To Think About

Less is more. Unless you're standing next to the one with more. Then less just looks pathetic.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I consider it a blessing that I'm on vacation in tropical Hawaii. Even though my week is filled with sun, good food, shopping, and laying on the beach, there were two things I insisted I do: go to a luau and visit Pearl Harbor. The first I plan to do tomorrow, while the latter I had the privilege of experiencing today.

I went to Pearl Harbor this morning. After learning about 20th century World History back in high school (History was one of my IB subject areas, and I was one of Mrs. Judy's geek in training at the time - I reckon I have matriculated to full geekdom by this time), I was compelled to visit the historical site of the event that changed history. I feel that there are a few events that truly and drastically changed the course of history; examples might include Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, etc. Also, December 7 is Mrs. Judy's birthday, which means it is a day to remember in our geek training class. Needless to say, I made sure to book a trip to Pearl Harbor.

When we got there, and our hilarious guide had finished briefing us on what to do and when to do it, we had a little over one hour to spend exploring the exhibits, museums, and gift shops before we get to watch a documentary movie and visit the USS Arizona Memorial. As I started exploring the grounds, a reverent silence fell on me. Reading about details of the attack, seeing pictures of smoke and destruction, and reading the names of victims and survivors of the attack pulled me into deep contemplation, much like a prayer.

I contemplated.

I contemplated on a number of things.

I thought about the men on those battleships. Some of them went to their deaths without ever fully comprehending what was going on. I thought about those that were in capsized battleships, knocking, hoping that there were people alive out there to rescue them. I cannot even begin to imagine what they were thinking or feeling at the time. I would guess a deadly mix of desperation, fear, hopelessness, and hope.

I thought about the ones who survived. Whether or not they were on the base at the time of the attack, these people were still impacted. I thought about the ones who were on the battleships, and the force of explosions propelled them into the sea of fire. Again, I could not imagine the pain of trying to stay afloat in a sea thick with burning oil. A sea of fire. A tiny glimpse of hell. I thought about the ones who were on leave, or the ones who took the time that Sunday morning to go to church. I thought about how they felt upon hearing the news: Pearl Harbor was attacked, and that it was not a drill. I would guess that a concoction of sadness, relief, anger, and guilt haunted their consciences. One of the quotes etched in stone was from Ensign Paul H. Backus, of the USS Oklahoma; it said:
"Why them and not me?

It must have been difficult to survive, knowing that for some reason, whether divine intervention or pure dumb luck, they were spared. They belong on those ships, and when their friends died, a part of them died too.

I thought about the USS Arizona. I was not there that day (my parents weren't even born yet), but I could just picture her burning in the night. She burned for two days, a flaming proof of the attack. The USS Arizona sank graciously, with her head held high, to her final watery resting place. I thought about the lives that were lost. Standing in front of the wall of names at the USS Arizona memorial, I felt a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I don't know these people, none of those names were familiar to me. Yet standing there, I grieved. I prayed.

Why did this visit make this much of an impact to me? In case you didn't know, I'm not American. Why does Pearl Harbor mean so much to a 23-year-old Indonesian?

The attack on Pearl Harbor confirmed America's entrance to World War II. It happened on December 7, 1941. In March of 1942, Japan occupied Indonesia, or the cluster of islands the Dutch had colonized and called the East Indies. The Japanese did more damage to Indonesia in 3 years than what the Dutch did in 300 years. When the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, the Japanese in Indonesia quickly left. On August 17, 1945, Ir. Soekarno and Moh. Hatta declared Indonesia's independence.

I understand that there are numerous "what ifs" in this story. Indonesia might still have gotten her independence if Pearl Harbor or the atomic bombings never happened. And I have to make it clear that I am not happy that these things happened. In fact, the very thought of them breaks my heart. However, I cannot escape the fact that those events did happen.

I am sorry that Pearl Harbor was attacked.

I am sorry that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demolished.

I am sorry that so many men lost their lives.

What did their sacrifice give me? Their sacrifice helped give a nation liberty. I was born in 1988, long after the war was over. I didn't have to speak Dutch or Japanese. I didn't have to work to serve as part of a conquered nation. I was born into a free nation, troubled at times (we are young - teenage years are always awkward), but free nonetheless.

I cannot really describe how I'm feeling. Grateful. Yes, that's it.

I am grateful.

And I will always remember.

Friday, October 21, 2011


"Life is about choices, but discerning the right choice to make will always be a mystery."

I posted that in response to a friend's Facebook status question. She was asking her friends on what they are pondering about.

I am the kind of person who likes to know what is going on. I want to know what I should be doing and when I should be doing it. I want to know what to expect. I guess I'm telling you that I am a control freak. I've mellowed out throughout the years, but control freak tendencies still loom in my subconscious.

The same friend who had posted the Facebook status introduced me to the works of Frederick Buechner. I am currently reading through Godric. Some passages capture my attention and draw me to ponder on them. I will share one about choices in life.

