Some people live by a National Geographic-type credo where they challenge themselves to do one thing every day that scares them; I’m lazy, and Indonesian to boot, so I make things easy on myself by fulfilling a credo of learning one mind-blowing thing every day about my magical “government.” Here’s one I found yesterday, about an elite naval unit:
The unit is made up entirely of men, after a change in policy in 1988, which excluded women from serving in Kesatuan Gurita. Prior to the policy change women and men served side by side. The change in policy, which was controversial at the time and continues to spark controversy in Indonesia from time to time, stemmed from a pregnancy that occurred in 1986 in one of the women serving in the unit. While there was no formal policy forbidding frateranization between soldiers, leadership in the Indonesian Navy felt that the temptation was too great to have men and women serving together, bunking side by side, and in total seclusion. The leadership also felt that the risk of fetal harm was too great and indicated in an official statement that “the value of a non-terrorist human life, especially one that has yet to sin, is too great to compromise in the world of explosives, bio-chemical terror agents, and elements that we may not even know yet.” There was a significant outcry from the 132 women who were in the unit and not pregnant, as they had to be reassigned to different areas within the military. One female soldier, who appeared on television without releasing her identity, said, “We are trained couter-terrorism agents. We take precautions everywhere we go, in every activity. I wear three weapons when I go to the grocery store. The fact that this (expletive deleted) couldn’t take the simple and obvious precation to prevent pregnancy when she was just scratching an itch is disappointing. That I have to give up a position I have trained my entire life for because two people were thinking with parts other than their brains is infuriating.”
Stop and take a minute to think about the epithet applied to you when a friend introduces you to someone new at parties (“This is x, and she __________.”). Do the epithets vary from party to party, or are they fairly consistent? Do the epithets describe the observable circumstances surrounding your existence as an individual human being, or are they wholly provisory to your relationship with your mutual friend (“This is x, and I’ve known her since we were kids.”)? Do your friend’s perceived attributes of you accurately represent you, or the image you set out to manifest when placed in a social situation?
The most charitable trope that anyone has given me is this: “This is D, she likes Star Wars and football.” Admittedly not a great thing to put on your social calling card, but far less incendiary than my high school-era attribute: “This is D, she really likes Karl Marx.”
The flight was plagued by atmospheric conditions so unfavourable that the Germans seated next to me began projecting unease (my personal rule of thumb about flying: when the Germans get nervous, it’s perfectly okay for anyone else to lose their shit). The fuselage rattles violently and my brain is seized by a visualization of my imminent death: gnarled metal, broken glass, the unsympathetic phone call from the Indonesian embassy to my parents. The fuselage suddenly rolls, my stomach drops, and I start praying to the Abrahamic god before remembering that I don’t believe in God.
When we safely (happily) land with my agnosticism intact, I meet up with a friend for drinks and I tell him about my high-altitude ordeal. “You need to stop watching Air Crash Investigation,” he helpfully suggests.
“But what if I die never knowing what killed me?”
He raises his empty glass to a nearby waiter, wordlessly indicating for another beer. “Do you really want to spend the last few seconds of your life thinking about faulty wiring? Or explosive decompression? You’re dying. Why does it matter how you die? You should be more concerned about how you lived.”
I trace my finger around the rim of my empty glass. “You’re so profound when you drink,” I sneer.
“I’d rather die of alcohol poisoning than of a plane crash. Do you want another beer too?”
You learn a lot about people when you expose them to the dry, summertime heat of Mandalay. At the hostel, my mild-mannered travel partner steps out of the shower to apply sunblock and lets loose a minor gripe disguised as scientific observation: “This mirror is hung at a fucking weird height. I can see my balls but I can’t see my face.”
You also learn a lot about yourself on a rodent-infested thirty-hour train ride in a carriage with damp seats and no suspension system. I am pleasant for most of the trip until we finally reach the station, where the dry summertime heat and blaring throng of sweaty humanity have driven me to take on the persona of a leaky rectum.
I approach my travel partner later that evening, shoulders slumped with childlike guilt to sheepishly apologise for my behaviour; he just hmms and shrugs. “It’s okay,” he says, “You were perfect.”
I am not accustomed to this sort of display of human kindness following my display of human acrimony, and all I do is sit in quiet amazement while my heart promptly proceeds to explode.
Living and working in Jakarta has been hugely revelatory re: the mating habits of my peers. A good number of them married young (~21-23), multiplied with no regard for financial repercussions, and—in a twist ending that sent shock waves through every iota of my being—live with their parents and/or in-laws.
If you’ve ever been a single Southeast Asian woman of marriageable age, then there is a very high chance that you will have also been subjected to the classic onslaught of “Where is your boyfriend?/Why don’t you have one?/Why won’t you just get married?” line of questioning from family members with a propensity for offering unsolicited grief.
On a flight out of the city, my mother turns to me and says , “You know XYZ? He likes you, I can tell. Why don’t you return his feelings in kind?”
