Ah Xiang’s Last Day (Indonesian short story in translation)

by Leopold Adi Surya Indrawan

Translated by Indah Lestari, edited by Marjie Suanda

 

AFTER LINING UP the eight plates of milk custard pie on a long table in the living room, Ah Xiang returned to his room to take a rest. He actually felt fresh, as he had just taken a bath, the first time in over a year that a drop of water had touched his body. He was sure that his demise would come that day as Li Hwa had told him. Li Hwa is his cousin who has the ability to foresee the time of someone’s death.

He had found out about the day of his death six months ago, and the next day he called his elder brother and eight younger siblings one by one. “On the fourth day of the ninth month, my time shall come,” said Ah Xiang. His ‘announcement’ was meant to be an invitation for his brothers and sisters, to visit him on that very date.

“Rather than talking rubbish, you better take a bath! If you want to draw attention that way, people will avoid you instead,” said Ah Seh, Ah Xiang’s brother.

There were more brothers and sisters who disregarded Ah Xiang’s announcement than those who cared. Ah Xiang truly believed in Li Hwa’s foretelling—that elderly lady had accurately foreseen the death of one of Ah Xiang’s close friends. His brothers and sisters who had heard the story took it as a mere coincidence. It does not take an intelligent person to be able to predict the death of a dying person, so they thought.

Not only did he believe in Li Hwa’s prediction, but Ah Xiang also wanted to die soon. He did not have enough courage to commit suicide, however. He had heard a story that the god of the hereafter, Giam Lo Ong, does not think twice about sending people who commit suicide to hell.

He had been single all his life. The only woman he had ever slept with, Was, did not want to marry him. She was a maid who took care of Ah Xiang’s mother. After the death of his mother twenty years ago, Was went back to her hometown. Was had persuaded Ah Xiang to take her as a wife, but his parents could not consent to a domestic helper as a daughter-in-law. And later, Was realized her life would not be prosperous enough just living off of Ah Xiang’s inheritance from his family. Moreover, Ah Xiang remained unemployed. He lived on money sent to him by his brother, Ah Li, who had lived with him for years and then moved to Singapore to work, thus leaving him alone. Ah Li still sent him money, which he sometimes used for betting in chess matches against the handymen working next door.

Since Was left, Ah Xiang turned gloomy. And what was worse, after Ah Li left, Ah Xiang practically did not have anyone left. Yet, his sorrow could still be soothed at least once a year. Chinese New Year—the principal holiday for the Chinese—was still celebrated at his residence, as was sangjit, an offering rite, whenever one of Ah Xiang’s nieces was about to marry. These two celebrations took place at Ah Xiang’s house, in Jakarta, because the house was the family’s main house. So Ah Xiang always awaited at least these two annual events. He would be busy making his best custard tarts to enliven the mood. To him, custard tart is obligatory for every family celebration. Custard tart is an ancestral heritage. Its sweetness brings joy. And joy brings good fortune.

“The filling of the custard tart should be soft, so soft that it melts when you put it in your mouth,” said Ah Xiang’s mother when she was teaching him how to make custard tart for the first time. “And you must remember to always use the eggs from hens that are on pasture, as the yolk is darker yellow, the taste is milder and the smell less foul.”

Sometimes he imagined climbing his family tree back to the times of his ancestors in east Kengtang, China. He would meet his great-great-great grandmother, the person who made the first custard tart, after the kitchen master god Chàu-Kun sent the recipe to her in a dream.  Ah Xiang could not accept it if anyone would say that our custard tart was only the people of Hong Kong’s adaptation of a Portuguese custard pie. He would not take the side of an historical possibility that threatened the purity of this recipe. And why would anyone want to question his belief anyways?

“No white men can make good cakes!” said Ah Xiang. This was despite the fact that he had never tried any European cake.

