Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus: unexpectedly nostalgic

Yes, I will spoil it. But first, I want to talk about its genre.

I was searching for magical realist novels recommendations on Google… and an article suggested this book. I bought it, I started reading it…. and it is disappointingly not magical realist. It is fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy fantasy. I am disappointed because I want to read more magical realist novels as I find the genre interesting and the article’s writer clearly did not understand it enough.

If one reads novel and does not pay much attention, it does seem every character associated with the circus sees magic without any sense of wonder. Every time we enter their perspectives, the depiction of magic does feel matter-of-fact.

And that’s the thing: their perspectives.

The public -the rêveurs AKA the circus’s admirers especially- see the circus as an otherworldly entity instead of something one expects in the everyday life. That breaks the illusion of mundanity. If they don’t have that sense of wonder, the novel would definitely be a magical realist one.

And now, for the nostalgia….

I am surprised the novel compels me to feel nostalgic. Yes, it is a story about a magical world and my young self loved magical stories. But, its ending is rather gloomy.

Yes, Marco and Celia do not have to kill each other and Bailey stays with the circus which he has loved since he was young. But, Marco and Celia also end up living as ghost-like entities who cannot leave the circus… and Bailey -despite being young and still has his life ahead of him- chooses to be magically bound to the circus for eternity.

It is less sad and more bittersweet. But, my young self would still hate the ending; he would want an entirely sweet one.

My childhood fantasies also involve lots of actions, good vs evil physically embodied. Contrast that with this novel which is more dependent on the dialogues and the atmosphere.

To make it more confusing, I have read Harry Potter books; despite being more aligned to my childhood fantasies with their happy endings and actions, they do not feel nostalgic for me.

Maybe it has something to do with my maturity.

The older I get, the more I am not into happy endings and action-driven narratives. The former can deceive us by hiding the bitterness underneath. When excessively made, the latter can be sensory overloads and -unlike the more immersive ‘quiet’ scenes- they can distract us from the actual story-telling in the name of ‘not being boring’.

But, even if Harry Potter is less sentimental and more dialogue-driven, I doubt it would evoke the same nostalgia.

The most common criticism regarding Rowling’s worldbuilding is its clumsiness. While I do agree with the assessment, I also feel hers is a bit too unconcealed, too transparent. I mean, if you intend to explain almost everything, losing the enigmatic atmosphere is inevitable.

In The Night Circus, the magic is unexplained. Characters associated with the circus perceive it as a mundane entity while the outsiders perceive the magically-enlivened circus as something to be simply impressed, baffled and haunted by. The magic is mysterious.

Young me also loved mysteries… and I still do. They compel me to be curious about the world I live in and they encourage me to explore it. When it comes to fiction, I want the revelations to be subtle and polished instead of dry and excessively expositional. I want them to be aesthetically pleasing instead of feeling like I am reading a textbook.

I am hesitant to say if I have definitely found the cause of the nostalgia. The combination of my personal growth and my love of mysteries feels inadequate as a hypothesis.

But, for now, I am satisfied. This is an abstract topic in which I am trying to decipher my own personal feeling. As long as it makes sense to me and I am not projecting myself onto others, the explanation is valid enough.






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A childhood treasure I didn’t know having

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

The original one, NOT the so-so sequel.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Magically, absurdly and subconsciously realistic

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

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

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

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

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

And it is certainly metaphysical.

Unhinged sophistication

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

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

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

The lovely dread

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting non-existing dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, still…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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Exploring cultures, Anthony Bourdain style


I will only discuss three of his TV shows and none of the books as I haven’t read a single one. So, it takes a lot of cockiness to write about a person without full immersion in his works. Anyway…

I have been loving him since his A Cook’s Tour years. When I was younger, I watched him simply because of the food. A show was good enough if it involved lots of food, I believed.

Then, many years later, after watching his subsequent shows, this one seems juvenile and sterile in comparison. For me, it feels like it is less about the cultural experience and more about Tony being a cynical and cocky douche. It certainly did not and does not make me feel intrigued by other cultures. But, younger me said, ‘hey, food!’.

