5 February 2014

04. The Super Team

I’m posting this story today as a birthday gift to my former high school friend Edwin Prasatya. I wish you a Happy Birthday and may you continue to share your true kindness with the world.
 
Each of the 13 stories in this series was a candidate for the main anecdote of my graduation speech. They are actually the top 13 out of over 50 anecdotes which I listed out, ranging from the first day I stepped foot into the school to the very last days of school. Even just hours before graduation, there were still events that took place that were worthy of consideration.
 
No matter what the criteria was, all the listed anecdotes inevitably had something to do with belonging and how belonging is important to my cohort. So that was what I was looking for when I was short-listing the over 50 anecdotes down to 13. But then came the difficult part of choosing that one winner.
 
This anecdote won because I felt that it was the best representation of the importance of belonging to my classmates. But moreover, I feel that this anecdote presents the kindness of some members of our cohort that is so extraordinary because it demonstrated something that, having attended many different schools in the past, does not happen often; it’s distinctly Class of 2013. Most importantly, the anecdote presents a side to us that would otherwise go unnoticed.
 
However, this story, like many of the other stories in this series, needs to be taken in the long and complicated context that is the Class of 2013 to be fully appreciated, a context which can never be described in words.
 
***
 
The first school day after the end of the IPEKA Computer Competition (ICC) which deprived me of both all nourishment and all noteworthy social interaction, I found myself to be so disconnected from everyone due to the past four months of work and the fact that that I was sitting at a table in the canteen alone was proof of that
From the school lobby a considerable distance away from the canteen table that I was sitting at, Edwin Prasatya approached me, followed by his good friend Garry Kusuma. I was too engrossed in my thoughts to see them walking towards me initially and when I finally did see them, it didn’t cross my mind that they were really walking towards me to approach me. They got closer and closer. These two tall, well-postured men walking ever so dashingly towards me made me think that I was dead. Of course I was. Edwin looks like someone who would be a school bully, at least in terms of his body. All I could think to myself was that I should begin to appreciate being alone because I think I’d rather be alone than bullied.
Edwin and Garry were two people whom I never really had the chance to get to know. At that time, the closest I probably was to any of them was when they worked with me as the “Super Team” on the ICC race. Before ICC, I don’t remember ever speaking to any of them, or ever having reason to speak to any of them, and if I didn’t remember it I don’t think it ever happened. Even during ICC, we only spoke almost professionally. I barely knew anything about them and it didn’t seem to be a problem.
What business could they possibly have to do with me? That is, if they were actually walking towards me.
 
But they really were coming towards me.
 
They then do the unthinkable: they look me in the eye, call me by name and one of them says to me “ngapain lw duduk disini sendirian? Duduk sama kita lah.”, “What are you doing sitting here alone? Come sit with us.”
 
What? Why?
 
Even to this day, I still don’t fully understand how and why that happened. Two people who at that stage had nothing to do with me basically came into my life. So that was basically how I sat with and got to know what we can now call the Blurred Lines Boys over lunch breaks.
 
***
 
Before anyone knew it, Trial Exams were over, the trials had been marked, and we were already entering the phase where we were just being drilled on past papers. It was very quickly September. The end was so near. The end was graduation, equal to basically the end of our being together.
 
So close to the end, one would want it all to end well. One would want the story of the cohort to have the happy ending we quite frankly deserved. But one day, when everything seemed to be smooth sailing, it started to crumble for me.
 
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
 
I came down to the canteen quite late that day because, as usual, I had to deal with my university applications. It had been a rough day for me. That day, Calvin came to school half-way into IBS class which was just two periods before the lunch break looking very pale and sick. His absence caused Irvan to feel an emptiness in the class and both Calvin’s absence and Irvan’s loneliness was enough to leave me lonely and emotionally drained.
 
When I finally did come down to the canteen with my usual packed lunch, I saw the table which I would sit at from a distance. The usual group of people I would sit with had already congregated together: Calvin, Irvan, Regie, Garry, Edwin, Christian. As I got closer and closer to them, they seemed to be in the middle of quite an important discussion. It was not often that I saw them speaking with hands on the table, making gestures as if they were planning something. It’s not every day that they seemed to be having quite a serious discussion.
 
When I finally got to the table, however, everyone and everything just stopped. There was an abrupt silence and everyone went on eating as I unpacked my lunchbox. Of course I noticed the anomaly, and so I asked Regie of what was going on and instead of answering me himself he asked Calvin if he could tell me only to have Calvin say no. Therefore, the silence continued, and in that moment, I realised one thing: that I was taking away their freedom. I took away their freedom of speech, their freedom to develop meaningful connections at the expense of my connections.
 
