Graduation, 2018: “Pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now…”

If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you and you’ll blow us all away…

~Leslie Odom Jr as Aaron Burr in Hamilton


It’s been awhile since I really cared about the graduation/commencement ceremonies at my university. I am not sure why. Most likely with the personal issues regarding my father’s health, and returning back to the lab after a (way too) long stint at the Academic Development Directorate.

But here I am, in 2018, feeling an emotional attachment to the new graduates that I haven’t felt in a long time. I have been searching for the reasons these past few weeks. I believe I have known it for awhile, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it.

This graduating class had experienced something that other classes didn’t. They experienced a loss of fellow class member in a tragedy. Our entire department was thrust into national news in an unflattering way. And I was in the middle of it all, because I was the victim’s academic advisor. It is still painful to talk about, to discuss the surrounding circumstances, to discuss the final days leading to the discovery of his body and the aftermath. I will never forget that experience, mostly because I got caught up in all the hubris in social media. I let myself get baited by people who obviously don’t know my students, don’t know me and don’t know the department. But we got through it. Scarred and bruised, but we got through.

The graduating students this semester (and also, last semester) are his friends. They entered the department in the same year. I hope they remember him even though most didn’t really interact with him. They have moved on, and as more news eclipsed their friend’s case, he was seemingly forgotten. It may be a show of ignorance, but I prefer to see it as resilience of a generation. On how to continue living. To support one another. Be there for each other. Be kind(er) to one another. Show compassion, respect for their friends.

So that’s what I want the graduates to take away with them as they don their cap and gowns. The world can be cruel and harsh, people have no regrets in using words to take you down in hatred. Please, as you move forward with your lives, treat all the people you meet with kindness, compassion and respect. They may not look like you, pray like you, eat what you eat, love differently. But they are human beings, just like you. Also as Biologists, you know better about the living world and  all the inhabitants. From the single celled bacteria to the complex primates, from the microalgae to the large trees in the forest, they all play a role in our existence. We all interact with one another. Treat them well, and they will help us towards better living.

I would also like to mention the parents and those who played a role in supporting the graduates. Thank you for entrusting us with your children’s education. I know  your investment was significant, your sacrifices great. I hope we have made it worthwhile for you also, and made you as proud as we are of these young men and women.

Usually, we the teachers only remember students that stand out in their grades. But I would like to remember others who have their own stories. Don’t worry, I will try not to embarass you much. And apologies to those I do not mention specifically.

Ikin, who I think as a leader, but somehow managed to sleep through mid term Microbiology. Aldo, designated ketua angkatan, but most memorable for guitar playing, and spending time in the Microbiology lab when he didn’t have to. I call him a mascot. The ladies are a bit difficult to mention, because there are more women than men in Biology. But there is Angel the cumlaude candidate who finished in 7 semesters.  Then there are those who went through study problems, personal problems. I am glad some trusted me enough and shared their stories with me. Be proud that you are here, this day, in your cap and gown. You did it.

To the Microbiology lab grads, wow. What a learning process you went through. Qonita, Rifki, Heru, Nimas, Dewi, Rina. Good job!

And finally, I would like specially mention the three students in my lab who were under my supervision: Rama,  Faozi and Aulia. You came in like models for this generation: a bit foolish, happy-go-lucky, jock athletes who prefer the hoops instead of the the lab. I think you had a rude awakening of some kind in the lab. Not easy, yes? But you overcame the nervousness, the contamination, the grueling overnight growth curves, breaking glassware (yes, you need to replace them) to produce good results that you can be proud of. Congratulations, you three. And while I wish you spent more time writing,  thank you for making me firmly believe that patience, combined with hard work, does pay off.

I look forward to see what you all will do in the future.





Cerita dua dompet


Apa keistimewaan dua dompet gantung an kunci mobil ini? Tidak ada sih. Kualitas biasa saja, harganya juga “cuma”  75 ribu perak untuk dua dompet.

Terus kenapa bikin posting?

Jadi ceritanya saat saya belanja ke supermarket dekat rumah tadi sore, ada bapak tua duduk nyender di tiang depan supermarket. Bapak ini bawa dagangan barang-barang seperti ikat pinggang, dompet, kaus kaki dan lain sebagainya. Entah kenapa saya terenyuh lihat bapak ini, padahal ya tiap sore sering ada pedagang di depan supermarket. Bukan PKL, tapi posisi Supermarket yang pas untuk istirahat sebelum jalan lagi.

