Kinder Pressure

June 15, 2013 § 4 Comments

As much as I disagree, the curriculum here requires me to make children read, write, and count in preschool. The primary teacher gave us a half-joking ultimatum that she wouldn’t accept this girl in her class unless she reads fluently and does mathematic operations up to multiplication. This 5 year old girl had to read non-phonetic words which contain the phonogram ‘oo’ (book, stood, loop, etc). She then need to write them and make sentences with me. After that I made her write number 1-10, then 10-100 in tens (10,20,30,..) and 100-1000 in hundreds (100,200,300,..) and 1000-9000 in thousands (1000,2000,3000,…).

This is what she drew afterwards.


Playspace (deficit)

June 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Anak kecil di angkot, sekitar 3-4tahun, “Ma, aku mau pindah sekolah kesitu aja” sambil nunjuk TK kecil di pinggir jalan. “Kenapa pindah lagi nak?”, mamanya nanya. “Soalnya disitu ada perosotannya. Sebenernya di sekolahku ada juga tapi cuma dikit (sambil menunjukkan 1 jari). Sedangkan yang mau main ada banyak (menunjukkan 1,2,3,4,5 jari). Ada lima ratus.”


April 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

The decision to phase out all the economy trains in Greater Jakarta is not only disappointing but also heartbreaking. Not only passengers are forced to pay 4.5x price hike for air-con trains, but it also will not allow the kind of culture that has been happening in economy train for decades. On two hours ride that people usually ride everyday to go to work, crammed inside, we got vendors selling drinks, tissue, snacks, we got toy sellers that sell the products much cheaper than in retails, preacher, we got entertainment! (buskers, even full band with drums and contra bass -god knows how they got them in there), and also we got the real view of the city, the skyscrapers and the slums, that you can see from the open door of the coaches, where people usually stand. There are rich interactions of people and activities in economy train, which will not happen in the so-called “comfort” trains. So what if we sweat? I stood there with the other tired faces for more than an hour, as the aircon trains go by, and go by, and go by… Why they do not add more economy trains, why they terminate them, may only be answered by profitable principles. I thought to myself, Indonesia is losing more and more of the cultural tradition due to commercialization. I can’t believe how much we pay for ‘comfort’.

KRL-EkonomiYes, we get it. It is overcrowded, and dangerous to hop on top of it. But of course we will hop on top of it, the next train will only come in 1-2 hour, and we have 2 hours long way home every night.  So why not add more economy trains? Why eliminate them?

20120203PengamenKereta020212Loving the entertainment.

2000_4782Look out after each other ok?

Pedagang Asongan Nekat Bajak KAThe easiest way to move trains!

1No, vendors do not intrude us.

TetapBerjualan26212-1Vendor walking in front of sign: VENDORS ARE FORBIDDEN TO SELL IN TRAINS.

Larangan-dalam-kereta-300x225For ‘safety’ and ‘comfort’, DO NOT: sit on the floor of trains, litter, bring flammable objects, bring weapon, bring pets, sell things, busking, eat and drink, smoke, paint graffiti.

7320Wait, is that a..?

badut-di-keretaYes, it’s a clown


And they are our stewardess.

OK they’re not. But they could be.


Image source:×225.jpg

The Flood

January 26, 2013 § 5 Comments

When I landed in Jakarta after working and living conveniently in Melbourne for the whole one year, I thought I was going to be slightly gloomy for the first few days. Little did I know, how much I missed Jakarta and all the craziness.

I could see the flood from the airplane when it was descending. I could see the top half of the houses and roofs, and it was surreal, it was literally a drowning city seen from the sky. Dad and sister had to cancel picking me up from the airport because of the traffic congestion caused by the flood. Taking a taxi, however, reminded me of how much I loved the conversations I have with Jakartans. Knowing that I just came back from working in Australia, the taxi driver told me how he used to work in ‘travel agents’, forging documents for people migrating to US illegally. He told me, “Nah, they don’t bother to check if the bank statement was real because they receive so many applications. A lot of people overstayed their visit and rarely get caught, you know. What’s the worst could happen? Get deported maybe, and not being able to come back to that country forever…

