Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Celebrating 200 years of the Catholic Church in Indonesia (1)

I thank Ony Suryaman for sharing his blog with me. This post is my part of sharing after reading his post. It is also my way to celebrate the 200 years of the Catholic Church in Indonesia.

Ony’s back ground seems closer to my husband’s back ground than mine. Chinese Indonesian could be grouped into two groups; peranakan and totok. The Peranakans usually use Indonesian regional dialects, while the Totoks are still attached to their ancestors’ dialects/ languages. There should be more history and stories behind these two names, I could write about it another time.

Actually some Chinese Indonesians are also Moslem. Some of them become Islam recently, but some others are Islam from the beginning because their tribe is holding this religion from their Chinese ancestors. But the majority of Chinese Indonesians are Christians (including Catholics) and Buddhists. Under the Buddhist identity are also those who belief in Confucius teachings.

Everybody has their own perspectives; that is why the world is so colorful. A year being a catechumen was not heavy for Ony, but was an obstacle for my husband Kurnia (my boy friend at that time). He was not able to provide the time needed for the meetings though it was after office hours. So we went to Father Frans Pranata PR to have special Sunday classes.

I remember what Father Frans said to Kurnia,” Whatever reasons are behind your decision to be a Catholic is not important. What important is the fact that you will commit to His love, and keep looking for Him by conducting acts according to His teachings”.

There are a lot of ways to go to Rome. May be his decision to be a Catholic was linked to his relationship with me, but the decision and all the consequences are on his own. I even stated that I would not commit to marry him even if he become Catholic.

He did have questions. I remember some of it. One important thing is “If God is so kind and merciful, why did He create us in different backgrounds and situations. Why are there miseries in Africa? They’ve got hard life!” It was about fate and destiny. I could not answer it. I was also searching the answer as ‘Why Judas?” (Read my meditation blog for more readings).

I would not compare religions, may be because I have never been confused in my own religious life. My husband’s auntie has changed her religion several times. It is a search of her lifetime! I had the chance to go to a Sunday school conducted by our Oikumene (Christian and Catholic) community. When I did have questions on different teachings (Christian and Catholic basically different in our way to honor Mother Mary) I always ran into my priest from my own KKS (Klub Kitab Suci, Bible Reading Club) in my church. I thank Father Wolff who was always patience in explaining things.

My grandmother was a Confucius’ believer, she did her pray for our ancestors. I do not really know if she did her prayer to the God and Goddess too. For me, the prayer time was a party time, after the prayer we were going to get delicious food and fruits. It was not long until we (the grandchildren) tried to escape from the obligation to pray with hio (candlesticks). I, myself, felt awkward to do it as it is not serving my religious thought. I thought I betrayed Jesus by doing that gesture (we were never taught to say anything, just did the three times adorations). We were hiding during the prayer time. Grandma was always disappointed and later on she decided not to search us for praying. My mom scolded us and told us that we were not serving grandma’s belief, but we should do it to make her happy. It is not for the death but for our grandma’s sake.

My grandma became Catholic now. My Buddhist aunt continues the ritual. Yet, my story with hio doesn’t end here, as my husband’s father does the same ritual. I now pray in my heart in a Catholic way when I did the prayer. I believe that I address my prayer to God. I let my children being excited to this other way of praying. They will ask in their time. So let it be…

I did question the Church on their gender preference. There were no Putri Altar (girls serve the altar) at that time. So when the late Father Hadi (he became a bishop afterward) asked me if I’d like to be a nun, I mockingly answered “No, I’ll be a priest if I may”. Now, understanding all the differences between Mars and Venus, I am not protesting their gender preference anymore.

The circumcision is something healthy, so it is not weird to have a Catholic seeks for circumcision nowadays. I do not consume pork and alcoholic drink but it is not according to the religious law. People made and changed the law, but we should never rely on people. Even a priest is a human being. Sometimes we found their wrongdoings too. Although we need to remember to share His love to other peoples to show the essence of our religion, we should be careful in judging a religion through the conducts of its believer. We should remember that God through every religion teaches only good deeds, it was human being who corrupted it.

