Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thumbs Up For The Committee...

...of Indonesian Pesta Blogger 2007 (literally, pesta = party). When one faces the responsibilities to organize hundreds of bloggers--who, by nature, aren't exactly easy to be organized--one's first reaction might be to arm oneself with an arsenal of antiterrorist weaponry. But all of you managed to do so while still keeping the atmosphere fun. And real.

And that's what's blogging all about. Keeping it real. But also keeping it fun. The latter is one of the most important trait that may be another Indonesia's advantage over other countries.[1] A lot of us blog for fun. Which is why communities form easily, based on similar interests: because we're having much more fun from sharing it with others.

But that may also be our disadvantages. This is why most of our blogs are just arrays of dull, random personal thoughts. Or day-to-day events. Things that are only fun and interesting for the writers. But not the readers. Only few of us have been able to combine our interests with others, in fields such as online marketing, current issues, technology, comedy, to enlighting voices regarding--in the words of Douglas Adams--life, the universe, and everything.

And I'm hoping in the next few years, the percentage will increase. Not just the quantity of the blogs, but also the quality of the content. I myself would like to see more Indonesian humor blogs (and written in English), popping up on the Net.

Let's drink to that!


[1]: Another great advantage is the support from our own government. Muhammad Nuh, The Minister of Information and Communication, attended the event and declared 27 October as the National Blogger Day. Cahyana, The ICT Application General Director, also stated their vision of increasing the number of Indonesian bloggers to one million. One of their programs is endorsing teachers (about 2 millions of people) to blog.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Ultimate Question of Life Answered

What is the Center of Fashion?

A dull hairdo.


Thanks to Mad Machinist, who spotted the sign in Hadyaai, Thailand.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Clean, Transparent and Professional

These are three things that the Jakartan Higher Education Directorate promises... and won't be present on their official site. The link will bring you to their "Education News of Jakarta City" in which they wrote, "This column just to news Top in around education."

They should've renamed their tagline as "Currently Looking Up the Meaning of Clean, Transparent and Professional--Eh? What's a Dicksheeonary?"

On a brighter note, "Data of Destruction Ijazah (literally means: Certificate)" sounds like a good name for a Indonesian horror flick.

Words of Wisdom for the Day (courtesy of the site): "Do not seldom Bang Margani ( Chummy Greeting ) often stir to collect info education world , and surely library do not be overcome . Such as those which in tracing by Editor"

I'm sure I've got a fortune cookie once which said the same thing. I'll have to make sure not to be overcome by libraries, then.


Thanks to Haris.

One Reason to Attend the Next Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

You'll catch one of the festival unique highlights. Such as this.

The above incident occured during the panel titled "Something to Say", featuring four columnists: Made Wijaya, Shashi Tharoor, Nury Vittachi and Julia Suryakusuma. Deepika Shetty moderated the discussion. The audience could also enjoy a glass of complimentary arak. Enough to fire you up but far from enough to loosen up. So all happened without any chemical influences whatsoever.

In short, Made Wijaya was boring the audience with his long-winded speech and reading. Since Made wouldn't even stop after a couple of hints (Nury pretended to snore, for one), Nury went for more drastic measures with Julia.

And even after all that, Made kept reading.

For the full story, you can read the South China Post article in Nury's blog, or Deepika's post.

Nury's take on the discussion may be the ultimate conclusion of the topic, "[A column]'s not about you. It's about your readers." About the courage to represent readers, Nury himself claimed that he had been sacked six times and sued nine times. Shashi interjected, "And the tenth would be from Julia's husband."

Nury related a story in early 1997, when the Chinese people were concerned about the health of Deng Xiaoping, at the time the leader of Communist Party of China. The government issued an official statement, "Deng Xiaoping's condition is normal for a man of his age." In reaction, Nury wrote in his column, "The normal condition for a 92-year-old man is DEATH." And fate showed that it has a sense of irony. Not long after that, Deng Xiaoping passed away. And so Nury got himself into some troubles.

He finished on this note, "A column isn't just a privilege. It's something that you must use, to get sacked or sued for."

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Writers' Cabaret

Night events during the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) 2007 were creams of the crops. All of them are packed with high doses of fun. Even when I was one of the performers.

