Saturday, 24 April 2010

Into a time machine at Times Bookstore

Although Times Bookstore in Karawaci was already opened in June 2008, this is my first visit to the bookstore. I was once visited Amir Sidharta in the University of Pelita Harapan, but it was a long time ago! I am sure if Times was not even there at that time. Lately I rarely go to Karawaci. I went there before for interior projects of private houses, then occasionally for its Time Zone to bring my kids to play. Then the Sumarecon Mall Serpong opened another Time Zone (which closed down the one in WTC Serpong), so I still had another alternative than Karawaci. The bad traffic also discouraged me to go to Karawaci from Serpong.

I circled the mall three times without finding any parking lot, so I do need to go inside the mall's parking lot. Fortunately I can park near the gate that is opening the way to Times Bookstore which stand across the road. I thought the last time I went to this mall this gate wasn't open.

Passing the gate I saw people enjoyed their afternoon at the cafe on the pedestrian. It gave me a sparkling memory of other places in Europe. The bell for the zebra cross light reminded me of those similar sound in Singapore, yet here the people were more relaxed than those neighbours who were running for the MRT. I ran into my time machine...

I used to go to Singapore when my father was posted there. I stayed in Elizabeth Tower and I did enjoy strolling along the Orchard Road. Actually I forgot which of the Times Bookstores in Singapore attracted me the most. I only remember that I had enjoyable time at Times. It had various of books, complete books for my architectural text books, and books to cater for my interest in languages and cultures.

Having crossed the road I then entered the bookstore, said to be the largest Times Bookstore in this region. The seats were already half taken. The author Ayu Utami and the moderator Mdm. Venilla R. Pushpanathan then moved to sit in front of those seats, on the edge of a sunken green pool like floor (which made Ayu Utami felt like sitting on the edge of a swimming pool).

I was interested in the quotes that they use as their interior elements. Another quote was printed on the Privilege Card Application Form (this one sounds good, a privilege card that will give you discounted price for Times Bookstore anywhere in the world). The printed quote was the one from Dr. Seuss: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." For me the more that I've read the more places I've been (that's a mental journey which I've already been through...)

It was a nice chance to hear Ayu Utami read fragments of her book "Saman" in English. The poetic segment of the book was made even stronger in English. I ventured back to the first time I read this book in bahasa Indonesia. It was published in 1998 and I was quickly gobbled it up. Critics were all talking about her way to talk about sex openly, some may even say it was vulgar. For me, it was a bit too open, yet I didn't actually found it as something vulgar. Back then, I found a lot of interesting things in that novel, so that I overlooked the impression of her frank way of presenting it. I can still sense the poetry and prose in it but I was busy with other thoughts. I was amazed that the Marsinah's case was already five years away, which made it seventeen years away today. And, it is still lie in the darkness of that "jungle". The jungle where money and power are the acceptable weapons and the law was wheeled under the power of those weapons.

In that afternoon discussion, as she cited the story from the point of Shakuntala's view, I asked why she was brave enough to use that kind of language presentation in Bahasa Indonesia which for some may be a bit too open or vulgar. She answered me that she didn't want to use euphemism in language to soften a chosen word about sexuality. I thought may be that's the reason why I thought she was too open. I wasn't really accustomed to that kind of Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesian novel. We always pick the right, nicer words for those term in sex. I knew how difficult to change the way culture was built upon us. For example I used to use the word "vagina" and "testis" in introducing those genitals, but then I made my son confused as his kindergarten teachers forbid him to use that language and gave him the term "dompet" (wallet) and "burung" (bird) instead. Remember that translated book about how a baby was created and born? It was banned! Actually it didn't have any inappropriate pictures, that book just need the existence of parents to read it for their kids. I can see Ayu Utami's point of view about euphemism. She also reminded the audience about the paradox of our experiences. She said that behind the serene, noble, and peaceful performance we should not forget that there are always the violent parts of living. People usually made a duality separation of body and spirit, while men are associated with logic and spirit, women are said to be attached to their emotion and body. Grim images used in Saman were to show emotion bitterness, a part of the author's personal experiences taken into a creative process where she developed all the blending of characters.