No Reservations is not an immediate stylistic departure. The earlier episodes are not that different from ones from A Cook’s Tour. But, they are indeed less rushed, more mature and more compelling. As the show progresses, it has become more profound.

He becomes more keen to point out the darker side of reality. Politics, discrimination, natural disasters, you name it. The Hokkaido episode, which mentions discrimination of the Ainus, is the first time I pay attention to the show’s depth. Before No Reservations, I had never encountered a single travelling show like this (that I know of)!

Not only it increases its thematic profundity, it also amplifies the visual artistry which, again, is a novelty to a show of such genre (again, that I know of). Watching the later seasons feels like watching a beautifully crafted yet underappreciated TV show. It also helps some episodes are tributes to certain films which Tony and/or the crew was/were (a) big fan(s) of. And then, came The Layover

…Which I skipped over and, to this day, I haven’t watched a single episode. I wasn’t aware of its existence until his fourth and unfortunately last show was announced. To this day, I am still uninterested about the premise. But, I will probably change my mind. Probably.

Parts Unknown exceeded my expectation. It seems unsatisfied with its predecessor’s artistry and believes radical enhancement is needed for itself. And radical it is.

In No Reservations, the audio and visuals are utilised to emphasise and accompany what is being portrayed on the screen. Some episodes of Parts Unknown were also crafted in a similar manner. Some.

In other episodes, they are utilised to encourage the audience to start seeing the world through a philosophical lens instead of just focusing on its physicality; combined with the lyrical narration, the show’s audiovisual ethereality really reminds me of magical realism, something that I never expected from unscripted motion picture works!

I know, I know. I sound like a pretentious prick who reads too much into things. But, I am a sucker for magical realism and any similar styles of arts. Considering how metaphysical some episodes feel, you cannot blame me for having such feeling. They do feel magical.

Oh, yeah. The cultures…

I used to depend on media personalities for cultural knowledge. I still do, but not entirely. Nowadays, I try to accept the possibility of them unintentionally spewing stereotypes and misinformation. Even Anthony Bourdain could not escape such criticisms.

I seriously cannot blame him and his peers for making that mistake. They cannot fully escape the cultural outlooks they grew up with and they are dependent on their local contacts who probably possess very narrow frames of mind regarding their homelands. This is what I still can tolerate to some extent.

What I cannot tolerate is phoniness. I hate it when TV hosts pretend to be curious about the ‘exotic’. Sometimes, you can see their oily faces sticking to the masks, revealing their true appearances. As flawed as he could be, Anthony Bourdain was still very honest with what he liked and disliked. Oh, and the way he approached cultural exploration also made him stand out from his contemporaries.

Besides local cultures experts, who may or may not have academic backgrounds, he also had chefs, sailors, farmers and hunters as guests. Of course, having guests of relevant expertise is not unusual. Andrew Zimmern also has people of similar occupations as guests. Rick Steves often has fellow travel guides as guests. But, Tony wanted more than just interacting with ‘food’ and ‘culture’ people.

He also had fellow media personalities, writers (especially crime fiction ones), musicians (especially Rock ones), politicians and members of (relatively) fringe groups in his shows. I don’t think I need to explain why it made sense to invite media personalities, considering he was one.

I am not surprised about him inviting writers as he was a one who also had published both non-fiction and crime fiction books; he would not have a hard time bonding with them and scooping their perspectives on the local cultures.

I am also not surprised he invited politicians. Like it or not, politics can affect every single aspect of our lives, whether directly or not, and that includes foods. Of course, this is purely my thought. Tony invited politicians probably because he was interested in politics in general (he really, really hated Henry Kissinger, by the way).

I am not sure about the musicians, though. While he did have high appreciation of music, particularly Rock, I am still unsure of why he invited them. He probably wanted to know more about the local cultures. Or he probably just wanted to hang out with them. Even though I can’t say for sure, the former is something that I would do if I were him.