No, I'm not being humble. Like the Israeli politician Golda Meir said, "Don't be humble. You're not that great." Honestly, some of us write because we know that we're not good in anything else. So when I was told to perform at the Writer's Cabaret, my first natural reaction was shouting, "Are you NUTS!?"

Thank God they informed me by email.

So I read the event brief. It said, "Writers sometimes harbor secret skills..." Well, that's good, I thought. At least, after my performance, the audience will realize that some skills are better off when they remain secrets.

I reread the schedule. I was told to perform one of my flash fiction stories. A fable about a goat who became a stand-up comedian. Uh oh. Don't get me wrong. I love the story. And I enjoy speaking in public. But performing is a different kind of ball game. To make things worse, the last time I performed a story was during elementary school days. And during those times, the audience were parents, who are--by nature--easy to please.

Trust me, talk to the nearest parents. They'll squeal and smile broadly everytime they describe how their kids "can say 'poo'" or "fall over from the bed" or "stab his mother with a fork." Parents have expectations as low as sinetron audiences.

However, I'll be performing at a cafe. There will be REAL audiences. And on 20:30 at that. Those people will still be sober!

I shared my concerns to the host, Nury Vitacchi. He waved it off, saying, "Don't worry. You'll be performing in front of writers. We're like one big family."

He shouldn't have said that. I mean, it was a nice gesture. But he didn't know that I come from a Sundanese family. And Sundanese family members support each other by putting them down. We have this crazy notion that we can prepare anybody for failures, by humiliating them beforehand. And afterwards. And many years after that.

I'm not kidding. I can't speak proper Sundanese because when I wrote a Sundanese story at the age of seven, they read it out loud in front of the whole family, guffawing at every sentence. I lost interest in Sundanese and started learning English, which eventually got me here. A simple "ironic" can't describe how I feel about that.

Back to the problem at hand, I turned to Labibah Zain, an experienced theater performer, for help. She's worked with more theaters than the number of times I've performed a play. After several discussions, I finally got some confidence to do it. I've worked on the script. Practiced the expression. Even incorporated some of Miles Merrill's voice acting into the play. So I stepped into Mozaic, ready to face the challenge. Only to be told, "You're supposed to be at the Jazz Cafe."

Fortunately, every venue in Ubud is "near".

It was still forty minutes early when I got to Jazz Cafe. And that was when Nury relayed the bad news. "I think we need to scrap the play. The audience won't listen to you reading a script."

"Ohkay," was the only intelligible thing that could come from my mouth.

"How about stories?" suggested Nury. "You're a very good storyteller. Why don't you just tell some stories about being a writer or something?"

I was torn between jumping in joy, "Really? I could just do a stand-up?" and slapping my head, "With fresh materials in forty minutes?"

"Well, it's up to you, y'know," shrugged Nury. "If you prefer reading the story--"

"No, no, no," I said. That got my mind made up. So I spent the next forty minutes frantically trying to come up with a good fiver. Naturally, I spent the next thirty minutes writing rubbish. And then finally came up with the materials at the last ten.

Tara June Winch, a wonderful Wollongong-born writer who won the David Unaipon 2004 award for her short story collection, Swallow the Air, gave me a supportive company while I rehearsed my material. "I can see your nervous vapors coming out of your head," she said.

Manuka Wijesinghe went first. A talented playwright, writer, actress, dancer, teacher, Manuka's also a linguist fluent in English, Spanish and German. Thankfully, she's very down-to-earth in person and easy to talk to.

She danced the traditional Sri Lankan way with grace. (One of the crowd in the background seemed unimpressed--but I suspect that woman, who wore a pink dress, ate a fly. And not by chance.)

My turn was next. My five-minute bit was about a free, fantastic offer of cultural tourism: just crash a muslim wedding party. I focused on three traits that they could learn. Punctuality, for instance, "Suppose the wedding vows were scheduled at nine AM, to be punctual you'd have to be there exactly at ten." Upon delivering the third trait ("The success of a wedding vow depends on three things..."), I spotted a caucasian man took notes. I hope he didn't take that advice too seriously.

Afterwards, Shashi Tharoor, the charismatic diplomat and writer whom Nury introduced as one of our planet's greatest treasures, killed the audience with his stand-up jokes about UN and world issues.