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Not knowing that they were actually doing something good for me and still thinking that I took away their freedom, I decided that that day was the day that I would sit alone once again. I thought that that was the least I could do to give them the quality time with their friends that they deserved so close to the end. I felt so evil and yet guilty at the same time.
 
So that day I decided to sit alone again. But immediately after I took my place in isolation, Christian took noticed immediately, asked me why I sat alone and offered me to join them. I just said that I was fine.
 
Friday, 13 September 2013
 
The day before, I sat alone again and a similar incident happened only this time it was Irvan instead of Christian. It was the third time I was going to sit alone. With every day which I did, I became slightly more and more accustomed to it. Although that was the case, there was still discomfort both from the sheer loneliness which I was putting myself into and from the constant resistance of their attention. Even though it seemed like it had become a routine, it never crossed my mind that that day, yet another person would take notice of my personal solitary confinement. However, I would have never guessed that what would happen on this day was so bewildering, so mind-blowing and unbelievable that it would have such a lasting and touching impact on my life.
 
That day, the boys put an end to this. I saw the boys talking amongst themselves. Then, Edwin stood up, approached my table and asked me with the most serious tone I had ever heard him speak in say “lw kenapa sih? Ngapain lw duduk sendirian terus? Makan bareng kita lah.” “Are you alright? Why are you sitting alone? Please come join us.”
 
I declined.
 
“I’m going to sit here with you then”, he said, and he grabbed his lunch, moved out of his table and sat with me.
 
In a matter of seconds, I found myself sitting with Edwin, just the two of us, in a place that could not be more public. I could only look down at the table because it hurt me so much to see one of the nicest and for that reason most popular guys in the school sitting diametrically across what was fairly called public-enemy-number-one without anyone else, all for the sake of public-enemy-number-one’s momentary sense of belonging.
 
It did not take long for Garry to join us at the table, concerned for the lengths Edwin was going to not for me but rather for my sense of belonging. At the end of that, I saw my very own Super Team doing the unthinkable. The same Super Team that began all this for me six months ago came to the rescue once again. I realised that day that when I called them the Super Team, it was to mean far more than the ICC race.
 
I really cannot think of a better example to demonstrate how belonging is important to the Class of 2013. It doesn’t take Game Theory for us to know that in life, all of our actions are determined by our objectives.
 
Is belonging really important to you? Because if it really were important to you, it would be reflected in things you do.
 
I believe that a sense of belonging is a human need, one which at that time I was missing. However, Edwin and Garry fulfilled that need of mine, and they did so because belonging was important to them.