I am also not sure about the culturally fringe individuals (again, relatively fringe), like the residents of Christiania in Copenhagen and Molokai in Hawaii state. Maybe, as a former dweller of Provincetown, he felt he would not have much trouble bonding with them. Maybe he believed understanding a mainstream society would feel inadequate and too sugary without the alternative perspectives, a sentiment that I happen to possess.

Whatever the reasons, whether he did it on purpose or not, I have to give Anthony Bourdain credit for giving me new perspectives on how to explore cultures, whether they are ‘foreign’ or my own. Our understanding of a society will be more well-rounded once we utilise different and distinct paradigms.

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

I hate the one from No Reservations. It uses the same ‘Indonesia-is-all-about-Jakarta-and-Bali’ cliche. It does cover West Java, a territory that many foreigners haven’t heard and don’t care about. But, it has to compete for attention with the more internationally-known ones. That’s like making a US episode in which lesser known places like Savannah or Austin have to compete for attention with New York City and Los Angeles.

The only thing I love about the episode is the scene where cameraman Todd Liebler accidentally crashed the piling plates of foods in a Padang restaurant (there is a reason why those areas are off-limit to customers, for God’s sake). The farce is the only reason why I still keep re-watching it.

Even though I think Andrew Zimmern is an inferior host in comparison with his sometimes cringeworthy behaviours and conventional style of communication, his short-lived and little-known show Bizarre World does a better job in portraying Indonesia.

It dedicates two episodes on my country, each focusing on one specific region: Bali and Sulawesi. While No Reservations gives the impression that Jakarta, West Java and Bali are all the country about, Bizarre World sternly communicates the audience how everything depicted on the screen, including the elaborate Torajan funeral ceremony (which I always want to attend once in my life), is confined to certain localities and does not fully represent the entire country! For me, that’s how one should do a foreign travelling piece!

The Indonesian episode of Parts Unknown exceeds my expectation… in spite of the Jakarta-Bali cliche!

The beginning of the episode features having a sumptuous Minangkabau lunch with Desi Anwar, a CNN Indonesia host, and a Dalang (wayang puppeteer). Desi asserted that tasting every Indonesian dish will take us forty years to achieve!

Obviously, such claim is conjectural. But, I cannot blame every individual who knows Indonesia really well for believing that. The country is indeed really diverse and it is often something I bring up when discussing multiculturalism and Indonesian stereotypes with foreigners. The acknowledgement of its diversity really kicks the No Reservations episode in the nut!

Desi also claimed that Indonesians enjoy dishes from other ethnicities, even ones they have grudges against. I am so fucking happy she said that! For years, I have been noticing how we love eating foods of the people we constantly demonise! In the US, it is mostly the Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans. In Indonesia, it is mostly the Chinese-Indonesians.

Not only it exposes more about the insufferableness of humanity, it also exposes human prejudice’s inability to dictate what our taste buds should like or dislike. It sheds light on the deep-rooted universality of food! It probably has something to do with food being one of our basic human needs and our survival instinct compels us to have a taste palate as wide-ranging as possible. But, that’s just my conjecture as someone who never attended a single proper science in his lifetime. Anyway, back to the show.

I am also happy the episode features a historian with whom Anthony briefly talks the 1960’s anti-communist massacre. It is treated by nationalistic Indonesians just like how the crusades being treated by Christian fundamentalists: glorifyingly!

I am not a communist and the idea of living under the rule of communism is as terrifying as living under fascism. But, even if the Indonesian communist party (or PKI as popularly known) was indeed involved in the September 30 movement (or G30S as popularly known), I still cannot find any moral justification for the mass killings!

For one, how do you know every single human casualty involves actual communists? How do you know they were not targeted simply for their Chinese ancestry, their religious beliefs or lack thereof? How do you know the murderers were not purely motivated by bloodlust or the desire to play fucking ‘superheroes’?

