Where Sunday procrastination took me

Yesterday, I found A Pictorial Dictionary of the Animal World, published in 1966. It starts with abdomen and ends with zygote and has many biology terms and pictures in between. I never saw this book before until I was browsing my dad’s bookshelf yesterday. I think it was my dad’s when he was studying English.

In it, there is a definition and explanation of Acetylcholine, which sounded familiar. After I read the definition, I remembered I heard of this term from one of Andrew Huberman’s podcast episodes – a really good science podcast on how our body works and how to use science to optimize our performance and well-being.

Acetylcholine. A substance that has been found in almost all animals possesing a nervous system. It is produced in minute amounts at many nerve-endings when a signal passes along the nerve cell. It appears to be responsible for passing the signal (impulse) on to the next nerve cell or for trigerring off a reaction in a muscle when the signal arrives. Acetylcholine is destroyed almost immediately by cholinesterase. If this were not so, the acetylcholine would go on setting up impulses or reactions and the nervours system would be in chaos.

Michael Chinery. 1966. A Pictorial Dictionary of the Animal World: An illustrated demonstration of terms used in animal biology. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.

Thank god for acetylcholine in our bodies and other neuromodulators that keep us balanced!

I’ve been experiencing a pull to paper books, printed photos and the internet before social media. This discovery of this more than half-a-century-old book makes me happy. See lopsided pics below.

Today, I planned to write something about my travels a couple of weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by procrastination after finding old pictures from my childhood. This is from when I was in kindergarten. I’m probably around four or five years old here. At that young age, I was timid, anxious, and already felt ugly, perhaps because of my teeth – and started to develop feelings of unworthiness. When I see this picture, I want to hug little me and tell her that she’s beautiful and she matters.

So, of course, after seeing this old picture, I started to want to remember what it was like in the 1980s and 1990s, and my fingers moved to my computer and started to open Youtube and search “Indonesia in the 1970s”. I found this channel with a video of Indonesia in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – with beautiful actresses such as Paramitha Rusady, Lidya Kandou, and Desi Permatasari.

I didn’t stop there.

I followed what Youtube recommended and arrived at David Hoffman’s channel, a documentary filmmaker who has been filming since the early 1960s.

I watched one of his videos interviewing people on Wall Street in 1979. Their answers about work, government, corporations, and information society resonate today. The difference is that the people’s curiosity and anxiety about the camera.

His channel is a treasure trove of memories. I’ve subscribed.

‘The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers’: Against despair through storytelling

In her play “Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-Kembang Genjer” (The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers), feminist playwright Faiza Mardzoeki captures how, for female survivors of the communist purge, the simple act of telling their stories is an act against despair.

What is it like to keep the secret of the most painful experience you’ve ever had from your own flesh and blood? What is it like to be emotionally alienated from your loved ones, separated by lies systematically spread and kept alive for decades?

In modern-day Indonesia, these questions are not hypothetical. For a long time, survivors of the 1965-1966 communist purge kept their traumatic experiences of torture, sexual violence and imprisonment from their next of kin for various psychological and political reasons. Many have carried them to their graves.

Playwright Faiza Mardzoeki, in her play Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-Kembang Genjer (The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers), captures how, for women survivors of the communist purge, the simple act of telling their stories is an act against despair that carries with it the faint hope of healing.

It was a leap of faith to end their emotional isolation from the younger generation, who had been raised to fear and hate them. The play, first performed in the Goethe Institute in 2014 and recently this year at the Asean Literary Festival, is now available in book form, published by Bandung-based publisher Ultimus.

In 1965, after the failed putsch that killed six army generals and an officer by a group calling themselves the 30th September Movement, the military slandered the communists and their supporters, especially members of Gerwani, the women’s organization affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), stating their involvement in torturing the generals.

As researcher Saskia Wieringa wrote in her book The Destruction of the Women’s Movement: Sexual Politics in Indonesia after the Downfall of the Indonesian Communist Party, horrific stories of communist women seducing the generals with lewd dancing, mutilating their genitals and gouging out their eyes, were circulated in military-controlled newspapers — the only press allowed at the time.