“well, unless…

“we change name and identity” he said as he giggled

Haha. See, that’s what I love about Indonesian spirit. There’s never a dead end. I know forging documents and coming illegally is not something to be proud of. But what’s good is Indonesians don’t accept the status quo. We are rule benders with sense of humour ; )

Then he told me about his experience as taxi driver in the flood. An out of town passenger thought that he was tricking him when he said they should take another route because of the flood. The passenger insisted that they take the ‘usual’ road. That road has three elevations and demotes. So what happens is cars wait at the peak and watched other cars go. And if similar cars could get through, then they would go too. When it is stuck, they probably would laugh at the driver’s guts but help to push the car. And you can imagine how it caused massive traffic jam. After smoke coming out from the car machine, the taxi driver pulled over and with the passenger (who finally believed that it really flooded!), standing there and watching cars go for 1 hour.

There’s always a story in every inch of this city, isn’t it?

So what else happens during flood? Yes, it is a devastating situation. But like my grandmother said, when you have rheumatic in your arms, what do you do, you’re not going to cut your arm, are you? You’re going to do something about that arm, and learn to live your life happily with the rheumatic in your arm.


economy rolls during flood (this is a ‘taxi’ cart)


locals help to push car during flood


people help each other during flood



sweet moments happen during flood


and the not so sweet ones..


children help each other during flood


people help animals during flood


people share during flood

Banjir Mulai Surut, Warga Panen Ikan

men fish during flood

banjir Istana kepresidenan

president’s palace was strike too during flood.

What, it’s good news, isn’t it?


children put up sign: “VISIT SWIMMING POOL – FREE – AS LONG AS YOU LIKE”


children help each other going to school with invented transportation system during flood! (The carriers are either helpful locals, or the students as well, keeping the dry cloths inside their bags)


children play…


and invent games during flood


these expat guys intentionally skipped work to play in the flood! you don’t have flood in your country eh?


mermaid appears during flood!

Seriously, how can you not love this city?


Image source: various (google: keyword: banjir jakarta 2013)


August 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Living in Melbourne in the past six months, and working with Australian children since the last four months, I could not help but compare a lot of things with the lives of Indonesian children. When I say ‘Australian’ children, or ‘Indonesian’ children, I am, of course, making generalization that may not ring true for every one of them. In my post, Australian children refer to the ones that I work with (I would say middle-upper class economy). Indonesian children may refer to two: 1) the children in the preschool that I worked with (middle-upper class economy, and 2) the slum children (lower class economy), or poor children. This observation is only limited to my personal experience.

What fascinates me is the varying degree of how ‘free’ are children ‘allowed’ to play in this different groups, and how it contributes to personalities and character building. Children of middle-upper class economy in Indonesia, I perceive, to be more inhibited in their play and exploration, compared to the other two groups; middle-upper class Australians and lower class Indonesians.

From my own experience as a child (a middle class economy, female, to be precise), I get some “don’t”s. Don’t go too far. Don’t go to the mall without adult, you’ll be kidnapped. Many of my friends get more “don’t”s; Don’t buy ice cream kampung. Don’t buy that meatball, that’s made from rat’s meat! Don’t buy any snacks from the street. Don’t take public transport. And not just buses, but don’t take taxi as well! Don’t ride motorcycle. Don’t look some people in the eye, don’t stare! Don’t touch it, it’s filthy! It’s drizzling, come on inside!! Don’t be too friendly to some people, etc. And how much do we realize that they all have internalized to our habit or belief system? The likely explanation of highly untrusting atmosphere might spring from the great economy disparities in the society. The rich, that separates themselves from the poor, sometimes live in the very same area with the poor. They have to make sure they stay clean and ‘dignified’, always (un)consciously confirming, ‘we are the civilized ones’. In big cities like Jakarta, the sight of poor people are unavoidable wherever you go. Is it justifiable, however, to instill this suspicion in children, in order to protect?

