[EN] Ministry of Moral Panic


Book title: Ministry of Moral Panic: Stories

Author: Amanda Lee Koe

Year published: 2013

Publisher: Epigram Books, Singapore


I found the book during an episode of rush hour in my already-rushed life: I was running to next appointment yet I was in the middle of this huge bookshop, looking for a book for a friend. I have read several of Amanda Lee Koe‘s short stories before on Quaterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), and she is also the editor of POSKOD.SG, an online magazine I used to frequent.

“Ministry of Moral Panic” is opened with a scene of a two men talking about the ‘it girl’ of Flamingo Valley named Ling Ko Mui. She did not seem to be bothered, until one of the men, Deddy Haikel, took his guitar and the song rolled. There goes a story of two lovebirds and their lingering feelings that span more than three decades.

Aside from “Flamingo Valley”, my other favorites are “Pawn”, “King of Caldecott Hill”, “Siren” and “Chick”.

Something is traded off at Pawn and things are not always ended when the clients leave the counter. Delia knows what she wants the most: a sense of gratification. Her ordeal seems to come to an end when she met a young man named Lei. He makes her feels like she owns the world, and she is not going to lose it even when it’s beyond what she can afford.

The “King of Caldecott Hill” is not really a royal in literal sense, but with his small screen fame, he was already a king to many of his loyal fans. The short story follows an encounter of his fan who meets him long after his golden years, and his suicide attempt that tests her devotion

Two Way To Do This” is a two-part story about the life of a foreign domestic worker named Zurotul. She came to Singapore from Indonesia after suffering from a personal tragedy and she began her training at a local agency after she arrived in the foreign country. The line “she was made for love” is repeated throughout the story, and turns into an enchanting spell that keeps our mind glued to the pages. Indeed, the girl was supposedly borne to be loved, but life is often harsher for some souls.

Chick” is a story that perhaps will tug our heart in a way that only we know. A nameless girl grows up being misunderstood and knowing that men often take advantage of her. Thus, she becomes cold-hearted, even to those who try to love her earnestly.

Other than undertaking love as the general theme, Amanda Lee-Koe also brings the iconic magical creature Merlion into life in her story “Siren“. Merlion is alive and well, working in one of the high-rise buildings in Singapore. A childhood schoolmate encounters him and the focus shifts between the story of his birth and his present situation.

Whether a story is a favorite or not, “Ministry of Moral Panic” has certainly won a new fan. I needed a slight adjustment to the omission of inverted commas between dialogues, but it was really nothing as compared to the magic spelled in the leafed pages. As an online review put it, it was simply “un-putdownable”. I definitely find it so with its unabashed use of Singlish terms and local contemporary culture references (unfamiliar readers might be more than willing to do some small researches on the colloquials), sexual frankness and Lee-Koe’s take on daring angles to view love from vantage points.

“Ministry of Moral Panic”, Lee-Koe’s first debut book, has won the author the English Fiction award at Singapore Literature Prize 2014.


[EN] I’m Still Here


Book Title: I’m Still Here

Author: Belinda Wan

Year published: 2011

Publisher: Math Paper Press, Singapore

Here’s a truth about me: I rarely shop online. I just don’t feel that secure if I can’t touch or flip through the goods I’m going to buy. Nevertheless, in the spirit of curiosity and ‘never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover’ – or its synopsis, in this case – I clicked the 66-page chapbook in to my online shopping cart.

The book opens with chapters about the early stage of the author’s relationship with photography. Just like her, most of us are not born to be naturally good in front of the camera. From time to time, we are bound to find awkward smiles and poses in our pictures as we go through a photo album. Remember that old ID or passport picture? Or the ones with our eyes closed because of the flash, ruining the whole mood of the photograph? Belinda Wan, too, could not escape from photograph-taking sessions, which, unfortunately, are also a way to strengthen social bonds. Even as the person behind the tool, the author still tripped over her clumsiness, and would rather take pictures of landscape over humans, as she found them less complicated and best represent her feelings. In this particular chapter as well, Belinda Wan discusses about the recent development of camera, from analogue to a digital one. As someone who grew up with both, I have watched my family members flipped through photo albums, or buying and putting film rolls into the camera. There is definitely a tinge of nostalgia, and we share the same sentiment.