3 February 2014

03. Part of the Program

Day Three in IICS: the same day that the first face blessed me with a sense of belonging.
“What’s the next lesson, Ms Farida?”
“You’ve already figured out the next thing: ELSE IF. Would you like to join our programming club training every week starting next Wednesday?”
Even though I just stared at her blankly, in my mind I could hear the loudest “what?” ever.
Three days in a new school and I’m offered a place in the school’s competitive programming team with someone named Jonathan Handoko and someone else named Tania Halim. Prior to coming to this school, I had no idea what coding was. I never really knew that programmers actually write programs.
***
I left Ms Farida hanging until Wednesday morning when I finally decided to show up that afternoon despite how left behind I probably was or how dumb I would probably look. This school is known for computer programming. I was undeniably intimidated even before meeting these people but I trusted that if this teacher had faith in me and was willing to offer me a place so early on, I would probably belong there.
I showed up that afternoon in Computer Lab 5.2 to find Ms Farida there. Knowing that teachers had fellowship after school that day, I was wondering if we were going to be left on our own and sure enough we were. But before Ms Farida found out that Tania wouldn’t show up this time and left me to the computers, a tall and very skinny young man came in and Ms Farida introduced me to Jonathan Handoko.
We shook hands and Ms Farida left us. Then we sat down with a computer in between us and then got busy turning on the computers and logging in, and then typing in the standard code all over again instead of copy-pasting it from previous codes. We did all this in a very not awkward, but rather professional silence, just the way I liked my silences. Besides, that was the way it was supposed to be. We were supposed to be focused on our coding anyway.
“Jonathan, can you help me figure out what’s my mistake please?” I asked once I had given up in the most polite way possible.
He turned his head towards me considerably slowly, as if he were revealing something, giving me a blank stare with his eyes wide opened and his mouth closed with only a little concave up on the very slight ends of this mouth. After about ten seconds of silent stares, he slowly leaps out of his chair and lands his eyes centimetres away from my computer screen, in a true Jonathan style. Then he lets out what I later learnt to be one of his usual “hmm”s and then nods his head occasionally. When he finally figured out the silly careless mistake that I had made which practically anyone could have made, he points at the misspelt key word which caused my program not to run with his right pointer finger that when stretched out to point is not straight but rather bends very rigidly as if the joints in his finger bone are misplaced to begin with.
I burst in both laughter and frustration, thank him for taking a few seconds off looking at his screen to look at mine and then we both go back to work, back to that professional silence of ours.
But that silence didn’t last long; it ended when Jonathan turns to look at me faster than he did the first time and asks me “by the way, which school did you come from?”
So a conversation began and while he was asking basic questions about me which most people in the school probably had no reason to know the answers to, I was asking questions about things which I probably had no business in knowing because I was basically asking him the same questions he asked me. For example, right after that first question of his, I decided to return the question and ask him which school he came from when he wasn’t even a new student. I did, however, learn that he was newer than I thought as he only had a six month lead.
Upon learning of how new he actually was, I was itching to ask him how his first six months in the school has been like but before I could, he asked me how my first week was going. That was the first time anyone had asked me how I felt about the school (and in context that was a good thing).
In an instant, I replay tapes in my mind on fast forward, recalling not only everything that has happened but also everything that I have felt. I remember the First Face, the first people I met, the first instances of culture shock and the feelings that came with it all. So then I came to the quick but valid conclusion that as amicable everyone was, it was inevitable that, with the short time I have had and the diversely different background I came from, I had not gain a true sense of belonging in the school; both my weird roots and plan to lay low was what held me back the most.
And so I answered “well, it’s all good. Just foresee myself struggling to get along with people here because I come from a really different background. I mean, I come from many very different school cultures so I won’t be surprised if I end up being a weirdo here.”
Then he asks me to tell me about this “different background” of mine, which I did, or at least what I wanted to tell him. But put simply, he goes on to tell me about his “different background” as well. Having experienced the new-student treatment just months before, he went through at least a version of what I would be going through.
For a moment, we both stopped typing and had this conversation where I had the opportunity to listen to some very, very valuable advice.
It amazed me how someone whom I had only met for about an hour suddenly began becoming my mentor. He had so much to offer and so he did share it with me.
After much was said (but not done), I thanked him for the advice and mentioned how I was glad to know that someone had just gone through what I was about to go through. But right away, he too mentioned that he was glad that there was someone else like him and in that moment, I could already see that we would get along.
What that programming club meeting made me realise was how common ground could be so powerful. To belong, you need common ground, whatever it is. Common ground could be interest, train of thought, geography, status, anything really. But there is no sense of belonging without common ground and therefore to belong with someone, you have to find that common ground no matter how insignificant or how unnoticeable it may be.
For Jonathan and I, that common ground was that we both went through the struggle of someone from a unique background being put in a totally different world. This common ground is what we found that afternoon. Since then, implicitly, I had a mentor and it all seemed like it was just part of the program.

31 December 2013

Thirteen

It's always been my favorite number.

13

It's just so prime. It's not too small and not too big. 13 of anything is always nice.

I don't know why I like the number so much but after this year, I've fallen in love with it.

I graduated as the class of 2013.
We had our prom on the 13th.
We sat exams in 13 HSC courses.
By the end of my cohort's student council term, there were 13 council members left.
During the IPEKA Computer Competition of 2013, we ran 13 competitions.
13 people went on the trip to Bali to celebrate Clarissa's birthday.

Ok, I'm running out of 13s. But 13 is prime and look at all the other prime numbers we encountered:

We graduated a cohort of 61 students.
Most of us turned 17 this year.
7 guys slept in my room after prom.

Ok, I'm also not recalling that many prime numbers.

The point is, 13, as unlucky a number it is, and boy has my cohort proven that it is unlucky, is just an awesome number, so much so that I've started doing everything in 13s.

(All in no particular order)


13 peers I really got to know in 2013:

Christian Alan Delima, Edwin Prasatya, Garry Kusuma, Irvan Lim, Monica Hartono, Jesslyn Antonio, Emily Hartono, Jason Korinton, Felicia Sabrina, Carissa Natasha, Kenny Soerianto, Joshua Sungkarto, Jessica Fiani


13 most thought of schoolamtes from the past:

Kenny Ponto, Stanley Arvan, Priscilla Mannuel, Jethro Benson, Kenneth Reynold, Mario Averdi, Jeffry Wicaksana, Zoya Marie, Owen Yunaputra, Karin Novelia, Abraham Andika, Hans Aditya, Vincent Joshua


13 mates who made 2013 so awesome:

Edwin Prasatya, Garry Kusuma, Christian Alan Delima, Calvin Njotowidjojo, Jason Korinton, Joshua Sungkarto, Gregorious Randell, Irvan Lim, James Lianto, Jonathan Handoko, Indra Kurniawan, Kenn Winarta, Raymond Guyandi


13 things places with a story:

