Sunday, December 12, 2010

She’s in Fashion

(Melbourne Notes - Written in 2009)

By now y’all must have figured out that despite my headscarf, I actually have a secret fashionista in me (fashion-ista, not fashio-nista!). So when I was told that Australian office dress code is quite formal, I hastily rummaged Mal Ambasador to procure some decent shirts and jackets (or “blazer” as you call it) to wear at work in Melbourne. Quite a fortune spent, that was, for a proletarian.

Months went by since I first came and those jackets never once find the occasion to leave my closet.

That bloody person who tipped me off must have not acknowledged the fact that I am an *engineer* working in *oil industry*, not some high-profile admin staff in a private bank. As far as the eyes can see, ladies here dress more or less the same as in Jakarta. Or should I say, less!

For isn’t it a miniskirt that she’s wearing? Like 15 cm above the knees? Isn’t it a body-fit cotton tee that I see over there? And anticipating summer, I swear the ladies are all flaunting their “yukensi” shirts & dresses! Who actually wears a jacket? Supervisors. And those putting on “minimalist” tops when they actually have an important review coming up (old trick!).

So pardon me for going about this Melbourne office in my usual fashion statement. That is, “tadpole fashion” like you used to see me back then in Jakarta. And pardon me if those jackets eventually fly back to Indonesia with their price tags still on. Because it is highly unlikely -and against my favour- that I’d suddenly become a supervisor within these 18 months, ha ha =)


- For the gents, it is true though, that the dress code is quite formal. If you can get away with short-sleeve shirts in Jakarta, here you must grope further into your long-sleeve drawer. And don’t forget your shiny patent leather shoes. Putting on a tie all day is pretty common, too.

- Summer is really a fascinating time for fashion studies. Look at the way the ladies dress (do so with your shades on, ho-hum)! Some just have no clue they look downright hideous, I can tell ya!

Better Ways to Answer “How are You?”

(Melbourne Notes - Written in 2009)

I never thought my supposedly smooth transition will be crippled by such a trivial thing as everyday how-are-you’s. I coped gracefully with bigger things: the new job, the language, the cold (imagine a tropical creature journeys in winter), the settling-in, the food. But in the first weeks, there were always those awkward seconds before I could respond to a simple “How are you?”.

I believe it is cultural! We do greet each other with a genial “Apa kabar?” (how-are-you equivalent in Bahasa), but certainly we don’t apa-kabar each other every 5-minute! In Indonesia, if you see them & interact with them on a daily basis, a nice good-morning and an occasional “hi” every time you bump into them will be sufficient. But in Western culture they fire on with how-are-you every time they set eyes on you. Or so I felt.

Then followed the awkward seconds in which I struggled for an answer.

It was hard for me to respond readily because I could not tell if they sincerely wanted to know how I was or if it was just something mechanical; something meaningless that did not demand meaningful answer.

If I were honestly feeling low, should I just say it? Would they care or would they brush it off? If they cared, I might have to elaborate. But would I care to? I’m not someone who could just pour my heart out to a perfect stranger.

But if this whole how-are-you thing is just mechanical, why bother answering it anyway? Could I just brush it off?

See? All these “philosophical” questions passed through my mind every time a random, well-meaning person asked me that simple “How are you?”. And if I was an idiot for taking three days to realize that the office has no tea girls, I must have been a bigger idiot for taking three WEEKS to get it into my system that I shouldn’t worry about the (in)sincerity of the meaning; I should just take it as a cultural thing and produce a prompt “Good. Yourself?” with a genuine smile, both in the ups and downs of my day.

So I got over it now. You can how-are-you me every 5-minute and I wouldn’t bother. Except that now I’m feeling a bit bored with the words good/fine/well as universal answers. Surely there are better ways to respond to this standard greeting! “Never been better”. “Still hangin’ on”. “Getting there”. “Fabulous”. “Sensational”. “Like sunshine!”. "Living my dreams". Oh, I can invent other things and heaps of them. So you’ll be surprised the next time you fire your “How are you?” at me! :)


This is something that happened during my Uni years, when I was a part-time Bahasa teacher in Jogja. One of my favourite students, a British diplomat, came to me and idly asked me to translate “Mustn’t grumble” to Bahasa. “Why would you need to say ’mustn’t grumble’ anyway?”, I was sincerely curious. “Alternative answer to how-are-you”, he said. NOW I know what he meant. “Good” is just sooooooo boring! :)

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Eating Out vs Eating In

(Melbourne Notes - Written in 2009)

CBD & suburbs are filthy with excellent eateries scattered around most tauntingly. I mean it, Melbourne is a superb place if you’re into walking and eating (& wine!). Is it good news? Yes, but not always to me.

