Tag Archives: Jakarta

Short Story: Sandalwood Fan

By Gerson Poyk

I live completely alone, but I can still live well enough because I don’t depend on anyone else. I can eat three meals a day. I can live in one rented room where there is a couch, a bathroom and a kitchen. At the back outside there’s a covering roof that extends a long way out where I can store the cooker, dish rack, bucket and bike. There’s a second-hand television in my main room that keeps me entertained every day.

If only my daughter hadn’t married a man who worked in the Middle East. Maybe I wouldn’t be living alone because she would have been able to take care of me, and my two grandchildren could have entertained me. But thankfully my daughter can help me out a little financially. For a long time since my wife passed away, our situation has been pretty tight. My wife used to cook food out back to sell for a little income. She would cook spiced fish, uduk rice, chili soybean, grilled fish, grilled eggplant and a chili sauce that I liked to call ‘chili Inul sauce’.

Every day I travel around on my bike selling food. I pedal from before dawn, sometimes till afternoon, and sometimes till late in the day. I target my sales at the traditional markets and the multi-story project sites where day laborers work.

But after my wife passed away everything became a mess. My daughter was forced to drop out of school in the tenth grade because she had to help me. Every evening I had to cook carrying on as my wife had shown me. However, after cooking I had to rest for half a day which meant that the food was not all sold every day. Luckily my daughter knew a young woman from the island of Madura who sold drop cakes.

“Dad, I want to do what the woman from Madura is doing,” said my daughter.

“She dropped out of primary school but she could still get to run a business,” she said.

“Ah, you shouldn’t make fun of her,” I said.

“The only assets she has is a small cooker and one rice flour dough pot. She runs a business selling drop cakes. She’s very busy, dad,” said my daughter. ”I want to sell drop cakes like her,” she continued.

“But what about the food business your mother left behind? Do we have to forget about that? Would the income from that be enough for the two of us to survive?” I asked.

”That’s easy. All it needs is one table. Some of the food you cook can be displayed on that one table and you can sell some of it from your bike. What do you think?”

So three days later, there was a small food stall in the traditional market. At the side of the table was a hissing cooker wafting the aroma of fresh drop cakes. My daughter’s drop cake “lecturer”, the woman from Madura, was selling not far away next to my daughter’s stall. Every day very early in the morning, my daughter would sell by herself in the market without me for company. After sleeping till eleven o’clock in the middle of the day, I pedaled my bike to the market and collected some of the food my daughter was selling. I rode around to the busy construction sites, the fences of busy factories and other places like that.

Early one morning, a young journalist from the tabloid Voice of the Market, no stranger to staying up all night, sat down in front of my daughter’s drop cake cooker. The young journalist fell in love with my daughter. He published a photograph of her and the woman from Madura prominently in his tabloid. The story was long and detailed and described the New Order-era government program called “candak kulak” that had provided small-scale capital. The program was long gone, vanished without a trace.

My daughter would go on to marry the journalist from the Voice of the Market.

Her friend the woman from Madura would hawk up and down the market until one day several months later a minibus driver also proposed to her.  

Not long after that, my new son-in-law moved to the Middle East to work as a journalist for an oil industry magazine called Oil.

True neither of them did help me much as they studied while they worked there. My son-in-law was at university and my daughter finished her secondary school finals before going on to university. But they didn’t forget to think about my financial situation.

My daughter did sent me some money to use as start up capital to buy sandalwood and agarwood fans to sell in the Middle East, along with necklaces made from sandalwood and agarwood beads. Later they also asked for the sandalwood and agarwood offcuts that are used for burning in the incense burners of wealthy middle eastern people.

So I was busy with my new business as a sandalwood fan trader. Each month I would freight the aromatic commodity. I rented a small post office box to support my business activity. Everything was small. The post office box was small. The bedroom was small. But with all these small things, I was involved in a world that was wide and big! Although sales of sandalwood fans were brisk enough for me to be able to buy a block of land in Jakarta, my children urged me not to buy land to build a house in the city. My daughter thought it would just be destroyed by floods of both water and people.  