Some years after Ah Li had left him, the custard tarts were missing from the family parties. Ah Xiang did not feel like making them anymore. The Chinese New Year and sangjit celebrations were no longer held at his house, but rather at Ah Seh’s in the Kebon Jeruk area, where the living room and parking space are wider. The title of “principal house”, which signifies the house of the first generation, was ignored. At first Ah Xiang still regularly attended the events at her sister’s house, picked up by his niece with a car. But year after year he felt increasingly like an outsider amid the hilarity of his own extended family. Finally, he decided not to join the family gatherings anymore. He preferred being alone all year long at his house. Nobody visited him. He only went out to pay the water, electricity and telephone bills; and bought meals at the local food stalls. Most of the time he just sat on a chair on the terrace, watching the orange trees.

Why hasn’t anyone showed up? Ah Xiang thought.

Ah Xiang also decided not to take a bath or clean the house anymore. He thought, why should I take care of things that everyone ignores? His bad odor grew stronger and stronger. Nobody could stand being anywhere near him. His brothers and sisters were caught between pitying him and being disgusted by him, but the latter sentiment seemed to be stronger. They saw Ah Xiang’s behavior as his way of seeking attention. As a result, they cared less.

Whenever Ah Xiang heard the sound of a car approaching his house, he often thought it was one of his siblings coming to pay him a visit. But most of the time he was wrong. Then he would heave a deep sigh, watching the car pass by in front of his house.

One evening, after he had not bathed for months, Ah Xiang’s heart was filled with hope as he heard Li Hwa calling him from the fence of the house.

Li Hwa did not share a person’s expiration time easily, instead, she would keep it to herself. One would have to coax her for hours so that she would tell.

“Telling you about something like this is inappropriate,” said Li Hwa.

“If you have been given the gift to reveal the secret of the sky, that means you do have the right,” said Ah Xiang.

Although her ability sounded very powerful, Li Hwa told one’s time of death in an unceremonial way. She would simply need to close her eyes for some time. That way, she explained, she could let her consciousness wander in the sky, enter Giam Lo Ong’s palace over the cluster of clouds, pass through a long hallway with stacks of parchment scrolls on racks lining both sides, then stop in a small wooden-floored room: where a painting of a dragon and a phoenix hung on the wall and a gold-covered book sat on a table. She could look in that book for the name of a person whose time of death she wanted to know. The pages would turn by themselves as she wanted.

How he would die, Ah Xiang did not need to question. He thought he would perish due to his deteriorating health. He often vomited for no clear reason, then he would gasp and grow completely weak after eating. Yet, he had never consulted a doctor even once.

“In a month’s time, I will die!” said Ah Xiang when he was on the phone with Ah Li, reminding him about Li Hwa’s prophecy.

Koh, you better not believe Li Hwa, she only talks bullshit. If she is indeed a clairvoyant, why is her life so difficult now?” asked Ah Li.

“What does ‘bullshit’ mean?”

 

AFTER HE FOUND out about his time of death, Ah Xiang started thinking of making a simple celebration. Chinese New Year comes every year, while death is a one-off happening (at least in one lifetime). Death is more worth celebrating, Ah Xiang thought. Thus, some days before the D-day, he started preparing custard tart batter. During one day he prepared eight tarts. Eight, he thought, is a lucky number. After baking the tarts, he waited until they cooled down and set, then stored them in the fridge. On the D-day, he would simply bring the tarts to the living room.

“Ah Li and Ah San must be the ones who miss my custard tart the most,” said Ah Xiang, cutting each tart into eight slices. He was tracing every member of the extended family, guessing who would come to his funeral. He wished that everybody would. But then he wondered if they would cry and pray for him? Or maybe they would come only out of courtesy? Isn’t it a stock reason for people to attend many kinds of events in this world?

Will they come today?

As time went by, Ah Xiang grew worried. He could no longer stand lying on his bed, watching the dull yellow walls of his bedroom and the 1995 calender with the photo of a white girl in a bikini that he had left hanging there since that year. He started wondering, it’s already late afternoon, but why haven’t his siblings come to see him off? Not even news from Li Hwa.

Ah Xiang got off his bed, walked and reached the telephone to check whether the cable was cut or gnawed by rats. He wanted to dial, but had doubts. How awkward would it be to ask his siblings: why don’t you come on the day of my death? He looked at the rows of custard tart on a long table in the living room. He stood pondering when a car honked outside. Surprised and hopeful, he ran out to the front yard.

