Sunday, July 27, 2008

reviving my rusty blog.

I keep doing this every year: promising myself that I would consistently write. Actually, writing a blog is a good exercise to revive my dissertation writing spirit. OK, now I'm done defending my dissertation, and in the process of revising it before submitting the thing to the Graduate School. But - oh, I'm so tired looking at it. A friend of mine called it a 'post-dissertation syndrome,' in which I just want to celebrate and enjoy my days. Hmm... I think with or without the syndrome, I always want to enjoy my days! He he. Lately, I have been addicted to the Piled Higher and Deeper PhD Comics by Jorge Cham ( ). They're really funny to me -- I can relate to most of the characters' experiences... I think it's a brilliant comic strip (at the same time, it makes me feel good about myself... he he... as usual... finding justification of what I'm doing and where I stand.)

In the midst of (major-) revising a co-authored paper for publication (ouch...) and my own dissertation... it's like a refreshing oasis! :) Thanks Jorge Cham, whoever/wherever you are! :) (and thanks to Tyas, who introduced me to this comic strip)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The busiest time?

Finally, today I got a green light from my first reader in my second special field paper that he approved my work! That's such a relief ... considering that my proposal defense is only 10 days away, and I need to get that paper approved before that. I thought my Fall 2005 semester was intense, but it looks like this month is even more intense. Finishing a special field paper (that is, the second comprehensive exam in the program), a proposal, and defending the proposal..., while still working on campus with the project getting more intense as well with the evaluation.

Well, I'm crossing my fingers now that the forms will be submitted on time for the hearing.
I learned a lot from this experience...

Looking back in my life, I have had several intense school times. The first one was during my undergraduate study, the seventh semester, which was my final one, when I took the thesis and the final project at the same time. Also in that semester I took two assignment-intensive classes.

That time, I thought it was the most intense school time of my life.

Little that I knew, I would be going to school much longer than that. I thought I was done with school. Then, I went to Singapore to get my MA in Urban Design, and, wow, my MAUDite friends can surely testify for the sleepless nights in the studio, nearing the deadline. Especially in the second semester, when we had to work on the studio plus the thesis (a.k.a. dissertation in the program)...

I thought that was it, that was my most intense school time.

Little that I knew, I would be going to school much longer than that. Well, I knew that I was going to go to the United States for another degree, but I thought it would only take me two years. Wrong. I ended up continuing to the Ph.D. program (what was I thinking when I made that decision??) and got caught in funding issues. I had to work to pay for my health insurance fee in the Fall of 2005, because I have spent all my savings to pay for a 3-month empty room during the summer. I asked for an Academic Training to ensure my legal status and worked 40 hours a week (being a graduate fellow at CURL and teach Mass Media at the same time) while still taking 3 classes.

I thought that was it, that was my most intense school time.

I told myself that I would never ever do that again -- taking 3 classes and teach a class and work on campus at the same time.
But, hey, who would have expected that graduate school deadlines are so early in the year? After I thought I have missed the Schmitt Dissertation Fellowship deadline, at the end of January I got informed that the Grad School has another fellowship opportunity and the deadline was later than the Schmitt. The thing is, I had to defend my proposal before March 12. After forming my committee, the only time they can be present together in one room before March 12 is February 26. Before that, I had to go through my second special fields, which was a 55-page theoretical paper.

Seriously... February is not the longest month to work on things! It only has 28 days! So, here I am, with all these papers and books around me. And as if it's not crazy enough, I also scheduled my class presentation, the incomplete class from last semester, on February 27. Then, there are also the Chinese New Year celebrations that I have to participate in. And the rest of this month... well, I have told you this story in the first paragraph.

This time, I will not take this as the most intense school time in my life anymore.

I will take this as a warning for my future career. As I went through each busy times in my life, I realize that they are times when my abilities got tested. And, most important, they are tests on my patience, my endurance, and my ability to work with others: face my professors, my peers, my students, and coworkers. Often times I felt so tired and I just wanted to let everything go. (Who invented this whole Ph.D. school system??) School itself is challenging, thinking about funding at the same time is even harder. But then I realized that this is just the beginning. Academicians and researchers too have to apply for grants and catch deadlines. They got rejections from conferences and journals, critiques from peers. What I'm experiencing now is just the training to get there. I should learn how to cope with that to be able to continue in the future.