Being a Muslim in a predominantly Christian country is a challenge. True, halal butchers are not so hard to find and there are halal eateries in the city, but sometimes (just sometimes!) hovers the temptation to taste that dish so famous in that renowned restaurant everyone’s been showering with praises… but you can’t since it’s not halal-meat. Sure you can go anyway and order some seafood or veggie stuffs if you insist. Then you see the aforesaid dish come floating about to the next table and it smells so good you literally drool. You look at your own dish and you ponder. Temptation is in the air!

So you know that you can’t always eat out, because even if they are cheap, the choice is limited. And they’re not exactly cheap, mind you. Regular lunch in a tiny eatery will cost you around AUD 8, drinks excluded. Dinner set is around AUD 15/pax by a struggling student’s standard. Desk-jockeys like me are expected to go to better restaurants/bars; there goes *extra* AUD 20/pax, desserts excluded. Ridiculous when you try to convert everything to Rupiah.

And when you know you can’t always eat out, you find yourself face to face with the cooker.

Yes, cook your own food. I never dreamt of having to do that. In Jogja (God bless this peaceful place!) food was dirt-cheap and there were food stalls galore just around every corner; cooking was simply deemed unnecessary (and more costly if you’re cooking for one). In Jakarta it wasn’t so cheap, but I lived on a street renowned as a culinary haven; it was downright stupid to try and cook on my own when so much better food was at my disposal. And now Melbourne: an apartment with lovely, modern, convenient kitchen that beckons me to challenge my culinary quotient. So I cook. Yes.

It is not that hard, really. Especially after a raid to Laguna (an oriental grocery shop) and be amazed by those tall shelves of INSTANT condiments. I know I will survive Melbourne, and will definitely survive my kitchen challenge! Even a culinary idiot CANNOT lose when the logistics is just colossal. So I cook. Yes.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009


(Melbourne Notes pt.1)

First day in the office is always both challenging & interesting, isn’t it? On the first day, my “buddy” (the colleague assigned the extra burden of ensuring my smooth landing) was out in the offshore platform, so I was practically a lost lamb.

Finding the restroom was easy, but finding out how things run here was a bit trickier. You see, I came from a feudalistic culture. An average desk-jockey tadpole as I was, I STILL had my tea served in the morning, my water cup re-filled in the afternoon and another cup of coffee if I so requested. But there I was in a Melbourne office, struggling with LAN connection, and the clock was ticking and I was starting to feel thirsty, but WHERE THE HELL WAS THE TEA GIRL?

I popped my head in the hall way, hoping to catch a glance of some suspect-tea-girl, but saw none. I thought the tea girls had not been aware that I existed there, since it was only my first day. Very well, I had got my bottle of water anyway.

The second day dawned and the tea girl was still nowhere to be seen.

On the third day, I was running out of drinks (and patience) when FINALLY I saw someone holding up a mug of milk. She was coming out of a small hidden room I hadn’t ventured to. Curiously, if timidly, I set my foot in the room.. and Voila! A huge fridge! Cartons of milk inside! A big can of Milo & Nescafe! Drawers full of plastic glasses, spoons, forks, knives.

So they don’t have tea girls in Melbourne. Everything is self-service. You thirsty, mate? Go get your own cup of water. It took me three days to realize that. Idiot!

This story remains my favorite anecdote about settling into Melbourne office life. I soon found that they have no bystander office boys, too. No, there’s no one to run errands for you. Moving to another room? No handyman to help you with those heavy boxes. No copier guy when you need to generate numerous copies of review material either. Mails are not delivered right to your desk, but to some corner of pigeon holes that you have to check daily by yourself. Indeed you are expected to do many things on your own.

On weighing the current office culture with my previous experience in Jakarta, I cannot tell if one is better than the other, really. I did mention the feudalistic culture, but the thing is, Indonesian population is massive & the work force so big that it’s literally impossible to create jobs for everyone. With limited job opportunities, here and there people are forced to take “part time job” as their only source of income or share one job with other folks (pseudo-underemployment). The employers are also “forced” to create jobs that are probably unnecessary. Can’t Jakarta folks make tea on their own? Sure they can. But it’s just unimaginable for an established office in Jakarta not to have tea girls & office boys. It’s cultural, but more than that it’s the socioeconomic mould.

I bet I’d feel funny when I’m back to Jakarta and having the good-natured lady serving my morning tea again!