PIK Driving Range, Ritz Carlton Mega Kuningan, Flavour Bliss, Gold's Gym, Grand Hyatt Jakarta, Ex, Grand Indonesia, Sate Khas Senayan Pasar Puri, Puri Indah Mall, Mie Bangka behind IICS (sorry this place doesn't really have a proper name), Es Krim Goreng (also the one near IICS), Potato Head Garage, Aoki Japanese Restaurant


13 numbers with a story:

2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 14, 17, 21, 25, 31, 61, 120, 342 (see if you can figure out the story behind each number)


13 songs with a story:

I Need Your Love, Daylight, True Colours, If I Loose Myself, Don't You Worry Child, Drinking From The Bottle, Be With You, Love Somebody, Burn, Around The World, Mirrors, This Is Home, We're All In This Together


13 birthdays with a story:

Dian Mak, Christian Alan Delima, Valentine Vanessa, Monica Hartono, Carissa Natasha, Clarissa Herliani, Felicia Sabrina, Delmira Miranda, Michelle Wirawan, Raymond Guyandi, Jonathan Handoko, Jesslyn Antonio, Calvin Njotowidjojo


13 items with a story:

Gatsby Hair Wax, Blackberrys, my iPod, Dumbells, Noodles, Cars, Shampoo, Cameras, Spray Paint, Trains, Story Books, Computers, Glowsticks


13 significant words this year:

Tenacity, Belonging, Prime, Love, Together, Friendship, Fun, Vulnerability, Maturity, Connection, Respect, Trust, Visions


13 things I did:

Learnt how to drive (again), Got a driver's licence, Learnt how to ride a bike (with siginficant improvement), Travelled by train in Indonesia, Gymed to prepare for exams, Got a new phone, Bought my own tub of hairwax, Tutored people, Played Golf, Mentored two cohorts, Made an Instagram account, Revived my iPod from the dead, Graduation Speech


13 moments to remember:

Live-In, ICC, Farewell Chapel, Graduation, Prom, Guys Night Out After Prom, Last Day of School, Hat Day, HSC Exams, Yearbook Photoshoot, Prayer Meeting, Valentines Day, Last X2 Night


13 people I couldn't have done it without:

Cassey Liestyo, Michelle Wirawan, Karisa Elisabeth, Kenn Winarta, Christian Alan Delima, Calvin Njotowidjojo, Gregorius Randell, Marcia Julia, Rosabella Tulus, Rachel Sianipar, Valentine Vanessa, Jocelyn Agnes, Andrea Tamara


13 things I learnt this year:

That love, belonging and togetherness prevails

That belonging is important

That part of being mature is knowing how and when to have fun

That true kindness exists

That love is to put others before one's self

That everybody needs somebody to love

That to belong one needs common ground

That together one can achieve anything

That one does not always have to belong everywhere; that it's all right not to belong sometimes

That my sense of not belonging affects that of others

That events that occur can tear people apart or bring them even closer together

That the challenge of belonging is to develop meaningful connections

That people always come first



13 lists of 13


20 13 (=D)

24 November 2013

02. Burgundy Bar

I didn’t intend to post this story as the second post in the series but I realised that there was no better time for this post than today and at this time of the night.

Wishing the girl who used to sit behind me in Economics class Ms Clarissa Herliani Tanoesoedibjo a most awesome HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I hope you can accept this story as a little gift from me as a reminder of the amazing person you are! (=D)

I could not remember the last time I went to the Grand Hyatt in the heart of the city. I didn’t recall there being a place called Burgundy Bar and little did I think or know that it was actually a bar. In fact, it was a club.

I had little reason to think that it was a club because Burgundy Bar was where Marcia Julia’s Sweet Sixteen was taking place. It was one of my first few parties. The morning of the event, I was still unsure of whether I would go or not. I did not have any transport arrangements to get there and I wondered if my presence would be of any benefit to anyone there. It seemed to me that the only reason as to why I was invited was most likely political. It turned out to be a good enough reason to go when a good friend, Jethro Benson, offered me a ride there and back.

We got to Burgundy Bar and then I learnt that how it was actually a bar which Marcia had booked for her “private event” as it said on a sign in front of the entrance. After walking in to a red carpet, I awkwardly settled in on the side of a seat and it wasn’t long before my awkwardness stood out and the MC pulled me over to deliver a birthday wish to Marcia, only to be cut off before I even got to the “Happy Birthday” part. For a very long time that night, I tailed Jethro as to have someone to actually be with. The whole time we ate dinner, the question “Why do I feel so out of place?” kept running through my mind. Why did I feel so awkward when this isn’t my first party and I wasn’t even this awkward at my first party? Why did I feel alone? Why did I feel like someone so desperate for even an acquaintance that I was tailing this person who was probably annoyed with me by then?

I felt uneasy with myself the whole night and I could not even explain to myself why I felt that way. I knew that my uneasiness was showing because I know that I’m not good at keeping my emotions to myself. I knew that other people probably felt uneasy just looking at me. I knew that my presence would only be a burden to other people, just like the initial excuse I had not to go to this party.

