Friday, 15 January 2010
"Abad Bapak Saya" and the spirit of netizens
Last Thursday, 14th January 2010, I was blessed with a chance to attend a workshop with Geert Mak. He is a Dutch writer who wrote the book "De eeuw van mijn vader" which was translated into "Abad Bapak Saya" (The Century of My Father). The Indonesian book launched last Thursday in Erasmus Huis. The chance to meet the author is not the only blessing, we were also presented with a copy of the book...for free! What a blessing! (An example of a good day said a friend, Krismariana. There, I've met friends who are also contributors to wikimu.com and another friend that I previously met in Pesta Blogger 2008, and also made new acquaintances). The Dutch edition was first published in 1999, and after ten years it is now accessible in bahasa Indonesia.
Geert Mak said that he was never in his wildest dream imagine that his book will be presented in bahasa Indonesia for Indonesian readers. Yet, as his story covered a part of his parents' life in Indonesia made that book an interesting book for Indonesian readers. His way of presenting it together with the world's history is another interesting aspect that would make it a nice source of knowledge on history.
I was really fascinated with the enormous "treasures" of old letters and pictures that he used in his book. I wonder how long it was for him to collect and rechecked all those facts. Actually I came to the workshop because I was still thinking about my grandmother's biography. At the moment I'm actually stop doing anything on that case as families seemed to have an objection on me continuing it. Various reasons are behind that objection. My mother objected it as she feels that I'm going to spend more time on that book and neglect my children. My aunties perhaps think about the private content (which of course is possible to be edited). I'm also afraid that there is a frightened feeling of being exposed as a part of Chinese Indonesians. My family were so widely distributed that we are no longer belong to a certain part of Indonesia, but Indonesia itself. For me, I'm Makassarese even if people would not accept it as I'm also Chinese Indonesian. Through personal process and the help from the era of Reformasi I am now able to accept my own background. Writing this book is kind of reminding ourselves about our root...so I think it is so sad that I've got to "forget" that book.
Based on my own lack of knowledge about writing a personal memoir that employed a lot of historical facts, I asked two questions:
1. Did you create this book basically from your own memory and enriched it with other inputs, or were you starting from your journalistic research and enriched it with personal memories?
2. It seems that you've got great support from your family in writing out this book. I wonder if there were members of the family who objected the idea of writing it down. How would you deal with it?
Actually half part of my questions was answered when Mak answered previous questions, so the answer that I write here is not exactly the answer that he gave me. I posed my questions so that I could get more technical guidance. Here, I combined his answer with his previous answers that would go inline with my questions.
Mak clearly stated that he started the book as a journalistic experiment, an experiment of writing a readable book of Dutch history at the era of his father. In the process it would also serve to create understanding between generations. Younger generation could read what was happening at that moment which prompted the older generation to act out their history. History always moves. Every generation has their own questions on history. He tried to write it out to give more clarity to his readers. The story teller in his book is the writer (Mak himself), but the experience that he described belong to the point of view of his parents. His own memory came a bit later in the book as he entered his age of understanding what was happening. He mixed memories and history but he stressed the fact that he rechecked all the data from the letter, and he only wrote dialogue if he was really sure that the dialogue happened (verified). He was very lucky as his grandfather (a school teacher) kept all the letters that were helping him in his research.
For the second question he answered me that he was not ready to write it out until fifteen years after his father passed away. He also sorted his facts, and then put only those related to the history (or his book). Yes, I think being a part of the family will help him sensible enough to sort which details are for public, which weren't. Glad that he published the story!
One important lesson I've learned that day is the description of a journalist. He said that a journalist never write about himself. I think it is the essential part that differentiate blogging and citizen reporting. Blogging seems easier as it conveys only messages from the blogger (the writer), it can touches various aspects of life...mostly aspects that are closer to the writer's life. Yet, it's not really that easy as you've also think about your personal boundaries. Mak was able to write the book after his parents passed away. Reporting is more complicated as we've got to check and recheck information, we've got to visit and do some interviews if needed. Then from the huge data that you've had in your hands, you've got to slim it down and present a readable and understandable piece of writing. Yet, your personal life is safe untouched...
Mak also mentioned about the vanishing of letters as telephone and short messages took up its place in exchanging news. Then, I think that is the hole where bloggers can fitted in. Our news will be the treasure for the generation in the next century.
Blogging is not journalism said Gina Chen in her blog "Save the Media", and actually during these three years of blogging I've kept asking myself about the term "citizen journalism". I came to blogging through citizen journalism websites, but that is not why I would like to see citizen journalism websites continue to exist as a counterpart of professional journalism.
Why "citizen journalism" is also important in the process of blogging? Or why we do need it for the journalism itself? In my case it is basically due to the spirit of journalism. Journalism tried to see things objectively. If we are trying to blog within the corridor of journalism, then we're going to see "things" objectively. For me, it also helps me to be more curious on what is happening around me. It helps me to see the reaction of readers, or how a certain matter can be viewed through different point of views. When writing for a newspaper or a newsletter, you are aware of your readers' type. Usually writers made their own research to find out the background of their readers. The internet has widely spread readers, so it will need double work to explain things to readers (who don't really know, or may be never even imagine a bit about your country, or your culture).
One great example came from the workshop with Geert Mak. One editor asked Mak how to handle different facts in a book. The example is Indonesian Independence day, she was editing a book which stated the Indonesian Independence day is December 27, 1949 (the formal soverignty was transferred to the United States of Indonesia; term taken from Encyclopaedia Britannica) while for Indonesians the Independence Day is August 17, 1945. Mak answered that professionally she could call the writer asking about it, or add footnote (as she already did).
Another participant asked Mak if he was also avoiding to state the exact date of the Indonesian independence as he did not wrote down the date 17. Mak answered that question by underlining that he was not aware about not writing the complete date, and he added that he wrote it for the Dutch readers...where the symbolical meaning of the date is not significant. He would like his book readers to judge his stand for Indonesia by reading the whole book.
It is a coincidence (or perhaps not?) that the Jakarta Post's opinion column published that same morning presented an article "RI's Indeoendence Day: A forgotten piece of history". It is a scholar's perspective over a seminar about Indonesian independence movement which was held at the Central Museum of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Perhaps it was why that questions came into the workshop.
In the section of the Museum Volunteer Tour Guide of the Indonesian Heritage Society, we've once faced that kind of problem. A Dutch lady mistakenly cited the wrong date of Indonesian Independence. I forgot how we found it out, either one of her visitors complained and she reported in, or the visitor reported it formally. It was decided that to be professional every volunteer tour guides should honored the date used by the Indonesian government. No prejudice, we worked it out peacefully...
The question in Mak's workshop made me wondering about history lesson. It was explained by the moderator (I forgot his name) that now history is not an obligatory subject. So, only those who took the subject would be better informed about the history of the Dutch-Indie period.
Actually I would like to hear more about it, as we (Indonesian) are going to face the same problem about how to put East Timor in our history books. Younger generations will have different way of seeing things as perhaps my father's generation or even from my generation. That is how I see blogs and the product of citizen journalism websites are functioning, as a bridge to cross, a place to clarify prejudices, and also a way to differentiate between objective views and subjective views.
The spirit of netizens is sharing and communicating. As a reporter I do hope that we're going to bridge misunderstanding between generations and between nations. As a blogger I'm letting out my piece of thinking and put it together in the universal cyber storage to be "the treasure" for the next century. I'm still not sure about the term "citizen journalism" as I'm always preferring the word "citizen reporter" than "citizen journalist", but I do hope that writing netizens are going to make the world better!