This is it.

I have had plenty of time to make sense of things that happened to me recently. And today I find myself sitting down at my cozy home, typing my blog post while listening to Chopin, after a long day commute to Sydney to see a travel doctor. Yes, I am going to travel again, overseas.

Looking backward and connecting the dots, I realise that it is a fact that miracles happen. Whether they are the results of my renewed perspectives or persistence, or an act of god, it does not matter at all to me now. I am a result-oriented person, so I do care about the result. See, there is a stark difference here: when we focus too intense on the process we tend to lose our perspectives beyond the horizon. And we pool our energy to improve or rectify the process, making friends and foes — sometimes without being flexible to allow external pressures to interfere with the process and turn the pressures into advantages to help us fulfilling our purposes. I was the one who really cared about the process without realising from early on that there are successes and failures during the process, until I came to believe that I did not have enough reason to continue living due to constant failures. That was the un-enlightened me. The process, as I believe it now, is not the destination.

So I was an inch away from taking my life, during one of those hot summer days in mid January. Something really happened that stripped away our (I+husband) pride, our initial hope and our belief that we were able to make it big in Australia (read: to be able to settle down and live happily). There were events that we did not anticipate earlier, and we were reaching our wits’ end. I have been looking high and low for job in Australia, and found that just as the clock struck midnight and 2013 came in, the country is taking a nosedive into recession. People lose their jobs everywhere and companies are closing down. Seriously I have never seen something like this or felt the impact of a recession. The fact that people can survive without job is because Australia is a welfare country, so the unemployed gets government support. What made me stay alive amid the huge frustration? A faint belief that there must be an end to it so I was determined to wait until the end. If at the end I was supposed to die, I was prepared anyway. So why not stay around for awhile?

I wrote last year that I went on a training to get back to humanitarian work. On 11 January (note the date :-)) I sent my CV to the nonprofit organisation here in Victoria where I am currently listed as a standby register for emergency operations worldwide. Within hours, they decided to send my CV to their partner agency, a United Nations office in the Philippines. On 24 January, I received confirmation of my deployment to the Philippines for the next six months. I didn’t know why it took more than two weeks to decide on my appointment, as the organisation said, this UN office was usually quick in making decision. Later I found out that the UN office called my former boss in Geneva, who gave a positive referral for me. How’s that for a miracle? There are few things that I could not control, like the outcome of my application, but I followed the process religiously though. They say, luck is when preparation meets opportunity — believe me, I do prepare well for this; including attending some trainings and following a lot of protocols. Most notably, I volunteer with this UN office a long time ago for a good 18 months whereby I didn’t receive any salary or allowance or status or whatever. Now probably someone with a kind heart thinks it’s time to pay me back, in a truly positive sense. And this help really comes at the crucial time when we need it the most. It was a relief and at the same time, renewed my belief, that faith is like an anchor to my soul — it keeps me steady when the water gets rough and the circumstances change. As at today, I see that everything about this work and my trip just fall nicely into places.

So I will always remember to have faith in the good things that comes out of every bad situation. Have faith in someone who is doing something good for me. Have faith that the Universe is taking care of its own affairs, and mine too. Have faith that there must be an end to every circumstance though the journey/process may not be easy.

As a reward for my persistence and a successful outcome, my husband bought me an LG Nexus 4 smartphone! I am still in the honeymoon period with my Nexus 4. I am “shaping” the phone to become a tool that will help me with my daily activities. This is my first Android smartphone, before this I was using an old Nokia that can do basic things. Now that I am back to a mobile life, I need something more powerful to organise my daily life, and assist me in my work. I never cease to be amazed by people who spend a lot of money for the latest smartphones, but only use maybe less than 50% of their functionalities to support their lives (most common activities included making phone calls, sending messages, Internet browsing, social media interactions). I need a portable (and reliable hopefully) personal assistant, that’s why I get myself a smartphone. In fact, the phone can also talk back to me (it has the voice function that allows me to give order, including typing messages etc). And I think I made the right choice, at this moment, with my current circumstances.