"'This life of ours is like a street that passes many doors,' Ball said, 'nor think you all the doors I mean are wood. Every day's a door and every night. When a man throws wide his arms to you in friendship, it's a door he opens same as when a woman opens hers in wantonness. The street forks out, and there's two doors to choose between. The meadow that tempts you rest your bones and dream a while. The rackribbed child that begs for scraps the dogs have left. The sea that calls a man to travel far. They are all doors, some God's and some the Fiend's. So choose with care which ones you take, my son, and one day - who can say - you'll reach the holy door itself'" (Buechner, 24).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fallen Women: Reflections on a Fallen World

This is a topic that does not normally surface during a friendly conversation over coffee. This is a topic that people refuse to think about even though they know, albeit subconsciously, that it exists. This is a topic that people fear, and hate, but mostly fear. Parents fear for their precious daughters. Governments fear for the safety of their people. Religious people fear for the moral and eternal well-being of the population. Yet whispers from this unwanted world escapes to our world every now and again, whispers that attempt to nudge the high and mighty to look upon a fallen world. Whispers that demand action.

I am not an expert on the world of the fallen women. I have no desire to have that particular expertise. However, over the past years, I have stumbled across a few of the whispers I mentioned earlier in literatures and other works of art. The whispers are all different, spanning different eras and different cultures, but the fact that they exist did not escape me.Today, I will attempt to put some of my thoughts into words. A brief encounter with Thomas Hardy's "The Ruined Maid" a week and a half ago brought back memories of a tenth grade literature class reading of Nawal El-Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero. This book is El-Saadawi's retelling of the life and struggles of Firdaus, an Egyptian prostitute and murderess who was on death row. (The reason why tenth graders were assigned to read a book outlining the atrocities in this woman's life is still a mystery to me. I think the book scarred me. Or challenged me. Or both.)

I am providing a link to Hardy's "The Ruined Maid" here. I also have posted a link to Wikipedia's article on Woman at Point Zero here. (This is no academic paper, so I would assume some understanding for my cop out of a reference.) The book can be found in libraries and bookstores, although it is not a common one.

In Hardy's poem, the character known as 'Melia, a self-proclaimed "ruined maid," seems to live life pretty comfortably. She dresses well, talks properly, and lives life to the fullest. Compared to the friend she ran into in town, 'Melia had perks and privileges honest women can only dream of. However, all of the perks and privileges the "ruined maid" enjoyed came with a price: her social and moral respectability. Respectable women living in the Victorian Era had very little say in anything. Life for them meant hard work, as Hardy's poem seem to portray. (Further reading on Victorian life for women can be found here, a blog by Tasha Swinney for our Victorian Literature class this semester.) Looking at their situation from the lens of a woman living in America today, honest and respectable Victorian women seemed very trapped. They are expected to submit and not question. Their society seems to view intelligent, outspoken, and daring women as somewhat veering from normalcy. The question becomes this: what is the better life? Would it have been better to be morally and socially ruined or lead the life of a respectable Victorian woman?

The same question became the focus of Nawal El-Saadawi's book. Her book, Woman at Point Zero, was set in Egypt and was first published in 1975. Firdaus, the death row inmate who is the main character of the book, described what it was like to live as a woman in a patriarchal society. She described how she had tried to earn honest living, but was still oppressed and taken advantage of by men.

“I came to realize that a female employee is more afraid of losing her job than a prostitute is of losing her life. An employee is scared of losing her job and becoming a prostitute because she does not understand that the prostitute’s life is in fact better than hers. And so she pays the price of her illusory fears with her life, her health, her body, and her mind. She pays the highest price for things of the lowest value. I now knew that all of us were prostitutes who sold themselves at varying prices, and that an expensive prostitute was better than a cheap one” (Woman at Point Zero, p.97).

Firdaus had somewhat of the same idea as that communicated by Hardy's ruined maid. She seems to think that a prostitute's life is better than a female employee in 1970 Egypt. I am also posting yet another quote from the book, which was how Firdaus described her identity and her chosen way of life. (Don't worry, this is going to be my last quote from the book. Do I recommend the book? I honestly do not have an opinion. It is an interesting study, yet very raw.)

"Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven. That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another. Because I was intelligent I preferred to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife. Every time I gave my body I charged the highest price” (Woman at Point Zero, p117).

In a number of societies throughout history, women have felt oppressed and trapped. It might not be in the here and now, but Victorian England and 1970 Egypt are two examples of when and where women have felt oppressed and trapped. In both cases, the choice of the freedom connected with being less-respectable seemed preferable compared to the respectable norm. By writing these thoughts down, I am not saying that I would like to make this choice (in case you're questioning my motives). I am also not men-bashing. I am merely writing down thoughts and questions about our past and present society. I am sad to say, however, that I ended up with more questions than I did conclusions.