Even if every single victim was indeed a commie, how do you know the entire PKI was involved in G30S? In 1965, the party had over three million members. :iterally millions of them! You cannot expect reasonable minds to believe every single one was directly responsible for the violence! But, most importantly, what makes you think you are the ones with higher moral grounds? What makes you believe you, the apologists of the murders, are the good guys here?

Why do I act like I can reason with those people? Years after the fall of the Order Baru regime, Indonesians are still willingly getting deep-throated by its propaganda and we love wearing intellectual dishonesty as a fucking badge of honour! Okay, I need to stop with the historical revisionism tangent.

This is the second reason why I am so happy with the episode. Even though the historical ‘event’ was only being alluded to, the sense of inhumanity is strongly conveyed. I hope this has an effect on the viewers.

A handful of foreigners among them will probably be intrigued by and start researching about it; they will probably realise how supportive western governments and how apathetic most of the eastern bloc ones about the massacre. The Indonesian viewers, the ones with bloodlust at least, will realise how their beloved foreign idol viewed the historical ‘event’ as an example of humanity at one of its worst , NOT one of its best.

I never expected that I would discuss such topic in an article about a TV chef. The fact that I can do so emphasises what I said earlier about his political consciousness. But still, I haven’t got to the best part of the episode: the conversations about death.

Since I was young, I have been told by some fellow Indonesians that ‘death is just the beginning’, which is also how the narrator (who speaks with a ‘sophisticated’ Indonesian accent) puts it. I really doubt it is an exclusively Indonesian belief. But, I like the off-centre approach to cultural exploration.

Instead of focusing on earthly entities, this episode prefer to zoom in on a metaphysical realm which existence is not believed by every earthly being (this goes back to what I said earlier). The theme is fitting as there are scenes depicting Ngaben, the elaborate Balinese funeral ceremony (which I also have the desire to attend). Typically, documentaries include the thematic conversation to compliment the rituals being depicted. But, in this episode, the roles are reversed!

The death conversations take around half of the episode’s duration and the Ngaben scenes appear later on. The thematics is the main dish and its tangible representation is the optional condiment. This role reversal strongly argues how cultural heritage goes beyond its tangibility. We strive to protect it for the sake of its souls, NOT merely for its physicality.

In the light of Anthony’s death, which happened before the post-production process was finalised, this episode may feel eerie for some people. For others like me, it feels deeply poignant. This makes me wonder if he had been thinking about his own death for some times and the conversations was meant to help him contemplating about it.

Okay, I know I am crossing the boundary here. But, I have to be frank about it: that’s what I am feeling and I am confident some people are feeling the same! The fact that the last season of Parts Unknown is considered ‘unfinished’ intensifies the poignancy.

After his death, the Indonesian episode is the only ‘unfinished’ one that I have currently watched. As an Indonesian who has been interacting with foreigners regularly for years, I felt obligated to watch and critique every piece about Indonesia that foreigners assemble. Emotionally, I don’t have the gut to watch the other episodes.

The Indonesian episode is already hard to watch. Never mind the emotionally-fitting theme. The absence of his witty and poetic voice-over asserts there will be no more Anthony Bourdain to tell us stories.

Watching the other ‘unfinished’ pieces means I will have to listen to the harrowing truth over and over again.









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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.

Inhabitants Of My Urban Realms 4

(short fiction #8)

That foreign city

Compared to most cities I’ve visited, this one feels calm…and oddly sleepy. Most of the creatures are apathetic to humans. One day, I said “Hi!” to a robot and a talking cat on a park. Their only respond was blank stare. Maybe I disturbed their chat and annoyed them. Maybe they were feeling sorry for me, a painfully awkward bugger.

Their apathy contributes to the city’s relative calmness. For foreigners, it’s a boring atmosphere. For me, it’s relaxing. Many cities cannot be described that way. It’s a highly-cultured city, also thanks to the non-humans.

Apart from the awkward encounter, I’d never interacted with them. Always saw them in galleries, museums, the downtown and even my university. They interacted with the humans, talking about arts and cultures, possibly planning their own projects. I’m always intrigued by the ones in my uni.