Their thinking seemed pretty strange to me.

Every time I went to the post office to send products, I visited a small open-air food stall in the grounds of the post office for coffee or a bite to eat.  

The owner of the food stall Misses Agus was being helped by her daughter who had a younger brother. He hadn’t been through the Islamic circumcision ceremony yet, called khitan. At first, I would only have breakfast there. Then I would visit every day to have lunch, and then dinner. Young uncircumcised Agus was very pleased whenever I did drop in. Usually if I had any spare change, I would give it to him as a present. Suddenly one day he showed me a heavy little piggy bank. It was full of the coins I had given him. It was a real surprise for me to see a child who had apparently been left by a father who had passed away. Young Agus’ older sister Julie had been a wonderful help to her mother. Almost every day she would work in the small food stall unless she had to wash clothes at home, sweep or hang out the washing.   

“Where do you work, mister?” Julie asked one day.  

“I work at home,” I answered.

“Where’s your office?” asked Julie.

“My office is as small as a box, a post office box!”

Julie laughed, “So when you go to work, you first have to turn into an ant!”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” I joked.

“Well, don’t underestimate ants. They have a lot to teach humans. They work together and cooperate without anger, without becoming emotional, like…”

“You’re having a go at me, aren’t you!” called her mother.

“So you’re emotional?” I asked.

“No, my mother is born from noble Javanese descent, but she’s now working in this humble little food stall,” said Julie.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s small, so long as it turns a dollar and makes a profit and hopefully turns this food stall into a building. This shop is larger than my post office box. That’s my shop. It only returns a little but fortunately I’m an ant, so I don’t eat much,” I joked. “Small people like us have to start small.”

“A post office box can not be bulldozed and relocated, but it seems that even if the rent is paid, this food stall can be taken away in a truck and piled up in the city depot.”

One day early in the morning when I arrived at the post office, I saw Mrs. Agus arguing. Two large men were carrying plates, pots, woks, cookers and other utensils and piling them into a pickup. It seemed that Mrs. Agus owed money to a village money lender. She just sat silently, staring blankly, with bright red eyes.

Although it was none of my business something inside me made me ask, “How much money do you owe?”   

“Only three-hundred thousand rupiah. How could they do something like this! And after the agreement was to pay one thousand rupiah per day. Suddenly, he asks me to repay the whole loan because he says his house was flooded,” explained Julie.

“Where is the money…”

“I actually had the money, but yesterday I paid the doctor and bought blood pressure medicine,” said Mrs. Agus.

I was no longer being rational. I called out at once, “Man, put those things back in the food stall. Here, I’ll pay what Mrs. Agus owes you.” Then I pulled out three-hundred thousand rupiahs from my wallet.   

“Wow, three hundred, and what about the interest? It’s been three years now and my money’s been locked up in this food stall. Five hundred…”

“No way…”

“Why not?”

“There is no more money. Only three hundred. All right. Here’s the money.

“Yeah, well, here are your things back,” they said.

A short time after the debt collectors had gone, young Agus arrived home from school. The small, first grade child was surprised most as there was no food. I told him to buy packets of cooked rice for four people and then to help set up the stall so it didn’t look like a wreck.

After that incident, Julie would always visit my boarding room with food. She cleaned all the dirty things, and washed my clothes. She helped me pack the sandalwood and agarwood fans and helped cut up the pieces of agarwood. Then, when that was in order, she would help put them into boxes, write the senders’ and receivers’ addresses, before helping me carry them to the post office. She would also always check the post box and collect any mail from my daughter from overseas.

Julie became my assistant. Although she had only finished junior secondary school, she was a good writer and she was quick with numbers.

But after six months, there was a disaster. The fatherless child Julie now all of a sudden found that she had a father in me and at the same time fell in love with me. I was racked by conflict. I was fifty-five years old and Julie was just twenty. It was not right. Poor Julie. But she was steadfast in wanting to become my wife. For me this was not love that was normal. It was all because of the sandalwood fans, the aromatic agarwood fans that meant money. If I had not had any money, the young woman would not have wanted this. Ah, sandalwood fans, the beautiful aroma of agarwood fans had preserved an old man who already smelt of the earth. It wasn’t right for Julie to marry this ancient one from Jakarta.