The author then revealed an unforgettable experience she had in a photoshoot session held by her company. Belinda Wan humorously describes the jitter-inducing, a “do-or-die” idea of taking a corpse-theme photoshoot for their magazine’s anniversary. As someone who hates being the star of a photograph, it sounded like a death sentence. There was no exit door and she had to execute the order. She survived it, of course, and lives to this day to tell the tale. While preparing for the photoshoot, she met a warm-hearted make-up artist, a hair stylist who did magic to her hair and the rather eccentric Mr. Photographer. Her encounters with the personalities and the whole new world of professional photoshooting taught her more about herself and the photography business.

I believe that for the last few years, most of us must have taken a shot of our foods at least once. Here in”I’m Still Here”, Belinda Wan also wrote a small chapter on food and camera during her assignment as a food writer. It was no easy feat to snap a picture of the place as compared to the food, she noted. Even more on the diners as it was considered as an invasion of privacy. She was also assigned to write about taxi drivers’ favorite foods and eateries – something that actually piqued my interest in an instant. Instead of featuring famous names, asking people who know their way around sounds like the simplest way to get a slight twist in perspective yet it is often overlooked.

My favorite later part of the book is the writing on documenting changes through photographs. Our memories are often overlapsed each other, and it is almost impossible to remember every detail in the sequences of events. Taking photographs is a way to reminisce the good ol’ days, the milestones in life and we cannot stop feeling surprised at how much time has passed. Belinda Wan sums up the chapter with a quote by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, that life has to be lived forward but understood backward.

I gave two out of five stars for review rate of this book in Goodreads. It is really an ‘okay’ book for me because it didn’t bore me to death though I don’t find it particularly breathtaking or memorable. Especially in the earlier chapters, it focuses on the personal life of the author, and I felt like reading a blog post instead of a book. Fortunately, the amusing photoshoot story and some lines of reflections found in later chapters save the book. I have never heard about the author before, so it took some efforts to understand her relationship with photography. As the book progressed, it seemed that she slowly found her rhythm by truly placing photography as her writing’s main subject, and then found a connection between the theme and her experiences, rather than vice versa.

[EN] Love, Or Something Like Love

o thiam chin


Book Title: Love, Or Something Like Love

Author: O Thiam Chin

Year Published: 2013

Publisher: Math Paper Press, Singapore



“We believed we finally had a chance at love, or something like love.
We really did.”
(The Verdict)


The theme of love is so universal that everyone is able to relate to it, yet it is so personal that what one feels about it is different from what other people do, though we think it is still the same kind of love. This is my first book by Singaporean writer O Thiam Chin and I was curious on whether I could find my kind of love being narrated in his stories.

The first story is “The Cat That Disappeared“. A woman pays a visit to an apartment that also serves as a stray cats’ shelter. When she finally meets with the lady who takes care of these cats, it is revealed that she wishes to put her deceased father’s cat up for adoption. The cat was the last being to be present in time of her father’s death. She, on the other hand, is the last being to know about her own father’s fate.

Family theme continues with the lineup of next stories titled “A Lost Boy” and “The Third Eye”. Two families with different struggles are presented to portray of how the past and loss of love we try so hard to deny, will still cast its haunting presence until we make peace with it. The first story is opened with a grandmother’s prideful story of her teenage grandson. The boy is described as undemanding and charming, nothing like his mother or grandmother. The older lady thought that the boy would be redemption to unforgiving past that has been circling her life. Not until she discovers something that her grandson tries to keep a secret, which only reminds her of her mistake.

James, a primary school boy character in the story “The Third Eye” just lost his mother, yet he keeps seeing her around the house. However, his father never believes a word James trying to tell him. Instead, he is drowned in his sorrow and lashes his frustration at his son. Would he finally listen to what James trying to convey?