As if possessed by the spirit of an eight year-old boy, I tap the noise-canceling headphones sealed over my ears dramatically mouth, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
She rolls her eyes and turns her head the other way to sleep. I hit PLAY on my iPod and nearly choke on my own tongue: the song that starts playing is Kimbra’s ferociously catchy but quietly terrifying Settle Down. Ha-fucking-ha, universe. Ha ha. My fingers fumble over the touchscreen display. NEXT, I beg quietly. NEXT NEXT NEXT NEXT NEXT.
I had the great pleasure of reading your unsolicited critique of the “Ch-Check It Out” music video [“Licensed to Stand Still” by Stephanie Zacharek, May 16]. It took some time to get to me, as it had to be curried (sp?) on goatback through the fjords of my homeland, the Oppenzell. And in the process the goat died, and then I had to give the mailman one of my goats, so remember, you owe me a goat.
Anyway, that video is big time good. Pauline Kael is spinning over in her grave. My film technique is clearly too advanced for your small way of looking at it. Someday you will be yelling out to the streets below your windows: “He is the chancellor of all the big ones! I love his genius! I am the most his close personal friend!”
You journalists are ever lying. I remember people like you laughing at me at the university, and now they are all eating off of my feet. You make this same unkind laughter at the Jerry Lewis for his Das Verruckte Professor and now look, he is respected as a French-clown. And you so-call New York Times smarties are giving love to the U2 because they are dressing as the Amish and singing songs about America? (Must I dress as the Leprechaun to sing songs about Ireland so that you will love me? You know the point I make here is true!)
In concluding, “Ch-Check It Out” is the always best music film and you will be realizing this too far passing. As ever I now wrap my dead goat carcass in the soiled New York Times — and you are not forgetting to buy me a replacement! Please send that one more goat to me now!
ps! figured out my halloween costume! …. knight rider! going to cover my bike in black tape and make those lights on the front, add a turbo boost button and mount my iphone so when riding, the theme song plays and have kitt’s voice loaded on as well!
There is hope for everybody’s favourite South East Asian city-state: for a country that allegedly has no sense of humour, one of Singapore’s mainstream radio stations played Flight of the Conchords’ Most Beautiful Girl in the Room on a Sunday afternoon show. The DJs were two women who spoke English with transpacific twangs that you expect out of people who spent idyllic childhood summers in London and boozy university nights in Australia. They probably rock climb on weekends and make gai pad krapow with fresh basil that they grow in the kitchens of their apartment unit overlooking the urban skyline.
Results from a survey by Durex published several years ago remains on heavy rotation in local women’s and health magazines. Singaporeans have the least sex in the world, they woefully lament. The government pays its people money to procreate, lest they one day run out of eighteen year-olds to draft in mandatory military service, meaning they will have no army to defend them if Malaysia decides to invade.
Singapore has what must be one of the best (if not the best?) public transport systems in the world. Its military is well-equipped and its people are well-educated. Everything about this country is perfect and frightening and funny, like a parody of a caricature of a satire. I read Disneyland With The Death Penalty again to see if the accusations made in 1993 are still applicable in 2011.
An illustrator friend working in Singapore’s graphic design industry laments the state of art and creativity on the island. “They think they can teach kids art,” she sighs as we pass a high school dedicated to doing just that. “You can’t teach art. Everybody can love and produce creative art, but you can’t teach it. You have to let it out. Singapore is not allowing their people to let it out.”
Despite insulting the twenty thousand year-long tradition of human imagination, ingenuity, and invention, the History Channel’s insufferable show Ancient Aliens is a pleasure to watch, thanks to the efforts of their fantastic art people. Have you seen a television show that does a better job of of decorating background sets to best mimic the natural working environments of their experts?
Investigative journalism! It’s all about keeping the public informed while surreptitiously seducing them. More pinot noir, baby?
Somewhere out there, there is an award for cramming the tenets of ’90s pop culture scientist stereotypes into a single frame.
I thought there was a sniper by the window but there isn't
In this week’s episode of LIFE IMITATING ART:
I meant to give my colleague a friendly wink that roughly corresponds to “Hey ‘sup”, but unfortunately for the both of us, I was in the middle of finishing off some chocolate cake and licking residual frosting off my upper lip, which basically left me licking my lip and winking at the same time, meaning that I had forced myself and my poor colleague to live out the following scenario:
Your homework this weekend: contract your first tropical disease despite spending three-quarters of your life in the tropics. Contract a career-high fever. Down the most prescription drugs since college, develop most questionable tastes in film and television since middle school. Watch Mortal Kombat and convince yourself that this penetrating piece of cinema is Stanley Kubrick’s second last gift to the world.
The charm of speaking to strangers at airports mostly lies in the comfort of knowing we will probably never see them again, which is why we become either brutally honest (“Let me tell you all about my stunted emotional state/unattractive medical condition”) or brutally imaginative (“Yes, I am married/play concertina in a pirate metal band”).
Do not squander this opportunity for free advice (be honest) or free validation (be imaginative)! The trick is to be as honest/imaginative as you want without ever exchanging names!