I started to think of how I wasn’t a good friend. I only wanted to be a good friend to my peers but I was fully aware that I could not become one overnight. If I wanted to stop being a burden at least that night, I had to withdraw myself.

Dance floor time. Not my first time, but a different time because this time, I would have to force myself to withdraw myself. So as the first songs of the night played, I stood by the side of the dance floor observing the scene. I would have left but I had to wait for my ride home. I watched with a fake smile. It was not a smile which I put on for everyone else but rather for myself. In my brown sketcher shoes, I stood there and looked at faces intently as my form of entertainment. What else was I to do?

But after a while, I began to feel like my self-control was slipping away. Although I tried to lock my hands by folding my arms, I noticed how I had been subconsciously tapping my feet on the ground to the fist-pumping beat of House music. I know very well that sometimes I can be very, very selfish and that my ego might overpower my good intentions. I was about to jump into the dance floor and ruin everyone’s night.

I knew that I had to figure out a way to lock my legs and then maybe even my ears as well. There was a tall seat behind me. It was time to sit down.

But just as I was about to sit down, a number of peers approached me. Among them were Hubert, Dustin, Nathania and Edward. They didn’t even ask me why I was sitting out. They encouraged me to join them. I said no. But why, they asked. What excuse was I to make up in a matter of thousandths of seconds?

“Next time” I said, “not tonight”.
 
They rejoined the dance floor, very disappointed.

 My ego told me to stand up again and tap my feet on the ground, which I did do.

The DJ plays We Found Love. I’m still standing on the side tapping my feet. Suddenly, without words or questions, I feel an arm pulling mine: a pull so strong I could not resist. I was pulled into the centre of the dance floor. In the shocked state that I was in, I stood there with a blank face and hands in the air surrounding me. Who pulled me in? But more importantly, why?

In front of me turns around a very youthful lady. With her right arm still holding on to my right arm, Clarissa Herliani Tanoesoedibjo raises both our arms and screams “come on” to me just loud enough to overpower We Found Love. Then she lets go and goes her own way.

My ego runs wild for a second and for the next few moments, I felt content until I felt an imaginary slap on the face which began the setting in of guilt: guilt that I did lose control and ruin everyone’s night. I hurried my way out of the dance floor and stood by the side again, this time on the tiny space surrounded by the dance floor, the stage and the DJ’s station, still tapping my feet.

The song changes to Just One Last Time. I’m still looking intently into the blurred vision of the dance floor. I look at Clarissa, wondering why she pulled me in, hoping that looking, at least, at her back would help me discover the answer. Then, she turns around to the beat of the music. But then, as she spins her head around, she notices me at a distance from her and so she turns back to look right at me. Immediately, she haggles through the crowd and approaches me again and then asks me my favourite question: “Are you alright?”. Without waiting for an answer, she pulls me back on the dance floor with both arms and keeps a good eye on me while encouraging me to let go of the uneasy feeling that was evident in my face and just enjoy.

At that point, I began to feel guilty for a different reason, but still equally sickening. I realised how it was actually my feeling uneasy and my holding on the load I had been carrying all night that bothered people. People wanted me to join them on the dance floor. They wanted to share the fun with me because it’s not fun to know that while you’re enjoying yourself, someone else is sad on the sidelines.

In my efforts to not make a mistake that night, I made the biggest mistake I could ever make: resisting belonging. I felt so sick with myself that the “all-or-nothing” trait of mine decided to punish myself once again by sitting out for good, far away in the couches furthest away from the dance floor. As Clarissa still kept a good eye on me, I told her “next time, I promise” and left the dance floor.

That night, Clarissa made me realise many things about belonging. I learnt that fun only ever exists if it is two ways. I learnt that friendship only ever exists if it is two ways. You cannot be someone’s friend and not let that person be your friend. There is no such thing as a one-sided friendship; we call those sok kenal sok deket, like your relationship with your favourite pop star.

I realised how my not belonging was bothering others. By not belonging, I was actually taking away others’ sense of belonging because for people who genuinely believe that belonging is important, nobody can get left behind, no matter who they are or even how bad they are. It didn’t even matter to her that I was merely her Economics classmate. Clarissa knew I was there and wanted me to feel a sense of belonging to the community.

As I sat in that far away couch overlooking the iconic Patung Selamat Datang, I contemplated over the mistake I had made that night and punished myself with a panoramic view of the dance floor I wished I was enjoying myself on. I saw Marcia walk off the dance floor to grab a glass of water. As she takes in her first gulp, she coincidentally turns her head towards me and sees me in the distance. With the glass still in her mouth, her eye brows move to a frown, and in her eyes, I could see both disappointment and sadness.