Then came Cyril Wong's turn. This courageous poet and counter-tenor uses his works and performances to fight for gay rights in Singapore. He's also a practical person who isn't shy of laughing at himself. After singing his first song, he said, "Now, I'm going to do my drag-queen number." And then proceeded to sing Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You. He managed to do it effortlessly.

Up next, was Angelo Suarez. A performing poet who loves his advertising job. No, scratch that. He's very passionate about advertising, as much as a cannibal to meat. His performances are often arts in themselves. And he likes to involve his audience in his acts. Not this time, though. He knew the audience would be impossible to involve in. And the stage was very limited, he couldn't do much with it. So he just performed one of his poems... and banged his head several times to the wooden pillar so hard, I was afraid the roof were going to collapse.

Far from least was Ann Lee and Kam Raslan, two Malaysian writers who brought along a professional comic who got onto the stage as the Malaysian Minister of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, YB Datuk Seri Utama Rais Yatim. The Minister gave a speech on why the next Ubud Writers and Festival should be held in Kualalumpur. He also gave examples how open-minded Malaysians are. He, for instance, loves to absorb other cultures. He said, "So when I visited countries like Australia and was offered beer, I absorbed it."

Afterwards, it was free-for-all dance floor. Although the Jakartan rush hour traffic was more like it. It got so crowded, somebody bumped and spilled beer on my right shoulder.

"You're awfully sweaty, Man," said somebody whom I can't recall. And it was no use explaining, as if he figured I were dancing by only flailing my right arm around. Which would've been a novel dance move. I should call it the "Crashing 'Copter."

But if you actually use it at a muslim wedding party, don't mention my name.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Art of Satire

At Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, I was one of the panelists for "The Art of Satire." The other two was Kam Raslan and Manuka Wijesinghe. Nury Vitacchi moderated the discussion.

Since the topic involved humor writers, the room was full. All panelists started with their five to ten minutes of monologue, on how they got their satirist voice. The discussion started afterwards.

Kam told a lot of interesting stories about Malaysian politics, including snippets from his friend's book, Malaysian Politicians Say the Darnedest Things. His first novel, Confessions of an Old Boy, is also a satire look at Malaysia.

Manuka related a witty observation about Sri Lanka's culture. One example is how their Buddhist philosophies don't seem to go along with the facts that so many people ended up dead for speaking up. Her first novel, Moonsoons and Potholes, is a satire look at Sri Lankan culture, through the eyes of its characters.

While I opened with the piece about angers, goverment and politicians (transcript below).

When the topic reached the issue about government censorship, Nury joined in by telling his experiences when he was asked to speak in front of Lee Kuan Yeuw, at that time was known as the Minister who was too serious. He was warned by the ministers' aide that, "Please don't use jokes! Not good." Nury went and told some jokes anyway. By the end of the event, the aide approached him and said, "Thank you! Great jokes! Minister Lee laughed twice!"

The audience roared in laughter. But Nury convinced them that it was a bad thing. "I did 200 jokes and he only laughed twice!" However, the media, which got the news, quickly bloated it up and described Nury as, "The man who made Lee Kuan Yeuw laughed."

"Twice," I added.

The following was my opening monologue.


I may differ from the other panelists in the forms of satire I wrote. I write humor essays and flash fiction. To some of you who’re not yet familiar with flash fiction, it’s basically a shorter than short fiction. Which is why some call it short shorts, micro, mini, or bite-sized fiction.

I read somewhere that the Chinese has a name for it as well, that literally means cigar-long stories. So the story finishes at the time the cigar burns right to the stub. This is an interesting definition. Because Hemingway once wrote a flash fiction which consists of six words. We can read it in five seconds. I’d love to see someone try smoking a cigar that fast.

So how do writers find their satirist voice?

Traditionally, writers derive their satirist voice from angers (or other deep emotions). We channel these angers as source of inspirations. Jonathan Swift, for instance, used his anger to write "A Modest Proposal," in which he proposed that the poor eat their children to fight hunger while at the same time reducing the number of poor people. Two flies at one swat.

However, we need to distinguish what kind of angers that we can channel into our satirist voice. Let’s face it, if we’re furious about the time when we got a fly in our soup, writing a satire about it won’t exactly inspire any change.