If you live in a housing complex, you might have a playground, however deficient and unsatisfactory. If you don’t, however, whether you are from middle or upper class economy, you might find yourself staying at home, playing with your toys or your siblings. Naturally, these types of play, pretend play, role play, construction, are also of great value for development. But as I worked with the other two groups of children, I wonder if they are missing out some kind of “adventures” like what the other two groups experience, finding secret pathways, catching insect, playing in the rain, which I’m going to talk more about later.

It is also in the big cities like Jakarta, where playgrounds are very scarce, children of the middle and the upper class economy physical exploration are restricted, unless they go to the playground in the malls, by paying ridiculous ticket fee, with extravagant rides that are not always imaginative; that serve to entertain, not to stimulate. When I asked my students to share about their weekends, many would answer going to the mall. I find it regrettable, but where else could they bring their children to a playground? Some upper class families now live in apartment buildings in Jakarta, and they do have playgrounds, but they are only tiny fractions of society. Existing playgrounds in housing complex are in great deficit (if not almost totally LOST), small, with inadequate provisions, with poor maintenance, often abandoned. Put a swing, seesaw, and slide, in a small space, bam, you have a playground. Even though I’d like that statement to serve as sarcasm, but if we have at least that three things, it is still much better than having none.The condition of the playground in Indonesia is a portrayal of how play is overlooked as an important part of development, but seen merely as leisure that serves nothing for thinking or learning dispositions. In schools, recess in the playground often only happens for approximately 15-30 minutes, out of 4-5 hours formal and traditional learning in the classroom, where children are forced to be quiet and listen passively to the teacher.

In the preschool that I worked in Indonesia, (now that I realized it after I compared with the one in Australia), the playground does not seem to be challenging enough for the children. With such small outdoor area that had to be compromised in an expensive land in the heart of the city, the playground is overcrowded. They had playtime after school (at 12), and some (not all) parents and nannies would watch carefully and say, “Be careful! Hold on to the bar.” out of need for protection from fall, sometimes due to overcrowding. Some are assisted and held constantly. The children that fell are often treated with such care and sympathy, they would be helped to get up, cuddled, and some carers would even take it further by ‘hitting’ the object that cause the fall (for example, a swing), to cheer up the child, saying that the swing is ‘naughty’. To be fair, not all carers would behave this way, however the former consist of considerable amount, to the point that I gather it to be somewhat cultural. All my students are kept clean and smell good all day even in the hot and humid weather.

Naturally, bigger boys still play and run around wildly, but again, are they missing out some things that the other two groups experience? Or do children compensate with existing conditions and find their own ways to make things more exciting?

(Western) theories in the past century have been elucidating how important play is, how it contributes to ‘thinking’, your imagination, problem solving, creativity and flexibility and so on, therefore in developed Western countries, experiences for young children have been (attempted to be) provided in a way to accommodate those developments.

In Australia early childhood framework, instead of ‘teaching’ (traditional teaching), the educators are there to ‘provide experience’, and so the learning comes from the children themselves, not being a passive subject of ‘teaching’. Educators facilitate, challenge, and the children are always the active participants of their own learning. Just how Indonesians are more inhibited in their play correlates to the crippling education system, where they are also expected to sit quietly and passively listen to the teacher, in Australia, their learning, as well as their play, are also more unrestrained. They are ‘trained’, in their play and their education, to be (at least more) active.

There are plenty of examples that I encounter everyday in my workplace that shows how many of the parents here that I deal with are more understanding and lenient of dirtiness, wildness, and whole lot of craziness that are often regarded as an important element of being a child. Once two children under my care were fighting over a toy. A tiny little toddler girl (who is a vicious little biter), bit a boy on the face, which left a very bad bite mark on his cheek. Based on my experience with Indonesian preschool, where parents often seem upset when an incident happen to their child, I became nervous when this bite-victim parent came to pick him up, only to find him laughing and saying, “Yeah, it’s bound to happen sooner or later”. Then he teased his little boy, “So somebody gave you a big kiss huh”. And it didn’t only happen to one parent in case you’re wondering if it’s coincidental. We got the similar reactions from parents when children fell and got swollen on their forehead, grazed on their chin, who bled on their hand, bit on the thigh.In my centre, when children fall, they are not treated with as much concern, but rather with a kind but assertive remark that he/she is fine and needs to get up and try again. They are rarely helped and assisted to stand up again, unless, of course, it is a bad accident, one with injury, or very vulnerable child. This manner also stems from Australian culture of ‘independence’ and ‘self reliant’, which are deliberately instilled in children, in contrast to Indonesian culture that values ‘helping each other’ more.