Now you may think that this story is a story about not belonging, which is very much true. However, I can only tell you that that night, in the midst of my feeling a sense of not belonging, I actually discovered my sense of belonging to the community of my peers because they showed me how much they wanted me to belong and that it was my turn to just stop resisting belonging. It seemed as if the DJ knew what I needed because that night, I found love in a hopeless place. I discovered the love of my peers towards me and I was resisting it.

***

A few months later, on 24 November 2012, I saw myself running up the stairs of the Grand Hyatt Hotel with Calvin and Regie after Clarissa’s Sweet Sixteen. We were running towards Burgundy Bar to catch up with Clarissa and a few other friends. We were there to meet Far East Movement who had just performed at the main party. I walked into the place with a vision of Marcia Julia’s Sweet Sixteen in my mind, but I forgot that this time it wasn’t booked for a private event. I walked in there while it was open to the public. I walked passed a smoking woman and a pop-corn munching man to sit on the burgundy coloured couch I once sat on. This time, I sat there with other people: Clarissa, Calvin, Regie, Dustin, Nathan and Edwin, Vanessa just to name a few. As we waited for Far East Movement, I sat there staring in the same direction as I once did, reminding myself of how I could ever be with those people at that time. Although in my sight was a completely different Burgundy Bar, I was reminded of an important lesson I learnt in that place: that love and friendship is two ways. Love and friendship is something that can only be shared together.
 

20 November 2013

01. The First Face

I remember my first day of school in IICS: 11 January 2012. I was a very timid and introverted person. However, as quiet as I was, I was very observant. I remember walking into the 11.4 classroom for the first time and looking intently into every single soul’s face. With every face I saw, I began to form expectations of the future relationship I would have with each person and although it seemed like every face caught my attention, there was one face that stood out above all others so much so that it was the only face which I had put a name to when I walked home from school that day.
 
This face stood out for reasons I may never be able to articulate. Maybe it was his warm smile that he put on when he greeted me for the first time which made me feel somewhat at ease. Maybe it was the fact that he only spoke to me to ask for my name the entire day, no more, no less. Maybe it was even the fact that his name is so similar to the name of the first person who greeted me on my first day in a previous school. I will never know for sure exactly why.
 
His face gave me a little bit of hope, but there were still blurred lines in my vision, signalling that I did not quite yet pick up a sense of belonging. However, my first sense of belonging came about on the third day of school.
 
That morning, the person who usually sat in the seat to my left was not in school and for whatever reason, all the seats in the rows behind me were full. Three seconds before the first bell of the day sounded, a dashing young man rushed into the classroom just in time for homeroom period. He would have sat with his usual group of friends in the back of the classroom but that day, he did not have a choice, he had to sit in one of the two empty seats in the first row and he chose the empty one next to me.
 
I remained silent and listened attentively to the morning devotion being delivered as I tried to glue my eyes to my Bible so that I could not see that other people were staring at my peculiar ways. I seemed extremely introverted and anti-social; that was indeed what I was trying to seem like. I acted like that to prevent any negative first impressions of myself. I thought I managed to fly under the radar until the boy who just sat down in the seat next to me looked over and called out my name. He saw that I had a badminton racket and saw what my choice of Physical Education class was. He seemed surprised. He asked me why badminton and not some other sport that’s more popular like basketball or soccer. I gave an answer: I wanted to try something new. Little did he know that to me, all sports were new.
 
After Physical Education class which happened to be the first one of the day, we returned to the classroom and proceeded with regular lessons. The boy next to be seemed to keep looking to the back of the classroom trying to communicate with his friends. However, an equal number of times, he turned his head to look at me, who was quiet and seemingly tense, and asked me a random thing or two.
 
We came to the last subject of the day: Mathematics. The teacher came in and asked us to do exercises from our textbook. I began to work on them and got them done in no time because the topic just so happened to be my forte. Meanwhile, the boy sitting next to me seemed to struggle a lot. As he did occasionally throughout the day, he took a glance at me but this time he saw me just sitting there and staring into space out of boredom. He was surprised with how I was done with my work. He quickly picked up my thing for Mathematics and asked for help on the first question.
 
As that eighty-minute class period went on, he asked me for more and more help and took less and less glances at his friends at the back. With every question which I helped him with, he picked up the momentum and did more and more questions. At a certain point, he was definitely far ahead of the progress of the rest of the students in the class.
The dismissal bell was about to ring in about three and a half minutes. Seeing this, all the students in the class started packing up their things. As we all counted down the seconds leading up to the bell, the boy sitting next to me turned to me for the last time on that day and said “I think I’ve become far more diligent sitting next to you today. I think I’ll sit with you again next week. Thanks for everything today, bro!”.
 