Soeharto, who grabbed the seat of power after the entire Indonesian left was eliminated, made sure the lies were repeated to the next generation, creating a specter of communism within Indonesian society.

In Silent, Mardzoeki took true stories of former prisoners at Plantungan, a prison for women in East Java where members of Gerwani, the female union workers, left-leaning journalists and communist sympathizers were banished.

The phrase Genjer Flowers is a metaphor for female victims of the communist purge. The folk song “Genjer-Genjer,” about a wild plant that was eaten as a vegetable during the Japanese occupation, was popular among Gerwani members and many leftist artists.

Mardzoeki, 43, grew up under Soeharto’s regime and was one of the first batch of Indonesian students to see the propaganda slasher-style film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI that depicts communists as violent and immoral.

In Silent, she incorporated her own experience of discovering in her 20s the unspoken violence against communists and their sympathizers. Originally an activist for worker’s rights and women’s rights activists, she encountered women survivors of the 1965 communist purge through her work.

She witnessed how difficult it was for the survivors, such as Sulami, former secretary general of Gerwani, and Sudjinah, who worked as a journalist and translator in the 1960s, to revisit their traumatic past and share their stories with her. Yet they did.

Silent tells the story of Minghayati Dayanina, a beautiful young woman in her 20s who is piecing together stories of her grandmother’s past. Her grandmother, Suhartini, 83, was a member of Gerwani.

Nini, as Suhartini is called, lost her beloved husband in the pogroms. Meanwhile, she was taken to Bukit Duri prison while three months pregnant with Ming’s mother Rachmanina. She later gave birth in prison, had to give up her daughter to relatives and was sent to Plantungan.

The death of Rachmanina due to a broken heart — her husband, upon knowing her family history, left her — brought Ming to Nini.

Like other children who grew up under the Soeharto dictatorship, Ming grew up fearing Gerwani. Even mentioning the word Gerwani felt awkward to her.

“You’re not afraid are you, to hear the word ‘Gerwani’?” Nini asked Ming. “I have to admit, it does feel strange in my mouth to say the word,” Ming replied.

But Nini, who is ageing and ailing, decided to set things straight about the slander against Gerwani. She also wanted to tell Ming a family secret.

But before she did she enlisted the help of her friends, who were also at Plantungan prison, to give her moral support on the day she decided to tell the truth. She invited her friends for a luncheon at her place and there she told Ming her deepest secret.

The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers is more than a play about the sufferings of women political prisoners that happened 50 years ago. It’s a play about our present time.

It’s a play about women survivors ending their silence and reaching out to the younger generation with their own narratives.

Faiza, heavily influenced by Egyptian writer Nawal El Sadaawi for her feminist views and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in her style of plays, aims to tell a story of how women survivors share their narrative to express themselves in the last years of their lives and bestow their stories on the younger generation.

Silent then is a story about storytelling and the hope that their narratives, never acknowledged by the government, do not end with them.


This article was published in on Monday, August 22, 2016, with the title “‘The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers’: Against despair through storytelling”.

Click to read:

I plan to shorten my five-yearly blogging schedule

To those who subscribe to my updates, apologies for the sudden flurry of posts entering your inbox. I am updating my personal website and posted some Op-eds that I have published in a couple of publications between 2016 and 2021. Eeck…, I know I have been terrible at maintaining this.

I remember in 2018, I wrote a blog post here after keeping it dormant for five years. And the last post before today was from December 2018! I really did not plan a five-yearly posting schedule.

Perhaps, that’s my personal development and growth cycle. I seem unmotivated to write blog posts on personal reflection or updates when I’m feeling stressed.

I remember the years between 2014 and 2018 were stressful and challenging as I worked to launch The Conversation Indonesia. It was only when I felt like I could finally breathe with the launch of The Conversation Indonesia, I felt compelled to finally share an update on what I had been doing for the past five years.

But I quickly found that managing and growing an organization amid a pandemic and personal grief is also stressful and challenging. It has been a transformative and painful growing process, which somehow took me another five years to graduate.

So, consider my writing this blog post a sign that I’m feeling well and content. I hope that my growth-stress cycle will be shorter or that I will continue to write during stressful periods. Perhaps, if I actually reflect through writing it would not take me five years to gain some wisdom and insight.