BOOYAH!

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My husband and I watched the Life of Pi (2012) last night and spent some time this morning to talk about the movie. He read the film reviews somewhere and concluded that it was a movie about faith. I, with my simple mind and naiveté, told my husband, “If I found myself in Pi’s situation having to fight for life on a lifeboat with a tiger, I would choose to die.” And I know I would curse my parents before I succumb to what I view as endless sufferings and jump the ship to die. My husband said, “I know”. That was quick and easy solution. Having been sailing the sea several times, scuba diving, and was almost drowned in a swimming pool once when I was a teenager, I can understand the things that Pi did to survive the feat to which I might decide not to pursue. But the part where Pi had to tame the tiger (many people think it’s an allegory to the concepts of taming one’s self and self discovery), the miraculous experience of solo sailing, his new skill of fishing and others, the many discoveries along the way including that Richard Parker the tiger had kept him alive, will only happen if he chose to stay alive. And the reward? Self discovery. New perspectives. Life accomplishments. Wisdom. Etc.

Then I read this awesome review about the movie here.

I realise my fatalistic answer to the situation presented by the movie is because I don’t have beliefs (faith) in anything. Particularly the belief in the existence of The Force that I mentioned in the earlier post. I don’t have anything to be hopeful for when I’m alive. I forget that everything changes: circumstances, people, weather etc. In hard times, I would often surmise that I was just a mere human being; all the human power that I have was simply not enough to get me through. Two options follow: back off or move on. I choose to retreat, almost all the time. Getting stuck in the moment of uncertainty. That sucks. This is how I actually live my life. I would easily say that death is much better than to be alive — it solves all problems, my problems. Other’s problems are other’s, not mine. Like my dad used to say when I failed to fulfill his hope, “Mati aja lu!” (Go ahead and die!). Hey, that’s a thing of the past why should I carry the bad, destructive childhood memories in my baggage?!

US President Barrack Obama wrote to the author of the book on which the movie is based, Yann Martel, that the story is “an elegant proof of God”. My take on this is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be God. It can be other things. Faith is a house with many rooms, Pi said. Have faith in life, in the Force, in something greater than myself. I’m sure I’ll be happier and more determined to move ahead in life.

“Doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.” Pi, The Life of Pi.

When I say I’m blessed, am I referring to the Supreme Entity that human beings fondly call God?

This kind of question sometimes amuse me as I doubt that my personal belief is bordering on fantasy. Other times it makes me ponder over the truthfulness of the statement. I remember my dear husband said, “It’s me who feed both of us, not God” which is true since at this moment he’s the sole breadwinner. Mind you, this does not make my husband my God. Where God is in this picture, we are not sure. If the so-called God really exists, why does S/He force us to face failures and loss instead of granting us the Midas touch? Why does your God make my life, and other Earth population’s lives, so complicated? Forget about lessons learned: some God’s creations never learn while others quit schools because they’re too cool for skool and other personal reasons.

I still believe that there is an unknown Force that makes the world go round (hey, I’m not a Jedi). The Force can be in the forms of money, love, passion, spirit of revenge, a particular human being, antidepressant pills … anything that keep us wanting to be alive and do something while we still can. The Force can have good and bad influences to me, and to all believers.

Even an atheist is a believer, don’t you think? An atheist has to believe that there’s God or deities to be able to question and free himself/herself from that beliefs and thus separate themselves from people who insist that that’s not the case. Or else there will be no theism to talk about and everyone should be living in peace. A non-believer is also a believer, don’t you agree with my statement? The only thing that separates both is the prefix “non-“. Researchers have found that a believer and non-believer use that same brain areas to determine the truthfulness of religious and nonreligious statements. The study also shows that “both believers and nonbelievers experienced greater uncertainty when evaluating religious statements”. These should explain my husband’s and my position on the issue of blessings. Life is rather complicated; but as one says: nobody says life will be easy, but it’s worth it.