I don’t know why. Maybe because the youthful energy. Maybe they still have their idealism. Maybe I was just an asshole; I thought I was the only cultured youth out there. But, whatever the reasons, surrounded by artistic youths gives me colourful emotions.

It’s inspiring. I appreciate earthly creatures’ boundless sense of beauty. I heard students discussing films passionately. I witnessed students thrive in creative classes. Outside the classrooms, they thrived. Human-robot choirs. Sludges dance troupes. Ghostly slam poetry. Seen them all. To think that my uni didn’t (and still doesn’t) specialise in the arts. The Indonesian uni I dropped out from was similar minus the humility. If only I am more social.

The atmosphere also keeps slapping me (my face hasn’t adjusted to the pain). It reminds me of my own sloth. Sometimes, I dream about getting slaps by fellow students. I hope it stays as a dream. You don’t want non-humans to slap you. I’ve seen photos online.


Do I need one? Sighs. Can I let the sloth write it for me? No? Fine!

It can be concluded that different cities have different humans and non-humans. Yadda yadda yadda! Happy?

Inhabitants Of My Urban Realms 3

(short fiction #7)

My second city

It’s not my “home”, even though I was born there. A city where the creatures are both aloof and cultured. Very typical for a big ass city. This one in particular is notorious for the volatile relationship between humans and non-humans.

The humans are too eager to demolish old buildings. You know, the places where non-humans live! They love old buildings because of the aura and their good taste. It’s worsen that they are legally second-class citizens. Obviously, they rebel. Their bad deeds are similar to the ones in my hometown. Except, theirs are notoriously worse. A few times in the past, the city literally shut down for days. But, it’s not all sectarian.

Many are also model citizens. But, they are more visible. More recognition (it could have been higher, though). In fact, they belong to the elites, mingling with equally-snooty Homo Sapiens. Hate interacting with them, humans or not.

They are borderline narcissistic. They build sky-high monoliths in their backyards. Once a day, they climb to the top using the lift. They want to emphasise how others are beneath them. Worse, their arrogance is seen as confidence. I vomit every time I think about them. Even my vomit vomits; it shares my revulsion. But, I’m glad the old lady also shares it.

She, wearing Betawi kabaya this time, will levitate to the monoliths’ tops and slap those snooters. If only they install guard rails (safety regulations exist for a reason!).

Every fall is physically damaging. “Peasant” workshops repair the robots. The sludges need medicinal turds. The sorcerers are treated by their ghetto counterparts. The ghosts need resurrection. The recover may take weeks, months or even years. But, nothing is more painful the humiliation.

It’s rarely reported by the elites-owned media. The elites try really hard to protect each other…for selfish reasons obviously. But, everyone knows about their comeuppances. The elites may either ignore the public shaming or dismiss it as social jealousy. But, the shaming’s still exists and will always be.

Aaah, my schadenfreude.

Inhabitants Of My Urban Realms 2

(short fiction #6)

My first encounter with a non-human was life-changing. I was sitting on the grass, just having my morning walk at my favourite park when a sorcerer said, “good morning!”. Took me a while to properly reply. Apart from his purple eyes, he looked completely human. But, I still feared that he would transform me to a canine or worse, himself to one just to annoy me. Instead, he continued to a small talk:

“Do you always walk here?” He had a slight Eastern Javanese accent.

“Yes, I do. But, not everyday.” I was surprised by my lack of stuttering. I usually stutter when talking to strangers or anyone I’m uncomfortable with.

“It’s so quiet, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

I don’t remember most of the conversation. Or maybe the writer (my creator) is just lazy. But, there are some that I always do:

“What do you do as a living?”, I asked.

“I teach applied magic.”

“Applied magic?”

Ya. I teach it at the polytechnic.”

“Magic can be taught?”

“Yes, it can. Everyone can learn it. You don’t have to be born with it.”

“Applied. What do you mean by applied?”

“It means it has practicality. Magic can be used to track criminals, protect our homes, control the unruly ghosts and even to make our foods tastier!”