And that's when all my social networks come to save me. I have friends I could talk to, family I could discuss with, and of course my husband to whom I could share my thoughts and dreams. Without them, I will not be who I am right now.

In conclusion, all these experiences remind me that, while I have to try my best for the present time, all my works now are preparations for the future. I should not complain how busy I am and how hard the work is, rather it's better to practice how to pace myself and take some time in between the busy schedule. I should think of all the experiences as parts of a bigger plan of life. Furthermore, these busy times remind me that I am not just an individual being. Having friends and family is a real treasure in going through them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The True Love Puzzle

The question of "love" and "true love" is always a catchy issue. While this is an important issue in life, people often capitalize on this through various services, from consultancy to matchmaking. I am not going to discuss those phenomena today. Instead, I want to challenge the "definition" of "love" and "match" that I often hear from friends and various sources.

Some of my friends said that there is only one match for us. Like a two-piece puzzle, another person is created for each of us that would match us in every way. Although this is a very nice way to put it, the reality is more challenging. If that is so, then what is our role in finding that person? What is our role in creating that person? If that is so, then we are passive recipients of fate. Is it true that we are passive beings?

Life is a journey that we all take part in its creation. We meet various people at various time. Each would take part in that journey, whether it is a huge part or a short one. Nevertheless, I believe that we, as human beings, always have choices. Our privilege as human is that to a certain degree we have the privilege to make that choice. Sometimes, through social or personal constraints, our privilege is limited. But whatever it is, everything happens for a reason and there is always something to learn from our experiences.

Choices of the path that we are taking in that journey include choices of a partner. I met a few guys before my journey harbor me to the one I am with right now. It is not a short nor simple journey, but I believe that I took part in every choice I have made in that road. I felt that there are intangible guidance here and there in the process that helped me see the most feasible paths in my life. At the same time, I also realize that my thoughts and my heart are invested in every step along the way. It's not just about serendipities. It was conscious decisions of him and me and actions to keep in touch, whatever the form was, that brought the two of us together after a decade of knowing each other. In each step in my life, there are always happiness and challenges. When I look back, I realize that I have learned much from the process. It has made me who I am right now.

True love is not a static thing. It has to be dynamic. A loving couple is two people growing together and bring the best out of each other. And, the most important, we should be the ones making the decision of who we want to be with. It's true that we can ask for guidance, but it should not spare us from taking part in the creation of love. Otherwise, it would be something imposed on us, and it would be something that we don't take ownership in. Actively participating in our own lives make us appreciate life more. Then, we will never regret our decision, because we are the ones who made it. We will be responsible in each step we make. If the road is rocky along the way, we can fix it. If the two-piece puzzle seem to not match that well in the beginning, it does not mean that it would not match forever! It all depends on how we view love. Love is not something given. It is something we create and maintain. It is something we cultivate.

No one is the "right person" until we love them. Of course serendipities happen and signs are provided from "above". But we don't mess with that; it is not our territory to take them as signs or serendipities before our own actions and decisions bring us together with the other person. Our decision is what we want to do to keep in touch, what we want to do to cultivate love, and what we want to do for our future. The two-piece match puzzle is something created through a process of love, not something we are born with. We are born with the materials of the puzzle, but not the exact form. We need to form it to match the other person. The energy needed to form it comes from love. Then, when we have declared love with the other person, we can look back and realize those signs and serendipities to strengthen our love and convince us to take a step further to form the puzzle.