The children are excited to hold a big insect in their hands to investigate it, run around bare feet, and when it’s ice-chilly, drizzling (yes, the children are allowed to play when it’s drizzling! in contrast to Indonesians who are always told to go in when it drizzles), and I feel the wind is about to blow me away, the children still play excitedly outside. In the city, on the hilly greenery area in front of a library, I see children rolling themselves down the little hills and parents just let them be without anxiously supervising, neither for the child’s safety from fall, or for the protection of strangers. There seem to be more sense of security and ‘trust’ in public space.

In our yard, we become fascinated by lights and shadows, sound of machine that cut the grass, rain, we found a little hole in our fence which become our peephole to a garden with beautiful flowers. We have picnic in our yard frequently with birds chirping on our roof. I personally feel I am indulged with pleasant sensory experience. There are many resources (natural and manufactured goods) for children to play with in the yard; plastic toys, big sandpit, twigs, leaves, steel, chalk, and we incessantly record their exploration. We even plan for dirt play. “Getting dirty is good for immune system” they say. We constantly observe, analyze, supply and change supply, we plan their exploration. Discoveries, despite come from within, are also planned, everything is based on careful measure and documentation. And their play is also always supervised.

Australians put much more effort for outdoor play as much as indoor play. Slides or climb equipment are not simply put but additional materials are there to improvise the play. Wooden board used for balancing beam, for sliding, combined with tyres, climbing frames, blocks, or net. The wooden board for slide is sometimes put higher, without the ‘safety’ curve on the side.

I then took sometime to learn about playgrounds in Melbourne (by visit and research on the internet), which I find much more challenging one every level. They are also designed based on calculated risk and in accordance to the safety policy.

I am very intrigued, however, by how slum or poor children play. In the world that don’t bother providing them with playgrounds, the world is their playground. They appropriate existing objects, furnitures, roads, and stairs, for their play. Raw, spontaneous, without safety measure, but also without anticipated exploration. They are allowed to ‘get dirty’, to ‘take risk’ without intellectualization. In a very narrow alley in the slum where it is barely enough for one adult to walk, boys gather to play marble. They may not have climbing frames or balancing beam but they do climb walls and trees and walk on the very high pole to cross the river. They may not have a football field but they play in the parking lots of a bank after work-hours, or play on the road where cars rarely pass by. They may never play gokarts but they get up on the top of the trains. I read somewhere that the children get on a huge leave in rain, to be pulled around and swung around by their friend and thrown to the mud. They may not be able to buy remote controlled cars or buy video games but they make their own games using tyres, bottles, stick and stones. And they are built with the toughness that is instilled in white kids. I once saw a toddler examining a motorbike parked in front of his house. He scrutinized it and at one point he tried to get ON it. He obviously fell down and cried. The mother yelled from inside, “Makanya jangan manjat2. Nangis kan sekarang!” (“Told you not to climb. Now you’re crying”) The boy still got up and tried it again, with no one watching.

My point is, if play is indeed crucial to cognitive development, to trigger you to explore, investigate, invent, discover, if it develops your flexible thinking and problem solving skill, if it helps you to socialize, to negotiate, to humour, to spark curiosity and sense of fascination, if all the playgrounds in the developed countries are designed for the children to have leisure, for them to take risk, to practice, fail, and try again, to develop courage, resilience, to develop creativity..

then the poor children, have met many of the aims that all the ‘play’ designers make for their counterparts

then they are, supposed to be, more creative, than their counterparts

Unfortunately, the Indonesian education system does not value these qualities, the qualities glorified by the western theories, that they gain through chaos. It only cares if the children can memorize facts. It cares for the children to shut up, listen, and magically understand. It conflicts the ‘child’ within them. The poors’ academic performance are often predictable from the economic condition, and without outstanding academic performance they would probably end up in menial jobs where they don’t have a say in most of the things. I wonder what happens to the ‘creative child’ in them.. does it fade? is it asleep? is it buried? will it die?

