Tuesday, 24 May 2011

the importance of war

This is an opinion piece for American History & Culture class. I wrote this during a bus transit in Martinez on my way to Santa Rosa last Wednesday. I was a bit disoriented while doing it, but I guessed it turned out okay.


I saw James Cameron’s Avatar on DVD last night. Last year, when it was being played at theatres in my hometown, I went to see it not once, not twice, not three times, but six times: three times in 3D, the rest in 2D. When I watched it last year, I was captivated by the visuals, the film-making technology, and the language the Na’vi (the indigenous people of the Pandora) spoke, and of course, Sigourney Weaver (I just love her in all her movies, especially the Alien saga).

Last night, however, I looked at the movie in another perspective: the war. There was a big battle between the humans and the Na’vi. The humans wanted to colonize Pandora and take very valuable resource aptly called the Unobtanium. The Na’vi could not care less about this Unobtanium, as they were more interested in preserving their tradition, the nature, and their world. Battle ensued, a great, big, battle. The humans had the more advanced technology, while the Na’vi fought with bows and arrows. The Na’vi won (it’s a Hollywood movie) and the humans were forced to return to Earth. There were numerous casualties, but like any wars, it did not matter.

Or did it?

Sylvia Plath wrote that she couldn’t comprehend killing another human being, a potential “friend”, just because he or she is being seen as an “enemy”. Homicide must always be the last resort. The concept of Utopia is a mere fantasy, at least so far, therefore conflicts on any level will occur. So the final question is: is there a way to justify war? Yes, there is – when it is self-defense.

Then again, self-defense is a subjective and biased term.


And then, as I was searching for a perfect picture to accompany this entry, I thought, "Self-defense may be subjective and biased, but Sam Worthington sure looks hotter as a a Na'vi than as a human.

What do you think?

On a side note, this blog is becoming so filled with images of half-nude guys that I'm seriously considering of placing it under Blogger's NSFW section so I can fill it up with even more daring pictures of male humans... You know, those who put the "men" in "specimen". Heh heh... *pervy laughter*

Thursday, 19 May 2011

a big city boy

Remember when I went to Orinda and I complained?

Well, I'm now in Santa Rosa for Tribal Fest 11. The festival is actually in Sebastopol, that's about 20 minutes by car from Santa Rosa. However, I couldn't get a room in a near hotel called Sebastopol Inn because it was fully booked, so I'm staying in Travelodge Downtown Santa Rosa (see, I can be a budget traveler).

The hotel is decent. With the price, I can't really complain much. It's an old hotel but the room is spacious and there's a little nook to do ironing as well as an electronic safe.

Here comes the however part.

I just don't know why Tribal Fest is held in Sebastopol. I mean, this place is a suburban nightmare. Sure, it's scenic and the weather is amazing (made me wish I hadn't brought my jackets with me - San Francisco had been raining for three days when I left, so it was cold there), but the transportation system is so... unpredictable and archaic. There's no digital cards (I paid five buck for a one-way-trip that normally cost USD 1.80. I didn't know neither the machine nor the driver would not provide a change), no digital signs (there were friendly CityBus staffers who told me where to go, though), no frequent services (a thirty minute interval if you're lucky??).

So, on my way back from the remote Sebastopol Youth Center, I couldn't find the bus stop (!!) so I went to Sebastopol Inn and asked a very nice Indian gentleman to call me a cab. We chatted briefly and I learned that apparently, Travelodge Downtown was also owned by the Indian family who ran Sebastopol Inn.

After about 15 minutes, my cab arrived. The driver's a very friendly, albeit chatty, big guy, who answered his phones while driving on the freeway (!!!!).

"No, I can't pick you up and fix your tire!" he said over the phone.

"Because that means I'll lose thirty minutes of my time and my money! My time! My money!" he answered to the voice that was unintelligible to my ears.

"No, I'm not being a dick! But I also can't afford to lose my time and my money! Look, I'm on a fare right now. I can't talk," and he hung up.

"I hate women," he said. And I just sat there in the back seat, smiling. I didn't know if I was smiling because of his statement or because I was just glad he turned off the phone and concentrated on the road.

"So, what brought you to Santa Rosa?" he asked.

"Oh, there's a dance festival. I'm staying until Monday. It's a beautiful city, but I don't understand the transportation system," I confessed.

"Well, sometimes you'll have to wait two to three hours for a bus," he said. My jaw fell. I wondered if that was the truth or if he was just trying to squeeze some buck out of me. However, I did notice that the local bus schedule was just unbelievable: one bus for the whole day. Getting to Sebastopol from Santa Rosa was fairly easy, but getting back to the downtown was another thing.