Taking a thread from a haunting past that feels so distant also becomes the universal theme of “Boys At Play“. The main character of the story is reminded of a childhood friend whom he lost in an accident while they were playing in a canal. His recollection of the fateful day is getting more vivid as time passes by, through the images of Kevin and words that cannot escape his mouth. As he represses his trauma and buries it deep down, the memories still find their way out to his subconscious world.

Now, it is time to talk about a story that leaves a deep impression on me. A shift in time and space, “Swordsmen” is a tale of a brutal survival in a time where swords were people’s way of living. The story follows a man and his wife who live with a small group of other swordsmen after they broke away from their old clan. Life is a string of constant uncertainty as they do not know whether they will be able to see the sunrise the next morning or not. One night, the men are sent for a mission to fight a group of unknown warriors, and once again they put their life on the thin line. O Thiam Chin’s rich description really helps to build a world of moving images in front of me. From the depiction of the swiftness of the men as they move around in the darkness, to the ruthless fights, the writer put me in awe with his smooth flow of descriptive narration, scene by scene.

The theme of forbidden love makes an appearance in the later part of the book, through four stories titled “The Verdict“, “The Last Voyage“, “At The Suvarnabhumi Airport” and “The Years“. Among the kinds of love we know, there are loves that are too clandestine in nature to be put in the spotlight. Those moments that bring us to question whether a love can really be categorized as “right” or “wrong”.

The Verdict” is not a usual story with a definite plot, but rather a piece that gathers pieces of memories and hearsay, if we never experience it ourselves. The theme revolves around the extra marital affairs that are often conducted by older men who feel stuck in their marriage. I felt that as if I was put in a floating lifebuoy and slowly dragged along the story of secret passion and lust.

Once again I was thrown back to a vastly different time and space through “The Last Voyage“. O Thiam Chin takes the legendary Chinese admiral Zheng He as the subject of his story. There are little reference on his personal life as an admiral, other than a story of his early life when he was captured by the Ming invaders and emasculated to be able to serve in the palace. This vagueness sparks intriguing myths, and O Thiam Chin offers his charming recreation on what could be the larger-than-life figure about.

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” This famous line of Mark Twain becomes the premise of the story “The Years“. In the mid-1990s, a man, who recently becomes a new father, attended a Chinese New Year’s gathering hosted by a stranger he met in an online chat room. A casual encounter soon escalated into a passionate affair. He dismissed the incident and moves on with his life as a married man. But one day, he is caught in a surge of emotions when he is faced with his long-forgotten past.

At The Suvarnabhumi Airport” sees a travelling longtime married couple and their encounter with a young girl they meet in Bangkok. Kay and Collin are trying to repair their marriage, as they found themselves at the verge of drifting apart. There they meet Gwen, a lively twenty-something who is their next-door neighbour in the hotel. Kay and Collin’s relationship gets more wintery when Collin struggles to resist the temptation of his forbidden desire.

The last story that I would like to share here is the poignant “You Are Always Here, All The Time“. Written to ‘you’, it re-tells a story of a man with illness that disables him and slowly robs his health. Just like “The Verdict”, there’s a sense of subtle, floating feeling as the story progresses. When a person’s physical ability is taken away from him, it is always worth noting how much it affects his mental state, too. In the end, the person who will make it through is the one who keeps his flame of hope alive. Here, the author tries to voice an outsider’s unspoken wonderment to such a person.

Reading the stories in “Love, Or Something Like Love” makes me feel as if I am drawn to a big cushion after a long day. The softness and velvety qualities in the writings pull me in and sink my body. Before I realise it, my whole self is all wrapped in a tightly knitted plait, the warmth and assurance lull me into a surreal plane of dreams. O Thiam Chin is a seasoned writer in Singapore literature scene, and this book is such a nice first date, it makes me want to make a call for a second date with his other works :)




[EN]: She She

she she


Book Title: She She

Author: Zou Zou

Translator: Yawtsong Lee

Year Published: 2012

Publisher: Shanghai Press and Publishing Development Company, China


I found this book tucked away in the lower half of a local English bookstore’s shelf, almost buried beneath Western surnames that surround it. Chinese literature was something new for me and since the only Asian countries’ literature I have ever read was only from Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, I definitely thought that “She She” was going to be a good start for my literary ‘expansion’.