I’m not trying to make poor people look numb or desperate (in fact, play-wise, the middle/upper class play are more numbing in my opinion). I know for a fact that they are very resilient and creative in coping up with adversities in life; such as finding ideas to deal with flood, to deal with disability (in a busy road I saw a man in a ‘wheelchair’ made out of strip board on wheels. And he did not only sit there on the board but he put old cushion-y car seat on top, for comfort). I find that very creative. I’m just dumbfounded to see how much potential and intelligence wasted in a vast ocean

drifting ceaselessly

half dead

Wouldn’t you be unhappy in life if you are made to become less than you’re capable of?

Image source:

The Last Day

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is my last day teaching in the slum. I woke up at 4am in Bandung and leave for Jakarta at 5.30 am. I reached the slum at 8am. It is a sunny day, the lights are coming down through narrow spots from in between the house roofs. In the front area, some doors are still closed, few are outside, sitting, cooking, sweeping, or just getting out from the public shower. The wet market however, is already crowded. While walking and halted every few seconds, I realized that within 50cm radius, there are many activities happening. On my left, the vegetable seller is negotiating with potential buyer in front of me, so I had to wait, because, on my right, there’s an old man with his bycicle, who is stopped because of the narrow space where there’s a musician with a guitar, who is singing for three ladies, who are drinking jamu*, from the seller at the right side. Underwears are sold next to vegetables and dirts are swept next to a frying pan. Is it weird that I find this place so fascinating?

I can feel my sweat flowing from my forehead down my cheek.

I walk to the back to the centre. The door is still locked. The old lady who lives at the side was sweeping the floor, I asked if I could sit on their bench while waiting. She welcomes me.

“Kak Arian!”, Nala greets me cheerfully, with Zahra they both sit with me on the bench. Their legs are hanging and swaying. Zahra looks pretty and fresh, apparently she showered this morning, unlike the usual, where she always shows up with tangled hair and swollen sleepy eyes. Nala bragged about the perfect score she got for her group work at school. I asked her why hasn’t Sali been coming. She told me because his mom is “gone”. What do you mean gone? I asked her. “Gone, never return”, she answers me. This information is later confirmed by the tutor. Ironically these things commonly happen here for various reason. Somebody said that this slum is a “children depot”, I can understand why it’s called that, since wherever you go, you will see children in every corner. People have sexual intercourse without contraception, sometimes for the sole pleasure. Sometimes that’s how people are called “husband and wife”, because they already make a family, without marriage or a legal paper. Sometimes one of the spouse just simply go away. Sometimes it’s the teenagers that start the family. For Sali’s case, it was money that cause the problem and the separation. “Gone, never return”. I was appalled by how familiar that concept is to these children. “And why hasn’t he been coming? Is he supposed to help his father work or taking care of younger sister or something?” I asked Nala again. “I think he misses his mom”, she told me. Sali comes today, he’s acting playful but rude towards his friends. He made Nala cried. Kak Eja thinks that he’s been acting out since mom left. I shudder thinking how hard it is for a child like him to be able to understand and express his feelings.


The kids are happy with the materials I made. “Cakep ye kak?”, they commented. They immediately play with it, but… uh-oh….!! When you attach the tags to the pictures, and when you try to detach it again, the velcro is off!! So I am not only giving them materials, but also I’m giving kak Eja an obligation to fix all the tags to re-glue it with better glue. I used ‘Fox’ glue instead of UHU because it was cheaper. Kak Eja told the kids that they may look at them and find the answers but don’t use the tags for now.

And so they did…

Nala likes the transportation board while Sali likes the occupation board, he takes it again and again and again.



For this picture, which supposedly to be “journalist”, Kak Eja thinks the children in La’i will say this is a busker x) As this is how some buskers in Indonesia are, they carry their own speaker and microphone, they usually sing dangdut.