I’ve noted that most sacred buildings for prayer like mosques, churches, or temples were not destroyed during the tsunami. May be I was wrong, but for me that is a hint that we are all serving the One and Only God!

I never had the impression that Hinduism and Buddhism are considered second class religion as they believe in Gods and Goddess. May be they are minority that is the real reason. Sometimes public school could not provide any teacher so the students are leaded into the majority of the class. I do not really know how Ony got this impression. He is almost ten years younger than me and I never really went into a public school (I only mingled with friends from public schools). I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a good Catholic school with good teachers (Catholic, Christian, and Islam. My eldest son is now in a Catholic school, he was also taught by a Hindu teacher. Not on religion off course, but having the chance to share empathy on their teacher religious holidays is something valuable).

Providing good teachers are really important for Indonesian education. We are now facing the globalization. While at the same time we are trying to strengthen our religious life to face the globalization, we should be careful not to loose our unity due to fanaticism in religion.

I do have some more notes on his post, but I will share it in my next post.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

A Birthday Reflection

Reaching the age of forty seems to be an age to reflect back to things I’ve been done to this day.

Hearing the age forty makes me feel really old, but the spirit inside me is still very young. I even feel as young as a new graduate. I do hope to be able to start my new life. Life begins at forty! That is the spirit I’ll use to start my new period of life.

Being invited to Seoul, South Korea, by Ohmy News International is one of my birthday presents.

My passport was expired seven years ago. Actually my last journey was ten years ago. I went to Singapore on the expense of the Bureau de Cooperation Linguistic et Educative de Singapour and the SouthEast Asian Ministers of Educations Organization Regional Language Centre. I was a newly wed back then, three months after my wedding day. Rather than having my own honey moon I accepted the invitation. I met friends from Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunai Darussalam, and may be more (I do not remember). It was one of enriching moments in my life. The session with Jacob Gautel taught me how to dig into our creative minds. It is now a reinforcing experience to my teaching young learners.

Then pregnancy and the May Riot changed my whole life. My pregnancy made me to stay out of my job. It was in the six months of pregnancy when I started being a bit deaf (not totally). It was really annoying because my job as an architect need me to communicate a lot. I am lucky tough, I recently read that some people did experience the same situation and it stays after the delivery.

I was thinking to go back to my university (Trisakti University) to apply for a job as a lecturer. The May Riot changed all my intention, I was afraid to be trapped in the campus and would not be able to come back to my son. Having children changed the perspective and courage to face difficult situation. I could not think only on my own sake and pleasure. Priorities were changed.

I did not really experience the trauma, but seeing it on the television already made a traumatic psychological burden. No wonder those who were really on the spot fled away. (Read “Day of Destruction” the newly published article from Jakarta Post Weekender).

Renewing my passport is another sad story. It was clearly stated in the information board that I do not need to verify my SBKRI (The Certification Letter to certify me as an Indonesian Citizen). But in the practice, the young woman asked for my SBKRI as she stated that my father formerly has the Chinese name made it an obligation to prove my Indonesian Citizenship. May be she was blinded as below of the information fact she circled about my father was another legal information stated my number of SBKRI. I do have my old passport too, so what is the matter?

The matter might be in my courage to try to do all the process of obtaining a new passport by myself. May be in her eyes I should use the service of “calo”, a mediator to make things faster. Corruption is really rooted into the very low rank officer. Sometimes people accused Chinese Indonesian to be a person close to bribery. May be it was true for certain persons, but for most of us we were conditioned to be that way.

I read in the newspaper that one of my old friends from the French course in CCF passed away. Madame Lucia Sutan Assin, was a nice friend. Some older friends were passed away. I’ve also missed Mr. Thung Kim Tek, he was a great motivator to my stamp collecting hobby. The generation is changed. It is the time for my generation to inspire the younger one. It is a heavy burden in a changing and globalize world.

I’ll do my best and I do hope that tomorrow will be a brighter future.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Digging from Within…

This blog is becoming more personal than I thought it should be. The writing of the May Riot and the answer to a reader’s question about my name made it really personal. It is even more personal than my “only for family and close friends” blog Depot Ide (the Reservoirs of Ideas). Blogger is really good in service; you can have your blog hidden from public. Yet, it turned out that my public blog opens my more intimate and personal thoughts than my hidden one.