I almost died/got seriously hurt in an almost-traffic collision on the drive home from work tonight. Long story short, regard for human life will never be of any importance to Jakarta bus drivers, but more startling than the shock of nearly losing my life is remembering that the last thought I had as my body stiffened up in preparation for impact was “Oh shit, my spinach is going to go bad if it doesn’t get refrigerated. Shouldn’t have done the grocery shopping tonight.”
I have a friend whose idea of an April Fool’s joke was to tell me her brother died in a freak accident. Later in the day she informs her boyfriend—who was sitting behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle—that she is pregnant. The muscles in his arms go limp and the hulking tonnage of steel swerves violently into another lane, nearly killing them both.
My mother drinks this vitamin C supplement that turns a rather impertinent shade of neon purple when it is dissolved in some water, which is FANTASTIC because I’ve come to believe that if a potable solution deliberately impersonates distilled highlighter ink in appearance, then it must have also been engineered to taste like a fruit that corresponds to the colour of that drink (i.e. a last-minute reprieve to make up for the displeasing shade—e.g. radioactive pink/strawberry, sad yellow/mango, dank blue/blueberries, etc).
So. What exciting artificial flavour did the manufacturers of my mother’s vitamin C supplement select for their suspiciously shaded solution? NOTHING.
It tasted like the plain water poured into it. Plain water is delicious on its own, but all my years of drinking rainbows had me trust that a purple-coloured drink should taste purple (whatever this means) or effervesce, at the very least.
I didn’t realise how jarring it really was to have expectations dashed—I am so spoiled, so used to imbibing purple drinks that hearken to more saccharine, sexed-up imitations of açai or grape that do not readily occur in nature. I wouldn’t have minded if it tasted completely rancid, just as long as it tasted like something. The absence of flavour was more offensive than the reality of an unpalatable one.
Plugging in contemporary buzzwords to see if this applies to everything: The absence of a significant other is more offensive than dating a cast member of Jersey Shore/The absence of a well-paying job is more offensive than the reality of receiving minimum wage/The absence of democracy is more offensive than government.
"…I live in Minsk, Belarus and I saw Solomon fucking Kane and when I check to see that it made mroe money than Avatar movie I see that is not even in the USA. What the fucking shit ball fuck shit? So I think maybe God is having me write this to give to you so that you can make it explode in America because it is the very best movie I have ever seen in a long time and other people should see it as well."
Here is a great interview that the Paris Review conducted with Ray Bradbury! It is full of paragraphs that you read once or twice or thrice before cautiously but feverishly copying it verbatim on a Post-It that you slap somewhere in your field of vision for everyday veneration, like a creed or a chant or a prayer.
What about Proust, Joyce, Flaubert, Nabokov—writers who tend to think of literature in terms of style and form. Has that line of thought ever interested you?
If people put me to sleep, they put me to sleep. God, I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep. The same for Joyce. Joyce doesn’t have many ideas. I’m completely idea oriented, and I appreciate certain kinds of French writing and English storytelling more. I just can’t imagine being in a world and not being fascinated with what ideas are doing to us.
i. When the proverbial Abrahamic god shuts one door, he opens a floodgate: the Kindle will forestall your efforts to amass a library, but cultivate an expensive graphic novel habit, and you may as well have never bought the thing.
ii. It’s endearing when an item teetering on the verge of the archaic—in the case above, paper—makes an effort to remain in your life, but when you realise there are more inanimate objects than carbon-based life forms clamouring for your time, locate a comfortable corner in your sleeping quarters and proceed to weep freely and openly.
iii. I can only think of two reasons people ever need to think out loud: to work out a problem (“…is four, carry over the one, eight by three is…”) or to self-flagellate (“Why am I such a goddamn IDIOT!”). When else do we do this?
I can’t vocalise a thought that contains the verb “fritter” without imagining a battered and deep friend banana, but now I can’t think of a “battered banana” without imagining a piece of fruit being in an abusive relationship.
The same stream of thought applies to the verbs in exciting molecules (Jeff Goldblum) and agitating water (James Cameron’s The Abyss).
The 190 that takes me home is almost always packed to its glassy brim with warm, tired bodies after six in the evening. For forty minutes you will awkwardly squeeze shoulder to shoulder with several strangers not of your choosing, all of them equally unhappy at the thought of spending forty minutes chanelling what little is left of their energy reserves to minimise physical contact in this glorified tuna can of a people mover.
If you are an optimist like me, then it is easy to interpret this discomfort as a gift from the universe because Oh wow! Forty minutes is time eough to forge a lasting friendship with a complete stranger over a shared suffering! Is this not how all time-tested friendships start: a bond over a common enemy? A uniform set of ideals? An app we both have on our iPhones?* Best friends forever!
But then you remember where you are, and you remember that here on planet Earth, most friendships do not traditionally begin with constantly apologising to someone for grinding your ass into his crotch every time the bus runs over a speed bump (although this is useful for making another type of friend). Where conversation and relationships could have blossomed, you instead drum the notes of your favourite Interpol bass line into your collarbone, interspersing every nth note with a public apology on behalf of your wayward ass, and then privately scheming to trick a nice young man with a ride into being your goddamn boyfriend.
*Other girls in middle school, favourite Jeff Goldblum role, Bejeweled, respectively