Tidak, saya tidak ngobrol panjang lebar dengan si bapak. Transaksi singkat, tawar sedikit (supaya nggak ketahuan saya beli karena kasihan) dan voila!  Sekarang saya punya dua dompet gantungan kunci ekstra.

Eh jadi kenapa menuliskan hal ini? Akhir akhir ini banyak cerita beredar tentang penghasilan pengemis yang kalau benar, ya membuat mereka tidak masuk golongan fakir miskin lagi. Walau tidak jadi kaya raya, tapi kalau sehari bisa bawa antara 500-750 ribu rupiah ke rumah, pantas kah mereka disebut miskin? Apa sebenarnya yang mereka lakukan?

Lalu coba lihat para pedagang barang seperti bapak pedagang dompet dan ikat pinggang tadi. Berapa kira-kira keuntungan si bapak? Orang kan tidak setiap hari beli dompet, ikat pinggang.

Minggu lalu saya juga sengaja jajan kue putu dan mie ayam yang lewat depan rumah. Traktir pasukan supporting staff di rumah: suster, fisioterapis, asisten. Rasa sih yaaaa gitu deh tapi saya ingin bapak bapak pedagang ini terus semangat menjual, dan tidak “tergoda” jadi pengemis walau penghasilan mereka pasti tidak sampai 500-750 ribu per hari.

Jadi teman-teman… Biaya hidup cukup besar, terutama di Jabodetabek. Mudah-mudahan kita yang punya rezeki lebih bisa membantu mereka yang berjuang keras untuk bawa pulang beberapa puluh ribu rupiah per hari. Belilah produk mereka. Ajari untuk terus berdagang secara jujur, supaya berkah.

Oya, dan jangan memberi pada pengemis yang kelihatannya lusuh dan belum makan. Salurkan bantuan kepada yang benar benar membutuhkan.

Where I stand, or Let’s Take Off This Cloak of (so called) Neutrality

  How’s that for a title?

And why post in English, if  a)  I am an Indonesian and b) this about the Indonesian presidential election?

Well, one of the candidates has this “I stand on the right side” campaign, so let’s do this in English. I’ll try to do a Bahasa Indonesia post later, time permitting.

The year 2014 is a year of change for Indonesia. The presidential elections are coming up in July, after the legislative elections in April. As many people have voiced before, this election year has been really exciting in terms of the increased awareness of people about the importance of a strong, clean government. The current government, led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Fortunately, the new law limits the presidential term to only two terms, so Indonesian will have a new president in 2014.

Imagine that. Democracy, as crazy as it is in Indonesia, is really taking off, 16 years after the 1998 reform movement that toppled the 32-years-old  New Order (orde baru) regime of Suharto. No more long term presidents, no dominant political party controlling the government. We’ve already seen two democratic presidential elections (2004, 2009), three if you count 1999 (though it was a different system) and now we’re facing our fourth presidential elections.

Which brings us to 2014.

Being a civil servant, I am supposed to take the “neutral” position, meaning, I am not allowed to be a member (or affiliated with) political parties. I am not allowed to openly campaign for one candidate. BUT, I am expected to vote in the election as it is my civil right and at the same time, a duty.

Well then, what the hey, that’s not really neutral. I mean, if I vote, that means I have a preference for a candidate, right? So, after checking the law carefully, I write this post. Because, I have a right to vote, and I have a right to explain why I voted for a candidate.

I’m going to vote for no.2.

There, I said it.

I think those who follow me on facebook or twitter already have an idea of my voting preference.

I admit, I am not well-versed in the intricacies of Indonesian politics. Fortunately, I know people who know people who are in the inner circle of Indonesian politicians. OK, that was a sarcastic joke, but I have trusted colleagues and friends who are up to speed than I am and from them I get (and filter) the necessary information. Also, amid the many writings about the election, these two essays: Indonesia on the knife’s edge by Edward Aspinall  and  Sukarno’s two bodies by John Roosa are worth reading to get a sense on how the outside world views this election (People, seriously, don’t be xenophobic and label everything foreign as bad).   I try to sharpen the analytical part of my brain to get the sense of the candidates, because admittedly, with only 2 candidates, this election is really polarizing people.