“Good afternoon, is this the Pasaribus’ house?”

“Wr… wrong house.” Ah Xiang shook his head.

He walked feebly back to his bedroom and laid down for two hours. He was imagining his extended family coming and filling the house, having a great time in the simple celebration he held just before his funeral.

 

IT IS NOW 4pm, Ah Xiang goes out of his room. No sign whatsoever that anybody is coming. He walks to the living room and grabs a slice of custard tart. He eats it while sitting on a garden chair, watching the juicy oranges and the sky that turns a dark yellow. The sunlight bathes his face.

Deep in his mind he hears voices, “Ah Xiang, Ah Xiang, you are the first child that follows Mom.”

Not long after eating the piece of custard tart, Ah Xiang feels sleepy. But instead of going to his room, he remains seated and lets himself fall asleep. It is not windy, but feels airy and fresh. As he wakes up, his body feels so light, as if some burden has been lifted from his chest. He chuckles so long that tears seep out of his eyes. He does not really know why he is laughing.

He does not wish for anything, nor expect anybody to come.

As night almost falls, Ah Xiang leaves the terrace. He turns back and watches himself sitting motionlessly, his eyes shut as if he is sleeping soundly. Ah Xiang wipes the face and leaves his body.

He still has no idea of where to go.

***
Original title: « Hari Terakhir Ah Xiang ».

Translation is first published on Intersastra.

Perempuan Kembang Jepun by Lan Fang (A section of the novel I translated into English)

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Mas Sujono always thought that I dominated him. Once in a while he said I was asking too much from him, demanding more than what he could give. But was I wrong to ask him for some money to feed our child?

Our child…?

Or mine…?

Mas Sujono always said Joko was not his biological son. He repeatedly taunted me because I was in early stage of pregnancy when he married me. He did not believe that the child I was carrying was his. He said Joko was Mas Wandi’s child.

I knew Mas Wandi before I met Mas Sujono. Mas Wandi is a pedicab driver whose base was  Tanjung Perak port. He’s 42. Although he was nearly as old as my father, he still looked sturdy. He was muscular on the chest, back and arms. The muscles lustered as the sunshine fell on his sweaty skin. The smell of his sweat was mixed with that of the sunburned skin and the self-rolled clove cigarette. I like to secretly smell his odor whenever he sat next to me.

Only a few pedicabs waited for customers at Tanjung Perak port. Apart from trams and bicycles, pedicabs were the widely used means of transportation. People would flock to get a pedicab whenever a ship weighs anchor on the pier. Pedicab passengers are mostly the Chinese who come to Surabaya for the first time. I didn’t know for sure why there had been a flow of slanted-eyed and yellow-skinned people coming to the city these days. Some said that these people were the Chinese who left their homeland, which was devastated by the Japanese and the communist ruling system.

I had no idea about it.

But from my observation, tiredness hung over the faces of the Chinese who arrived in Surabaya. They might have been exhausted being in the ship for months. Or perplexed as their country was being torn apart by the war.

The same case with Indonesia. Everywhere I turn to, all I see was mourning faces.

Tanjung Perak port was where I often roamed to sell jamu, herbal drinks. I had a lot of customers there, one of whom was Mas Wandi, my most generous customer. I pointed this out because he always paid more for one botok (coconut shell) of the jamu he ordered. He never asked for the change. He even often embedded some money quietly into my brassiere, and then squeezed my breast.

Of course I was stunned. First, because of the money he put. Second, he squeezed my breast. And third, I realized that his squeezing made me shiver. He was the first man who touches me. I was frozen, not knowing what to do. I became nervous, but the strange sensation spread on. I just let it be as I enjoyed it.

These kinds of things are common among the jamu gendong (carryback) sellers like me. You can even just take a woman or two to a rented chamber in the brothel. Brothels were mushrooming along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets since Tanjung Perak grew into a trade port.

I started by merely offering jamu gendong—where the bottles, small glasses and everything else put in a basket that I carry on my back with a cloth sling—to the women sitting in the dim-lighted chambers. The women who roar at night and sleep in the day. The jamu drinks I carried in the basket were those made of lempuyangan chilies, rice and galingale, betel leaves, and galian singset and sinom mixtures. All were jamu variants for women.