Hanging about my neck hugging me, Julie said, “I will look after you until you have to use a walking stick. You will live again, become young again, through our children.   

I became weak and fell onto the bed.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and, as it wasn’t locked, Mrs. Agus just walked in. Her eyes were red. Maybe her high blood pressure had come back. Anyway, she appeared to have tidied herself up and was thinking herself pretty. In fact, the bright red of her lipstick made me feel as if I was being approached by a tiger.

It is not right for Julie to become your wife,” she said. “I am the right one for you.” As she spoke, she moved towards Julie. Then she slapped Julie.

As Julie ran out, I made a run for the back door and then into the bathroom. I hid there for an hour. When I emerged into my room, thankfully Mrs. Agus was no longer anywhere to be seen.

Since that, I haven’t appeared at Mrs. Agus’ food stall. I closed down the post office box and moved to another post office.

About three months later, Julie arrived at my room. Sitting down, she slid a baby bottle into the lips of the baby in her arms. I was dumbstruck. Surely she wasn’t going to try it on me. I hoped she wasn’t about to go to the police station and report that her baby was my child, the child of a humble sandalwood fan trader.

“I’ve been living with a minibus driver,” she said.

“And had a baby right away?” I asked.

“No. His wife left him and she handed the baby over to me. I just took her. After all, where else was I going to go? My mother has high blood pressure. The important thing is I have a husband,” said Julie, cradling the baby.

I couldn’t say anything. My eyes filled with tears.

One day around a year later as I was pedaling my bike, I spotted Mrs. Agus shuffling along dragging a half-filled sack. I stopped. But she had forgotten who I was, and this shocked me deeply. Looking at the sack I realized. It was just full of plastic water bottles and old newspapers. Mrs. Agus had become a garbage collector. Jakarta had given her nothing but garbage.   

“Where’s Julie now?” I asked.

“Julie passed away,” she answered.

“And where’s young Agus?” I asked again.

“At the intersection selling bottled water.”

“Where are you living?” I asked next.

“In doorways. There are plenty of doorways. You can just curl up anywhere.”

I was shocked.

“Who are you, mister?” she asked

“I’m a sandalwood fan trader.”

“Oh, my son-in-law, my son-in-law. Could you just give me a ride on the back of your bike!”

Straight away I gave her a ride to my room after getting rid of the sack of garbage. I told her to wash. I fetched her something to eat.

The following day I went with her to the psychiatric hospital and admitted her to a nursing home.

Depok, 10 February 2008


Sandalwood Fan (Kipas Cendana) was published in Kompas Daily in March 2008. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/.

Featured image credit: Back cover of EAP153/13/40:  Syair Raksi Macam Baru [1915] https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP153-13-40

The Indonesian Student Pledge

The Indonesian Student Pledge: “Motion of No Confidence” By WatchDoc Films

“Motion of No Confidence” (Mosi Tidak Percaya) is a short documentary film from WatchDoc Films about events around Indonesia throughout the week of 24 September 2019, and especially in the streets outside Indonesia’s House of Representatives. The film opens with students marching as they recite the Indonesian Student Pledge, first used during the 1998 demonstrations that led to the resignation of the late President Soeharto.

Sumpah Mahasiswa Indonesia

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Bertanah Air Satu
Tanah Air Tanpa Penindasan

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Berbangsa Satu
Bangsa yang Gandrung akan Keadilan

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Berbahasa Satu
Bahasa Tanpa Kebohongan

The Indonesian Student Pledge

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one homeland
A homeland without oppression

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one nation
A nation that blazes with justice

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one language
A language without lies

Sumpah Mahasiswa Indonesia Kompas Daily, 28 October 2016

Wikipedia on the 1928 Youth Pledge and on Sumpah Pemuda.