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Happy New Year!

I spent the New Year’s Eve at a marina near home with my better half, on our own boat. It was part adventurous, part romantic as we ate, slept and played on the boat; and made new friends along the way. Yes, my husband finally fulfilled his dream of owning a MacGregor trailer sailboat last August. It was truly a gift of a lifetime — the fact that we could get a used boat here in Australia in an almost-perfect condition at a reasonable price was like a blessing to him. As my husband always tells me: the main reason he (and I) moved to Australia is because of this lifestyle. He’s not talking about spinning a tale of the new rich and famous, but we thought that owning a sailboat in our home countries (either Indonesia or Malaysia) would cause us more sorrow and unnecessary burdens. For example, people would start to believe that we’re filthy rich, and consequently some people would make our life so difficult (we imagined we had to pay for a lot of extras such as protection for this and that, and then listen to people saying,”Look you can afford a nice boat, why not spending a little amount of money for this and that blah?”), botched insurance company and poor security on the land and the sea. Here we park the boat on its trailer at our own front yard instead of moor it at a marina for some technical reasons. We bought an SUV, a Korean car, to tow the boat. We register and apply for appropriate licenses and permits to comply with the state regulations for boat and trailer owner. And we notice almost everyone in Australia can own a boat if they want to and they can afford to. We often saw a lot of people went fishing on warm, sunny days on their boats. We have seen beautiful yachts of different size and shape at any marina we passed through. We saw people jetskiing and waterskiing under hot afternoon sun. Aussies love water (and beaches) and there are a lot of water sports to try on here.

Last week, my hubby and I went to a ranch to see a friend’s daughter learn horseriding. She is about 15, and a proud owner of Liz, the horse. Her dad bought the horse for her because she’s fond of horseriding and had even been taking part in small competitions. Also at the same time, there was a father who was accompanying his daughter to horseriding training. The daughter also owns the horse. All the horses stay at the ranch where they are taken care of for some fees. If they want to take the horse to a competition, they need to rent (or own) a float to transport the horse, and a car to tow it. The horse has to be properly dressed up for training and competition. I can assure you it’s a very expensive hobby.

On our way back from the ranch, I told my husband that I realised that I did NOT have a hobby at all! My hubby thought that playing PC games was my only hobby and he tried very hard to break my habit. I reflected back to my childhood years and remembered spending those tender age studying, studying and studying hard, with a little time (and many restrictions) to play and socialise. I complained to my hubby that my parents NEVER NEVER wanted to spend some money for their kids to work on our passions. I said by the time I could earn my own money during my college years that I started to pursue what I love: I took swimming lesson and foreign language class. My mind started blaming my parents for being so self-centered. Don’t blame me but my parents if I ignore them now somehow. I am the one who grow up well without any problems, they should feel so lucky that their daughter does not end up in jail, on the streets or a mental institution, and become a burden to the society and their embarrassment. And they should stop thinking at any moment that their daughter is an indispensable ATM machine.

As usual, my dearest hubby reminds me that I am living in the NOW, not in the past. And that I’m not living with anyone from my past that are the sources of my disappointment, like my parents. And another reminder that I am not living in Indonesia anymore. When in Rome, do what the Romans do, as the saying goes. So that is what I am going to do. And I am so blessed to have people who support my growth all the way, mainly here in Australia. My husband says that sailing is a new hobby that both of us can do together as partners. We have successfully become scubadiving buddies, and we are venturing into a new territory, this time above the water.

As the fireworks lightened up the darkest hours of the New Year’s Eve, I told myself that I do not want to worry about the future. Because I only have today, while the new day has yet to unfold.

Merry merry Christmas to you who stumble upon my blog!

It’s raining hard at home today as thunderstorms are making their ways past the Northern Coastal area of NSW. I’m still alive and okay, thanks to the Universe. The happiest moment of my life is happening now as I’m surrounded by love, peace, and kindness that humankind can afford to.