I’m just trying to dig within me all the thoughts that were bothering me. I knew that I could never be like J.K. Rowling. Imagination is really some other sort of exploration. But I have read in Wikimu a story behind her success. She was rejected by big publishers, but she kept trying. That’s the spirit I should have!

I just found out who is JJS. I really feel honored that he appreciated my articles. Citizen Journalism websites are really opening the door to the world!

Now I’m trying to focus on my other weakness; my wandering thoughts! Recently I asked Wikimu editor to review and edit my work before submitting it. I’ve got a really nice comment (thanks mas Bayu!). I learned that I sometimes jumped into another subject which could blur my main attention of the article. He clearly pointed out the things he would not understand as a reader, and things that he would like to know when he saw the title and the leading intro. I’ve got the same kind of coaching from OMNI’s editors, but this one is really something in-depth. He knew that I’d like to learn more, so he is willing to share his perspective.

His job as an editor for a citizen journalism website like wikimu.com would be a very difficult but challenging work. Wikimu aimed to be able to serve as in the 11th layer of citizen journalism website, and they do have contributors who are really novice to writing.

I said it would be difficult as I imagined myself (as the perfectionist) looking to all those misspellings to the unclearly stated opinion (like mine…he..he…he…), or even worse. He should be careful though not to scare us away from writing our ideas. That’s why I did have the impression that they did nothing in the editorial (which actually they work even harder than I thought); the reason behind my voyage to Ohmy News (another thanks for being the hidden “pushing” reason). Yes, I was afraid that my being “wikimu contributor” would make me strive even harder to have my articles published in the conventional media.

Challenging, as it would also challenge you to find a talent and help that person to have the courage to write out his perspective. I’ve noticed that Bayu’s articles are trying to get readers comments on our country national problems. People might not be able to write an article but they still have comments as citizens.

His article about the King of Jogja made me produce my writing about the charm of the late King Hamengku Buwana IX. My first article combating my inferior feeling as a Chinese Indonesian.

So…I’m going to dig more into me with the kind coaching and help from all those great people outside me!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Do we have a better growth?

I have read in the daily the Point that Kalla, our Vice President, denies people getting poorer. He was citing that we do have better growth. Is it real?

I feel that economic burden is growing heavier and heavier. There were also series of suicidal actions due to economic problems. So is it a real better growth?

Remember the joke about the price? If you are asking about the price in the market and surprisingly found their price is very expensive, the answer you’ve got from the seller is “Go and buy it in the newspaper!” (Beli aja di koran!”) Sometimes they’ll add “I’ll buy that from you then!”.

“An economic growth rate of 6% means that the people are becoming more prosperous. Therefore any statement to the contrary is incorrect”, said Kalla. He was countering the issue raised by some generals who met the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, that the people at present getting poorer due to the failure of the government’s economic policies.

Statistic is useful, but sometimes it does blinded people on the real problem. I am really an idiot in economic, I could not even manage my own balance properly. But it doesn’t seem to be an economic growth for the poor. Even as a middle class I feel like I am sinking! Stressing an economic growth while actually people do not feel like having it could probably indicate that the rich is getting richer. That’s the only probability, right?

We should be really careful with statistic, as we could see in the National Examinations. People are not seeing it as the way to improve the standard of education, but they were trying to produce the best evaluation by cheating! That was not the main and basic reason to the principle of national examination! It should be a tool to see how far a region was left behind the national curriculum standard. It would be helpful so that our students come out with the same average degree in knowledge when they enter the university.


Our habit to see things statistically while the procedure of producing the statistic was still vulnerable to mistakes could produce problems. We could be proud seeing all that growth in statistic while at the same time we are delaying doing the necessities to increase the growth.

Do we really have a better growth? Only God knows!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Fighting my Weakness

“Write down your weakness and bring it to Me as your offering”.

One of my weaknesses is my racial background. I won’t lie if people asked, but I would not voluntarily announce my Chinese descendant. I thought my appearance already speak for the fact.

When I was young I used to say to friends who asked my racial background that my Chinese ancestors came here long…long time ago…seven generations before. I did not really study history back then, and my fellow friends just accept that as the fact that I am not as Chinese as they thought. I did not realize that Indonesian ancestors were also come from the same direction.