Some writing by Muhammad Yamin. On the ninetieth anniversary of the second Youth Congress in 2018, take a look at Sejarah Sumpah Pemuda, Tekad Anak Bangsa Bersatu demi Kemerdekaan (source of the featured image) and Peringatan 90 Tahun Sumpah Pemuda.

Other background that may of interest includes: Abdullah, Taufik. and Cornell University. Modern Indonesia Project.  Schools and politics : the Kaum Muda movement in West Sumatra (1927-1933) / Taufik Abdullah  Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y  1971  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7822864-schools-and-politics; Yamin, Muhammad. Tan Malacca, Bapak Republik Indonesia: Riwajat-politik Seorang Pengandjoer Revolusionér Jang Berfikir, Berdjoeang Dan Menderita Membentoek Negara Republik Indonesia. Djakarta: Berita Indonesia, 1946. Print.


Featured image credit: Sejarah Sumpah Pemuda, Tekad Anak Bangsa Bersatu demi Kemerdekaan, 28 October 1928 in the grounds of the Indonesische Clubgebouw, Jl. Kramat 106, Jakarta. Visible seated from left to right among others are (Prof.) Mr. Sunario, (Dr.) Sumarsono, (Dr.) Sapuan Saatrosatomo, (Dr.) Zakar, Antapermana, (Prof. Drs.) Moh. Sigit, (Dr.) Muljotarun, Mardani, Suprodjo, (Dr.) Siwy, (Dr.) Sudjito, (Dr.) Maluhollo. Standing from left to right among others are (Prof. Mr.) Muh. Yamin, (Dr.) Suwondo (Tasikmalaya), (Prof. Dr.) Abu Hanafiah, Amilius, (Dr.) Mursito, (Mr.) Tamzil, (Dr.) Suparto, (Dr.) Malzar, (Dr.) M. Agus, (Mr.) Zainal Abidin, Sugito, (Dr.) H. Moh. Mahjudin, (Dr.) Santoso, Adang Kadarusman, (Dr.) Sulaiman, Siregar, (Prof. Dr.) Sudiono Pusponegoro, (Dr.) Suhardi Hardjolukito, (Dr.) Pangaribuan Siregar and others.(Dok. Kompas)

Haters

Haters

By Kotak

Hey, my hater, don’t hate me
You’ll just hurt yourself
Hey, my hater, don’t spy on me
You’ll just be disappointed

I’m having a good time, enjoying my life
Why are you the one who ends up
Hurting, disturbed
Because of me?

You claim to be happy
But in reality, you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy.. that’s your tough luck.

Hey, my hater, don’t hate me
You’re just wasting your energy
Hey, my hater, the more you hate me
The sadder your life becomes

I’m having a good time, enjoying my life
Why are you the one who ends up
Suffering, disturbed
Because of me?

You claim to be happy
But the reality is, you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy.. that’s your tough luck.

What’s wrong, see, you want your life to be difficult
Always finding fault, so you can criticize
I’m over it, wow, friends even, what’s the point?
What there is, is you’re disappointed, when I’m having fun
Criticize here, criticize there, you don’t like anything
You don’t even provide, but you’re the one who gets mad
Me, well, I don’t have a problem, but you get stressed
Always wrong, better if I just party
You hate, but I get motivated
For me it’s better, you though, are getting angrier
We’ve stopped being friends, we’re, true, not enemies?
Pull your life together, don’t throw everything away

You claim to be happy
But the reality is you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy, ohhh..

Claiming to be happy
But the reality is you’ve got problems
problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy, that’s your tough luck

Selamat Tinggal Jakarta?

Is relocating Indonesia’s capital feasible?

University of Sydney experts comment on the proposed move

Jakarta has a population of 10 million and is rapidly sinking. The Indonesian Government announced plans to relocate the country’s capital to the island of Borneo, but will it improve living and environmental conditions? (Read more here.)

Image Credit Castle Of Batavia Mural Wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek based on Het kasteel van Batavia by Andries Beeckman, ca. 1661.