“She She” is an anthology of four short stories written by a contemporary Chinese author with a pseudonym “Zou Zou”. The first story “Abandonment” talks about a couple who lost their child and how they deal with their adopted daughter. The girl grew up into a charming young lady who struggled to find her self-identity. Her attempt to find happiness through external means ends up hurting her. A monotonous married life and her inability to conceive a child only increases her dissatisfaction. Her soul-searching journey prompts a recurring theme of abandonment and an unexpected twist occurs when she thinks she has lost everything.

The second installment of the anthology is “Thirty-One Days of Love” that observes the exchange of love stories between a female editor and a male copy writer in an advertising agency. Their story is mostly developed in the realm of online chat room in form of a co-written fiction, while their real life romance moments are sandwiched in between. One of them has to make a difficult choice when they fail to see a mutual end to the fictional romance.

Is it even possible to get obsessed with someone we call friend? “She She”, the third story opens up the possibility of this pretty uncommon of an obsession. A female character meets the feisty lady at a gathering and they hit it off right away. The story rolls on from the main character’s point of view, following the chronicle of her lady friend’s on-and-off love affair with a married man, and also her own failed marriage with a man she refers only by his initial, F. As she becomes a close confidant of her lovesick friend, she finds herself desiring something she is not supposed to.

The final chapter is titled “Writing”, which is akin to taking a look at the author’s personal journal entries. The piece talks about what got her writing at first, her relationships with individuals outside her literary circle, and also the struggles she faces when she has to climb over the high wall called ‘writer’s block’.

“She She” is an interesting anthology for me as I did not find it easy to understand the flow of its stories at one go. Re-reading was something that I felt necessary, especially for the third and fourth part, due to their numerous sub-plots. Zou Zou’s style that revolves around the relationships between nameless characters and the inclusion of sub-plots, which are intended as a background story of the characters though not necessarily linked to the main plot, proves to be quite a test of my endurance.

Another distinctive feature of her style is the existence of indirect sentences in the course of a conversation between the characters. This creates a sense of subtlety that is also a prominent feature of the Eastern culture. Euphemism is often highly regarded in the East as it shows the level of one’s education and family background. While some norms might have gradually shifted nowadays, Easterners still revere this trait.

My lack of knowledge on Chinese language leads me to an interesting observation of the choices of English vocabularies used by the translator, Yawtsong Lee. The one I remember most is the usage of adverb “lackadaisically” to describe something “without interest, vigor or determination: listless, lethargic” (Dictionary.com). I believe that an appropriate translation counterpart reveals the depth of the word in the original language. Thus, I am genuinely curious of the reason behind these choices.

I feel that the stories are not meant to be fed to us readily, without exerting any effort to truly understand the message. These writings are not hard news, but a vague recollection of the author’s life bits and pieces. Just like how we often hear but not really listening, I find myself guilty of this ‘crime’ of reading but not really understanding. For those who enjoy sprint type of reading might find the stories draggy but whenever they are keen to try a new challenge of reading something with a slow plot, “She She” might be a choice of new venture they can dive into. :)


[ID]: Cinta (Tidak Harus) Mati

cinta tidak harus mati


Judul Buku: Cinta (Tidak Harus) Mati

Penulis: Henry Manampiring

Tahun Terbit: 2012

Penerbit: PT. Kompas Media Nusantara, Jakarta


Saya tahu saya super telat karena baru sempat membeli dan membaca buku ini baru-baru saja. Di toko buku Gramedia Denpasar saja sampai hanya sisa dua. Untungnya sih belum kehabisan :) Untuk yang belum kenal dengan penulisnya, namanya Henry Manampiring, atau akrab disapa Om Piring. Walaupun panggilannya “Om”, sebenarnya om yang satu ini sangat jauh dari kesan om-om kok. Om Piring adalah pemilik akun Twitter @newsplatter yang terkenal dengan komentar dan jokes cerdasnya. Selain menulis, Om Piring ini juga sibuk mengakrabi Microsoft Power Point dan meeting dengan klien saban harinya karena beliau bekerja di sebuah perusahaan advertising. Cerdas, sukses, humoris dan berwajah tampan – jangan heran kalau Om Piring ini banyak penggemar perempuannya :P