This subject is one of my weaknesses that was also the reason I doubted marrying my husband. I used to seek indigenous man for my spouse, thinking that it would be a better alternative for my children. They’ll have the indegenous status. My family had mixed marriage history, so I could see how different it would be if the father is not a Chinese descendant. Children got the “pribumi” (indigenous) status right away. God has something for me in His plan.

I met Kurnia, my husband, when doing my final project in the university. He is also Chinese descendant, even worse…his family speaks Cantonese! My family use Makasarese dialect as our mother tongue. He is very kind and helpful, but I do not think his background is suitable to mine. He is not rich, that would make life more difficult. Being Chinese Indonesian you’re faced with the generalized prejudice of being rich. So if you are not rich, you’ll have to really striving to success. Yet, a lot of Chinese Indonesian survived from the very bottom economic background to the top!

I rejected to be his girl friend, but he was still very kind to me. Other man used to be really angry and hate you for that. Then you’ll end up loosing another friend…The fact that we are in the same group seeking for the same professors’ assistance made us good friend. Javanese has a saying that “witing tresno jalaran suko kulino”, being together could make people fall in love. Yet, I did not want to marry him.

My conscience was built in a Catholic way of thinking, so I felt guilty rejecting a man based on racial background. I realized that would make me another racist!

I was eager to go to the States to learn more, but my family could not afford that. I still have three little brothers who did not finish their study. My parents would like to give us all the basic education at least until university. Beside they thought it would be a waste of money if I have a higher and expensive education and later on I could not have a good job or I ended up as a housewife. I could not promise anything on that. I tried a scholarship from Leuven but again to no avail. I was interested in urban planning, or architectural critic. Both seemed to be far from producing money.

To cover my disappointment later on my parents gave me a great gift, visiting my cousin who studied in Paris and to go to Lourdes. I travelled with my uncle and my auntie; we also went to London, Rouen, Lyon, even to Barcelona as well. I used that chance to visit a friend in Hamburg and to have a day visit in Amsterdam. I enjoyed being a bag packer! This is a lifetime chance for me, a really great present when realizing that my parents didn’t have the chance to go to Lourdes yet. They have never visit Europe themselves!

I don’t know if this gift is also to give me a chance to be away from my boyfriend, but I did a lot of thinking and visit almost every Catholic churches I found in Europe to pray for enlightenment. Yet, it took another couple of years to decide that I would commit “I do”.

He was Buddhist, but he became Catholic three years before our marriage. A decision he had to take himself, and I clearly stated that his being Catholic would not guarantee my willingness to marry him. I always think that all religions are good, but I am also thinking for the future children. I do think children need to have a good basic in religion. That would be a bit confusing when they come from a family with two religious back grounds. Some of my friends came from family with different religious background and they live in harmony but I didn’t really convinced to be able to do that on my own.

Citizen Journalism Websites helps me fight my weakness.

I’ve written in my previous post how Wikimu.com could make me publish my being Chinese Indonesian in writing. I wrote an article to announce how I honor the late Javanese King (Sultan) Hamengku Buwana IX. I honored him due to his gentle attention to my mother when they’ve met in Singapore. I should state my being Chinese Indonesian to stress out how his low profile attitude towards a woman from the minority race of his country made him a real King in my eyes.

The International Ohmy News made me did it once again when I wrote about the May riot. The mothers of the university students’ victims were crying for nine years to seek justice for their sons. Some living victims might still seek for psychological helps, while the spirit of the death victims might not all resting in peace. Lots of people missed their loved one in the saddest way of parting. A lot more people were condemned as the family of rioters while they might only be looters. Lots of prospective youngsters with Chinese descendent origin feared to come back to Indonesia. Yet, the law suit to find the mind master of the act was facing a big political power. I do not agree to the looting, but usually people without education are easily driven by mass driven opinion.

We were also loosing our fighter for Human right, Munir. He passed away in the Garuda flight when he was going to pursue his further study in the Netherlands. The autopsy found arsenic in his body, but the case is not clear until today.

