Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Indonesia Reflections

Tuesday was a long day. In the morning I slept a couple of hours and got up at two to eat a small breakfast of cinnamon raisin orange bread. Our cab came at three, reserved yesterday by a coworker. We drove through the Jakarta darkness, the lights of the city still blazing forth, though we encountered little traffic. Arriving at CGK and stumbling through check in and security. Buying a wedang ronde flavored chocolate bar and looking at overpriced souvenirs. Drinking one last bottled jasmine tea. Then two flights, one to Tokyo Narita and the second home, to SFO. I had intended to get noodles at Narita but with only ten minutes between getting out of security and boarding, I forwent. 

On the flights, I thought about my stories, more or less fictional. I wrote for longer than I expected on how I disagree with and resent the societal image and ideal of beauty, and have no resonance even with the slightly more subversive messages that seek to expand the definition of beauty. Since this topic isn't one I've thought about a whole lot, I'll need to work my way through my ideas in a different post. But for now: I have different priorities. (Also, after two months in a country where most women wear head coverings, hair-based vanity seems strange to me.)

More importantly, I thought about what I will bring back from these travels. I don't know if I have transformed and I doubt I can tell this soon. But I've learned things, and a change to my mind is a change to my life. 

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What do I bring back?

Some gifts for important people--family, particular friends. Some clothes and shoes for myself. Packets of a gingery herbal drink we had in the mountains, because I think it will be helpful later when people get sick. Fewer electronics than I brought with me. A small magenta comb purchased for less than a dollar at Alfamart. 

The urge to respond "makasih" whenever anyone does anything deserving of thanks. The phrase "take a rest." Some songs heard on the car radio driving through the infamous Jakarta traffic.

Knowledge that I am agender and that my character has more of void in it than previously expected. (There is an underlying theme to most of my traits, which is that I am low energy. This leads to my honesty, my insensitivity, my tranquility, my apathy.) The results of a smattering of personality tests, none of which shattered my world but some of which provided new perspectives. 

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From the people that I have met: examples of who I want to become. Good and great, authoritative and powerful and kind, full of the Nicomachean magnificence. Noblesse oblige, noblesse oblige. I want to be so powerful and yet so kind that holding both in mind at the same time gives the sense of an optical illusion, because how can both be there? This goal is yet far off. 

New perspectives on religion and tradition. Islam as a motivator for generosity and environmentalism. A bamboo palace with open doors and an electronics workshop outside of the throne room. 

The typical path is rural to urban. The organization I worked for focuses on rural development, so that people don't have to leave the villages in order to build a good life for themselves and their families. This isn't discouraging them from going to the cities if that's what they want; this is giving them another option. 

When choices open up people who wouldn't take the new choice feel threatened because they think that their choice will no longer be an option. However, this view is wrong: Rights and respect are not zero sum games. 

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Throughout my time in Indonesia I found various aspects that reminded me a lot of China. That may be why I adjusted quickly to the living conditions, which were not quite as clean or as comfortable as at home (mosquitoes were everywhere in Jakarta). I'm pleased that the physical conditions did not hold me back from appreciating the experiences. I may be a wimp but at least I'm not a snobby wimp. 

People assumed I was Japanese a lot more than I had expected, since I've always been told I look really Chinese. Admittedly, though, this was by my family members. I draw the following conclusions: 1) all East Asians look the same when most people are Southeast Asian 2) Japan has a stronger presence in Indonesia than China does. Certainly almost all the cars were Japanese (Toyota, Daihatsu).

Being around young children (the offspring of various staff) had only strengthened my conviction never to have kids. Mothers deserve all the respect; it must take godly amounts of patience to deal with children. (See also the note above about more choices seeming threatening to people who take the original choice. Whenever I talk to friends who do want to have kids, I feel like I need to walk on eggshells not to offend them. The fact that I have no maternal instinct or inclination does not invalidate your choices.) (I think I have more to say on this subject.)

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I read a lot of books. What did I learn from them?

Gödel Escher Bach introduced me to the idea of MU, which has already paid off in my agender revelation. Thoughts about patterns and minds also always feed into my structures of magic. 

Two moral compasses: Patroklos and Marcus Aurelius. 

Both the Iliad and GEB had Achilles as a character, which was fun. 

Reading Joseph Conrad while in a nation that used to be a colony: weird. Real weird. 

The two fiction books I read before Lebaran provided an excellent study in contrasts. The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years: exquisitely paced, with threads of history, folklore, and space travel blending harmoniously. Special Topics in Calamity Physics: a heap of interesting and colorful characters running about chaotically in search of a plot. Speaking as a reader: I would like to see it revised with an eye for pacing, and then read it again. 

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From work: 

Refactoring code is a wonderful exercise. 

What works in the office may not work in the field. You will always want more time. The times I got stuck at work, in nearly every case I would have stayed stuck without something external pushing me to reroute and find a different, unblocked path. A teammate linking me to D3.js ("we could make our own graphs"), the sun setting as we sat at the generator house. Note to self: if you ever find yourself desperately apologizing because you don't know why something isn't working, stop and try something else. 

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"Are you a peasant?" This odd and arrogant phrase is a reminder not to put up with inconveniences I could easily change. When I can't change the inconvenience (lack of hot running water) the answer is "yes" and the nagging voice subsides. When I can change something (lack of a comb) the answer is "no." "Well, do something then!" And I got a comb. Not being a snobby wimp != putting up with everything. 

I should not I bear no ill will toward peasants. I come from peasant stock. I feel guilty about the use of the phrase above; but it works. 

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I miss the sound of mosques in the evening. Mosques. Not mosquitoes. 

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Ramadhan had only just begun when I arrived. Whoa. 

Ramadhan, Lebaran (Idul Fitri, Hari Raya), Independence Day. I picked an eventful couple of months. 

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I know I always make lists of posts I should write and then don't follow through, so here is a list that I definitely want to write:
Being Chinese in Indonesia (mostly for parallelism, as I said the most important stuff above)
Against Beauty (I started talking to my sister about this yesterday but I don't think I expressed my thoughts well at all, so I need to get it down in writing first)
Zheng He/Heritage (Zheng He was Hui. I have a lot of angsty first-gen thoughts and feelings about this)

I also want to explore the idea of choice in positive sum situations some more. This seems likely to morph into "let's count the ways I differ from what society tells me I should be" so I don't know if it'll make it to published post status. 

Another thought that's been percolating: story settings. All of my works that have any mileage involve journeys. 

In my birthday post I promised a roadmap of how I will enter the arena of real world topics. That post never happened. I need to think more about it but it will happen. 

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