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Proletarian Girl Meets World

I set out for Melbourne on July 9, 2009 to try my luck in the big oil game in Gippsland Basin. It has been almost four months (& counting!) now. Some of the highlights of my "adventure" will be shared in later posts.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


(Many people complained about the *quality* of my writings lately, i.e. the lovey-dovey stuffs. My sincere apologies for not being able to keep up with your expectations. I promise this will be the last piece in my “Love” series. Then let’s talk about soup-opera-like conflicts with Malaysia or the presidential campaign-- just as you like it!)

Marry Me By Next Year

This is a story about someone I knew: a girl blessed with extraordinary beauty & an amiable disposition. Men went after her like a group of dazed bees. But she wasn’t into dating—she was one of those “pure girls” who want to go straight to the wedding vow, be a good housewife and breed babies.

Because she is always timid and sweet, you’d think her weak &
indecisive. So wrong. Just when she felt she was of age, she announced that she wanted to get married by next year. To whom? Dunno yet.

Quite a shock for me. This was a girl who left so many hearts broken
because she wanted a Prince Charming, nothing less. And suddenly she was ready to marry anyone just to get her target achieved? Are you kidding me? It’s marriage, man—it’s no trivial matter!

She did get married the next year, by the way. To a “blackhorse” o
ne wouldn’t consider a suitor in the first place. Many hearts were bleeding open—but then she got what she wanted. A husband & a kid now, and a happy life.

Was that love? It’s more like she made a bet—and got luck

It’s Just A Feeling

A drunkard was drinking heavily in a bar and got into a conversation
with a stranger beside him. He told that stranger, “I love my family so much. I love my wife and my kids. I am nothing without them”.

But then he spent his time in bars getting drunk
day-in day-out. His wife struggled alone with the house chores & the kids did not have anything to say to the daddy.

“If you love them you shouldn’t be here being wasted. You should be with
them”, said the stranger.

“But my feelings are true! I truly, deeply love them! I
am not lying; I really love them!”

What a joke. Love is not just a feeling; love is an action.

It reminds me of myself: all the years when I *felt* I loved my sempai.

It was just a feeling. In reality I did not do anything about him. It
was not love.

As far as feelings go, I am deeply in love with Gong Yoo. And Sakaguchi
Kenji. And Christian Bale. I am not lying! I feel very strongly for them. Now who would say these are loves?

How Long Does the Hormone Last?

A worthwhile 2005 Korean sappy series, My Lovely Sam Soon, got me thinking. There is a couple in the story: the girl is a dazzling med school student and the guy is a spoiled rich brat. The guy is madly in love with her, to which she laughingly explains, “It’s just the hormones”.

They will be in love just as long as the hormones are still flowing in
their bodies, being pumped to their brains.

How long does the hormone last?

Approximately two years, she said. You’ll be tired of me after two years, she said. That is a very disheartening statement.

But didn’t I tell you that being in love is not love? You have been warned.

The Myth of True Love

I have this stubborn belief that the myth of true love is responsible of
many of the breakings-up of otherwise repairable relationships.

You think in your life there is “one true love” you have yet to find. You and the fated one are “meant for each other” as “a match made in Heaven”—everything will be just perfect when you are finally together.

When later on you find out that it’s not exactly perfect, you back off.
You think you’ve made a mistake recognizing “the one”. You think you should break free from this relationship ASAP, and start searching for “the one” again, “the TRUE one”.

Gimme a break. To begin with, nothing is perfect. Even if you think that
it is, it is not. (Except if you take this argument into a whole higher level of spiritual realm—then *everything* is indeed perfect.)

Blame it on the fairy tales you heard when you were little—truth is,
Prince Charming does have his own worries and fears—he’s not one supreme being whose sole purpose in life is solve all your problems. He goes to the bathroom, too, you know.

So this is your wake-up call. True love is something you work for; it is
not Given. To love is to labor. Destiny has little to do with your well-being, because happiness is a state of mind.

Let’s see things as they are, shall we readers? “True love is just
co-dependency with a better soundtrack”.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Tom Cruise said this on getting a divorce from Nicole Kidman: “I love her but I am not in love with her”.

There is a grain
of truth in what he said. The feeling of being in love is not love.

We all *love* being in love, don’t we? When we waltz along the street
(or at least walk, but with those springy steps). When the world is still the same but it just looks different: more colorful, warmer, brighter. When a 5-minute phone call makes us smile all day long. When a date is the only thing that matters in this whole world.

Indeed those are the best moments of our lives. Those are the times when
we truly feel alive, and be grateful to be alive. So full of hopes and bursting with energy. So full of dreams and bursting with passion. Amazing how one person can inspire us so.