This is what I learned through my "true love" experience. How about you?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Marxism & Humanism

Today I went to a very interesting discussion at News and Letters library... it's about Dunayevskaya's Marxist humanism. It reminds me that I should revisit that Marx-Engels reader. The "absolute negativity" concept was quite new to me, but it is understandable... viewing Marxism as a humanist philosophy makes a lot of sense. I'll come back to this when I manage to revive my readings since 3 years ago when I took classical theory.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Treasuring Friendship

Although many people have come up with poetic expressions on how precious friends and friendships are, they have never been enough, because the experience of friendship is personal as well as shared. I kept on being reminded again and again that I would not have survived my hardships if I don't have my close friends. They have helped me a lot, just by being there for me. We chat about various things, from silly ones to serious concerns. Simply knowing that there are other people who care for me makes my steps lighter and my days brighter.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Structure and agency

Just now I re-read Georg Simmel's "The Metropolis and Mental Life". Simmel focused on the tension between the form (urban social relationships) and content (the individual) (Smith 1979). So, basically, Simmel theorized that urbanites have certain attitudes that are different from non-urban people as a defense mechanism against the tensions that they experienced in the urban society. Like Freud, Simmel also considered that the individual is oppressed by the standards of society. It is the "standards of society" that he meant by the "dominance of form over content". This results in the blasé attitude or exaggerated self-display as the coping mechanism.

As much as I wanted to criticize Simmel for his methodology that he used to arrive at his theory, today I just felt that tension in my own life. My February is very much gone now. There's too much going on: from my special field exam to fellowship application, class presentation, and dissertation proposal hearing. I'm excited to be ABD* by the end of the month, but of course before that this will be a long month.

I guess I just learned that I cannot avoid being driven by the expectations that the society, including myself, impose upon me. For example, pursuing a Ph.D. brings tension on myself. Sometimes I reflect on my own self, am I really ready for it? This is not a matter of low self-confidence. I am talking about the expectations that will be imposed upon me.

By saying "expectations", I don't only mean the responsibilities that come from that academic degree. I'm more referring to the expectations on me as a social being. For instance, giving to others and contributing to the society brings great joy. That said, I realized that there's so much out there to be learned. Giving is not only about others, it's also about myself. I should be able to take care of myself first before starting to take care of others.

I learned that the act of giving should also consider how we make other people and our society grow. Giving is not just about helping others go through hardship, but it's about playing a role in growing their independence. Making other people dependent on me is not always a good thing. It makes them have high expectations on me, and sometimes it is unbearable. Moreover, it makes them take me for granted.

I want to reclaim my ownership in making decisions for myself. I need my integrity in determining what I want to do and to what I want to be committed to. Having others decide for me on how I should spend my time and determine priorities made myself powerless. This tension between the social relationships (form) and me as the content should not be a conclusion of what an urban life is. Nor should it discourage me to live in the city, but it should be seen as an opportunity to learn how to stand up for myself.

*ABD = "anything but dissertation"

Simmel, Georg. “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” In The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1950.
Smith, Michael P. The City and Social Theory. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1979.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Banjir... banjir...

Again, this is the time of the year when the rainy season pours millions of buckets of water to Jakarta. One of my best friends in Jakarta said that it was so hard for her to go out to do grocery shopping, because everywhere is flooded. Not just that, she just had a baby and the baby clothes could not get dried because of the non-stop rain and she could not go out to buy new ones. I got text messages from my mom, saying that my uncle and aunts in Jakarta had to move out of their homes because the water level was so high. The most recent message said that the water already reached the ceiling. Their homes are only one story high, so they moved in with a neighbor who has two story home.

I remember visiting my uncle and aunts in 2002, after the big flood on Feb 6, 2002 when their homes were also flooded with 90cm of water. All furnitures were wet -- sofas and beds were soaked, cupboards and cabinets looked damp, the wooden furnitures were ruined. The water left marks on the walls that showed how bad the flood was.

This is February 2007 -- almost exactly five years after that. Yet, still Jakarta gets the same problem. Flood, flood, flood. Three days of non-stop rain had made the city almost malfunction. AFP news (Feb 4) reported that 7 people have died, while more than 190,000 displaced. BBC news article (Feb 4) noted that the water is heavily polluted. Combined with the outbreak of the dengue fever that has killed more than 1,800 people in January, the flood increased anxiety that there would be outbreaks of other diseases. (Not to mention that the avian flu is still a big issue; but that would take another discussion.) A news article in reported that 70% of the city is flooded from the Ciliwung River overflow.