“Wow!”, I replied profoundly.

“I’m more interested in teaching pure magic, actually.”


“It helps us in understanding the philsophical, social and cultural aspects of magic. Don’t get me wrong. I do think practicality is important. But, we should also thrive to understand everything, whether they grow money or not. If we don’t, we are proudly ignorant about our own world. Besides, pure and applied magic overlap with each other. Some branches of pure magic can have their practical use.”

“Where did you learn magic?”

“I attended a magical boarding school called C_S_ in Surabaya. Then, I got a bachelor’s degree from G_ university in Bandung and a Ph.D from F_P_ university in Boston.”

I tried to whistle. I forgot I couldn’t.

“Anyway, I have to go now.”

When I was already comfortable with him. We even hadn’t introduced our names!

He got up and said “bye” before he ran towards a pregnant hijabi lady, who was sitting at a nearby rusty bench. She got up and they off together.

I just sat there, contemplating my first encounter with a non-human. I muttered, “wow, not all of them are bad.”

Unexpectedly, an old lady in Malay kebaya appeared out of nowhere. “You think?”, she scorned before she slapped me hard. Then, she stormed off angrily, swearing in multiple languages under her breath.

I was 15. Old enough to reject stereotypes. I deserved the pain.

Inhabitants Of My Urban Realms 1

(short fiction #5)

Like most people, I spend my life living in the urban areas. I always deal inhabitants like mischievous sewer sludges, noisy scrap metal robots and sorcerers disguised as stray cats. Pollution, urban decay and deception. I wish I was a rural boy. I would’ve dealt with dragons, singing floras and magical sages. Strength, serenity and wisdom. I envy village dwellers.

Actually, that is a lie. I barely deal with those urban creatures. I am an indoor person. When I go out, I use the safe routes. The robots are attracting attention with their clanking; they remind me of attention-deprived teenagers. The sorcerers metamorphose themselves to felines and canines simply because they don’t find a reason why they shouldn’t. Those sewer sludges offer innocent passers-by feculent experiences. Those urban nuisances can be deadly at times. Despite that, I’ve become doubtful about the rural beauty.

Some of the dragons are blood-thirsty (western imports!). Sometimes, the floral singing cause aural addiction so potent, not even rehabs help (this is why genetic engineering exists). Some magical sages are degenerates themselves: laundering money, accepting bribes and getting involved in illegal prostitution rings. Really ruin it for me.

So far, I have lived in three cities. Two of them are in Indonesia and one in Australia. Ideally, I would love to live in my hometown forever. But, most of professional jobs offered here are limited to business, hospitality, manufacturing, black magic and immorality. I am not interested in any of those (even though I was slightly intrigued by the last one). Here, my success is just a make-believe. Okay, I got sidetracked.

Anyway, these are their brief descriptions. I’ll focus mostly on the non-humans (it’s disputed whether the sorcerers are humans or not. Some are mythical creatures descendants. I believe some are partially humans while others are completely so. Most refuse to believe that. Thanks, supremacists) They’re way more interesting.

Home bittersweet home

My hometown is like a grown-up with strong potentials who are more childish than children themselves. But then, you can find such grown-ups on any Indonesian streets…in dirty diapers, screaming and whining about how their degrees and ages make them superior. Such role models, aren’t they?

The non-humans are mostly useless. They do nothing but making the city a horrible place to live. The robots contribute to the noise and air pollution. The sludges block the sewers, causing annual flooding and infect humans with diseases. The sorcerers prank humans with their magic. Local ghosts haunt houses and, in some occasions, murder the occupiers. They are also peeping Toms. When I got older, I realised I was pigeonholing them.

Many are model citizens. The robots work as engineers and in workshops. The sludges work as government’s health and environmental officers. The sages teach applied magic to any non-magical creatures. The ghosts work as historians. Many work alongside with humans. Just like their human counterparts, they run this godawful city. Without them, it would just be a crowded settlement of no importance.