"Tell you what," he continues, "I'll take you to and from Sebastopol to your hotel for 50 bucks a day."

I looked at the meter and my pupils dilated. It was already USD 30 and we hadn't arrived yet! For the same time and the same mile, it would cost me USD 10 in San Francisco! I guess that was another sign that the public transportation in from Sebastopol sucked: expensive taxis (does that happen in New York?).

Well, at least now I think I know how I'm going to commute here.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

house hunting (part 2)

The story continues.

I just went home from house hunting this morning. I forfeit Dance Conditioning class at FCBD just to go to North Berkeley to a shoddy cluster of apartments in a quiet neighborhood. The affordable units didn't pique my interest. The only good thing about going there was that in one unit, there was a house cat who (yes, I use "who" to describe animals that familiarize themselves with me) stood to attention - the cat was curling on a stool - when I came in. So I quickly gave the cat some strokes and pets and the cat nuzzled me back in return.

How I miss my cats back home.

Yesterday, I went to Orinda to see a house. Apparently, Orinda is very different from San Francisco in a number of ways: one of them being bus shelters with no digital sign of when the next bus is coming. To make matters worse, I was late. So the very nice landlord decided to pick me up.

There I was, being driven in a black Porsche to a grand, luxurious house with plush carpeting all over, state-of-the-art kitchen, high-speed internet, furniture, and exotic bathroom (for USD 1275, no less). It was beautiful all over, even the garage had a great view of the clearing and bits of the forest down below. It was so quiet that I could hear the howling of the wind as the long blades of grass swayed and bent under the strength of the air.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to ask my parents to finance the apartment. And anyway, it was so far from the BART station. The bus came every 30 minutes or so (and I thought waiting for the 47 Muni here - coming every 5 to 10 minutes - was an unnerving task) and I'd have to walk uphill for about 2 miles from the bus stop to the house.

The landlord dropped me off at the BART station. He was such a nice person.

"Do you often do this to your potential renters?" I asked.

"No, my potential clients have cars," he said, not cynically, but with warmth. There I was, a foreign graduate-student-to-be, carless, unable to ride the bicycle, wanting to rent a house in a non-walking distance.

We chatted long in the car in front of the BART's station entrance. I could smell his sweet and musky smell of cologne. There was something in the signature scent of successful, proud, confident older gentlemen that always seemed to sexually arouse me. The landlord was about 60 years old, and he was not my type, but he was so cerebral and visceral at the same time. I had intended to stay in the car for only 10 minutes, as I tried to get back to San Francisco and catch the FCBD dance class, but we ended up talking for more than an hour.

"Do you often see movies?" I asked again when we passed the houses on the way down hill.

"Sometimes. Why?"

"These houses remind me so much of those from Stepford Wives," I said. He laughed.

"Yes. Here, people seem to go back to the greens, choosing to have a secluded house," was his answer. "You know, when you e-mailed me and said you were from Indonesia, I thought you were a conman."

"What? Why so?" I was intrigued.

"Well, you called me and you didn't have an accent. I often go overseas as I have offices in several parts of the world including Asia, but everyone I met had an accent, but you... You sound like a regular American."

"Why, thank you. I started learning English when I was 4 years old. I used to have a perfect British accent but I lost it to Hollywood," I said, inciting his laughter. "My English teacher said that if you learned English after sixteen, you'll retain your original accent, no matter how hard you work."

"That's true. I can distinguish the accents of people from parts of the US, I know how French people sound when they're speaking English..."

"Oui, zei talk like zees..." I said, imitating the Francophones, and he laughed again.

"Yes, they do talk like that. But you sound like you came from Chicago."

"I guess now I kind of know the reason why most landlords from Craigslist didn't reply to my e-mail," I said with a sighed. I sent and called at least 20 resident managers and none of them replied my e-mail. Big apartments, small apartments... Almost nada. "Maybe when I said I was from Indonesia, they thought of jihadis and terrorists."

"Well, this is a tumultuous time," he answered sympathetically. I just nodded.

The conversation went on. At first I kept glancing at the digital clock on the middle dashboard, but after a while, I didn't mind. This gentleman showed me a lot of insight on living abroad, on living in Orinda at his house, on life in general. He poured his experience into me, and I, a glass, only about 1/8 full, gladly accepted his generous, rich liquid.

