Democritus, or fondly called the Laughing Professor, was the first person to theorize the existence of atoms 400 years before Jesus Christ and a millennia before the invention of algebra:

Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.

A thousand years before the invention of telescope and microscope, Democritus vividly imagined that all things are composed of tiny matters that are indivisible and indestructible. These atoms, in Democritus’ mind, are pointy and sharp if it is salty, slippery if it’s liquid, airy and whirling if it’s air atoms, and have hooks and barbs that govern the interaction between each atom.

Democritus’ line of thought was ‘easy’ (too easy, even), clear, reasonable and practical (to the point that, in some sense, humorous), without spiritual fringes akin to Plato’s line of thought who believes that the physical world mirrors the godly world. It’s no wonder that Plato hated Democritus’ ideas so much that he required the burning of all his books. And perhaps hence, the beginning of our dismissal to Democritus’ sensibilities in thinking.

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Whatever happen to formal Indonesian language?


Visit any hip (or hipster) spots in your town and you’ll likely to eavesdrop on a young Indonesian mixing Indonesian and English in a sentence. Many people do it so casually, effortlessly, and fluently, often times switching Indonesian and English back and forth without thinking, giving some people a bugging question what’s behind this funny phenomena in the first place.

Many Indonesians, especially those who have been abroad, even admitted that they prefer to write in English than in Indonesian because it’s somewhat easier. This is obviously an amusing answer, but this preference of English over Indonesian is an epidemic. From Balinese poet to established writers, many will confidently state their conviction of using English than Indonesian in some of their writing.

I can admit that there’s a peculiar simplicity in English language that makes it easier to express something complicated than in Indonesian language. English also still sounds heavenly when intermixed with Latin or Spanish words. And it’s an amazingly versatile language that anyone can simply adapt according to their own rules. As a language that has undergone so much history and adaptations, it seems that English has developed admirable feats that fit people’s diverse thoughts.

Some people will argue that it’s Indonesian language’s mechanical sentence structure that makes it less admirable to people, which makes sense if we see our obsessions with acronyms. But I’ve also seen some people having troubles expressing their inner-most expressions, as if Indonesian words can’t quite reach those hidden corners of thoughts.
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Why are we so close yet so far?


As I’m writing this, we are (or were) just 2 days after the Independence Day. On Facebook, for what seemingly miles of newsfeed sit various amount of videos reminding us of our diversity, the abundance of talents and natural resources, and the dizzying variance of people, skin color, cultures, and religions, and a message of tolerance in the end.

But seeing the polarizing opinions and ideologies we tend to have now, it seems that how we interact today, is mere reaction rather than conversation. And to me the easiest thing we can do to be more tolerant is to learn, even learning from the opposite sides.

I have to admit as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m fearful that I live in a small bubble. Indonesia’s beauty is vast, immense, mysterious, and dizzyingly beautiful, it’ll take time for someone to truly comprehend the important contribution Indonesia has to the world. And as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m always reluctant to say that I fully understand what it means to be an Indonesian or comprehend the meaning of ‘tolerance’ when I haven’t intersected with various local people in meaningful ways, haven’t disagreed face to face with local people, or when I’ve always had permanent roof and warm delicious afternoon snacks on dining table everyday.  Most of us are probably the 1%.

Travelling does take you to plenty of places, physically and mindfully, but it takes a more studious spirit and meticulous learning to piece cultural bits together so that we can approach this Indonesian essence in a more empathetic way.
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Why Burung Garuda as National Symbol?


My whole confidence, courage and passion collapse upon learning that Burung Garuda was just…a myth. What could be worse than figuring out that this majestic national symbol is a mere drawing and name on a stone, done hundreds of years ago? Not to mention that plenty of Indonesians weren’t Hindus and Buddhists who might not grow up with a story of Garuda. The critical question arises – how could we then relate to this ancient symbol that unites the nation? More intriguingly, why was this Hindu-Buddhist inspired myth chosen as the national symbol?

In 1949, Sultan Hamid II was assigned to lead a group whose specific task is to design the nation’s symbol. Hamid II was the fourth Pontianak Sultan who spent much of his life in Netherlands. His pursuit for military led to extraordinary achievements; one of them was a special assignment to accompany Queen Wilhemina from Netherlands. He was initially reluctant to join politics in Indonesia, though eventually he was appointed by Soekarno to be one of the Generals. One of his main tasks was to lead the discussion surrounding the design proposal for Indonesia’s national emblem. Ki Hajar Dewantara and Moh. Hatta were also part of this group.

The team came up with two design proposals: one by Sultan Hamid and the other by Moh. Yamin. Hamid came up with a design of Garuda – then still a half-human and half-bird image, while Moh. Yamin came up with a design of a sun. Moh. Yamin’s idea was soon rejected for being too similar to Japan’s flag.

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Tanah&Air: An Introduction

One of the most heartbreaking things growing up in Indonesia is that we are habituated to not understanding our own history. Yes – we had history classes in school. Yes – we know what happened here and there. But we are satisfied to mere knowing than to comprehending our history as a tool of reflection and evaluation for our own present situations.

We have grown aspirations and spirit to improve our country, but we really kinda need to sprint. Our identity is somewhat fractured and our sense of history is weakening. I imagine American kids have to learn 300 years way back into their past and we can’t even recall properly what’s happening within the last 50 years. So many of those events were reconstructed in our history books, true; or they are bluntly removed from our history book, that’s also true.

But history isn’t just contained in events. Its existence live throughout our everyday objects: in our food, crops, clothing, urban spaces, architecture, transportation, music, language, dialects, religion, herbs and medicine, even our own names must have contained a specific history. So every little thing contains a story. History doesn’t need to be primarily political or social to matter. History simply means our story from the past.

When it comes to ‘contributing to the country’ spirit, the least thing you can do is to learn. Even when you do it in private. In fact, contributing without proper basis of learning and reflection might do more harm than good.

So, Tanah & Air is my reflection towards Indonesia’s history and a collection of memorabilia on our diverse, dizzying, complex, ever-changing, ever-evolving identities. Here I’ll talk about our everyday objects and their relationship towards our identities.

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