Gradually my customers were not only those women, but also the men who stopped over their chambers. These men were mostly kerani (port coolies) who usually sat around in the stalls along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets, as they rested from work. They drank legen (unfermented toddy) and smoked rolled klobor cigarettes (clove cigarette rolled in corn leaf) that emitted strong clove smell. Their shoulders and backs were powdered with dusts of jute sacks they carried.

As the dusk falls and darkness seeped in, the women stood in front of their chambers, exposing their protruding bosom. They recited pantun, or rhymed poem, in tempting tone.

“Tanjung Perak, Mas… kapale kosong…

Monggo pinarak, Mas… kamare kosong…”

(Tanjung Perak, Mas, the ship is empty…

Come drop in, Mas, the room is empty…)

One poem was replied by another, in giggles. Then palm wine was spoiled all over. The night heated up. The protruding bosoms rubbed against the solid backs that sweated from heavy duty. The bosoms that lured money to be slipped in the brasserie, and men to enter the chamber. The reflections from the dim lights danced as the wind blew.

Moaning, bellowing, wet, sweat.

I met Mas Wandi in one of those stalls. Being a virgin who had never been touched by a man, I was shy, nervous and awkward in the beginning. The skin of his hand felt hot as it touched the skin of my breast. Some sensation crept in me and made me shiver. Gradually I longed for his squeeze. I no longer bashfully sat still and waited. I was bold enough to fixed myself close to him when I yearned for his squeezes.

And Mas Wandi always got my signals.

“You’re so desirous that I want to pinch you, Nduk (small girl)…” he used to say while squeezing my breast secretly.

As time passed, his brief pinch and squeeze every now and then were not sufficient for me. I was a virgin budding into a grown woman. I felt torrential passion inside my body, wanting more… and more… and more, something like what those men and women did in the chambers. I wanted his hands to explore my entire bosom longer. So then I had the courage to hold his hand rested there.

“Really, Nduk. You make me excited. Especially these…” he said staring at me while still squeezing my breasts.

Passion possessed me when I sensed his breath on my ear and nape.

“You’re serious? Yu (elder sister) Ning is prettier. Yu Sih even more,” I replied intuitively, flirting.

“But they’re not as desirous as you,” he whispered to my earlobe, full of passion.

Was I flirting, tempting, seducing, or luring him?

I don’t know.

But I liked to be so.

Besides that Mas Wandi often gave me tips so that I was able to buy face powder and lipsticks, I also liked his squeezes. I heard from Yu Ning and Yu Sih—fellow jamu gendong sellers—that men’s accompaniment make you quiver.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih were three or four years older than me. Yu Ning has a pair of dreary melancholic eyes. I heard men talked about her, that in spite of her dreary melancholic eyes, she was hot in bed… on the mat, in this case. Meanwhile, Yu Sih has a beautiful face that is very njawani (Javanese characteristics), and fair skin. Men desired to see the smoothness of her body.

I myself am not too pretty. I am fully aware of this. My skin is sunburnt sawo matang (literally ripe sapodilla) like typical Indonesians, or dark brown. My hands are hefty and my palms rough. My heels crack. My face is not egg-round or njawani like Yu Sih, but squarish with sharp jaws. My eyes are not dreary or melancholic like Yu Ning, but big and glaring. I sometimes cursed my ugly face, that I was not able to gain a lot of customers like Yu Ning and Yu Sih.

“Ning and Sih are nothing compared to you, Nduk. Just take a look at your body. Whoever is not passionate seeing it, is surely not a man,” said Mas Wandi.

Although I was barely sixteen, I was stout, with full, rounded, sizeable breasts, hip and buttocks. If I touched my breasts, the nipples were swollen, firm and lifted.

I came to know that when I wore kebaya (traditional Javanese clothing for female), the bosom part was tight and my breasts were protruding. And the curves of my hip would be apparent underneath the cloth wrapped around me to the calves. When I walked, the bulging top part of my bosom and the sway of my buttocks would seem very tempting.