For me, the deal breaker is the human rights violation issue. Yes, I know that behind candidate no 2 are an array of generals who have the same issues as no.1. No, not happy about it. Also not happy about the chosen VP candidate. Not to mention the backing party, who say “he’s just an officer of the party” giving a strong hint that he will be nothing but a bobble-head president running the party’s agenda. Yeah, not really comforting.

BUT… the guy managed to hold two governing jobs as mayor and governor, and for whatever time he spent, he started making changes. In other words, he tried to deliver what he promised. He worked. The ongoing debate of him leaving a city in a mess, well, who’s the one who won’t leave him alone? Yeah, that party again. And it is probably a sad statement of the lack of leadership in this country that needs to rely on a person currently trying to fix the mess that is the big city of Jakarta. Also a sad statement that there are actually more people qualified to run for President but didn’t get the chance (or avoiding it) because of the stupid politics.

With all that said, why vote for him? I will vote for no 2 because the question hanging over HIS head is not the question of human rights violation. Deal breaker, remember? With no 2, you still have hope that he has the capacity to steer through the murky waters of Indonesian democracy, trying to clear it up and build a better nation.

If you tell me “You can get that with no 1. also, and he’s better in leading people,” I will say “No, not better. Different perhaps, but not better.” Much has been said about no 1’s firm hand and his tight grip on controlling his party. No 1’s party is new and full of young professionals (who actually should know better and maybe form their own political party instead of being under the leadership of a retired general with a lot of baggage). Arguments have been made for this candidate, downplaying the human rights issue by saying “It’s an old issue, let’s move on”, “It only comes up every five years during election year, move on.”

Whoa, stop right there. Human rights will never be “an old issue” for me. Don’t insult my intelligence.  We see human rights violation everywhere in the world and I’ll be damned if another Indonesian president has a questionable human rights record after Suharto. Indonesia still has a lot to answer for in terms of human rights violation, starting from communist related killings, Timor, DOM, May 1998, and also, the death of human rights activist Munir in 2004. Take your pick. Of course not all were/are related to no 1 alone, and that’s also the issue I want to see. Can Indonesia’s next president clear up the dark parts of our past? Will he have the political will to start answering the questions and providing an environment that will not allow any more human rights violations?

Is that the only thing I’m concerned about? Well, no, but again, that’s the deal breaker for me. I am not naive to think that with no 2 as president all of the issues and problems, such as the rampant corruption, will be solved by the sweep of a magic wand in five years. No definitely not. But still, being an Indonesian, living in this beautiful country, I will not stay neutral. I can’t. This country deserves better than “neutral” people who won’t vote. 

So come July 9, you will see me at the voting booth, with another purple pinky finger. Because I’m going to vote for the next president of Indonesia. Just because I can.

This is where I stand.

What is Love?


I’m one of those lucky people who had the fortune to visit the Taj Mahal not once, but twice. The first was in 1991 with my parents, and most recently, last month as part of my participation in a seminar-workshop about Biodiversity. Both times, the beauty of structure and the emotions involved in the story of building took my breath away.

However there was something different this time. The visit to Taj Mahal incited a lively discussion about (what else?).. love, thanks to a senior Indian colleague who provoked us on the bus during the return trip to New Delhi.

See, while the majority of us were all still doe-eyed and immediately thought about the Taj Mahal being the ultimate symbol of eternal love, he refuted that the Taj Mahal was making a mockery of love because, really, how can you define  love by, to put it bluntly, a huge building?

And you know,  you couldn’t really say that Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s soul mate, she was merely one wife among a dozen other wives. He made her pregnant 14 times, which ultimately resulted in her death (maternal health care was not a priority program during the Mughal times, sigh).

Of course, the hapless romantic in me immediately offered the other side of discussion, namely that, “wasn’t it romantic that he left the battlefield just to be with her”, and, and, “didn’t he make the promise every woman wanted to hear:  I will never marry again for the rest of my life.”

But then the rational part of my  travel weary brain creeped in and asked “Yeah, what’s the big deal about a humongous marble tomb? You call THAT love?” which led me to look up my phone for a small book from, of all people, Charles Schulz. Yes, the Peanuts gang, way back in 1965, gave their definitions of love. On the website, the writers there brought up the book “Love is walking hand in hand” and each page defined love through simple, day-to-day things. It’s a simple book, classic Peanuts. So I read out some of the more relevant passages to the bus and we concluded that, yeah, you don’t need the Taj Mahal to show your love. But … I believe you need to do something to indicate that you love the person you’re with. Otherwise, you might lose the best thing that ever happened to you.