In that moment, for the first time in the school, I felt a true sense of belonging. Someone had just acknowledged the fact that I had a role to play in the school and that I was contributing something to the people there. He was the first person to establish my presence in the school.
 
In life, we do things that are significant: things that we do in the hopes of changing lives. Then there are other things which we do that we are fully aware are insignificant: things that we do most usually for the sake of doing something. There are also things we do subconsciously. But there are these things that happen because they happened and because we happened. There are these events that take place as a result of seemingly random circumstances. These events that occur can either tear people apart or bring them closer together. One can’t control circumstances and something subconscious is something which one can’t really control. But some people can ride the waves and then make a sudden spin around and end things off nicely, adding the special touch which inevitably brings people closer together as if they had planned everything out from the beginning. Every event that occurs is an opportunity presenting itself to introduce a mutual sense of belonging.
 
That day, I came home with a new-found sense of belonging, especially to a person who has gone on to become a hero in my life and gone on inspire me: Calvin Njotowidjojo.
 

13 Stories of Belonging

Having just graduated from high school this November (hope it explains why I practically disappeared from my blog for almost a year =P), I'm now looking back at the 23 months which I have spent in IPEKA International Christian School (IICS) and thinking of just how amazing the whole experience has been. If you know me in this school or heard my graduation speech (which I'm probably going to be posting about someday), you would have heard of the "B" word which has become so central to my time in IICS that no story of my time in the school would be complete without it. No, I'm not taking about the word "bitch", I'm talking about BELONGING.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be sharing with you 13 stories of belonging. These are my 13 most meaningful moments in IICS which have blessed me with the greatest sense of belonging I experienced in the school. These 13 stories which I've already laid out have been very painstakingly chosen from countless belonging events that are equally worthy of mention. As I unveil them one by one, I hope that these 13 stories can be representative of all other stories and can show people how belonging is important.

These 13 stories serves as one of my many tributes to the 119 people who have walked with me through this incredible journey to discover a sense of belonging.

First story coming very soon!

See the lable "13 Stories of Belonging" for the 13 Stories.

31 December 2012

A Year of Gifts

Typically, the most change in an Indonesian teenager's life takes place in July when the new academic year starts and the teen enters a new class, possibly a new school. That's why the whole "new year" kind of feeling usually comes about twice a year for me. You have literal new year resolutions and you have new school-year resolutions. But this year, that isn't the case for me. It was indeed in January when I moved to a new school and practically began a new life. The school year in IICS also did begin in January for Year 11 anyway. Furthermore, it was in this year when my family's second home was completed, but that's quite minor.

This year is without question not a prime year like the last one. However, it has undeniably been a year where I kind of started life all over again. Never have I seen myself change and grow as much as I have this year. I gave up a scholarship worth over one hundred thousand Singapore dollars to be in IICS. Boy, do I expect to get a lot out of it.

Again, I must reiterate, never have I seen myself change and grow as much as I have this year. It has taken a journey of great adversity and adventure to get to all these changes and whether these changes have been for the better I have yet to learn for myself. It's been a very interesting year revolving around a new school.

On that January morning in the Multi-Function Hall, the school introduced three new intruders to the class of then 120 students. Yes, the word I have used is "intruder". I was indeed an intruder. It wasn't the first time that I was one but with experience, I have learnt that it doesn't get any easier the more times you do it.

So, I began the year with meeting 119 entirely fresh faces. I did not know any one of them prior to the year (I did meet Edward very briefly but that had to do with the fact that we were both "intruders"). Thus, I had a very simple first task ahead of me at the beginning of the year: getting to know people. Again, not the first time, but I screwed it up every time before and very unfortunately, this time was not different.

We were 120 completely different people (duh) but with a million and one similarities linking us. My first three weeks in the school were filled with getting to know one person after the other because I really made it a point to myself to get to know everyone beyond their name. Slowly, I learnt that getting to know someone takes a long time, especially in IICS where the questions "What are your hopes for the future?" and "Who in the cohort inspires you?" can baffle a person for days and nights.

But when you have 120 different people living together, there must be a common bond keeping them together, no matter how separated they may seem. That common bond is culture. In this case, it is school-culture. Ultimately, that is what has really changed me: a culture. I've learnt about another way to live life. There's nothing wrong with it I guess. It's just a new way of life, a new train of thought and a new outlook on the future. But now that I look back at the year, I think of the many things that this culture had changed in me, the many things that would not be if it weren't for the 119 people around me. Among them are Jeans and Chinos. At least now, thanks to a bunch of guys who apparently care about me, I do own a pair of each and I have worn each at least twice in public. Yes, an achievement for me. One small step for man, one giant leap (into a pair of pants) for Aaron Colin. That's all thanks to something we like to call culture. There's definitely lots more culture has done to me this year. Among those others have to do with dance moves, sexual references and lots of interesting bitching sessions.