Await my next post soon!

Happy Nyepi for Balinese Hindu and happy fasting to Muslims around the world.

Indonesia should stop pushing its academics to chase empty indicators

Predatory journals that print articles for a fee undermine scientific research

An assessment system that predominantly evaluates research performance based on journal output and citations is steering academics from developing countries like mine to chasing quantity over quality. And being exploited while doing so.

Researchers in Indonesia are the second most likely in the world to publish in dubious journals that print articles for a fee without proper scientific peer review, a process where several experts in the field review the merit of the research, according to a new study by economists Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec.

These predatory journals prey on academics whose career progressions, and therefore salary increase, are determined by credit points. They exploit the processing fees that authors pay to make articles open to the public. They pocket the payment, an average of $178, an amount close to the basic salary of an entry-level lecturer in a state university in Indonesia, without facilitating proper peer review. The papers published by predatory journals are often low-quality, with typographical and grammatical errors.

I run a nonprofit online media that works with scholars to produce evidence-based analyses that laypeople can easily digest. This work that helps spread knowledge and builds an informed public earns academics very little credit points in Indonesia. But publishing in journals indexed by international academic databases gives them plenty.

Unfortunately, hundreds of potentially predatory journals have infiltrated academic databases, such as Scopus. Machacek and Srholec found that potentially predatory journals that appeared in the database had published more than 160,000 articles between 2015 and 2017. Their analysis shows that around 17% of articles, or every sixth article, produced by researchers in Indonesia and Kazakhstan are published in predatory journals.

Sociologists Anna Severin and Nicola Low have warned that having these low-quality studies in academic databases may spread untrustworthy research into the scientific literature. Although, an analysis by researchers in Finland says that articles in predatory journals are rarely cited by other academics, meaning they do not matter much.

What is clear is that it is a waste of resources. The predatory journal market was estimated to be around $74 million in 2014. And academics could have diverted the time they took to do substandard work for the real hard work of quality research. For many scholars, this would include improving their research and communication skills. And this is important, especially for developing countries that need well-trained researchers to build and strengthen their research sector.

Academics in advanced economies, such as in the U.S. and some European countries, also fall prey to predatory journals. But, Machacek and Srholec’s analysis found academics in medium-level economies with large emerging research sectors are the most susceptible. In addition to Indonesia and Kazakhstan, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Egypt are in the top twenty.

In Indonesia’s case, government policies in recent years that geared the assessment for promotion to push academics to publish has succeeded in increasing the number of papers published by Indonesian scholars. Data from Scimago Country & Journal Rank shows that within five years between 2015 and 2019, Indonesia increased its output by more than 400%, from around 8,000 to 44,000.

There is a way to stop this. In the past decade, there has been a movement to change the way research is being evaluated. Around the world, governments, science managers, research funders and universities base decisions to hire and promote, grant funds to rank universities using scientometry, a method that ranks journals and measures academics’ productivity and impact based on the number of publications and citations.

Scholars argue this journal-based metrics is not an accurate measure of scientific quality. In addition to the predatory journal problem, the metric also discourages science collaboration. As the metric values article count, academics who want to turn out several journal articles from a data set has an incentive to hold on to them rather than sharing them for other scientists to analyze.

In 2012, a group of editors and publishers met during the annual meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology and released a declaration on research assessment (DORA). Their general recommendation is to stop using journal-based metrics as a surrogate measure to evaluate the quality of research and individual scientists’ contribution.

They also recommend recognizing the value to all scholarly output, from journal articles, preprints which means articles uploaded in an open-access platform that have yet been peer reviewed, data sets, software, protocols, research materials, well-trained researches to societal outcomes and policy changes.

COVID-19 pandemic shows that speed and collaboration are essential in finding solutions. Reputable journals such as Science and Nature sped up their peer-review process. And many researchers shared their data sets and are uploading their findings in open science preprint platforms before submitting them to peer-reviewed journals. The spirit here is not about scoring points but working together to solve a global problem.