Our final lesson


Niar and Amel, discussing the rainforest. They say, the monkey is Ipeh’s brother. And Ipeh’s perfectily happy with it.


Sali wanted to click with my camera. Curious Azis crouched down to see what’s going on. This is Sali’s shot :)

Arif asks me, “When will you come back?”

“A year from now”

He nods.

Kak Eja asks, “Do you understand? So how long is one year?”

He shrugs, “Until we become old”, he said. Kak Eja laughs and said, “One year is 12 months. This is January 2012, Kak Arian will be back in January 2013″. But Arif still looks confused.

I told him, “Okay, how bout this. You’re in second grade. I’ll be back when you’re in third”.

“So you mean once I got my report card and then you’ll be there right after?”

We laugh again and told him, “Well, not exactly. In January. During..hmm..second semester of third grade” I told him, as our Indonesian education system starts in July.

“Check the calendar”, kak Eja told him. Arif and Kiki walk towards our 2012 calendar and they point and “discussed” it. Kak Eja found another comparison and asks him, “Okay how about this, when will you be circumcised?”

He told kak Eja, “When I’m in 5th grade”.

“Well Kak Arian will surely be back by then. Nevermind” Kak Eja said.

Then, as if Kiki has found a brilliant idea, he told Arid, “Oh, I know! Why don’t you get circumcised tomorrow so Kak Arian will be back tomorrow?”

I feel so humbled that the kids have accepted me, even Kiki, who was quite resistant and cold at first. How much I learn from this place. I guess what I wanted to do never “to help” or “to teach English”. I just wanted to learn and share, live in communion with others in a more substantial way. Because don’t we all have something to share? Hopefully it could be helpful for them in their future endeavour.

What I still find dilemmatic sometimes is the attitude towards children beggars. These centers aim to keep children away from the street, and now I see how much difference it makes. Some of the children in the slum go to the street and beg (or busk) for money after school and it makes them exhausted in the night. They never do their homework or study. And since it is usually their parents that encourage them to earn, it is doubtful that the parents will help the children study. And as the result, they’re left behind in school. Few of our kids that don’t come often to the centre usually go to the streets. The organization tries to give incentives such as transport fee and free lunch everyday to keep these kids coming. For the ones with full attendance will always be taken for field trips. Unfortunately some parents still think they can still make money without school so what’s the point. So when I see small children begging on the street, I see my students… I rarely give money anymore because I think, if you really care about them, there are other ways to do it. For me, before, I used to think it’s harmless to help a kid buy his lunch, but now I think about the consequences. Not in the sense of arrogance, that I want them to ‘work hard’ or that they are being ‘lazy’, or that we are encouraging ‘laziness’. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, in fact I feel bad about it, but with the line of work I’m doing now it feels too contradictory to do so. And I’m not saying that traditional education is the only way to strive. I know it’s easy for me to say, because I know they are deprived of the opportunity, so self determination could be a luxury they can’t afford, but I still wish they know that they are capable of doing more, much much more in life.

bye bye place..

The Overdue

January 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Okay, since I resigned my job last week, I finally have the time to make the materials that I’ve been meaning to do since months. These are for the kids to ‘play’ while waiting for their friends to arrive, things that they can work on and on repeatedly now that I’ll be gone for a year. Basically the work is to match the tags (attached with Velcro) to the pictures. Nothing spectacular but hopefully they’ll like to work with it, since it’s very easy to forget a bunch of new taught vocabulary. I dragged my two little sisters (and my sisters’ boyfriend) to help with some cutting and gluing. And since I’m very obsessed with perfect cutting (machine quality!) I nagged them at first. But the third day at midnight I got so tired, I messed few cuttings myself.

So here they are.. We did…

..drawing and cutting..


…and printing and lots and lots of cutting…
…lots of laminating (and cutting again)…
…and lots and lots of gluing.
And here they are
Got to play with the paint!
Now they are ready to be played. I’ll carry them as the ‘replacement’ of myself tomorrow for my last day at the slum.

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