NAATI Certified Translators het kasteel van batavia

Short Story: The Sufi Teacher Passed By…

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

One ordinary sleepy day a Sufi teacher landed in Jakarta on his magic carpet at the gates of the toll road leading from Jakarta to Cengkareng International Airport. He hopped down and strolled into Jakarta as his magic carpet flew off again back up into the heavens.

It happened to be a Friday and at midday, the Sufi teacher went looking for the nearest place to perform his Friday prayers. He went into the office block he was passing and on the ground floor found a small prayer room. The usual plastic prayer mats were laid out ready for Friday prayers but the room was still empty. A man who seemed to be the prayer room attendant was getting ready to perform his prayers, so the Sufi teacher asked, “Prayer room attendant, isn’t it Friday today and shouldn’t everyone be here performing their prayers?”

kebenaran

“True. Usually, there are lots of people here on Fridays to pray. The office workers in this building prefer to pray here on the ground floor rather than go out and look for a mosque.”

“But prayer room attendant, why isn’t anyone at all here today even though it’s time for prayer?”

“Ah, they’re all praying on the ninth floor.”

“And why is that?”

“Because.., it’s air-conditioned. They say the atmosphere there is more conducive to prayer, and it’s nice and cool on the ninth floor, while down here it’s hot and sticky.”

“Ah, I see,” replied the Sufi teacher in English, nodding.

And so he and the attendant performed their prayers together by themselves with the attendant leading the devotions.

When they had finished, the Sufi teacher continued on his way looking for Gus Dur, the director of the Islamic community organization called Nahdlatul Ulama. He wanted to ask whether Americans could use the English phrase ‘good morning’ instead of the Arabic greeting ‘Assalamu alaikum’.

A month later the Sufi teacher was again going past the same building and as it happened to be right on time for midday prayer he once again entered the building.

It turned out that this time there were dozens of people preparing to pray in the small prayer room. There were so many in fact that they were spilling out of the prayer room into the lobby as the fiery sermon lambasted the spread of worldly greed.

The Sufi teacher again asked the attendant, “Prayer room attendant, why are there now so many people praying here, so many that they are overflowing into the lobby? What has become of the air-conditioned prayer room on the ninth floor?”

“Sojourner, the office workers have come back here to pray because the air conditioning is out of order, and the room which used to be so nice and cool is now unbearably hot. Because of the humidity on the ninth floor, they now want to pray here; if they are lucky they might catch a passing breeze.”

The Sufi teacher again nodded, saying in English, “I see. I see.” Then he continued, “Well then, take note prayer room attendant. Reflect on this question: Is there any difference between those who pray in an air-conditioned room and those who do not?”

The prayer room attendant was silent, and, after midday prayers were over, forever more followed the Sufi teacher wherever he went.

One day on their travels they arrived at the edge of a river somewhere in Central Java where there was no bridge. To cross to the other side it was necessary to use a small bamboo raft. The raft landing on the other side was not directly opposite and had to be reached by using a punt some way along the bank before crossing over.

Punting along the edge of the river the Sufi teacher noticed a man fishing at the edge of the river who didn’t seem to be using any bait. But even though the fisherman wasn’t using any bait, the fish were just jumping from the water by themselves and landing in the man’s basket, filling it to overflowing. As the basket filled, the local people emptied fish into their own baskets and carried them away to their homes. The villagers flocked to the fisherman’s basket.

Amazed at this sight, the Sufi teacher asked the raft keeper, “Raft keeper, who is that man by the river fishing without any bait?”

“That’s Saint Jagakali.”

“Who’s he?”

And so the raft keeper told the Sufi teacher the story of the fisherman. It was said that long ago in that village there had lived a fisherman who lived solely from the fish he caught. Every day he would take his catch, return home and cook and eat it. One day one of the fish he caught was flapping gasping on the ground near him when it had begun speaking to him.

Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947
Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947

“Fisherman, please let me go. Grant me a great blessing and throw me back into the river. What good can I be to you? The small amount of flesh on my tiny bones will hardly fill you.”