The Indonesian government should study and follow the DORA recommendation. By moving away from pushing academics to chase journal-based scores and creating a meaningful way to evaluate research, Indonesia will have a better chance of genuinely building and strengthening its research sector and take an active part in advancing science and providing solutions.


Prodita Sabarini is executive editor of The Conversation Indonesia, a nonprofit online media that brings together academics and journalists to produce evidence-based journalism. She is a 2019 Asia Pacific Obama Foundation Leader.

Published in Nikkei Asia on March 12, 2021

Women make good leaders. Can more of them rise to the top?

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of female state leaders are managing this historical crisis in their respective countries better than their male counterparts.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s clear, direct and empathic communication style got the country to come together to contain the new coronavirus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel based her response on science and has been blunt on how COVID-19 will stay in our lives for a long time. Under the leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen, China’s neighbor Taiwan prioritized public health and managed to keep the number of cases below 500 and the death toll to seven people.

Meanwhile, strongmen such as presidents Donald Trump in the United States, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in Indonesia underestimated the coronavirus in its early stages, dragging their feet in taking action and downplaying the health risk of COVID-19 on the people in their countries.

Many scholars have argued that the world is safer and more humane where women are in charge. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote in the Harvard Business Review that research shows women score higher than men in most leadership skills.

Women leaders not only show effective leadership capabilities that are IQ-based, such as having technical or professional expertise and the ability to analyze problems and come up with solutions; they also more commonly show behaviors that stem from high emotional intelligence, such as displaying high integrity and honesty, inspiring and motivating others, and collaborating and developing relationships — behaviors that build trust.

Yet despite this, when we look everywhere, few women are in decision-making positions. Nearly half of the world’s population is women. But in 2020, out of 193 states that are members of the United Nations, only 12 are led by women.

Around the world, legal discrimination against women, unfair social norms and attitudes, and the controlling of women’s bodies by patriarchal communities and governments continue to create structural barriers to gender equality.

For example, according to the UN’s Economic, Social and Cultural Organization, more girls than boys are not getting an education. And according to the World Bank, in 2019 less than half (47.7 percent) of all women participated in the labor force. Of those who have survived these hurdles, completing their education and securing jobs, many don’t rise to leadership positions.

In 2019, the world saw women holding only 29 percent of senior management roles in corporations. In addition to the gender inequalities in education and labor participation, women dropping off from the labor force after marriage and motherhood and low confidence among young women over their leadership capabilities contribute to this gender gap in leadership positions.

So what can those who are already in leadership positions do to make sure more women sit in the top positions? I am among few women who hold a top position in an organization.

I lead The Conversation Indonesia, a nonprofit media startup that shares expert knowledge to help the public make informed decisions.

Learning from my journey as a woman leader as well as from the experience of my female peers who are raising children, I believe leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors can provide at least three things to enable more women to reach senior positions in organizations.

First, create a work culture that promotes work-life balance. Organizations can provide a flexible work arrangement, allowing workers to decide where to work and, if possible, when they start and end their work hours. COVID-19 social restrictions show that many work tasks can be completed anywhere with an internet connection, making office attendance unnecessary.

Flexible work arrangements will not only support more women, who disproportionately take on the bulk of domestic duties in the family, to stay in the workforce; it will also provide opportunities for men to contribute more to domestic chores and parenting.

In urban areas like Jakarta, female labor force participation rates are highest in women between 25 and 29 years — reaching nearly 67 percent. But when women enter their 30s, the rate drops to 53.82 percent.

According to research by economist Diahhadi Setyonaluri 53 percent of women who have been married cite marriage, motherhood and family as reasons for their decisions to quit their jobs. Having to forgo long commutes and long hours at the office will help women avoid having to make the difficult decision of giving up their careers.

Second, sponsor competent women workers to take on projects that can build their leadership skills. A lifetime of being told to be dutiful often makes women reliable workers. But this might also stop them from believing that they deserve to take charge.

Many women often don’t apply for a position unless they convinced that they are 100 percent qualified. Meanwhile, men are more confident in trying out for higher positions even when they are underqualified. Zenger and Folkman’s research also compared how men and women assess their confidence. They found women under 25 have lower confidence than their male peers, and that this gap closes at 40.

