THE DROUGHT

Drought 01

“Only farmers that the world needs the most.”

Li Zhao Xing, Former Foreign Minister of People’s Republic of China

40 million Indonesians work in agricultural sector. If one must support 3 family members, then there are roughly 160 million people who depend their livelihoods on this pillar industry. That is more than 50% of the country’s population. Farming is one of Indonesia’s major production outlets, contributing to its sizable economy. This is a conventional wisdom held for centuries. However it entailed also the basic problem that loomed large over the majority small income peasants, encompassing 40% of the total agriculture workforce. Continue reading THE DROUGHT

GILI TRAWANGAN

PHOTOGRAPHS  I  OWEN FAM

Gili Trawangan

Will you perform this in one of your beach trips? Probably yes, if you are in Gili Trawangan. Visitors are ecstatic while setting foot on  this island, notably the biggest among the formation of surrounding islands, half an hour boat trip from Lombok. This island has a complete set of nature vacation amenities to busy visitors’ day, from kayaks, snorkeling equipments, tropical bars, and even an ATM inside. Continue reading GILI TRAWANGAN

TUK TUK VILLAGE

PHOTOGRAPHS  I  SALLY CONDRO

Welcoming dance in Tuk Tuk Village

The welcoming gesture

In Samosir, the world’s biggest island that is surrounded by lake, a group of villagers performed the Bataknese traditional Tor Tor dance. The ritual dance dated back before the arrival of Christianity and Islam in North Sumatra. The versatility of the dance serves for several primary occasions such as in the funeral, wedding, blessing, and last, welcoming important guests. It was performed more frequently for the latter these days due to its increasingly important element to bring regional income from tourism sector. Continue reading TUK TUK VILLAGE

National Center for the Performing Arts Beijing

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Most of the time, art is more of something to be appreciated by feelings rather than understanding. But in homogenous society, even among the well-educated, everything foreign tends to be a subject of study from a single perspective.

Beijing high society bragged about the spectacle of the country’s new wave of performing arts in Turandot, played in the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing two years after its inauguration. It is one of the most widely publicized Chinese operas in 2009, which is an adaptation of a masterpiece by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. It was met with positive reception. But it will take time before it is the public who commend, not the media.

Main hall 3

No city in the modern history of the world experienced such colossal transformation in a very short time the way Beijing had in the past decade. And few arts center had drawn such immense impact on social environment like the way NCPA had on urbanites in the capital city of China. It was not the only nouveau object approved by the authority in order to gain the world’s attention that had been frowned upon by its own citizens.

CCTV tower, dubbed the Big Pants, drew the same degree of criticism due to its peculiar shape. But what made NCPA so controversial to the locals was that it was built in the central area of power for the ruling regimes since many centuries ago. As if NCPA did not stop breaking the conventions in location only, the design was surely to make many Chinese scratch heads.

NCPA dome shape that gives a futuristic look makes a staggering contrast to the Soviet-style buildings that house many governmental institutions around the vicinity.

A number of people have begun this hate to love relationship with this building since the project was initiated in 2001. But apart from its appearance, NCPA still has to confront another issue, the shows.

Traditional Chinese operas and orchestra are still frequent programs as the two has enjoyed wide acceptance among Beijingers, but the introduction to foreign culture either through adaptation works like Turandot or imported shows, and more contemporary performance could take a longer process, as the Chinese society moves toward openness.

The defender of Mid-Autumn Festival

Logo the Jakarta Post

The article first appeared in the Jakarta Post, 2 October 2013.


Mid-Autumn Festival

Amid the haze caused by poor air circulation, a man who seemed prepared for what was coming one Sunday in September unsuspectingly looked on as smoke and ash filled the air, rendering several exhaustion fans ineffective.

His hair remained unaffected. He was not bothered that the smell would linger on his clothes for the rest of the day. And most astonishingly, at a time when many could not deal with the pain of their eyes being exposed to the smoke for so long, he never once pulled down his reading glasses.

Chi Xing Xiang is an important person in the Chinese community in Jakarta for his deep knowledge of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

ImageHe kept a piece of paper in his hand as he mingled with old citizens, the signature style from the event organizers of old times. The majority of people his age knew little of the intricacies that formed an ancient tradition and had barely changed in modern times.

He led the ceremony using key points on the small piece of paper, as his memories regarding this part of culture had slowly faded. “This is the identity of our people, but time washes away everything, including my best will to preserve this,” he said.

He thought it was hard to approach the lost generation. In his sorrow, he said this festival was a major tourist attraction in neighboring countries, “but here, for so long we have been doing it behind closed doors.”

And so he concluded that many generations who were born in the repression and forced assimilation era had lost the chance to preserve the identity of their origins.

ImageAs evidence, people crowding into ancestral homes like this one in Kota Tua, the old city of Jakarta, were part of an aging population, in their 50s and above.

Whereas the Mid-Autumn Festival is held annually to celebrate the harvest season, with some even drawing a comparison to the US Thanksgiving Day, the scene in Jakarta was rather solemn. There was no jubilation in the streets like at Chinese New Year. There were no dragon parades or lion dances.

Hopes and prayers

The people marked the festival with prayers for their ancestors, showing gratefulness for what they owed to the dead: protection, prosperity, health and blessings. They prepared symbolical offerings across tables and placed them there for an hour or so until the living were sure that the dead had been served well.