These women decided that they were better off being ruined. What does this say about the society they were living in? Indeed, everyone have the choice to do whatever they want with their lives, but would a different kind of society make a difference?

Can you live without freedom? Would you live without freedom? What price would you be willing to pay for that freedom? For the ruined maid in Hardy's poem, it might be the freedom to be successful and to enjoy life. For Firdaus, it was the freedom to be respected and to be in control of her own life. Even though I haven't discussed Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (there were no fallen women or prostitution), Marian Halcombe did not fit the Victorian heroine mold. I would say that Marian chose unmarried life for the sake of keeping her intelligent, forthright, and outspoken self intact. (You could argue that she didn't get married due to her face, but that's another discussion altogether.)

What price would you be willing to pay for the freedom to be you?

To be completely honest, I wouldn't know how to answer these questions myself. I'm not able to answer them because I've never been put in this position before. These "whispers" are hard to digest. They tell of societies I would not want to be a part of. They tell of people I would not want to encounter. They tell of hardships I wish I've never read about. However, I think that the hardest part for me to grasp would probably be the fact that this actually happened. Although somewhat scarred by these "whispers" that I've stumbled across, I think that they are important. People need to know that these societies existed, and that these choices were made. I think these stories and poems force us to think about things we would rather not think about; after we've thought about it, maybe we would be compelled to do something about it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Can Find a Hope

It is now September 12. All day, I was trying to come up with something to say about 9/11. I came up with nothing. Just like how I felt ten years ago, seeing the live footage of the two towers crashing down, I did not know what to say. I did not know how to pray.

In 2002, a year after the devastating day, An American Requiem, a work composed by Laurey Berteig and Jonathan Lugo was performed at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The work was a prayer, a mass for the dead. So today, speechless on my own, I would like to share this prayer from An American Requiem.

In a world that seems so cold now that our innocence is gone
We will join our hearts with those that we find near
We will pray for His hand to take hold of what we fear
And believe in what we knew to once be true

We can find a hope, we can find a strength
We can know we're still in his hand and know that there's a plan
Hold on to your faith in Him and you will be strong again
We can know He still loves our land
O God, come and heal our land

Living in the shadows that we cannot understand
We will join our hearts across the land in prayer
We will pray for His grace to heal all that we can't bear
Trusting in His sov'reign hand to help us stand

We will find a hope in Him, we will find our strength to begin
We will know we're still in His hand and know that there's a plan
Hold on to our faith in Him and we will be strong again
We can know He still loves our land
O God, come and heal our land

-Laurey Berteig/Peterson

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on Northanger Abbey and (of course) Marriage

The geek in me manifests itself once in a while and recently, it takes the form of auditing a course in Victorian Literature. Ever since I took British Lit II in my sophomore year of college, I was hooked. I would have added English as another major, but I would have stayed in college forever. All that to say, I'm in Victorian Literature and we have just finished reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Some of the themes we've discussed include how Austen was writing this as a parody of Gothic novels and the always present topic of marriage.

The purpose of this post is not to talk about our class' topics of discussion. The purpose of this post is mostly to express some of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head concerning Austen's Northanger Abbey.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen created a not-so-Gothic heroine in Catherine Morland. Austen also created a not-so-Gothic counterpart to Catherine in Henry TIlney, the supposed hero of the novel. In Henry Tilney (I need to be specific, since there are three gentlemen by the name of Tilney in Northanger Abbey), Jane Austen created a different kind of hero. Instead of the extremely dashing knight-in-shining-armor hero that is most common in Gothic novels - as well as in the typical Disney fairy tale - Henry Tilney was described as an almost handsome 26-year-old man. He is mature, not flighty, constant, faithful, patient, and rational.

At the end of the novel (spoiler alert, people!), Henry Tilney proposed to Catherine Morland. It was bound to happen anyways. Of course, Catherine was delighted to accept the offer. However, it's interesting to note how Austen described Tilney's feelings toward Catherine. She described it thus, "...though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought" (Vol. II, Chapter XV). Henry came to like Catherine because she liked him. Some might think that this is very a very unromantic notion in a supposedly romantic comedy-ish author. Like Julia Young said, "How very junior high!" It might be awfully junior high of Tilney, but is it possible that Austen might have motive other than to poke fun at the idea of marriage based on love?

Is it possible that, when writing this quote, Austen was commenting on the Gothic idea of romance? In Gothic writing genre, romance seems to include the impulsive and highly emotional feelings which yield to very impulsive and highly emotional relationships. Is it possible, that Austen was trying to convey that, when it comes to finding a marriage partner, it is completely wise and acceptable to look for companionship? This does not mean marriage of convenience, but rather taking into consideration compatibility in intellect, values, faith, etc. Is it possible that Austen was saying that marriage should not be based on the desperately impulsive love, or the idea of "soul mates" and "love at first sight," but on the possibility of two people living together and sharing their lives with each other without committing murder?