Having someone believing in their abilities provides the initial boost for young women to increase their confidence.

Third, after identifying emerging women leaders, provide them with resources, such as mentorship, coaching and training, to improve their leadership skills. Some people show leadership traits from a young age, but for many people, it’s a learned skill acquired through experience.

Mentor them along the way and watch them learn from their mistakes. We have seen enough men without principles running the show.

We need more leaders with humility, self-awareness and empathy, traits commonly found in women. Imagine if more leaders — regardless of gender — exhibited these traits. Society would be better off as a whole.

Executive editor, The Conversation Indonesia and a 2019 Asia-Pacific Obama leader

This article was published in on Saturday, June 13, 2020, with the title “Women make good leaders. Can more of them rise to the top?”. Click to read:

On forgiveness, a response to GM and a call to action for Indonesia’s youth

A week after a groundbreaking national symposium on the 1965 tragedy, I received a message from my friend Febriana Firdaus. A journalist like myself, she lost her grandfather in the anticommunist violence in 1965-1966.

Febri and I are part of a new digital storytelling movement, Ingat65. We provide a medium for Indonesia’s younger generation to collectively remember the communist purges, a dark past that our nation for half a century has been forced to forget through propaganda and deliberate silence in official histories.

That morning, Febri forwarded to Ingat65’s Whatsapp group Goenawan Mohammad’s essay in Tempo magazine, entitled “Maaf” (Forgiveness). In his essay, GM, as the renowned essayist is commonly known, is not convinced President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should apologize for the 1965 violence.

“For what? For a crime that’s not his, on behalf of a state that’s not his to represent?” Febri highlighted that part with a yellow marker. I see her point.

The symposium, the first official dialogue on the issue since the fall of Soeharto, who rose to power on the back of the 1965 violence, has sparked a discussion on truth and reconciliation. GM’s essay adds to this discussion. But his reasoning, I argue, is unsound.

A man of letters, he referred to many thinkers, including Marx, to reinforce his point that the crime of the “state” in 1965-1966 was not of the current “state” that Jokowi now leads.

“For me, Marx is more correct: The “state” can never be a place for anyone, at anytime. The “state” is always “particular”; it’s merely a tool for those in power in a certain time and certain space. It is not permanent,” he wrote.

The irony is lost on GM when he quotes Marx, whose methodology of socioeconomic analysis was banned in 1966 as part of the systematic destruction of the left.

The “state” that Jokowi leads, one that GM says is not the same with that of 1966, still maintains that ban.

Marx was right. The state is a tool for those in power in a certain time and certain space.

But GM is dreaming to suggest that in 2016 we have broken completely with the New Order.

Even though Jokowi was a mere toddler when the violence happened, he has nonetheless inherited a legacy of impunity that still operates in Indonesia’s politics.

But let’s talk about the subject of GM’s piece: forgiveness. An element for reconciliation, forgiveness is important in post-conflict resolution.

Letting go of resentment is crucial to restoring friendly relations between offenders — perpetrators, accomplices, bystanders — and victims.

GM talks about the kinds of forgiveness that he admires: the martyr-like “pure forgiveness” of Wolter Monginsidi, who forgave his wrongdoers ahead of the offending deed (his own execution), and the unconditional forgiveness of political prisoner Oey Hay Djoen.

According to GM, Hay Djoen, commenting on his peer Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s distrust in the apology issued by the former president and leader of Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Abdurrahman Wahid, for NU’s involvement in the violence, wonders what moral right they have to deny forgiveness.

In Hay Djoen’s attitude to forgive unconditionally, GM sees something nobler than Pram’s rejection. Hay Djoen’s forgiveness, GM argues, defies Jacques Derrida’s fear of “conditional forgiveness” that placed “the victim” on a moral high ground.

However, GM failed to note that neither Hay Djoen nor Pram, nor other victims of the 1965 violence, were standing in a position of superiority.

Derrida’s warning that GM quoted on the dangers of “conditional forgiveness” being reduced as a tool for trade for national stability — as in the case of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process — referred more to an amnesty and not necessarily genuine forgiveness.