The Undesired Ones 3 (end)

First published on on August 8, 2016.

(short fiction #4)

It’s been seven years since that conversation. Yes, seven. As you expected, our relationships were icy for that long. I didn’t try to make a second apology as I am a massive prick. We only talked when I lent them my stuffs and I borrowed theirs. But, that was it. My bedroom became so cold, icicles were formed. Despite that, they still managed to make me feel happy.

One day, I visited my favourite park with them. It was a seaside park, located not far from my house; it only took 30 minutes by foot (for me, that’s not far). Do not picture it as a pleasant park as it wasn’t. There weren’t enough grass. There were no flowers. There were old, abandoned buildings; they looked like they were built in the 1980’s. It was really hot even on cloudy days (it never went below 30 degrees celsius). When rain came, it had to be accompanied by a storm. But I still loved it.

It was really quiet. Even though I was never completely alone (when my friends didn’t want to go with me), it was never crowded; perfect for me to unwind. On hot days, I could stay under the trees which were still surprisingly healthy despite the poor park management. On rainy days, I could stay under the gazebos. The abandoned buildings were mentally stimulated; I often imagined what I would do if I purchase them as their architectural styles were beautiful. Okay, enough with the irrelevant info.

My friends visited the park for similar reasons. Because of that incident, I became more reserved every time I went out of the house with them. It was a really hot day so we preferred to stay under the shades. It was very relaxing, physically and mentally. But that relaxation didn’t last long because of an unwanted person.

“Guys, that is Anto over there.” I pointed to a small crowd.

He was playing soccer with his friends (I didn’t count how many they were). He wore a pair of sport shorts. He was naked from waist up. His bare torso really caught my attention. It had really well-scuplted solid muscles resulted from intense regular exercises. His perfectly-tanned skin was glistening with sweat which reminded me of the guys in ‘cheap’ films; it felt so unreal! He was already attractive when I saw him years ago with those loose clothing. Then, this! I looked at his friends. Even though they did not have good-looking faces, their bodies were equally athletic. It became more unreal! If there were spectators, I am sure they would enjoy the players more than the sport itself. On a glimpse, I saw that both Wan and Kama were smiling; I don’t think they smiled simply because they were “happy”. Then, I realised something: Anto and his friends had muscles!

What would happen if they saw me with the ‘undesired’ ones? I was just a fat prick, they were all athletic. Anto said he was in the military. Judging from the haircut of some of his friends, they may be military men as well. They could easily turn me to a pile of flesh and bones. Immediately, I started walking home even though I just arrived at the park. My friends looked disappointed. But, they expected this shameful behaviour of mine. They followed me anyway.

“It’s stupid of you for fearing us.” Rita said suddenly after five minutes.

I stopped walking. I turned to them.

“Did you know what we just saw?”

“Well, we just saw Anto and his friends.”

“We are not talking about him and his gang.” Wan said calmly. I became more confused.

“There were people that you weren’t able to see.” Kama added.

I just stared at them.

“Every single one of those people have ‘undesired’ friends.” Wan made the inverted comma gesture when he said the word “undesired”.

I didn’t know how to react.

“In fact, every single one of them have more than four.” Rati said. “Some of them only had male friends, some only had female ones, some had both. By the way, which one was Anto?”

“He was the one with grey shorts.”

“Really? He had the most number of ‘undesired’ friends.” Rati revealed. I was genuinely shocked.

“All of them were males.” Kama said. “It was a right decision for you to leave Anto and his friends.”


“Their ‘undesired’ friends are really undesirable.” Wan answered. “Actually, undesirable is an understatement. They emitted really dark auras. I would be surprised if they haven’t done anything horrific.”

“What kind of horrific things?”

“The things he showed you years ago.” Rati answered.

I didn’t react at all. I stayed silent for about a minute. I didn’t dare to make any eye contacts. Then, I proceeded to walk home. Should I be surprised that Anto have more undesired friends than me? Not only that, they were actually undesirable! He was a beautifully-masked man with a rotten core.