As I bid him farewell and closed the door of his black Porsche, thoughts ran in my mind, criss-crossing like vehicles on a busy intersection. I was happy, though - my confidence in being a potential renter was restored. And so, bubbly, I walked to the platform to wait for my train that would take me back to San Francisco.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

white powder stuff

It was 5 PM and I was feeling peckish - a natural condition considering I only had half a banana for breakfast, four blueberry minimuffins for lunch, and a killer Dance Conditioning workout in between. My Soy Drink helped, I have to give it that, but my mouth was craving for another soy helping of Tofurky sandwich, so I went down to the kitchen.

Even in San Francisco, where vegetarianism and veganism are very much alive and well much to my liking, it is still difficult for me to find vegan mayonnaise. Therefore, I have to settle with what WholeFoods has to offer. I can't help it, I love mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is the greatest flavor enhancer known to humans. It's better than chocolate. It's better than sex... Well, there are some nights when you just want to munch on something else other than youknowwhat.

I knew my mayonnaise had been running low. However, when I swiped the jar out of my designated private shelf, I was surprised to feel its weight. It had decreased so much more than I had remembered or anticipated. I opened the lid and looked inside. Oh hell, no: I was certain it had been at least 1/8 of the jar and when I opened it, it was only 1/10. Someone has obviously been eating my mayonnaise. Maybe I ought to poison it, a thought occurred in my mind.

Nevertheless, I was too hungry to investigate, and there was still enough mayonnaise to lather my toast with.

As I was making toast, Li, my Vietnamese friend came into the kitchen.


"Hey too! How're you doing?" I asked. He used to be my roommate before I moved to a single room.

"Good. I went to San Jose with my family this morning."

"Oh, that's nice! What did you do?"

"Nothing much, we just make cocaine..."

I actually stopped spreading mayonnaise on my toast and put the spoon down. I looked at my friend in disbelief.

"What... did you do? You made... cocaine with your... family?" I asked, trying to control my stutter.

"Yes! And you should try one of our cocaines! Here!" he said, taking out some white packages from his brown paper bag. I stood there, mesmerized. "Here's tofu dessert, and here's some sugar syrup! You have to try!" he continued.

I almost burst out laughing, yet I was able to compose myself and finally said, "Wow, I've never tried tofu dessert before! Does your family do lots of COOKING?"

"Yes," Li said proudly, "But just for fun. We don't sell these things," he opened one container of sweet, thick caramel liquid the color of maple syrup and honey and poured some into three shallow cylindrical plastic containers. Inside each container was white and creamy tofu. Looks like yogurt, I thought. "Here, for you!" he said, offering not one, not two, but all three portions of the togurt (Yes, togurt. I completely made that up).

"Wow! Thanks! I'll definitely try this tonight!" I said as I rushed to label my yummy dessert.

"You're welcome! I'll see you in school tomorrow!" he replied and left.

"See you!"

I carefully taped the three containers one on top of another and stuck the label firmly on top. I may have lost some of my mayonnaise, but I'm absolutely not going to let anyone take this sweet, sweet, sugary tofu.

In fact, I'll try one tonight. Tofu, I mean. Not that white powder stuff.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

house hunting

I kind of understand why it's hard for ghosts to let go off a house they're haunting. If you found a perfectly good home, why would you want to leave?

My being admitted to St. Mary's is, without a doubt, very exciting. It's one of my dream schools and I believe that St. Mary's MFA program in fictional creative writing can really ameliorate my writing skills. I need the discipline and catalyst to write. Furthermore, I need to find my true voice without sounding as if I'm trying too hard.

Nevertheless, that excitement comes with a price: I have to find an apartment. I'll be commuting to several areas: Moraga (where St. Mary's is), Alameda (FCBD East Bay class), and San Francisco (FCBD regular class & Dance Conditioning). I once visited North Berkeley to see a nice little cottage and was immediately smitten with the serene atmosphere. It was Friday evening yet it was so peaceful and quiet.

I told my parents that I didn't want to live in the in-campus housing because I'd be lazier than ever. I need to commute, to go people-watching and sight-seeing, to gather inspiration along the way, to eavesdrop on conversations between lovers, among friends, among frenemies, to see same-sex couples holding hands when strolling down the road and have my brain struck with ideas. In other words, I need a little Viagra for my writing, and being confined to a beautiful hill won't do any good to my shaft of inspiration.

Yet, it is so difficult to get a decent apartment in a safe environment with just enough leverage for a first-time international applicant with barely there credit record (I don't normally use credit cards) and references (I suppose I can get references from my current Residential Advisors at the hostel). Additionally, time is running out. I'm going back to Indonesia on June 18 and returning to the USA on August 10. I really hope to resolve this matter before I leave. All those listings, including Craigslist, barely show apartments or studios that are available in August. I won't be in the USA for the whole month of July 2011. It would be an utter waste of money to pay a month's rent without actually staying in it.