In this posting, I am questioning about the cause of the flood. Is it really because of the non-stop rain? I would argue that it is so easy to blame nature for the disaster, yet there are human factors that play into view. Compared with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, USA, for example; human factors play in the disaster by the speedy global warming that made bigger storms and also the maintenance of the levees.

In the case of Jakarta, the question is: since the flood in 2002, has there been any actions to prevent the flooding to occur? We cannot stop the rain from pouring -- it IS the rainy season. But, first of all, how about the sprawl of the villa developments in Puncak area in Bogor regency that has reduced the capacity of the soil to absorb the water in the Ciliwung River? Considering that so often the media describe the flood as a "delivery from Bogor", I think there should have been a step to conserve and replace some of the lost water-absorbing grounds. Secondly, to face a heavy rainy season, a city needs infrastructure support. The accussation that the flood is a "delivery" should NOT lead to ignorance that there is a problem in Jakarta's drainage system. We know that a built-up area has less capacity to absorb water than open soil. With the massive development of Jakarta, the city is covered with mostly concrete. Consequently, there needs to be more canals and water drainage to channel the water properly so that the water would not flood the streets and homes. This step will also protect the quality of the streets, because a flooded street would damage the asphalt layer. Most importantly, building infrastructures to prevent flood would prevent the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

To conclude this posting, I urge the city of Jakarta to take action to prevent this disaster to occur in the future. I know that everybody in Jakarta cares (and should care) about the city. At least, we should minimize the human factor in the flood, because that is something that we can control. Otherwise, the flood will come again and again, and it will only get worse. Going back to the illustration from my uncle and aunts' homes, it went from 90cm in 2002 to the ceiling in 2007. With this flood, the city is also economically disadvantaged, because:
1) it slowed down and even blocked the economic activities in the city: markets are shut down, transportation does not work, people cannot go to work. ATM transactions were disabled and internet connections were disconnected. This costs a lot for the city to lose business days;

2) it damages properties and streets. Eventually these damages need to be repaired. Spending money for preventive actions is always better than for repairing the damages that could have been avoided through preventive measures;

3) it damages the image of Jakarta, not just nationally, but globally. Jakarta is supposed to be the "global city" of Indonesia, the cosmopolitan "gateway" of the country to the international world. How would the global world view the city now that it clearly has an acute flood problem? Image of the city** is very important, not only to attract investments but also as a symbol of the whole nation to the world, that this is the capital city we can be proud of.

The most important thing to keep in mind: The flood victimizes the people in the city, while the people are the most important part of the city. There would be no city of Jakarta if there is no people of Jakarta. I am sure that we can still be proud of Jakarta. It just needs some work -- perhaps a lot of work -- but it has all the potential. By keeping in mind that the people is the priority in the city, we need to start to address the problem NOW and plan for a sustainable city.

** Kevin Lynch's "Image of the City" (Lynch 1960) refers to the visual quality of the city. In this posting, my use of the term "image of the city" refers not only to the visual quality of the city, but also the symbolic meaning of the city as a whole to its people and the world.

CNN News/Associated Press. "200,000 homeless in Jakarta floods." February 5, 2007.
Kompas Cyber Media. "Jakarta Masih Terendam." By Emilius Caesar Alexey, February 4, 2007. (
Kompas Cyber Media. "Ratusan Warga Bukit Duri Butuh Makanan." February 4, 2007. (
Kompas Cyber Media. "Stasiun Tanah Abang Masih Terendam." February 4, 2007. (
Kompas Cyber Media. "Kedatangan KA Terlambat 10 Jam Karena Banjir." February 3, 2007. (
Kompas Cyber Media. "PT KA Rugi Lebih Dari Rp 800 Juta Akibat Banjir." February 2, 2007. (
BBC News. "Rain adds to Jakarta flood misery." February 4, 2007.
AFP News on Yahoo! "Indonesia on high alert as flood death toll climbs." February 4, 2007.
BBC News. "Humans blamed for climate change." February 3, 2007.
Yahoo! News Photo. "Flooding in Malaysia and Indonesia." February 2007.

Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1960.
Gore, Albert. An Inconvenient Truth. Paramount Classics and Participant Productions. 2006.

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