Here’s a good story that I picked up from a friend’s Facebook wall. Thanks to anyone who created and passed on this inspiring story!

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

Jar of stones. Photo credit: Alison Johnson.

Jar of stones. Photo credit: Alison Johnson.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions — and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Today is my birthday!

My hubby had been asking me what I wanted for my special day since a few days before. Honestly, I didn’t know what I want. I already had enough blessings in life. So I didn’t ask him anything, and I didn’t even ask him to take me out for dinner. Instead, he offered to cook our favourite Malay dish, nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk and served with fried chicken, anchovies, peanuts, egg, cucumber and special chili sauce/sambal). To my surprise, he was serious in celebrating my birthday at home that he came back home early from the office just to cook our dinner (he told this to his office mates who thought he would take me out for dinner!) This is probably the first time that we live together for a long time that we are able to celebrate my birthday — in the past we lived separately as he was working in the other part of the world.

The dinner was fantastic. The chili sauce was cooked to almost perfection (to our liking!) and we had a 2008 Shiraz from a boutique winery in Victoria to accompany our meal. Shortly afterwards I start to reflect on what is happening, and I realise that despite the fact that I am a year older than yesterday, a few fine lines on my face, and still have some dreams yet to be fulfilled, I am stronger and a lot happier. Seriously. Both my husband and I are still very healthy despite our ages — as a good comparison my cousin who’s about 10 years younger than me already has high blood pressure and other degenerative diseases. My dear husband and I still can enjoy our life together, doing what we feel like doing without any health restriction. I also feel happy despite a few setbacks in life — and I think it’s because I feel loved by my better half, with all my shortcomings. Thank you, my dearest husband, for your love and for the beautiful dinner date at home.

How do you know you’ve become a smart ass?

* You forget, or intentionally dismiss, the contexts of the issues of your concern.

* You simply don’t (know how to) listen actively to others.

* You don’t read, and you don’t think. You repeat what others say or write, to others.

* You read. But you miss the ideas that make up good (and bad) readings.

* You pretend you are original — while in essence you are the one who steals people’s ideas and then accusing others of being your copycat.

* You bark up the wrong tree over and over again without realising it.

* You listen to smart asses. You think they are cool and enjoy their company.

* You pass judgement on things fast, even before your saliva hit the ground.

* You display and worship redneck attitudes. You think you’re the centre of the universe.

* People start calling you a “walking encyclopedia” or a “talking Google” (no, not the “Google Talk” feature on Google). These idioms have somehow had pejorative sense, at least to me.

I wish people stop being (smart) asses, for the sake of making this world a better place to live.

Who do you believe when your life is hanging in the balance

The following stories are adapted from the original here.

1. The Atheist

An atheist was trekking in the woods when he came across an angry bear. Startled at the disturbance, the bear chased the atheist.

After a minute or so the bear said, “Hey, atheist, why are you running?”

The atheist replied, “I don’t believe in talking bears.”

The bear said, “Well, I don’t believe in atheists too.”

Thank God, I’m safe,” said the atheist. He stopped running … and the bear bit off his head.

2. The Missionary

A missionary bumped into the bear when passing through the woods.

The missionary knelt and prayed, “God, please give this bear a Christian soul!”

The bear stopped, knelt, and prayed, “Lord above, may this meal be blessed …”

I wrote my previous post about loving strangers two days ago and today, I read this horrible, disturbing story on a local newspaper, about a woman who was brutally raped by a stranger, a total stranger whom the woman had never seen before. Gone are the days when people come to help others out of goodwill and benevolence. Crazy, evil people are everywhere, but they must not discourage us from fulfilling our social roles. Moreover, we cannot trust our gut instinct either when it comes to assessing risk and avoiding danger! The best way to do, according to Mary O’Toole, a former FBI criminal profiler, is to be observant to our environment. Here’s what she said.