On Mr. Stephen's suggestion, I have also included Orinda and Lafayette in my search, thus broadening my range of possibilities.

There are certain things I look for, though: the house must be in a quiet and safe neighborhood with quiet neighbors, preferably furnished with wi-fi and comfortable bathroom, lots of natural lights, and close to BART station. And under USD 1500 per month. And, contrary to popular belief, I do not require the presence of a naked butler.

Anyone willing to help?

Friday, 6 May 2011

a day around town

It always amazes me that by chance, I get to see Marvel movies. I sat through dastardly boring hours of Iron Man and Ghost Rider, cringed at Elektra's anticlimax ending, and decided to stop Daredevil DVD on the thirtieth minute. Marvel movies have that typical mind-blowing setting and effects but completely shallow story line with no character building. And the enemies are just too easy to defeat.

That is the case with Thor. Even with prime stars like Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Anthony Hopkins, and poor, poor Rene Ruso (her character is even less significant than Winona Ryder's in Star Trek), the movie sucked. It is an action movie, I know, but it is just... boring. Even the 3D effects didn't help. The only time my eyes were wide open was when Thor and one other guy showed some skin. Yum. But the guy who plays Thor looks like he'll do better modelling skimpy underwear.

However, I very much enjoyed my time with my friends here. The four of us, Leo & Gunwoo (two Korean guys), Wei Ni (Taiwanese girl), and I ventured out first to Cheesecake Factory to have a really late lunch. Then Leo drove us to a distant land called Daly City where we met Yoomin and his girlfriend Lorene (both Koreans) and John (Taiwanese) to watch Thor. It was already 9.30 PM when we got out of the theater and drove to a Korean restaurant called Coco Ban near the hostel for supper. I indulged, and I didn't mind, because I enjoyed being with them.

Honestly, I miss going out with my friends back in Jakarta. I miss driving at nights when the flickering colorful lights cover the ugliness of the city. I miss the blaringly loud music and the laughter and the ability of speaking in Indonesian, the way my Korean friends talked to each other and to the hunky waiter at Coco Ban. I miss having to count my money and not spending it easily.

Still, today has been very fruitful. I have friends to laugh with.

John sat next to me at Coco Ban. He just got back from the dentist, and in the USA, a trip to the dentist costs a fortune. So we talked a bit while he ate his rice cake soup and I my vegetarian fried noodle.

"When are you going back to Taiwan?"

"June. For a month. I am sort of avoiding to join the military," he answered.

"Even when you're going to undergraduate school here, you have to go join the military service?"

"Yes. Even if you're gone for more than ten years, when you go back, the government will ignore the fact that you've been gone, and you'll still have to be drafted."

"Will you go to war?" I asked with a rather nervous pitch.


I looked at him, at his smooth, boyish skin and his hair the color of dyed copper. He wanted to cut his hair Korean style, he said, but didn't want Americans to go near it, so he let it grow long; his bangs were covering his eyes. He's only 18 years old, nearly a decade younger than I am. He has his life ahead of him. I cringed at the thought of war.

I know how wars change people. There are homeless people in the area where I live in San Francisco. One of our classmates made a research and he found out that a portion of the homeless people were Vietnam veterans who returned to the USA with damaged mental conditions. The US Government decided to cut back funding to mental institutions some years ago. When the asylums closed down, the patients couldn't find anywhere else to live but the streets. These were the people who fought for the USA. These were the veterans who had to kill to live and suffered because of the guilt.

Under the somewhat dim lights of the restaurant, I saw Leo sitting across the table. He had served in the military for two years, but he didn't have to go to war. He didn't have to lose much of his innocence in glorified violence. I glanced back at John who was slurping his soup. He could only eat soft food, at least for the time being, until his teeth recovered.

"When is your next appointment with the dentist?" I asked.

"Monday. I spent USD 1,800 today."

My eyes were wide open, shocked to hear the staggering amount of money he had to pay for one visit.

"This soup is just rice with water," he complained.

"Like porridge," I agreed.

"I eat like a homeless person."

"No, John, a homeless person can do better," I said, and he laughed so hard that I started giggling.

The wind blew with so much gusto that night that it almost threw me off balance as we walked back to Leo's car. Even with a full stomach, I could feel the bitter cold seeping under my skin and frosting my tropical bones. I wondered if those homeless people I saw sleeping on the streets covered with layers of cloths were warmer than I was.