So tell me, what have you done to show your love?

14-12-2012 : Once in awhile …


For the past several years, my birthday have been connected with work related trips. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those trips (some more than others). But this year it was different. My birthday fell on a Friday this year and one of the world’s music legends was playing nearby. I decided what the hey, why not make a non work related trip on this year’s birthday? So bit the bullet, and the voilà! A nice birthday weekend, complete with chocolates on my bed 🙂



To those who were wondering where I disappeared to and failed to send birthday greetings, well the pictures above should give a clue or two. Once in awhile, we need to give ourselves a break on our birthday, don’t you agree?

In too Deep?

Sometimes (sometimes???) I think I care too much about certain things. When I do that, I tend to take stuff personally and it kinda eats at me.

Not good, obviously.

I know if I stopped caring, the earth would still rotate on its axis. It does NOT revolve around me. Would it be a better place? Well, what do I care?

See, there’s the thing. I CARE. Because at times, I know what they say isn’t true. And I feel the urge to spit out what I know is true.And because I do, I tend get into stupid arguments. And then it goes round and round.

OK, self note: PICK YOUR BATTLES. Let go of the other stuff.

The Disappearing Art of Letter Writing

So today I came home and found a letter from “The National Trust” in Lyme Park Stockport UK.

At first I thought it was advertising but the person wrote my name and address. Intriguing. When I opened it, I found an official looking note which said :

A recent visitor to Lyme Park sat at a desk in the morning room, one of the 17th century rooms that form part of the state apartments. Surrounded by sumptuous tapestries and with a view from the window taking in the sweeping moorland, they were inspired to send you a letter. We have pleasure in enclosing this letter as we offered to post it on their behalf.

There was a smaller envelope inside, the thick paper indicating it was notepad stationery. I didn’t recognize the handwriting on the envelope so I became more intrigued and opened it to find a handwritten note that started with “Dear Tante Sita…”

Aww.. It was a note from my niece in UK! It was a really nice surprise for me. I won’t divulge wuhat she wrote but will share more from the National Trust :

Writing a letter is becoming a forgotten art, but was very much an Edwardian pastime in Lyme Park. The writing paper is an exact copy of the stationery used by the Legh family. They lived here for over 500 years, the first years of the 20th century were an Indian summer and a golden era, but would life ever be the same again for those living and working here?

Aside from the thoughtfulness of my niece, I admit this note made me think about the days when email wasn’t common and we wrote letters, postcards etc. I remember living away from family and friends, going through my mailbox searching for for personal letters among the junk mail.

Now? I could only think of one person who still enjoys walking to their mailbox in their front yard. Indeed, how are stationery companies surviving? I LOVED writing on stationery.

Recently I have been trying to go back to writing longhand in (paper) notebooks. This habit became more intense as I rediscovered penmanship and that taking notes by longhand can really help you when you need evidence of things people said during meetings or when calling you about the budget. And now, after feeling the joy reading my niece’s note, I think I’m going to buy some stationery.

Of course, in true 00’s fashion, my niece wrote “tweet you l8tr”. Sigh. Love her anyway 😉


After 4 years

Here’s what I learned after 4 years being on the “outer circle” at my department:

People care. However, if the leader doesn’t care, then the people can lose their sense of belonging, lose any kind of caring feeling they have for an institution. They become apathetic and only care about their themselves. The institution can “go down the drain” and people move on.

Being a leader is not easy. Being a good leader? Damn near impossible.

The Reminder

Lately I have been really fed up with my managerial job. On paper, this is the last year and I really just want to get through it and go on with other stuff. So when a fellow manager resigned early and left the burden to others (including me), it caused some resentment. On my part at least.

Then yesterday’s emails from people announcing more or less the same thing made me more annoyed. How selfish can a person be? Apparently very selfish. Leaving in the middle of the year , just because according to the letter your assignment ends tomorrow. Who cares about the mess you leave behind?

So when a Facebook from a student post tagged me and talked about all the things she learned while she was under my supervision, all sorts of emotions came bubbling to the surface. I was reminded all over again on why I do what I do. That I (want to) help shape some people lives through teaching.

Thank you dear FE. Your post was really nice. And by the way, what you achieved is your achievement. I just gave you a nudge in the right direction. Best wishes on your next endeavor!

As for me? Today is new day. Let’s just move on.