How to Survive a Disaster: Advice From a Former FBI Profiler

It’s impossible to prepare for a massacre like the Colorado shooting, but there are things you can do to boost your chances for surviving danger, a former FBI criminal profiler tells Abigail Pesta.

by  | July 20, 2012 8:10 PM EDT

While there’s no way anyone could prepare for a sudden mass shooting like the theater attack in Colorado, there are some things you can do in life to increase your chances of survival during times of danger, says Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former criminal profiler for the FBI. The key, she says: don’t trust your gut.

“In a crisis situation, our gut instincts do not always serve us well,” says O’Toole, who worked for the FBI for 25 years, studying cases ranging from the Unabomber to Elizabeth Smart, then wrote a book called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us. “We give ourselves so much credit for this inner voice that will tell us what to do. It’s almost magical thinking.” A more reliable way to go, she argues, is to always take note of your surroundings, especially the exits—at a ball game, in a bar, at a restaurant or hotel—from the instant you enter the venue. “Look around. Know how you got in, how to get out. Know who’s around you. When danger strikes, you become emotional; you lose your ability to think critically,” she says. “You don’t want to wait until then to start looking for an exit.”

O’Toole, now an instructor at the FBI National Academy, where she teaches a course to police called “Interviewing of Psychopaths,” is quick to note that there is simply no way people could have trained themselves to be ready for the sudden deadly attack in the dark movie theater in Colorado. “I would look foolish if I said people could have prepared,” she says. “It was completely shocking—no one expected someone to come in there and try to kill them. Some people thought the gunshots were part of the movie, which is totally understandable. And there are limited exits in a theater. But you do want to be able to size up the situation as fast as you can and increase your chances of getting out.”

In general, she says, people are often not in tune with their environment. For instance, employees in office buildings don’t necessarily know the fire exits. Concertgoers don’t pay attention to the doors. Air travelers zone out or read magazines while the flight attendants point out the escape routes.

Another important thing to know, she says, is that people often go into a confused sort of stupor, or delayed reaction, when danger strikes. They don’t necessarily get up and move immediately, as their brains are trying to digest the unexpected things happening around them. This is what reportedly happened in the 9/11 attacks; many people sat at their computers for a few minutes when their building was hit, stunned. “We all react at a different speed—we all don’t have the same response rate to a crisis,” says O’Toole. “It takes people different amounts of time to realize that they need to get out.” Still, she says, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of reaction time, just knowing that your body’s natural response might be to go into a slow-motion state can help you fight that response and act quickly in times of crisis.

O’Toole says there are steps people can take to protect themselves in everyday life as well. For starters, she says, when it comes to strangers, people often consider themselves a good judge of character, again trusting their gut, or “mystical thinking,” as she calls it. They let people into their lives and into their homes based on superficial factors. For example, she says, “when people have a certain status in life, we give them a lot of leeway and the benefit of the doubt. If somebody has an important position, they have a status that we think gives them immunity from committing a crime. People’s tendency is to explain away behavior from these people that might otherwise seem questionable.”

O’Toole says that in many criminal cases she investigated, people who knew the perpetrator would first say they were surprised by the person’s evil deeds—and then later admit that there were warning signs all along; they simply rationalized them away.

O’Toole believes these warning signs will come out about the Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, a student who was reportedly getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver. “He planned this out carefully; he had to purchase the supplies. He lived in a building where there are other people. There may be friends or family members who saw other sides of his behavior,” she says. “Often these types of offenders do give people indicators—even if unintentionally—of what they’re planning, and people just don’t see it. People rationalize it, or think it’s a joke. They don’t take it seriously. But these offenders often post manifestos and leave signs.”

She cites warning signs at Columbine, in which the young shooters created videos about their deadly plans and went to target practice before the shooting, and at Virginia Tech, in which the shooters in both attacks went to a firing range ahead of their killing sprees. In the Red Lake high-school massacre in Minnesota, she says, the shooter often talked about Columbine: “He was very interested in the Columbine shooting—and not in a way that was empathetic, but in a way that was more indicative of his wanting to outdo Columbine.”