I wondered if I were ever going to be homeless, wandering around with nowhere to go. No soil to root my feet in. No roof to cover my head with.

Monday, 2 May 2011


This journal entry is taken from another assignment regarding feminism. I was to write about my opinion on the traditional role of mother and father.

The belief that men should work and generate money while women stay home and do domestic work is archaic. In this era when job is scarce, it is time for men to begin thinking of doing domestic work and raising children. Women should not be confined to domestic work only because they carry the baby in their womb for nine months and later breastfeed it. To put it bluntly, he also plays a part: it is his sperm. If one is to be fair, the act of leaving a female without an option to not do housework or at least share it with the male partner, is selfish and analogous to Pontius Pilate’s washing of his hands.

The last physical link of the mother and the baby will be severed once the baby no longer requires breastfeed. When this time comes, it is the duty of both the father and the mother to take care of the whole family. They can do this by sharing responsibilities: who will provide the bread, who will change the diapers, who will teach the children, who will drive to the little league game, who will patch the clothes, who will cook the dinner. No matter what the responsibilities are, couples must negotiate and be open to alternatives.

When the last physical link between mother and baby is disconnected, then the issue of who becomes the bread winner and who takes care of the house will no longer be relevant. If the woman has a career and has to stay late at the office while the husband has no job, then it is up to the husband to swallow the pride of a man (a really huge one at that) and do domestic work. With all this job market uncertainty, the men had better start chipping in and brush up on their skills of being good househusbands.

Picture is of Rosie the Riveter. Go here to find out more about this lady.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

joannie's lunch & breakfast: love at first munch

The concept of luxury has become somewhat distorted these days. Decades ago, it was about tangible objects; now, it has stretched itself to include time. Indeed, with only a forty minute lunch break, time is a luxury for people who consider idle rumination during eating a form of therapy. I happen to be one of those people, and, as a person confined to the somewhat upscale Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco, I have two options for lunch: prepare or purchase it. The former is virtually out of the question, since I am a sloth. Consequently, every day I have to venture out there to seek a convenient restaurant. And by convenient, I mean price, distance, cleanliness, and availability of vegetarian dishes. All other priorities such as atmosphere and the staff’s friendliness have been rescinded.

It took me four months to find a place like Joannie’s Lunch and Breakfast, which, surprisingly, is just around the corner. I did not have high expectations about this place. After all, it is an eatery that offers the standard breakfast and lunch of Americans: pancakes, waffles, burgers, and sandwiches.

I had my reservations about this place when I first entered it. I wouldn’t call it shabby, but I sure wouldn’t call it stylish either. It is a standard, family-oriented restaurant: no opulence, no pretense. And yet, my doubt was cast away when a delightful Chinese waiter promptly took me to the table that subsequently becomes my regular place, and gave me the menu. A quick menu scan revealed that the establishment, much to my joy, offered vegetarian options for burgers and sandwiches, using mushroom patties. I was smitten, but still unconvinced. I ordered a portion of Vegetarian Garden Burger with French Fries (I love carbs).

In spite of the restaurant’s crowdedness, my food came rather quickly. In fact, it was too quick: I did not even finish my ponderous thoughts of the meaning of life. All of my grandeur fantasies were reduced to an approving growl of my stomach when the waiter came to my table, serving a big plate of ye olde’ classic burger and fries, with a vegetarian twist. I am no hermit: I take pleasure in being a glutton, and the food presentation, though standard, was pleasing to the eye. The aroma was so delectable that I dug in without a moment of hesitation.

The restaurant had me at first bite. The burger was succulent yet crunchy at the same time. I have savored many a vegetarian burger, yet this one was by far, the best. The delicious mushroom patty was roasted to perfection. On top of it were fresh onions, lettuce, and tomato slices. These were placed firmly between two sweet sesame seed buns (again, I love carbs).

Even the French fries helping was generous. These weren’t the usual, fast-food type, stick thin fries dipped in residual fatty oil, nay. These fries were fat, fresh, yet crispy to the core. The only flavor enhancer I could detect was salt.

After devouring my meal, I dabbed my mouth and its sides with the napkin, smiling from ear to ear, satisfied like a kitten that had just lapped away a bowl of milk. Why did it take me so long to find this gem? I kept asking myself. Perhaps it is the location, and yet it is just around the corner. For an $8.00 quick lunch, the experience sure exceeded the expectations: a worthy vegetarian feast, not five minute away from EF, in a clean establishment, and yet, there’s more: WiFi connection is available and the friendly waiters, as Chinese as they are, speak in perfect English, much better than the employees of Bank of America. How can you not love a place like this?