Bowls of rice, the epitome of Asia’s ancient prosperity, were placed closest to ling pai, the engraved wooden placard representing past generations. Food of all sorts occupied the following rows. Organizing this was not a complicated task, since many volunteered their time before the ritual started.

To convince himself that everything was in the right order, Xiang had to run inspection several times. For the sake of the tradition he had held since time could remember, Xiang left a narrow margin of error in the ritual.

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His instruction led many to bow to the placard, a medium believed to contain the spirits of the dead. It is as if they had given a mandate to him to be the master of ceremonies.

But would there be any regeneration? “I can only serve as long as I can,” he said after the ritual. Everybody left and headed to a restaurant in Batu Ceper, Central Jakarta, where merriment in the togetherness of that day awaited.

The quartet who play music, with a caveat

Actis Dato Quartet

Groups of musician insert a few elements of surprise in their shows to entice the increasingly discerning audience. They offer something different, but anticipated. Surely no one can’t blame them for trying.

Playing on the stage with a dark backdrop and under fixated dim lighting in Usmar Ismail Hall, Jakarta, Tuesday night, one would forgo the thought of visual spectacle that night and expect the most in auditory treats from evolving jazz of Italy and Middle East.

And then four of them came out of the main hall entrance instead of the backstage. They love to foray into the aisles and trigger the audience’s participation. As if one time seemed not enough, they reserved the energy for three more mood-rekindling rounds.

Seeing the taciturn audience before them, the band’s bearded front man, Carlo Actis Dato, who have played musical instrument since childhood, a similar case to the rest members, forcibly shouted at anyone seating in front of him to sing from the guts, dragged women to stomp their feet and dance alongside him.

Their choreography involved changing costumes and disassembling saxophone. All of this was done without losing the tempo, and the music never stopped playing.

Dedicated contemporary artists

If dedication is any indication, then Actis Dato Quartet is one of the most professional contemporary musicians of the world.

Their background in music can be stretched back into the very early formative years. Some of them were born into the family who either made a living from concert to concert or took music education seriously.

Their venture into jazz took considerable amount of effort and patience, rather than simply based on binding spontaneity overnight. They carefully thought of how to make a performance that as thrilling as their music.

They present themselves in an amusing way. Song selection fit into this disposition. The result on the stage was not at all an experiment, but a concerted effort to make a lasting impression.

Overshadowed by the comical gestures and laughters, they posed a warning about the commonly neglected notion, that the most important thing in music is to make incomprehensible tone and rhythm of a different part of the world entertaining to people.

As is the case with the term happiness, music is far beyond absolute definition, such as good melody or harmony. On top of that, music should make you feel good.

Actis Dato Quartet in Jakarta
Actis Dato Quartet live in Usmar Ismail Hall, Jakarta

 

POLITICAL CANDIDATES EMPLOY MASS CULTURE TO RUN SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

The article first appeared in the Jakarta Globe, 18 September 2013. Click below.

Logo the Jakarta Globe

Danny Pomanto campaign

Mass culture is crucial in determining the success of a political campaign. Candidates run the campaign by employing popular art to extend their arms to as many voters as possible. When congregation in a sports hall at a particular time on a day is no longer enough, posters and stickers filled every elements seen on the streets. “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey made its way to become the most iconic piece of art with political underpinning during presidential election in America in 2008. Barack Obama has benefited greatly from it. Even in his second presidential campaign, the poster still resonated. Continue reading POLITICAL CANDIDATES EMPLOY MASS CULTURE TO RUN SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

Staycation is over

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Sunset at Ancol beach

For the past week, Jakartans enjoyed more air and space in the city as millions packed their shirts to their hometowns for the country’s longest holiday period at the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. But in just a matter of days, the air is about to thin out again as the mass urbanization will return with new addition of newcomers, as usual.

Urbanization in Jakarta numbered on average 50,000 newcomers annually, at an increasing rate year to year, bringing along low-skilled workforce to add up to 3.5 million in total outsiders making a living in Jakarta as of 2013, municipal data showed.

Job opportunity, largely from informal sector, if it is even classified a job, is the top contributing factor. Even some of them are outsiders who somehow have stayed in Jakarta for a long time, some sort of permanent settlers.

However problematic, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo has quietly abolished Operasi Yustisi, the public enforcers notorious ID checks routine in Jakarta to expel outsiders back to wherever they came from.

So it will be harder from here on to identify their numbers or characteristics. But a part of some ten million city residents who chose to stay during this long holiday spent a good time at the beach although the waters looked quite murky.

But there is no time to care about that, or about the harm and good of ID check abolition, as long as clear air stays still, and so for the time being the sound of laughter seemed to echo longer than ever before.

Urban street dance project by United Dance Works

The performance at Erasmus Huis is a testament of perseverance by a struggling group of dancers in Jakarta. Coming from parts of the country to live up to their common dreams, they often hit rock bottom in the capital to survive with their choice.

They want to prove through every part of their bodies and every inch of their movements that they always find bliss in life decision, ever energetic, however bitter it sometimes gets.

For all that they have gone through, happiness is not measured in how much they have earned, but in how much they have achieved through choreography.