May riot was the abuse of Human Right, the fight to make it clear will help the future generation to condemn that kind of “devide et impera” politics and to avoid the human right abuse in the future. It is the kind of politic that seemed to be successfully implemented in my country throughout its long history being in colonialism.

Being only a na├»ve citizen, I did fear a lot of things to produce that article. Who am I to write all of that? I’m not a politician; I’m not an activist of any human right organization. I am not even a professional journalist! Yet, I am a human being; I do have the heart and the right to ask for a better world to live in. God is the one who gave me the strength to fight for my weakness, but citizen journalism websites are the one who provide the tool.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

What Is In a Name?

“What is in a name?” said Shakespeare. Yet my name always made me questioned.
Today I’ve got an e-mail from a reader from Ohmy News asking me to look into his blog. He is posting some comment about my articles in Ohmy News. Inside his post he puts a question mark on the difference of my name in the OMNI’s article and my name in my blog.
It is a long story to explain. It could even produce an article…
My real name is Maria Margaretta Vivijanti Nisiho. Maria Margaretta is my Catholic name taken from Margaretta Maria Alacoque. Vivijanti should be read in the old bahasa (ejaan lama) Viviyanti. Then the family name is Nisiho.
My problem with my name came long time ago, since my elementary school. Every time I used the name Nisiho, other children laughed at that name. They even called me Ho Chi Minh (we are learning geography at that time).
As Chinese Indonesian was asked to use Indonesian name instead of Chinese name, my father change his name from Nio Sin Ho into Nisiho. Chinese Indonesians were really creative in making up name. An uncle with a family name Oei change his name into Usagani came from the Makasarese dialect U sagang I. It means U and I … pronounce ui (the same pronounciation of Oei).
My father creativity in choosing his name might be influenced by his Japanese friends in trading. It sounded Japanese. The name is so unusual that every body used to asked question on my family name.
My name is also a bit long, and without any hint that my nickname is Retty (Ret came from Margaretta, and ty came from Vivijanti). People usually misunderstood my name as Maria Goretti, another Catholic saint’s name.
I do not like to use my father family name (I knew it was a misery for him). To skip me from questions, after finishing my study I prefer using the name Retty. As I got married I am using the family name of my husband which sounded more Indonesian name: Hakim. To honour my father I still put N. in the middle of my name.
Commenting on my article on bahasa Indonesia, a reader from Wikimu.com accused me as writing my name in a Westernized way. He said it is just like the Western style John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Indonesian name should be A.H. Nasution, or Mohammad A.S. He did not know that I just do not want to use the name Nisiho.
Then when Wikimu.com open a mailing list, we were asked the name in the identity card, so I put my full name on…and another contributor asked me how different the name from the name in the article.
So that’s the story of my name. A name is still important tough, I had to choose in which name I’d like to live longer than my body.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Indonesia Celebrates World Book Day 2007

April 23 seemed to be an important day for literature as it related to the date of death or birth of certain known authors such as Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Garcilaso de la Vega. In 1995 UNESCO decided to honor the day as the World Book Day.

The tradition to give books on this day, formerly known as the celebration of Saint George’s day in Catalonia, was started in 1925 when Catalonian women give books in return to the roses they received.

To promote literacy Indonesia had its National Book Day and Library Visit Day, along with frequent book fairs for nation. Since 2006, Indonesia tried to participate in an international ambience by celebrating the World Book Day. Organized by Forum Indonesia Membaca (Indonesia Reads Forum) the event got a good response from Indonesian people. This year the celebration slogan is “Book for Changes”, to promote reading various books to the Indonesian people. The first day of celebration, April 26, it focused on children and the youth by stating that “today’s readers are tomorrow’s leader”

Analyzing Indonesian verbal culture and the regional dialect alphabets is one of the talk show performed in the second day on the theme “Back from the Past”.

On Saturday, the third day, the theme is “Reading for Recreation”. A lot of interesting talk shows are performed during the day. Some are really nice like “Reading Aloud” and the launch of the translated book of “How to Read a Book” and the upcoming translation of “Writing Without Teacher”.