Neither Hay Djoen nor Pram had such power to pardon. Unlike in South Africa, where the victims of apartheid went on to hold political power and started the process of truth and reconciliation, in Indonesia the offenders are still in power and have yet to cease their wrongful deeds.

Philosopher Charles Griswold, in his book Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, notes that to gain true forgiveness from victims, there are several actions that the wrongdoer should do: acknowledge and repudiate the mistake, express regret, promise not to repeat the mistake, express sympathy and understanding for the suffering of the victim, and lastly, present an honest narrative that is not an excuse that can provide context as to why they carried out the offense.

Only then may the victim regain trust, let go of resentment and see the former enemy in a new light. These acts of apology should be made public on a national level to ensure an end to the injustice.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, Griswold notes, should be given on an individual level, lest what Derrida and GM feared might happen — forgiveness that doesn’t serve its genuine goal of renewal of bonds but acts as a form of forced peace-making.

How far are we from seeing these acts of apology in Indonesia? We don’t know yet.

The 1965 tragedy is still a deeply divisive issue. In an explanation about his essay on Wednesday, GM said he would like the state to apologize, if doing so brought about greater national harmony.

The 1965 symposium was an experiment to find out if we can start the process of reaching a national consensus that include all parties — victims and offenders — in the 1965 tragedy, according to one of the initiators, Agus Widjojo, the newly appointed National Resilience Institute chief, whose father was of one of the generals killed in the apparent abortive coup that rose the curtain on the violence.

In a way, in Ingat65, we are conducting an experiment too. We are opening a space for personal reflection to gauge how our generation feels about this issue and how we want our future to look.

Will we be a generation of bystanders (staying silent) or, worse, perpetrators (attacking gatherings of 1965 victims), and continue to perpetuate injustice? Our call now is not to Jokowi (just yet), but to our peers.

The voice of youth is crucial, especially now, when half of the country’s population is under the age of 30. We should find out what happened by talking to our elders.

We should read the many studies by academics and watch documentaries on 1965.

Let’s reflect on our history, decide what we want based on that reflection and together tell our leaders our desires for the future.

For too long, leaders of this country have been servants to themselves. Let’s peacefully bring power back into our hands and make GM’s dream come true.

Let’s make the state represent a new moral identity and really break away from the old guard, whose power came on the backs of extreme violence and the suffering of victims.


The writer, an editor for The Conversation, is the initiator and chief editor of Ingat65. The views expressed are her own.

This article was published in on Friday, April 26, 2016 with the title “On forgiveness, a response to GM and a call to action for Indonesia’s youth”. Click to read:

My first North American spring

The trees were full of flowers all over the ends of their branches – as if they were blooming. Each flower had soft petals. The trees that lined up next the to garden’s path had petals that formed layers of soft fuchsia. I thought they were cherry blossoms, but they were prunes. Some had four white petals for each flower. These had a funny name: dogwood.

The leaves of the Ginkgo Biloba trees were light green and had tiny dangling curls, also the same colour. I thought ginkgo was a root like ginger, because people market it as herbal remedy for stamina and memory enhancer. But it was a tall wood tree, like an oak.

There was the occasional red Japanese maple tree. The leaves had red triangles, like the Canadian flag. It was the colour of an arid ground just after a shower. When the light falls on it, the leaves becomes almost translucent.

I took the subway from Chelsea to the Bronx to visit the New York Botanical Garden. I read that New Yorkers complain about the subway. Coming from Jakarta, I find them convenient, and also cooling. The air inside the subway is cold. Taking the subway is romantic – for me, a quintessential New York experience.

I arrived in New York from Jakarta, via Houston and Boston. Before Houston, I had to stop in Tokyo and Dallas. I was stopped in Dallas and had to go a special security screening. Before leaving for the US, I had been worried that something like this will happen.

I had been racially profiled in the US when I was there four years ago. I found out that I had been profiled months after, when I was already back in Jakarta. I read an article about racial profiling at department stores in a feature article (either in the New Yorker or New York Times) and what happened to the people in the story was similar to what happened to me. I was oblivious at the time when it happened. Finding out that you had been racially profiles a couple of months after the event is still unsettling. My ignorance saved the rest of my stay that winter.