That was why two women’s pretty face is not a rival for me, since more and more people became my jamu customers. I was no longer bothered with my not-so-attractive face and dull skin whenever men whistled naughtily as I walked before them. I confidently threw a smile at them and offered my jamu.

Then those men turned like bees buzzing the flower. They strived to sit next to or in front of me. As close as they could. Sipping the jamu, they tried to touch my arm, peep into my cleavage, and pat my thigh. Slowly I understood that those were signs that they desired me.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih often told, giggling, about the customers that often caressed them. I heard that the two even exchanged knowledge of how to balance the men’s maneuver. They also exchanged the jamu recipes for men’s stamina. According to them, the recipes were bonus for their customers so that they were able to earn extra money from selling jamu.

But, to me, Mas Wandi was an ordinary customer. He was different. I was not sure, whether it’s because he was the first man that touched me–stroked and squeezed my breast, or I was in fact attracted to him. His every touch streamed to the marrow. Even every night I slept recklessly if I imagined his solid muscles and smelling his odor again.

 

“What’s in me that you desire, Mas?” I asked curiously, giving all of myself to him.

Kabeh (everything), Nduk…”

“Really?” I seduced him more.

“I’ll take you home later, okay?” it was obvious that he desired me.

Mas Wandi gave me a ride home by his pedicab. The man paddled the pedicab and we passed Jalan Kembang Jepun. It was getting dark and less bustling. We rode on passing grand houses owned by rich Chinese people on Jalan Kapasan. Near the railway on Jalan Kendjeran, we stopped. It was dark and quiet. The place was full of trees and bushes. There was not lighting at all.

Mas Wandi parked his pedicab by the roadside. Then he sat in the passenger seat, next to me. His body was so close to mine. I felt his shoulders rubbed against mine, he threw his arm around my shoulder. I sat still, yielding to whatever pleasure that I was about to experience.

Darkness blanketed us, his breath crept on my nape and ear. Then his hand slipped underneath my kebaya. The touch was not light as usual, but

 

 

 

Page 131

People knew me as Tjoa Kim Hwa, the Golden Flower.

I was a prima donna there, so my rate was high. I was very picky about the guest to host. For ordinary guests, I only accompanied them drinking sake, singing and by playing shamisen. But for the important ones, especially those Shosho Kobayashi ushered, I had to provide extra service. Surely I pocketed extra fees, too!

You have to entertain men, give them the perfect pleasure and satisfaction, that was Yuriko’s order that had been fixated in my mind.

As long as I had been a geisha, I have practiced all the lessons and instructions Gion and Yuriko gave me on entertaining men. As such, my savings were piling. But there was one thing I had never done, lip kissing!

Yuriko told me once, “The task of a geisha is only to entertain. Giving men pleasure in perfection. Don’t involve your emotion. Only kiss the lips of someone you love, because it involves you emotionally.”

After accompanying the guests drinking sake, chatting or singing, I usually offered them taking a bath in ofuro. My guest would be in the bathtub that was filled with hot water, then I would scrub his back and chest with wet napkin, or, to be precise, scrubbing-cum-patting. After that, I put a fresh kimono on him and followed him to the chamber. Once we’re inside, I took off his kimono as well as mine, piece by piece as gracefully as a dancer. Then I started massaging him gently. Or, to be precise, massaging-cum-stroking.

I started massaging from the back, to the neck, chest, through the entire body to the feet. While massaging and stroking, set my bare naked body against his. Slowly but sure, his skin would be warm, his breath heavy like the train’s locomotive, and I would remain controlling the game until he reaches the full satisfaction!

Yes, I pleased men…

I give full satisfaction!

I always followed Yuriko’s advice.

Followed? I cried silently. My hand which were writing so many words that took so many pages then stopped as the heavy guilt hung over me.

Did I really follow Yuriko’s advice? My eyes were burning and my heart aching.

No! Ever since I knew Sujono, I had never done what Yuriko told me. Sujono had made a lot of changes to my life, the bitter and the sweet ones. The man had turned my wheel of life 180 degrees, now that I was at the peak of my career and became the most popular geisha ever.