It was almost bedtime. Just when I was about to get on the bed, I stood frozen. My lack of movement confused them.

“Andy, what’s wrong?” Wan asked.

I stayed silent. I turned to face them. I made a gesture telling them to hop on the bed with me. They had been sleeping on the floor throughout this whole time; they were physically tough.

Now they were the ones who stood frozen.

“Please.” I sounded sadder than I wanted to.

For the first time in years, they gave me warm, genuine smiles. They hopped on the bed with me. One of them turned off the bedside lamp. We cuddled tightly.

“Guys, I am….”. They interrupted me with gentle shush. A hand was gently stroking my hair. The room suddenly became warm again. But that is nothing compared to the warmth emited by friends. It had been missing all these years.

I have been forgiven.

The Undesired Ones 2

First published on on August 8, 2016.

(short fiction #3)

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. In my hometown, it was always blazingly hot on sunny days. Even though I was allowed to use the cooler, I didn’t want to. I started to find comfort in the heat. There were no home works. It would be a perfect day to unwind. But, after what I witnessed in the auditorium the day before, it was hard to.

My so-called “undesired” friends were with me in my bedroom. Rati was reading a book about Chrisye, one of our favourite musicians. Kama had earphones on his ears; I don’t know what he was listening to. Wan was laying on the floor, daydreaming. I just realised that they grew up to be really attractive youngsters; if they are visible to other people, I am sure they would attract many desiring and lustful eyes. They looked better than those celebrities, who tended to look plastic.

“What’s wrong, An?” Wan suddenly asked. He sounded concerned.

“Nothing”. I didn’t dare to stare at his eyes and preferred to look out of my window.

“Are you sure”

“Aye.” I still didn’t dare to look at him. I could sense that he didn’t believe me.

“Don’t lie to me.” See?

“I don’t.” I turned to stare at him. I was getting annoyed. Kama and Rati stopped what they were doing, sensing the tension.

“Well, you have been acting strangely since you got home from school yesterday.” Rati added. “You were very quiet.”

“I am a quiet person.”

“Not with us.” Kama said suspiciously. “With us, you are always very talkative.”

I stayed silent.

“Come on, Andy.” Wan pleaded. “You always share your most inner thoughts to us.”

They all stared at me intensely. I just realised how intimidating their eyes could be. It looked they were able to see one’s soul.

“Okay, then. I will tell you what bothers my mind.” I didn’t remember exactly how I recalled the auditorium ‘incident’. But I remember exactly how they reacted: gradually, their facial expressions showed profound disappointment before they quickly switch to expression of sadness.

“And you just believe him?” Rati asked. Her voice was laced with sadness and something else that I couldn’t fathom. Anger?

I didn’t dare to answer.

“Answer me.”

I stayed muted.

“Andy, answer her question.” Kama pressured.

No words from my lips.

“Andy…” That one word from Wan was enough to give me chills.

I shut my lips tight for what felt like hours. Then, I relented.

“Okay okay! Yes, I believe every single word he said!”

They couldn’t believe the words that escaped thought my lips.

“He was very convincing. He gave me strong evidences! I am sorry but…..”. Kama cut me off.

“Don’t you dare say you are sorry!” Kama hissed.

Wan added, “Typical Andy. We always knew that your mind is easily molded by other people. But we didn’t expect that bloody trait of yours would lead to this. You are twelve! You should be better than this!” Every single word pierced my chest like icy knife.

Rati concluded the conversations, “If you really know us, you would know that we never cause any harms to you. In fact, we are the ones who have been protecting you. We are even more protective of you than your own family! The fact that you believe that man’s words easily, it’s just……”. Rita didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t need to.

My room became really cold despite the weather. It stayed that way for many years. We stayed silence throughout the day. Just before bedtime, someone-I don’t remember who-said this, “Like it or not, we will always live here. We don’t have anywhere to go. Your room is our only home.” I nodded without turning my head.

The cold was unbearable for me. But it was nothing compared to the coldness emitted by my friends. What have I done?