But here is Life’s little secret: you cannot be in love forever. It is
too tiresome; it takes up too much energy. The feeling, with all its roller-coaster ride sensation and rainbow colors, will soon wear off. You fall in love, and then you fall out of love.

So did Tom Cruise. So does everyone.

The question is: what to do next when you fall out of love? Get a
divorce? Cheat on your partner? Suddenly support polygamy?

M. Scott Peck, a psychoanalyst I most respect, argued that the end of
“being in love” could well be the beginning of “a real love”. When you get over your infatuation, when you no longer crave your beloved, and yet you two are willing to stay together and help each other to grow beyond the boundaries— that is Love. Will and acts (sometimes hard-labored!) to be better, happier persons both.

So Tom Cruise got over his infatuation. If only he (and she) had worked
on their Love, the couple might have been together still, and happier than ever. Pity.


This one has been talked about quite a lot already, so I’m gonna make it quick.

I don’t believe in love-at-first-sight. True, you can still gather
something about the personality from appearance only, but they are often deceiving. The so-called love-at-first-sight is mostly about liking what you see.

I went out for lunch with Mike once, and somehow we ended up talking
about love-at-first-sight. “It is not love at all; it is lust”, said I decisively. Mike, being a true Briton, laughed politely with that amused spark in his eyes, and remarked, “Why, you are being cynical, Elok”.

“And when you are telling the truth, people call you cynical”, I

“A true cynic!”, he was looking more amused than ever.

But he did not say a word against my (not-so-original) lust theory. I
left it at that.

Written with a smile of remembrance. Happy belated birthday, you blue-eyed bloke! :-)

Friday, April 24, 2009


I often wonder just how far one would go to appease someone he/she loves.

This is a blatant debility typical to those “in love”. I remember my own best friend undergoing such an ordeal shopping for a pineapple her boyfriend asked for on HER birthday, and it was pretty exasperatingly comical how she (we) struggled to bring the darn pineapple home by a tiny scooter, along with heaps of other goods we bought.

Well, it WAS comical, until it turned out that the couple had a row (on
her BIRTHDAY!) and he ended up returning all her things from his room, including, guess what, our own darn pineapple, untouched. So in the evening of her birthday, the two of us struggled once more, this time to finish the famous pineapple. Tragedy.

Seeing it as an event afar in the past now, I must admit that the wh
ole tribulation was actually quite droll. Even more surprising to me, they made up soon after! Why on earth she could endure such a treatment I cannot tell. What other impediments he has imposed on her I would not long to hear. After the Pineapple Incident, I refuse to stand for my friend’s sanity whenever this guy is involved.

How come one causes so much trouble to others, and yet they still cling
to him/her? Except for familial relationships, I find it hard to accept. If he hurts you, if he treats you like dirt, you MUST walk away. Even better, kick his arse as you walk away. And kick it hard.

But no, you would linger. You would seemingly do anything to please the
one you love, even if he/she would not do the same to you. You’d call it sacrifice; you see yourself a martyr of love. What a bunch of hokum. I’ll tell you what’s going on exactly:

1. He/she is the heir of Narcissus; the person he/she loves best is him/herself. NOT you.

2. You have a masochism tendency; better go consult a shrink.

These heirs of Narcissus are not necessarily as good-looking, mind you.
Don’t be deceived by their looks. One thing they have in common is that they are so full of themselves they hardly have a room for you. Real love, on the other hand, is about sharing metaphorical common rooms for you both to grow spiritually together.

Echo, the nymph falling victim to Narcissus, ended up pining away in
a cave. Alone. Not a good sign at all. I guess I better give my friend some hints!


Pet, huh?

Truth is, my idea of a pet is a virtual one: (fluff)Friend, Tamagotchi and the likes. Being not so caring, I used to admire those pet-owning friends of mine for their great capacity for love and care. I envied the pets for being so much adored. I envied girls who were adored like pets. “Jane, pet, I have missed you!”, said John, hugging her So sweet, I used to think.

Not anymore.

Today, if I hear another “Jane, pet, I have missed you”, I will most probably frown and feel sorry for the girl.

I have come to realize that your “love” to a pet is not love. Love allows independent thoughts, personal colors. Love is about two SUBJECTS choosing to be together.

The case with your pet is different. By definition, a pet is something you take care of; something you feed and play with. You are essential for it to thrive. Your sentiments exactly: you do want to have control and superiority over your pet. You want it to be loyal and dependent— to be your OBJECT. That’s the whole point.

He who calls his sweetheart “pet” is subconsciously expecting the girl to be an object. John wants loyalty and obedience; Jane will be loved and adored as long as she keeps her thoughts to herself. The problem starts when Jane tries to get the message across that she’s not a puppy.