I did not know how it started, how I liked to have a conversation with him. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any friend to talk to in Hanada-san’s nightclub. All the male guests came for my service. They did not need to have a chat with me. Meanwhile, all the girls here were only concerned with rivalry and jealousy toward each other. Especially as they knew Shosho Kobayashi and Hanada-san treated me differently. The girls suspected I was a Japanese, but they couldn’t prove it. In the club we were all required to speak Japanese and wear kimonos.

“I am actually Japanese. My real name is Matsumi. Tjoa Kim Hwa is only a fake name I used when I was smuggled here. A Japanese girl becoming a hostess in another country is considered shameful. The Japanese would not degrade their own women in other countries…”

It just happened… I started to trust Sujono. I also learned Indonesian language from him. I revealed to everybody the identity that I had kept secret.

I needed someone who I could have a chat with without any prejudice and fear. I had wanted this long but I kept it to myself. It’s true that as long as Shosho Kobayashi was there, everything was easy and safe for me. But some restlessness still lingered, captivating me.

Restless by myself. Being afraid by myself. Who could bear that?

“Do you like this job?” Sujono asked me once in an afternoon when he was delivering fabrics, but Hanada-san was out.

“I have been a geisha since I was fourteen.”

“That’s not what I asked!” he shouted. “Do you like this job?” he repeated.

“Why?” I asked him back. “Is it wrong to be a geisha?”

“Do you have an idea of what you do now?”

“I’m an artistan.”

He burst into laugh.

“In Japan it’s not easy to become a geisha. We are trained in schools. We have to be able to sing, dance, play the shamisen, make poems and accompany the guest during the tea ceremony,” I said, trying to explain, as his laugh sounded belittling to my ears.

“Also accompanying them in bed,” he went on.

I furrowed my brows, displeased with his tone.

“Here, that kind of job is the most disgraceful!” he said blatantly.

“Why so?” I could not accept it. I worked hard for years become a geisha. And now, as easy as that, this profession was considered so low in Indonesia.

“Do you know of the women in kurubu?” he asked again.

I nodded.

“Have you heard the stories of what happened to them?”

Again I nodded.

“So what’s the difference between you and them?”

This time I did not nod, but I could not dispute it either.

“The difference is they are used as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, while you, high-ranked officials. And one more, they are not paid, while you are highly paid!” he concluded, answering his own question.

How dare he talked that way to me, without a single bit of courtesy. Am I so low from the perspective of a grudge? I felt insulted.

“The difference is the Japanese restrain themselves from degrading their women so much that even you were told to disguise yourself as a Chinese. But do they care about the other nation’s women’s honor? About the Chinese and Korean women who were brought by force to Japan, to Indonesia, to any country where the Japanese soldiers are as sex slaves. Now Indonesian women are enslaved, too. Don’t you know that the Japanese are very cruel?” his bitter tone persisted.

I felt like raging. But how could I? My conscience was restless and I was reluctant to disagree with him. My feminine heart cried whenever I heard a story of the jugun ianfus at kurabu. Regardless that they were Javanese, Chinese and Korean, they were also women. Like me. Plus they carried out the duty because they had no choice, they were threatened. Being proud to be a prima donna at the most exclusive nightclub on Jalan Kembang Jepun was actually shameful and improper.

“How much I have to pay to get such service that you give to your guests?” he asked.

I was stunned. Speechless. How could I possibly say that with his pay as a coolie he won’t be able to afford even the cheapest service of the Hanada-san’s club girls. Let alone my service…

But since then he had been bothering me. From his glances to his odor mixed with clove cigarette smell, everything about him kept popping in my head. One day Hanada-san said an ‘unusual’ guest asked me to entertain him. And that person is… Sujono!