With that said, we also need a vision of change. At the very least, we could envision where the current situation will lead to a major downfall. And then, we can work on the idea.

For instance, after 1998, Indonesian people suddenly got into this euphoria of freedom and democracy. After more than thirty years getting suppressed, we suddenly found ourselves able to say almost anything. In almost any kind of ways. As long as we outnumbered our opposition. So we might feel like it was democracy. When in fact it was a bit like moderated anarchy (which is a contradiction in terms). Because everyone disagreed with each other and didn’t want to listen to each other, at all.

Political parties formed. One hundred and eighty one of them. And they kept splitting on a whim. Hence we got the Indonesian Democratic Party, the Opposition of Indonesian Democratic Party, the Opposition of the Opposition of Indonesian Democratic Party, and so on.

So at that time I wrote a flash fiction story about a male human body that reaches a new height of awareness. Suddenly, every limb got tired of listening to the brain and decided to act on their own free will, autonomously. The ears would shut down anytime they didn’t like what they hear. And they disliked everything. Especially what the mouth was saying. The left hand voiced a protest, because they claimed they did all the work, while the penis got all the pleasure. This brings a new definition of "penis envy." Even the fingers decided to go separate ways. So everything was chaotic. Nobody—-no pun intended-—listened to each other or realized their common goals or even needs. Even when they were all cornered with deprivation of food, they still wouldn’t cooperate. So in the end, the whole body died.

So, usually, the type of angers that I can use to produce satire involves government and politics. Humorist Will Rogers once said that it’s easy to write humor since you have the government do the work for you.

Government officials, for instance, make my day. Just a month ago, some of you may have noticed a particular news story. The mayor of Indramayu-—a city in West Java-—was enraged when a couple of students made an amateurish porn clip, and somehow it got distributed on the net. He immediately stated that every female student in Indramayu had to undergo a virginity test. I failed to see the logic in that. I have no idea what kind of academic achievement he wanted to endorse by building a list of virgins.

At such occassions, I usually write an open letter to mass media (or at the very least in my blog). In this case, I suggested that we fully support the Mayor decision. And to help him do it, I devised a fail-safe, comprehensive Virginity Test. By way of multiple choices.

One example question:

Suppose you got lost for days in a desert. On your last bit of strength, you found an oasis. You dragged yourself to the fresh water and drank it. How did it taste?

a. Like water.
b. Like great sex.
c. Like the virginity that I’ve been keeping.

Comprehensive and fail-safe.

I’ve sent this letter to several media, but none published it. Maybe they’re still testing it to their employees. I don't know.

Oh, and I particularly love Indonesian politicians. They say the darnedest things. Next year, Indonesia will face another period of presidential election campaigns. That will be interesting for a humor writer.

I remember that one of the 2004 presidential candidates, whom I’ll refer with the codename Double-H, once told the papers that, "If you want to know how many wives I have, just check my CV."

He put the number of his wives on his curriculum vitae.

Now why didn’t I think of that? This guy is genius. I mean, he must’ve made it to the top because of it. I’d really love to do that. Not the having many wives part. I’ve got only one. And I’m happy as it is. Primarily because she’s capable enough to kill me if I say otherwise.

What I mean is putting a large number of wives as a data in my CV. I can just imagine how these will put me into the top spot in various areas. A hostage situation, for example. A group of bank robbers've got some customers on gunpoint. They demand an impossible ransom. We obviously need somebody to negotiate with them.

This is where I step in.

"Sorry, Sir," the police in charge will try to stop me. "With all due respect, but who the hell do you think you are? This is a serious matter."

I’ll just flash my CV. "Have you seen how many wives I have? Take a good look, then. Yes, that’s right. I have twenty wives. And I’m here alive and standing. If that doesn’t make me a helluva negotiator, I don’t know what will."

But let’s return to the topic at hand. In short, what I do isn’t finding the voice. The voice itself is a result of my own reaction (or emotion) towards what happen in the world around me. What I need to do is just discerning in what kind of way I can channel these emotions. Sometimes it’s satire. Other times it may be irony or sarcasm or whatever.

And I have to emphasize that it’s not an entirely conscious decision. Sometimes you’re just compelled to do something. And as a writer, my natural reaction is writing it down.