But this knowledge now made me worry that something bad like that might happen again. Perhaps I worry myself to much that it came true. The airport security officers at Dallas airport placed me in a corner, fenced with elastic bands, like a cow in a coop. A South Korean guy was placed in my coop too and we waited twenty minutes before they took us to the next security gate. Two women did a full body search on me by patting me on the legs, stomach, chest and arms. Then two old white men began taking out the contents of my bag. My laptop, my bag of cables, my toiletries. Lucky, I packed neat. They ignored me and talked to each other most of the time. They discussed about how best to swab the contents of my bag. They had a small paper that they swiped in every thing on my bag and put the paper into a machine which reads the chemical contents that are picked up by the paper. They looked for explosive materials. They took their time. And one by one the paper didn’t detect anything, until they swiped my toiletry bag. The paper beeped. I had to wait for another 15 mins, because these guys, didn’t know what to do. The guy who came later cleared me and let me go. But it was too late. My flight had left and I had to wait two more hours to take the next flight.

There was a conference about journalism in Asia in Houston. Historian and journalist Janet Steele gave the keynote speech. I loved that I was in a panel with the co-founders of the feminist online magazine Magdalene, and that my panel was all women. Another panelist is a reporter based in Washington for a Chinese TV station. We spoke about how culture affected reporting in Asia. The convenor, Moniza Waheed is a lovely Malaysian who did a really good job as moderator for both my panel and the one with academics, which talked about how the changes in journalism has affected the curriculum and teaching process in the class.

I stayed in a nice hotel across the Museum of Fine Arts that has a free shuttle. When I hear shuttle I think about a van. But at Zaza hotel, it was a black shiny SUV with two long horns on the front hood of the car.

I visited a butterfly garden at the Museum of Natural History in Houston. The air was warm and humid like a nice day in Bogor. Ferns, orchids, ephyphetes, palm, different kinds of strangling leaves were in the green house. And gossamer wings, red, black, white, blue fly above and around you.

I went to other museums too in Houston. My favorite was the museum of fine arts. I saw a 3,000-year-old Aztec carpet that had embroidery of 90 deities eating the head of humans. There was a large section of Indonesian gold that showed jewelry from everywhere from Nias, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, Flores. The European masters Mattise, Soutine, Braque, Picasso. But down in the lower ground, the photography of Raghubir Singh took me away. He took colorful pictures of India, capturing the daily lives of the people in South Asia. Five mustachiod men sat on the sandy ground with pink popsicles in their mouths. Masculine and fragile at the same time. My heart hurt for them. I googled Singh after my museum trip and while there were rave reviews of his exhibition that I saw, I found an article that a group of artists staged a #MeToo protest at his exhibition in New York. An artist said he assaulted her.

After Houston, I flew to Boston. Mikey picked me up with his girlfriend’s car. I slept in their guest bedroom. I didn’t want to be alone in a shitty hotel room in Boston. I was happy to be around friends. Katie is a speech therapist and Mikey now works full time as a teacher. They lived in a nice cosy house with a small backyard with rabbits as pests.

I did a lot of things in Boston: watched a documentary about native Americans trying to deal with the truth about their kids being taken away from their families and weren’t allowed to speak their language. Had drinks and dinners. Met with John Tirman and Ethan Zuckerman. Hung out and worked at TC Boston office.

But New York was my favorite place to be. In Boston, I felt a tinge of homesickness. I missed Jakarta. I felt this when walking from Harvard Square to Magoon Square at Somerville to catch up with Damian. The streets were empty and rows of New England style houses – wooden planks as walls, pointy rooftops – were standing next to New England style trees. The type that turns golden and red in the fall. It was idyllic. Yet, I was uncomfortable with that contrast to Jakarta.

New York is alive and pulsing. The brick colors of the zigurat style buildings with the light green leaf buds of spring, and the array of people walking on the streets were energising. It has tall buildings and lots of people like Jakarta. But better weather and better foot paths to walk on. And a subway, which people in NY complain about, but for me it’s luxury.

I hear a lot of bad stuff about New York. The way people interact socially and use status as currency is sickening. I perhaps wouldn’t love it if I was lonely and without friends or anything to do. But last weekend, it was my paradise.