 

 

Apa Yang mesti Ku lakukan

(this is not my translation, but rather taken from here)

Apa yang mesti kulakukan, O Muslim? Aku tak mengenal didiku sendiri
Aku bukan Kristen, bukan Yahudi, bukan Gabar, bukan Muslim
Aku bukan dari Timur, bukan dari Barat, bukan dari darat, bukan dari laut,
Aku bukan dari alam, bukan dari langit berputar,
Aku bukan dari tanah, bukan dari air, bukan dari udara, bukan dari api,
Aku bukan dari cahaya, bukan dari debu, bukan dari wujud dan bukan dari hal
Aku bukan dari India, bukan dari Cina, bukan dari Bulgaria, bukan dari Saqsin,
Aku bukan dari Kerajaan Iraq, bukan dari negeri Korazan.
Aku bukan dari dunia in ataupun dari akhirat, bukan dari Sorga ataupun Neraka
Aku bukan dari Adam, bukan dari Hawa, bukan dari Firdaus bukan dari Rizwan
Tempatku adalah Tanpa tempat, jejakku adalah tak berjejak
Ini bukan raga dan jiwa, sebab aku milik jiwa Kekasih
Telah ku buang anggapan ganda, kulihat dua dunia ini esa
Esa yang kucari, Esa yang kutahu, Esa yang kulihat, Esa yang ku panggil
Ia yang pertama, Ia yang terakhir, Ia yang lahir, Ia yang bathin
Tidak ada yang kuketahui kecuali :Ya Hu » dan « Ya man Hu »
Aku mabok oleh piala Cinta, dua dunia lewat tanpa kutahu
Aku tak berbuat apa pun kecuali mabok gila-gilaan
Kalau sekali saja aku semenit tanpa kau,
Saat itu aku pasti menyesali hidupku
Jika sekali di dunia ini aku pernah sejenak senyum,
Aku akan merambah dua dunia, aku akan menari jaya sepanjang masa.
O Syamsi Tabrizi, aku begitu mabok di dunia ini,
Tak ada yang bisa kukisahkan lagi, kecuali tentang mabok dan gila-gilaan.

 —

Jalaluddin Rumi’s Divan-i Syams-i Tabriz

 

fluvial journey

The road is an outlandish river
wide and deep, drifting the waste and the unused
miserable and desperate vehicles,
only when it flows.
But it moves sluggishly.
Blue taxis among the puzzling blockage
the silvers, the whites, the blacks are rampaged.
The two-wheelers are outminded, chasing blurry goals, ludicrous dreams
Palms are moisting, heads churning.
Where are we heading to?
Speed is jested at, thin-airing, we are scrapping time, unrewindable time.
The wave is governed by regular lights
it’s looked at anxiously, stroke-stricken, against the robust sun.
Giant-super markets and giant-super carts are whirlpool, leading to lost in destination.
People, where are you going? Loathed and damned people, we are.
Lumped, drowned in its bed.

 

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teratai itu sedang mekar

kenapa hari ini? kenapa nulis hari ini setelah sekian lama?

kata seseorang, orang yang lagi stres, malah suka menyiksa diri.

mungkin relevan dengan keadaan gue sekarang. mungkin tidak. anda yang putuskan.

kata seseorang hari ini, bola ada di tangan anda. hmm, betapa sulitnya gue untuk menjawab itu. i’ll give you a lead. bola itu berkaitan dengan kerjaan. jadi putusan untuk memperpanjang kontrak atau tidak tentunya aku yang akan membuat. putaran bola cenderung ke arah… berhenti. yes, guys. it’s time, yar! kata seseorang barusan saja, daripada cuma jadi mesin. sepertinya itu mewakili perasaan gue banget. jadi mesin, serba otomatis, harus selalu mematuhi perintah. titah. jadi biarlah, kasih gue waktu untuk mengulur. entah apa tujuannya. i know it’s peak season. waktunya membanting keringat dan memeras tulang. ombak pasti berlalu. habis gelap terbitlah terang. tapi sepertinya gue menuai badai.

pada hari ini, gue harus ngajar bahasa inggris. suatu kelas semacam kursus yang kurang menarik perhatian. mungkin gue seneng berbagi ilmu, tapi itu bukan berarti gue guru yang baik. sepertinya gue kalo ngomong loncat-loncat dan terlalu sering curhat. menurut gue sendiri sih, gue membingungkan orang (untuk tidak bilang menyesatkan). yah… kelas itu berjalan juga, dengan total peserta 2 orang. setelah setengah jam berusaha masang in focus ke laptop jadul gue… akibatnya, kerja gue yang biasanya jadi keteteran. orang komplain sana-sini. orang terus kasih kerjaan. maklum « peak season ».

