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.