O’Toole says she’s “not trying to scare people, but to educate people.” By tuning in to your environment and paying attention to the red flags that pop up among people around you, she says, you could save your own life, or someone else’s. Case in point: it was a pair of observant campus-police officers at the University of California, Berkeley, who rescued Jaycee Dugard. The two female officers noticed that something looked slightly off-kilter about Dugard and her two daughters when they were distributing flyers with their captor, Phillip Garrido, on campus. The officers decided to look into it, discovering that Garrido was a convicted sex offender and that Dugard had been kidnapped 18 years earlier.

“We don’t want to feel like we have to live our lives for some very rare and terrible event,” says O’Toole. “But you can put yourself in a safer position, in plenty of ways, even small ones. Have that door locked, close the garage, put down the shades. Pay attention to your environment, wherever you are. The reality is there are people who want to hurt us. Once it happens, it’s too late to go back and do anything about it.”

Also, go and try out this quiz on Marie Claire: it will tell you why you should not trust your gut instinct. It tells us a bit about how to detect lies and abusive partners. It also shows that family members and boyfriend pose more threat to us than strangers (…). I answered 8 out of 12 questions correctly, which makes me A Risk Taker ! (“You know first impressions can be deceiving, but you don’t always put in the effort to ensure you’re in a safe situation”). Apparently, I can still be fooled by people who are good at “Impression management” ! Here is the accompanying article to the quiz, featuring O’Toole.

Have you ever thought that we all fall in love and marry a stranger? Or to be precise, a person who used to be a stranger to us?

In the local newspaper here there were often stories of couples who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversaries and over, and how they met for the first time. In one story that I still remember, the man said he saw a girl standing on the other side of the road while he was crossing, and told his mate he would marry this girl. It was back then in the early 20th century in the UK, and they did get married. They had gone through happy as well as tumultuous years together, including several stints in the World War where the man got his injuries. There were times when the wife thought that she already lost her husband in the war. But they went through all the ups and downs of life and are still together today, living happily in Australia surrounded by children and grand- and great grandchildren.

This song from Spanish Indie singer Russian Red reminds me of a journey to beautiful places, meeting and having fun with strangers, and the self-discovery at the end of such journey.

You ought to enjoy the journey whether in good or bad times — you’ll never know if the next stranger you meet could be your soulmate.

MySpaceThe latest record of my rambling thoughts was in February 2011! Things are different every now and then, so I will start doing this again for random purposes.

Can we use Twitter for personal branding? Getting as many followers as one can on Twitter does not equal to increased popularity. First of all, you need to decide how you want people to see you. When you have made the decision, you may unfortunately find out that Twitter may not be the best tool to do this: Because Twitter is only one of various marketing tools that exists in this world. Every tool has its own purpose to serve.

I have seen people trying hard to play the role as “thought leaders” on Twitter, probably as part of their personal branding campaigns. They benefit from having hordes of followers and use Twitter for an ultimately unrealistic goal: changing someone else’s views and attitude towards an issue. For a starter, Twitter has never been designed for that purpose. Just like reading your Bible or other pearls of wisdom every morning does not immediately translate into attitude changes. However, these activities can help you increase your knowledge. Furthermore you may become walking encyclopedia, then you’ll probably start acting like a social media’s thought leader, be a smart ass and start abusing Twitter, other followers and tweeps with your brain trash. The impact is palpable; it’s aptly called “twitwar“. I saw it a lot on Indonesia’s twitter sphere, where I liked to make a visit once in a while (to enjoy the show). Those parties involved in the twitwar might see a surge of followers afterwards which could be mistaken as getting (almost) famous.
MySpace

Make no mistake, I am not against twitwars. I love drama, especially involving celebrities, politicians, public figures, students, wizards, or any self-proclaimed random experts and thought leaders. I just don’t like to see good resources go wasted.