hari ini tepatnya, gue harus makan siang untuk urusan kantor. mereka butuh untuk booking gue selama dua hari penuh untuk tujuan proposal besar. i dont really mind. in fact, i feel i’m being involved in such a huge project. it’s something. but i suppose there’s not much to learn from. dasar anak bawang. a lost child in the block. exiled in a cubicle. in an old IBM T43 which can’t connect to in focus directly… errrr!!!

dan hari ini pula, gue terima ID card buat akses pintu kantor. ID card dengan foto gue sendiri. dengan nama perusahaan, bagian, nomor pegawai, dan nama gue tentunya. ID card yang bisa berguna untuk dapet sekedar potongan harga di hamparan toko seputar kantor gue (fyi, kantor gue diapit 2 mal, tanpa harus menghirup udara non-AC). 

pada hari inilah, gue mengaku ke nyokap, bahwa gue mendengar sesuatu di telinga kanan gue. may not be something supernatural. tapi ini bener, serius. kayak suara kutu meletus. tapi dengan volume rendah dan frekuensi banyak. sometimes. AND… jawaban dia menurut gue sangat masuk akal. ada saraf yang ga bener. padahal gue uda coba bersihin kuping pake cotton buds, atau gue mengira ada binatang bersangkar. lalu kenapa bisa ada saraf yang ga bener? bisa ditebak jawaban nyokap. karena gue terlalu capek. gue menjawab, sedikit membantah, tapi ini muncul setelah gue kebanyakan tidur pas akhir minggu panjang kemaren. ga ngepek. dia bersikukuh, gue terlalu capek. i dont blame her. i can’t say she’s wrong either. she knows my life, how i run this « machine » of mine.

dan malam ini, seseorang bikin gue ge-er. cukup menghibur, walau sebenarnya sakit. tiktiktiktiktiktiktiktiktiktik

The Artist (2011) the ‘silent’ movie: make peace with the talkies?

I finally watched this movie, by invitation from a friend, though I have actually bought the DVD, plus I have already known the plot summary. But then my friend said watching it in the cinema would obviously be different. I suppose so. As it’s a silent movie, music and sound effect would play bigger role than usual.

But Peppy, the rising star of the talkies, the actress whom the audience can hear, thinks that the difference between the silent movie and sound movie is not the sound, but rather the ‘mugging’, as the actor in the former tries hard to be understood. perhaps like pantomime. but of course, not as exaggerated as the German expressionist movie Nosferatu (1922).

Seeing this movie, when you don’t have to hear all the conversations, relaxes you. Unless you’re trying to read lips. But the texts are most often enough. You don’t have to hear what Peppy’s boyfriend says when they are watching George Valentin’s debut as actor-cum-director-cum-producer, Tears of Love. But things are sometimes better left un-texted, like what the police officers says to George. Censorship on humiliation. And sometimes, the text can even fool you, like the signified of ‘Bang!!’ is not always the fire of a gun. 

Actually, if you have watched Singin in the Rain, you would have known that the talkies’ way to success was not as smooth as Peppy’s career…

Yeah, it’s a movie about a movie. a meta-movie? But watching how the story unfolds can be romantic. What i notice is, the couple have never actually say I love you to each other, though they are in at the right time and the right place–according to Hollywood standards–on several occasions. perhaps a kind of professional love (oxymoronic?). or platonic love.

But again, I cant help noticing some scenes which definitely refer to other movies, movies The Artist pays tribute to. For example, Citizen Kane’s Xanadu in the scene when George is discovering his ‘treasures’ in a room in Peppy’s house; also a little bit of Kane’s first wife in George’s wife. (The reel and fire scene reminds you of The Aviator or Inglorious Basterds?)

Bottom line, I love this movie. I love the black-and-white picture. I love the surrealist psychedelic vision, I love that they dance together.

Image

Kuala Lumpur… the towers are not the highest anymore