins.

I have committed many as a traveller. They make me judgmental against “the others”. Expecting everyone to speak English and to share my way of life are the worst sins. It is very unforgivable of me as I a, aware of human diversity. I think I know the reason why. I think…

I only speak Indonesian and English. Indonesian is, as the name suggests, a national language. It bears the country’s national. Despite its slight bias to certain regional cultures, it is still the least sectarian cultural identity in Indonesia. But, such empowering strength is accompanied by a crippling weakness: vulnerability to foreign influences. I do not oppose them. In fact, I welcome them! But, the problem with Indonesians is we hate being ourselves. We are very joyful about our heritages in jeopardy. I myself prefer English over Indonesian. I can’t speak a single regional language (and there are hundreds of them!); when I speak Indonesian, my dialect tend to be similar to the Jakartan one which is nationally-accepted. Of course, that is not entirely my fault. I was never taught to speak one by my family and schools. I am just making excuses.

Without doubt, English is a global language. Some says that global languages are hostile to regional cultures. Hostile to regional languages? Maybe. But, not to regional cultures. For me, global languages are apathetic to them. They may help us learn other regional cultures. But, they do not encourage. Well, they do if we speak unique regional dialects…and many of us don’t, especially non-native speakers like me. Okay, I know blaming languages is far-fetched and childish. Not to mention that I shamelessly dedicate two paragraphs on it. I would be surprised if I have convinced you. But, I promise the next reason will be more believable.

I used to think holiday and travelling were interchangible. Big mistake. I had the awakening when Justin Lukach from Departure and PBS’s Rick Steves pointed out the difference: Holiday is about relaxation and travelling is about new experiences and learning. Paraphrasing Rick Steves, holiday is not a sin, mistaking it with travelling is. I am a faithful committer of that sin. On trips, I always visit tourist attractions, eat familiar food and distance myself from the locals. Never leave home without my beloved bubble. This sin reveals something about myself that I find hard to admit: I don’t have the will to learn!

I am a do-nothing inept sloth. I am too lazy to try anything new. I prefer to lay down on my bed, browsing the internet. I can use the internet to learn new things. But no, I use it only to view my favourite videos and to interact with friends and acquaintances. I find cultural heritages are more difficult to learn than school subjects. I need to pop my bubble. Am I ready for it? Wait, I ask the wrong question: do I want it? No. Not now, at least. I am interested in other cultures. But, I am too lazy to do the efforts. Of course, that is my personal problem, not anyone’s elses. But, for others, the reluctance to learn is caused by another factor.

I notice many netizens champion cultural competence. I used to think that was terrific. But then, many are also nightmarish. They demonise every “uncultured” person. Tell them that you haven’t tried or don’t like sushi and expect a tsunami of hatefulness. I know, I know. Their maturity and courage are small enough to befriend microbes. But, it is undeniably off-putting. You start associating cultural competence with those so-called humans.

*starts sensing the readers’ impatience. LOL. Most of my readers are my friends….*

What’s the point of my rambling? I just want to say we should thrive for cultural competence. It helps us in acknowledging the kaleidoscopic nature of humanity and, better, humanising each other. But, at the same time, you cannot force it; thrive for it because you genuinely want to. When you do, never be forceful to others; you want them to love it, not hate it. End up with the latter and we’ll get even more disconnected from each other.

STEM vs. Humanities

Why “versus”? Why not STEM and Humanities? What makes us think we only need one? We need both.

STEM provide us the proper outlook to observe our material world. Humanities provide us the proper outlook to to observe the abstract one. STEM issue us the manuals for assembling instruments that ease and strengthen our lives. Humanities guide us in solving complex societal issues. But, not only we need them, they also need each other.

STEM need Humanities for ethical guidance, inspiring societal interest, understanding their purposes, their roles in societies and their own history. Humanities need STEM as a source of self-improvement, debunking wobbly theories. Humanities also need the technologies which can document and circulate the knowledge. STEM and Humanities are yin and yang.

They lay out two distinctive but equally well-reasoned outlooks on life. Whether we pick both, either one or neither, it is up to us. I am going to sound pretentious here. But, if we thrive to grasp our life better (which we should), it is sensible to pick both. Picking one is like flying with one wing. Picking neither is like flying with no wings.