The fisherman was astonished, but replied, “Talking fish, why do you speak to me this way? Does a fisherman not have the right to eat a fish he catches? This is the way it has always been, and the way it always shall be.”

“But life is like a wheel,” replied the fish. “What would happen if you should die and be reborn as a fish?”

The fisherman laughed aloud and threw the speaking fish into his basket.

Finally, after the fisherman had died he was indeed reborn as a fish. On the other hand, after passing away the talking fish was also reborn, but as a fisherman.

One day the fisherman who had once been a fish caught the fish who had at one time been a fisherman. The fish who had been a fisherman was also able to speak.

“Good fisherman, I beg you to let me go because I am just a small fish and life means so much to me. My small body will hardly provide you with enough. Please throw me back into the river and set me free.”

The fisherman who had once been a fish happened to recognize that the fish he had caught was the fisherman who had once caught him.

The fisherman said, “Talking fish, do you not remember that once you were a fisherman and that once you refused to grant the request of a small fish. I am that very fish, and now you must experience what I felt that day.”

“No! Please! Haven’t you thought that one day you might be reborn yet again as a fish and I as a fisherman who might catch you? Remember that life is like a wheel, spinning around and around and around.”

“I don’t care; I desire vengeance. Aha ha ha ha ha!” responded the fisherman as he threw the fish into his basket. The fish flip-flopped backwards and forwards with slowly weakening flicks until it was finished.

In its next life, the fish did return as a man and the fisherman too returned, this time as a fish. The man who had once been a fish who had once been a fisherman did indeed become a fisherman who loved fishing more than anything in the world. But he did not forget that once he had killed a fish and had finally as a fish himself been killed by a fisherman despite his pleas for mercy. Full of reverence, he resolved to return the fish he had caught to the river.

Henceforth the fisherman fished without using any bait. The strange thing was that ever since he had decided not to use bait the fish had just leaped from the water by themselves into his basket. Even then he couldn’t bring himself to eat the fish so he allowed the local villagers to take them. As there were more fish than a fish factory the local villagers took them gratefully.

The fisherman would sit by the river day and night fishing, refusing to use any bait. He did not want to eat any of the fish and he lived solely from the dew that formed on his lips in the morning, chanting the mantras of the poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri:

How many centuries must pass,
How many watches must stop,
How many signs must appear,
How many steps must I take,
Before I am able to reach You?

Over time, the fisherman had been given the name Saint Jagakali after the great Muslim mystic of Central Java, even though the fisherman himself had acknowledged no creed.

When the Sufi teacher and the prayer room attendant arrived at the other side of the river, the Sufi teacher thanked the raft keeper and together he and the prayer room attendant continued on their journey to East Java.

The Sufi teacher wanted to meet the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Kiai Ahmad Shiddiq, to ask the venerable teacher what he would think if Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Jarre were to record Arabic devotional songs.

After that, the Sufi teacher wanted to summon his flying carpet and return to Isfahan. He was planning to drop into Qom and let Khomeini know that wisdom had spread to every corner of the earth. But then he remembered, the Great Teacher was already dead, so he changed his mind.

The Sufi teacher next planned to fly from East Java to Japan, but first, he wanted to take the prayer room attendant to the modern Islamic boarding school at Gontor in East Java so he could learn English. After all, a prayer room attendant in an office block in Jakarta’s ‘golden triangle’ central business district crowded with the offices of foreign investors needs to know English.

When he arrived in Japan the Sufi teacher planned to go straight to Kyoto, find a Buddhist priest, and find out how he practiced Zen.

(Jakarta, February 1990)


The Sufi Teacher Passed By… (Guru Sufi Lewat…) was published in Kompas Daily in May 1990. It also appears in Ajidarma, Seno G. Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek. Jakarta: Subentra Citra Pustaka, 1995. Print.  Kesadaran Mitis Seno by Aprinus Salam, Humaniora No. 10 Jan-Apr 1999, p. 91.

Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi
Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi