Friday, May 23, 2008

(some 10 years ago)

It has been a while since then (and from its anniversary too), so maybe now is a good time to share something about it.

It was the Tuesday after a long week-end, and I was feeling lethargically lazy.
A few days earlier we had dinner to celebrate my dad's not-quite-golden birthday (enough reason for a proper meal out) at a very fancy restaurant... my first brush with nouvelle cuisine. The day after his birthday (which was my sister's - she was in Melbourne by herself back then) I went for white water rafting with my mum, fell into the rapids and got out unhurt with the exception of a scrape on my knee. The nice long weekend ended and I had to go back to my uncle's, at whose house I was staying "to improve discipline"... or so according to my mum. My uncle's house was located in a housing area behind Ciputra mall. So, two days into the week and headed for an English lesson, I sulked whilst getting trapped in a traffic jam resulting from a demo: short for demonstration. It was sometime after 2PM.

Getting back to my uncle's after the English lesson was even harder than getting out of it and (whilst on the car) I started thinking that maybeeeee I should have skipped the lesson altogether. I was sure the driver wasn't pleased with the traffic conditions either, and thought that each of us wouldn't have had to put up with the extraordinarily long rides. Anyway, I got to my uncle's, had dinner, and heard something on the TV about some demo turning sour with some police or military people getting their hands into it to stop people from 'demonstrating' (wow, I thought university students had a lot of free time on their hands, that was cool.) Couldn't remember much for the rest of day, except that it was rather uneventful..

The next day, we went to school on an unusually deserted route. We usually went off early in the morning anyway (as my cousin had a penchant for sitting in class half an hour before school started), but the emptiness was unusual. We got to school and got told to go back home. I was secretly happy with the extra day off.

The day was spent sitting on front of the TV. My uncle went in and out to plan out security measures, barricades etc with the menfolk of the housing complex. I went to bed after being briefed by my room-sharing cousin on some things about 'security', and that I should wake up when a metal clanging noise (i.e. makeshift alarm) was sounded. I think we were supposed to pick a thing for self-defense... I chose my colour guard's flag baton, sans flag.

When the makeshift alarm was sounded that night, I slept like a log.
My cousin swore that she would've left me if I didn't wake up.
So I thought, "okay... it's getting serious."

The next few days came in and out in a blur.

Another night with one or two makeshift alarms, and I woke up pronto this time around. I got used to the drill. I gripped the flag baton so hard I could feel my nails digging into flesh. I made up fictional scenarios of what might happen and rehearsed silently in my head how I would react to each of them. I huddled close to my girl cousins and the house maids, dreading every noise made and hoping that the rioters would come to their senses and morning would come and this hulabaloo would end, and that everybody will go back to school and work and do what they're supposed to do and come back home with a happy face.

My uncle's driveway/open garage was turned into a neighbourhood watchers' relaxation point, replete with drinks and small snacks. I got introduced to a man around his age... my dad's friend/acquaintance at uni apparently, who lived just a few doors down, who had a child my age who was busy playing his (or her? excuse lack of gender indicator in Indonesian) gaming console back home. My room-sharing cousin told me about his private physics/maths tutor (living in a nearly housing complex) who tested home-made bombs contained within glass bottles by throwing one on an asphalt road. I can't recall what exactly she said about the experiment's result: only that the glass bottle broke upon contact, some chemical reactions happened, and that nobody should mess with this tutor guy.

A few days later, I got picked up or sent off to my parents' on the other side of town. Remembered going to my dad's office in central Jakarta (deserted but thankfully intact) and the flurry of instructions my mum left to the building keeper/watcher. Rode back home with both parents in the same car. Got told to 'pack some clothes' whilst my parents debated on the plus and cons of staying in the Regent, flying out or staying put. I congratulated myself for having studied Melbourne's public transport system for the past year or so.

Needless to say, by my fourteenth birthday in early June I was back at my uncle's.
In light of the events that unfolded, and maybe due to my sister's contemplation that moving out earlier "might be a better experience for Marsha", my parents decided to send me off to study halfway through third year of junior high.

I do not have an impressively unusual brush with the May 1998 riots, nor do I directly and substantially suffer because of it. However, I still shudder at the mention of it - how civilised humans could turn against each other and do onto others what they would never do onto themselves. I'm not strictly talking about the ensuing riots here; I'm also referring to events leading up to these riots.

I still cannot look at images of the riots and not have the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I can't stand reading or hearing testimonies from riot victims or their family members. The riots were horrific; it feels wrong and I don't like it at all.

Put others before oneself and put oneself into others' shoes, and the world will be a better place.

Good night :))

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