My eighth series of articles about love dedicated for my husband, the last one being last year :-P. We celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary in September this year with a free portrait session at a professional photo studio in North Sydney, initially valued at $1,200, including a free canvas portrait. It was a pleasant surprise while at the same time, the timing struck my conscience like a lightning, reminding me that of four years of being together through thick and thin, joy and sorrow. My husband still tells me that he loves me while I still give him bear huggies and kisses, any time during the day. It has never been a dull, exhausting journey all the way: travelling together across continents, living separately for months or years, or even having to make big decisions as husband and wife. All those experiences have brought us closer to each other, enabled us to dig deeper into our souls and carved love signs on any empty spaces inside.

My husband is my trusted teacher and mentor. Over the years of our marriage he has “trained” me to become stronger and tougher than the fragile woman he met for the first time in 2007. It has never been easy though, but both of us made it through. I become convinced that the only way is forward, not otherwise. He said I was like an unpolished jade, and he’s here to help make a beautiful jade art out of me. Jadeite is one of the hardest stones in the world, and the use of jade in this conversation alludes to our Chinese ancestry. And because of his characters and integrity, I trust that he always means well.

That’s one of many stories of our life together. I am wishing him well all throughout. And if he ever finds me here I want him to know what he truly means to me.

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A walking encyclopedia is someone who knows a lot of things and speaks like a talking encyclopedia. I mention this special creature in my previous post yet I want to dedicate a post for this topic because I almost became one.

It was a long time ago during my time in Indonesia, when I attended a prestigious Catholic high school and then a well-known private university in Jakarta. It was my hey day when smart arse was well regarded in the communities where I belong to at that time. A smart arse has a bunch of persona: geek, intellectual, devotee, fanatic, who boasts of having almost god-like trait. Or probably Einstein-like genius. That was before browsing the Internet became as mundane as swearing and defecating. That was when life was a routine and everyone was practically living a robotic life. That was before I found out that this world was not black and white but an enormous colour palette. That was … until I realise I had a lot of competitors. Competitors?! In Indonesia? *%$#@!

There was a critical time when I found out that my brain refused to accept anymore trash from textbooks, TVs, radios, newspapers, and other source of information. It also included all bullshits from fellow smart-ass competitors. When exam was closer I started my study in less than 48 hours. Further than that my brain would not be able to retain the flood of information that came straight from a source without processing. And my brain recycled the information maximum two days after an exam (or any events that required me to memorise information), or less than 24 hours after a hard day’s work. That was when I forgot entirely what I had fed into my head. My school grade started to decline, unfortunately. But my study/work load were also becoming less burdensome! I could enjoy life better because I didn’t see the world with tinted glasses, I see it as it is. I tend to speak less and use my eyes and brain for different purposes than looking down my nose at people who did not know as much as me, or who had different views than me. I freed myself from the straitjacket of conformity that was put together by my parents, my friends, my community, the society I used to be.

I recently realised that the memories of 3 years of math lessons in high school had disappeared from my brain. I seriously lost track of what I had learned in math class during high school. I was afraid I was going senile. I was afraid if I was required to take a math test I wouldn’t be able to do anything. But no! I reckon my brain functions differently from it used be. Even more smarter, and most importantly, wiser.

So what happened to my former fellow walking encyclopedia? Many things. Some of them take up the noble role as full-time mothers. At this point, they don’t have to cram their head with a lot of things, thankfully. A lot of them live their lives as they want it, or probably, as expected from them. And a few probably turned into that annoying smart asses until they reached certain maturity level and learn one or two important lessons from life. I never talk to them in private … I am just hoping that they are happy in whatever the situation they are in. Because I am.

Boo!

I often mentioned that travelling had changed my personality and attitude. Well, sort of. On retrospection, I realise that it’s not travelling, as in tourism or holidaying senses, that changes a person, but the constant exchanges with the nature and the people who are foreign to us. Thanks to years of social, cultural, political, economic exchanges, I am now less kay poh and less motivated to impress people than most Indonesians whom I know :-P. These changes go hand in hand with my personal growth and maturity.