The last day is dedicated to the Reading Community by giving the chance to see the growth of reading community in Indonesia. There will be a reunion for literacy mailing lists in a talk show with their moderators as speakers. Other grown community is the Indonesian fan of Harry Potter in the Indo Harry Potter group. They will also perform a talk show by presenting the translator, a journalist, and the moderator of Indo Harry Potter as the speakers.

Reading Aloud

I had the chance to attend the talk show titled “Reading Aloud”. Presented by Rito Triumbarto, the host from Forum Indonesia Membaca, and Walter Brownsword, a man dedicated himself to education. Brownsword read aloud a story in a way that made his audiences feel involved in the story. He also told the audience how her mother was touched when she heard him reading aloud her diary. She was written about the day she met her future husband (Brownsword’s dad), and having his son read it aloud in her old days was something that touched her. So reading aloud is not limited to the children audiences. The way to read it aloud should make the audience minds venture into creative imagination. That’s the seed of reading habit in the future!

Triumbarto’s children played along on the stage, sometimes they took their favorite book to read. It was really a day of family recreation with books. Their favorite books are not really depended on the book price. They love Roald Dahl’s book, the Tweets, which cost their parents some price. It will be their treat said the father. But they also love books they find in books offer, which is really affordable in price.

Brownsword reminded that beside the library as the free reading source, or the community basic reading club, people can also exchange books with friends. Other way to achieve affordable books is by looking through the garage sale. He mentioned that the advertisement’s column in the English daily Jakarta Post sometimes advertise the garage sale performed by leaving expatriates. Yes, this is the best way to get great books for children. I’ve got valuable children books from the charity sell performed by the French community in their school.
There is also the big market for used books in some regions in Indonesia, where we can find either ordinary used books or some rare antique (or even banned) books. This shop of used books is now entering the shopping mall as well. The high price of books in Indonesia made bookworms turn to used books as well.

Read and Write

I also had the chance to attend two sessions of an important talk show for readers and writers. The session opened by the well known politician, the former Minister of the Environment, Sarwono Kusumaatmaja. He talked about reading and writing, in theme context: “to be intellectually clever do not need high expense”.

He admits that schools in Indonesia were not encouraging creative thinking, while the global era needs creativity with the ability to develop lateral thinking. These days schools are struggling to meet the needs of the globalization.

The second session is introducing the translated version of “How to Read a Book”. This book is actually older than the Indonesian Republic, as it was first written in 1940. The Indonesian edition is a translation from the revised edition written by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren in 1972. Yet, the book is still very up date to Indonesian people who really need to break the myth that reading “heavy” books are the priviledge of scholars. This book is a good tool to help the readers to understand many kinds of writings. By having the ease on reading the subject readers will receive more information from various subjects. That is really the good seed of lateral thinking, which in other perspective could also help people to be a better writer.

A lot of audience presented the same problem; they buy a lot of books but never seemed to be able to finish it all. The two speakers, Ayu Utami and Bagus Takwin, and the moderator Oni Suryaman, are all writers. They explain how they fast reading their books, sometimes only skimming over the index and bibliographies to get their priorities in reading.

Ayu gave an advice to arrange one’s library in order of related topic, the books on health management could be put beside the books of cooking, and the book of religion history could be near the novel under religious topic. We can make an imaginary mapping to help us finding the book we need. It would also worth writing down good idea or topic we want to quote in a special note. Bagus added the valuable help from color to enhance the brain mapping.

Reading for children seemed to be an important issue too. Imported books are usually more attracting for children, but as the language is still foreign in their ears I had to translate it to avoid them from being bored. Yet, I am afraid if they feel cheated afterward as they are beginning to learn how to read by themselves. Pointing out the film “Life is Beautiful”, Bagus Takwin (who also teaches in the Department of Psychology in University of Indonesia) agreed with his co-speaker that lying for the benefit of the children will not affect them psychologically.

The interesting session was followed by another fascinating session as they were going to introduce the translated book to be published later “Writing Without Teachers”. Unfortunately I could not join this session.

Actually almost all of the activities to celebrate the World Book Day were interesting and enriching our knowledge. It would even be better if the celebration that was centered in Jakarta could be shared to the regions too. A lot of bookworms and keen writers will be sharing the enlightenment. Then, in turn will develop their creative talents to build the nation.