I value my independence too much to ever commit a master-pet relationship. I do not want to be called pet either. Nor should you. Show that you OBJECT being treated as an OBJECT; do not let him call you pet!

Friday, March 13, 2009


I was driving with some friends when we -twenty something, vibrant, viable- eventually ended up talking about how hard it is to find a perfect partner, a Yamato Nadeshiko, in this metropolitan full of pretty wolves.

“I had a pearl of a girl once, but I was dumb enough to let her go...”, one of them mused regretfully. We were all silent for a second or two- probably involuntarily being reminded of one particular dearest we lost in the past as well.

“I think very few people managed to marry the ones who are perfect for them. Instead, the majority married whom they considered the most suitable ones when the time came for them to marry”, another replied.

“The time came for them to marry? I thought we could decide ourselves when we want to wed”, I responded laughingly. But then it is not true. Somehow most of us decide to get married at the age that the society sees fit for us to get married. We do not want to be called old spinsters or old chaps; and we dread being relentlessly nagged by our parents about “settling down with a nice guy/girl” and “giving them a grandchild”.

In Indonesia, at twenty something, particularly after college, the folks are entering the realms of “Panic Age”. They will start thinking seriously of settling down and starting a family, and the more they are into the idea, the more panicky they become in the quest of finding The One. The Perfect One.

Some of them turn to jerks checking out every girl they set eyes on; some of them quietly restrain themselves in great distress.

Until one point the pressure is just too big to bear and they fall victim to the craftily devised “trap” in which nature & culture unite. Marriage as a compromise, defense, or even defeat. That is the point where Yamato Nadeshiko no longer matters. They have this necessity to “love”, and it could be just anyone, as long as they seem fit and “okay”.

Marriage as a compromise, defense, or even defeat. Isn't it sad?

How unfair and unjust the twists of Life are. You might love your high school sweetheart with all the loves in the world; she might be just perfect; but the time was not right and you two went your separate ways. She might be the queen of your heart still; and she might even love you still; but if she was not around when the time “came” for you to marry, you would end up with someone else. Someone tolerable or even nice, perhaps, but not this “pearl of a girl”. And there you are stuck for the rest of your life.

Just before we get off the car, another friend, staring at the traffic, mused quietly, “I read somewhere once that life is like crossing a desert. Along the journey you could pick the loveliest flower you saw and bring it with you for solace and consolation, but you could never go back. It's a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Sure enough, there might be a prettier rose just around the corner, but are you going to risk the whole journey reserving yourself? You either be content with the one you had, or be content knowing that you had once beheld the prettiest of all flowers there were, yet you could not bring it home because it was too late”.

His somewhat tragic allegory relates to us too well. Spending a lifetime trying to find Mr./Ms. Perfect sounds quite unworthy, but picking up a rose only out of a necessity sounds horrid as well.

I believe that to love is voluntary. A necessity to love is not love. It is compromise.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


It is a pitiful sight when an open-minded, brainy girl is being bogged down into the humble service of domestic realms. To see her wake up even before the sun peeped in the east only to cook breakfast for the beloved. To witness her let her wings be clipped and her roaming space at the mercy of the beloved. To find her succumbing to every word he said. To see how he is slowly becoming the axis of her universe. And to see her struggle to ignore how infinitesimal her universe has now become.

What to say when you see all that? Don’t you just wish you could grab the girl and shake her and tell her to end this folly? But then you’ll see her eyes brimming with tears of joy; she is deliriously, foolishly happy to the point of numbness of the senses.

Perhaps love is meant to overcome your reasons and make you look like a complete idiot. Perhaps you should just let it be. But I don’t think love should be domesticating. Domestication underlies the notion that you live not to be your own master, but to be someone else’s “slave”. Domestication demands your every effort neither for your fancy nor betterment, but to please the “master”. It is an insult to human dignity, in a way. Being in love or not, I don’t think the brain should be let in a deadened state as to tolerate such domestication.

Does love bring you face to face with your primordial instincts? When in love, can’t women resist the temptation to SERVE? Can’t men resist the temptation to RULE? It is a pitiful sight indeed, yet if you would just look around you would see so many women succumb to domesticating loves and embrace their shrinking potentials quite welcomingly and happily. Letting go of their dreams, walking away from the promising future so casually, only to be at home and do HIS laundry. I am sorry to say that this happens to women only.

I am not a feminism freak who would accuse every housewife of gender blasphemy. But I believe love is supposed to be expanding your universe, to be lifting you spiritually, to be blissfully beautiful. Yet domesticating love is not blissfully beautiful. It can’t be love. It just can’t.