MySpace Another subtle change is that I have stopped being a smart arse. Smart ass, or smart aleck, according to online Merriam-Webster dictionary means “an obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretensions to smartness or cleverness”.  In Bahasa Indonesia slang, it means “sok tahu” or “sok pinter“.

Everyone can be a smart ass but I learn about this trait mostly from Indonesians. My first encounter with a smart-arse kind was with a fat female office colleague with big arse in a Jakarta workplace a long time ago. She was about a couple of years my senior and she loved to show people that she was knowledgeable and knew practically every bit of information that were flying in the air. She talked and shared a lot but unfortunately our secrets were never safe with her. I thought she was the first bigmouth I met during my formative years as a workplace gopher. I had some friends in the college who were wisecracks but they were nothing compared to big “Y”. Unfortunately I was far from impressed by Ms Y despite the fact that I had to work with her.

MySpaceApart from her smart ass-ism, she was a courteous woman who spoke nicely to (and about) the authority, did whatever she was told to do by the authority, and did not seem to have evil pretension towards others. The more I know her, the more I realise that she was not that smart, intelligent-wise speaking. This combination, however, help her climb up the corporate ladder whether we like her or not. And that was my first lesson on office politics.

MySpaceThere is a stark difference between knowledgeable and wise — a wise person does not necessarily know a lot of things that happen under the sun. But this person understands more about a lot of things than a knowledgeable person does. I had stopped cramming my brain with facts the day I started my Master’s course in Singapore, because this learning method has proven ineffective, especially when I was under pressure to finish the course in only one year.

MySpaceMany Indonesians that I know of in the past have bigger brain capacity to remember facts, figures, events, and what other people keep in their closets; and also abundant of time to gossip, trade rumours with others and frequently update their status on Facebook and Twitter. They, however, stopped at collecting souvenirs of memories, stacked them up in their spacious brains but never make them really work for the benefit of other human beings or environment. Their likely intention was to impress people. There are a lot of “walking encyclopedia” in Indonesia; but they are clueless when you ask them how to use a compass to find a direction. They are very useful when we don’t have time to go to the library or browse the websites.

MySpaceIn Indonesia these people can exist side by side despite arguments and conflicts, the result of uneven level of access to education across the country. People who came from the region in a peripheral island territory tend to perceive those who live in Jakarta as smart, knowledgeable and more skillful than they were, especially when the big city people started to spice up their conversation with a few words in English (it doesn’t matter if those few words are only “f*ck” and “sh*t” as long as they sound foreign like those spoken by people in Hollywood movies). In my case above, it didn’t work, because Ms Y was from the region and I was the Jakartan! I know her cheap trick to survive in Ibukota (capital city).

A smart ass apparently possess his/her own psychological problems that influence his/her interpersonal communication whether they realise it or not. These people don’t necessarily have bad personality but they seem to have the strong urge for social acceptance as their self-esteem solely rely on others’ recognition of their performance. Some people cope with this urge the other way around though.

MySpaceAs I have the opportunities for travelling and for social and cultural exchanges with non-Indonesians, I met people who taught me how to impress others gracefully without annoying, creating suspicion or being a smart ass. My postgraduate study and other trainings in communication are proven useful in changing the way I communicate with others:

MySpaceWhile smart asses cannot seem to stop talking, we are taught to listen actively. Active listening requires practice to become a skill, but it’s very useful in interpersonal communication. While smart asses are busy piling up facts, information and other trashes in their brains, we are taught to manage information and transform them into meaningful, effective messages and action plans. While smart asses are telling the whole world that they are the authoritative sources of information or certain issue, we exercise self-censorship and taught to use information wisely.

MySpaceMost importantly, while smart asses work very hard to bring the attention to themselves, I was taught to keep a low profile and be tactful, and was equipped with a lot of instructions on how to survive smart asses.

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