What about those nights when I learn the most things: Party Nights. New world for me indeed. For one thing, I have earned a lot of money from these parties (hehehe). But through the many times I have been bullied in the games, like almost having my first kiss be with Calvin all because of a tiny piece of paper at Jovita's or having my Vice President Cassey search my body also for a tiny piece of paper at Angel's, and through the many times I have been styled and styled myself, from that hideous blouse I wore at Jovita's to the suit at Jennifer's to the Jeans at Delia's, and the many interesting people I have met, from Ruben Onsu at Nathania's to Prambors Broadcasters at farewell to Far East Movement at Clarissa's to all ex-IICS students from Junior High at every other one, I have learnt something every night. Every celebration I have had this year has, to my and everyone else's surprise, been an education in itself. At Marcia's, I learnt about how fun only really exists if all the people around you are having fun as well. At Devina's, I learnt more about developing intimate relationships with friends. At Carissa's, I learnt more about tact, to say the least. It has been such an education.

Friendship, I would define it as simply the acknowledged relationship between two people, to give a definition as wide as possible. I've had many in the past, thought far less than the average person. So in essence, I have had few, or fewer. Having a fresh start this year, where I knew no one and no one knew me to begin with, friendship is something that I wanted to work on this year, and it has been such a rough road. Over the summer holidays, I've met so many amazing and interesting people in Moot Court High School Summer Program, especially the SPH gang which I always had lunch with at Supermal: Michael, Marcel, Callysta and Jonathan. In school, I've made many as well. Some of them have been, well, just friends, and others have been really intimate relationships. One thing that I'm really glad about this year is that number of people I've bonded so closely with. There's Andrea D, the "Standard" buddy. Then there's Jonathan, my programming and now Maths Extensions mate who understands me maybe more than anyone else. There's my ever busy and fretting council. There's also my mentoring students 10.3 and all the other year 10 students, especially Winson who is now my neighbour and ride to school every morning. There have been so many others, like Kenneth, Irvan, Regie, Calvin, James. But the most touching and unexpected friendship has got to be with Kevin U, and the most intimate friendship, hands down with Jethro. In each friendship I have developed this year, I have met an amazing and inspirational life-changing person. I've learnt so much from each one. As a bonus, I've shared so many memories with each one. Some of them have let me into their lives more than anyone has ever done before. At the end of the day, they have made me a better man, helping me with my struggles in my new life every step of the way, despite everyone and everything.

As I am just over an hour away from the new year, I can't really think of any competitions that I have won or any awards I have received. Acceptance, both in the professional and personal world, has been nothing but difficult, presenting obstacles in my path every step of the way. Yet, I feel like I have achieved more this year than ever before. How much I have achieved this year is immeasurable. If somehow I have to put it in numbers, it's undisputably worth more than a pair of Jeans or Chinos, or more than however much it costs to throw a sweet-sixteen at the most expensive hotel in the country, or a meal with a friend consisting of two bowls of noodles, three bottles of Teh Botol and a small bag of Kerupuk Ikan a two minute drive from the school by the side of the road I walk over every day to get home. One can never create an index of how much I have achieved this year or a list of everything that's changed about me this year, yet I will never be able to say if what I have received this year is all worth more than one hundred thousand Singapore dollars. One can only ever ask me to tell the stories one by one and sit there listening till one's last gasp.

This year, it has been all about three priceless gifts that I received: Culture, Education and Friendship. Forever will I hold on to these gifts bestowed upon me, and intruder, by the people that have been around me this year.

This December holiday, I've been questioning myself every night. Does the intruder deserve all this? Does the intruder deserve the gift of Culture, Education and Friendship? Now, in the last few days of the year, since that touching event on Christmas day, I could only think of how lucky I am to be the proud owner of these three gifts. For culture and education, no one can take it away from me even if he or she tried, because that's just how those two are. Friendships aren't permanent, thought. However, I've just realised that the gift of friendship that I've received this year is one that no one can take away from me, even if one or I tried.

I have a symbol to remind me of this: an object given to me by someone which represents those three gifts all in one. As I ponder over it every night, I will forever remember the gifts of 2012. When this person gave the item to me, I had no idea what it was or what to do with it. It was all a great mystery which I had to be careful with. But as time when on and I began to study this item, I realised that that person's giving me this item really symbolises how all throughout the year, people have been giving me gifts of Culture, Education and Friendship. They may be confusing and seem useless at first but as time progresses, I learn to see the beauty in it. Now, I have this item with me to remind me of all that I have. I shall keep this item forever and ponder over it every time I feel like I have nothing.

Culture, Education, Friendship.

[Post specifically about my first year in IICS coming up soon. I really want to make sure that it's perfect before I present it.]