I wrote in my diary (in 1998) that I didn't find the novel "Saman" as vulgar. I've read books that we can call vulgar. And I also didn't find it too focus on the topic of sex. But, it did shaken my head that I might have been blinded and did not seeing the reality about free sex around me (at that time...remember 1998 was the opening gate to get the real information from the media, before that we've only got the censored information. Yet, now the situation seemed worse, may be because it is worsened or because we're exposed to the news).

I always think that we should take the good lesson from the West but leave those bad lesson which is against our Eastern culture (this is going to be arguable...mistress and prostitute existed even in the Bible, who will say that they were not exist in Srivijaya's or Majapahit's era?).

Ayu Utami's "Saman" might not be a new writing approach in international literary. But, to Indonesian Women, it was probably the pioneering work of how a woman portrayed sexuality together with other problems that were considered to be reserved only for men i.e. politic. Later on women writers follow her footsteps, and then the women artists also shared their point of views.

As for the new paradigm vs. Kartini Day, the topic that they forwarded that day, Ayu would like to ask people not to look at Kartini only from the physical appearance like the face and the kebaya (traditional clothes). She asked those who came to realize that women should know their own sexuality and be able to talk about it without feeling guilty. For her, what is important for women are the need to have a choice and to be able to choose her own choice. I couldn't agree more. We do have good man and bad man. There are men who treated their spouse or their women like hell. So do we have good woman and bad woman. I would not use the term immoral as one of the audience who asked a question, as we can't judge one's morality by appearance. But, there are also women who deliberately use their sexuality to gain their own pleasure of life without thinking of others...and that's bad for me. Yet, women who should struggle through their lives do exist. A story that I've read in the Readers' Digest Indonesia showed how a woman (in "Melawan Mafia Prostitusi Anak") survived not only from being a victim of child trafficking but also that she stood up to help her fellow victims. The story didn't conceal the trauma that she had to endure in her life, in which the frightened feeling tied her even after her freedom now. These kind of women are the victim of bad people, either men or women, and they had to bear the heavy cross through their gloomy life.

Personally I think that the new paradigm is actually should not be seen as versus Kartini Day. Kartini passed away in her young age after delivering her baby. That's one of our Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Fighting the maternal death, and also educating women in order to have better care for the younger generation are really important. The latter was also the basic of Kartini's work, to provide education that can empower women. The new paradigm is that now women knew better about their bodies and their needs. Then, with their education they can have better stand to decide what they would like to do with their lives. Reading has a lot of input in empowering women. Ms. Jo Lee, CEO of Times Bookstores in Indonesia said that Times seek to inspire the people, especially the children and youth, through community activities centered around reading and writing and the growing of their minds. Through her words I can really feel the spirit of Ibu Kartini which aim to spread the education for girls, to plant the seed of what would be the root of our future youth.

Mdm. Venilla R. Pushpanathan who introduced the ASEAN Secretariat Women's Wing
to the audience, said that it is going to help empowering women in ASEAN. They were helping out in health issues, and also they are providing scholarship for women who can't continue their study due to their lacking financial condition.

Yes, education and self respect is the answer to women's problem. Ayu showed how she face the repressive action from the New Order regime. Being banned as a journalist made her concentrate on Saman. She wrote this book in eight months, and it was awarded the Prince Clauss Award in the year 2000. She turned her problem into an opportunity to open her other doors.

Before I went home, I enjoyed this 1,900 sqm Times Bookstore, an outlet where you can enjoy quiet conversation with friends while sipping your coffee or other beverages. Times Bookstore offered the comfortable cozy corner as its café on the second floor. At the cashier I found a special offer showing a bigger discount for women who have the privilege membership card and would like to buy books on that Kartini Day (actually I would prefer to have discounted prices for books about women offered to both gender, so that we can get those men reading about women too). I think the essence of Kartini Day is actually that women keep themselves enriched with knowledge. Reading books is a way to gain more knowledge before we can share it to our younger generations. Then writing is the next step in sharing that knowledge. As Ayu Utami said for her closing word, "Don't be afraid." We can take it as don't be afraid to write out your thoughts, don't be afraid to explore your own limit as a woman, don't be afraid to challenge the world....One short sentence (but so meaningful) that bring me back into the present time. I did the past, and I won't be afraid for my future as I still have my present to strengthened my future.


nyangbeneraja said...

Wow, I am mentioned!
@senirupa on twitter

Retty N. Hakim said... was my only visit to UPH, and it was very impressive. I can't forget your unique chess board...