Ada dua hal yang bisa kita temui di dalam buku 258 halaman ini, survei dan refleksi Om Piring mengenai berbagai topik. Kalau biasanya kita suka malas mengisi survei (apalagi kalau lagi jalan terburu-buru, terus distop cuma buat isi survei!), survei-survei Om Piring ini malah diburu oleh tweeps dari seluruh penjuru Nusantara, lho. Memangnya tentang apa saja, sih, sampai ramai begitu? Ada dua laporan survei yang ditampilkan, yaitu Laporan Survei Jomblo Nasional dan Laporan Survei Gebet Nasional. Dari judulnya saja sudah menggelitik iman untuk baca hasil surveinya, kan? Yang hebat dari survei-survei ini adalah tentu saja jenis pertanyaannya (plus pilihan-pilihannya yang ajaib) dan… Jawaban open-ended yang ditulis oleh responden survei. Lucu dan kreatifnya keterlaluan semua! Rupanya followers akun @newsplatter tidak kalah kerennya dengan yang difollow ya :P Oh ya, walaupun hanya dua survei yang dimasukkan ke dalam buku pertama Om Piring ini, sebenarnya beliau sudah sering mengadakan survei. Untuk hasil survei yang lainnya bisa dibaca di blog beliau. ^^

Seperti yang saya bilang diatas, Om Piring ini selain lucu, orangnya juga cerdas. Setelah kehabisan nafas karena terlalu banyak tertawa di bagian survei, Om Piring mengajak pembacanya untuk menenangkan diri (diminum dulu air putihnya, Mas/Mbak…) karena pikiran kita akan tergelitik setelah kita sampai ke bagian buku yang selanjutnya. Tenang saja, om kita yang satu ini berbakat dalam mengaitkan topik ringan seperti masalah percintaan, dengan teori ilmu sosial yang beliau dapat dari buku-buku bacaannya seperti The Social Animal karya David Brooks dan Happiness Hypothesis karya Jonathan Haidt.

Seperti misalnya teori Emergent System dan hubungannya dengan status jomblo seseorang. Jadi menurut teori ini, elemen-elemen yang pada dasarnya berdiri sendiri, ketika bertemu dan berinteraksi, akan menghasilkan suatu hal baru. Contoh yang diberikan Om Piring adalah fenomena topan badai yang terdiri dari elemen-elemen yang sebelumnya terpisah, yakni angin, air dan udara. Nah, banyak yang menganggap suatu fenomena yang lebih kompleks, terutama fenomena sosial dan budaya (karena segala sesuatu yang berhubungan dengan manusia itu pasti kompleks!), hanya disebabkan satu faktor saja. Contoh di buku adalah kemiskinan. Walaupun faktor seperti tingkat pendidikan, kondisi ekonomi negara tempat tinggal, kesehatan dan sebagainya, dapat dikatakan sebagai kontributor, tetapi kemiskinan adalah gabungan dari beberapa faktor, tidak cuma satu. Jadi menurut Om Piring, bisa saja masalah kejombloan ini seperti teori Emergent System tersebut – bukan hanya karena faktor penampilan, pekerjaan atau isi dompet semata sang jodoh belum sampai juga di hadapan kita. Bisa saja karena gabungan ketiganya, salah satunya saja atau malah sama sekali bukan karena faktor-faktor diatas.

Tidak cuma masalah percintaan saja, Om Piring juga menulis tentang topik-topik yang lekat dengan kehidupan kita sehari-hari, seperti pekerjaan, berita-berita yang sempat menghiasi headlines beberapa waktu lalu dan juga pengalaman pribadi Om yang lucu-lucu :D Menurut saya, tulisan yang menarik itu yang bisa bikin kita merenung, dengan cara bertutur yang keren pula. Apakah buku Om Piring juga termasuk jenis kumpulan tulisan yang begitu juga? Tentunya :) Cuma orang aneh yang gagal ketawa dan merenung setelah membaca buku ini! Hehe. Saya pribadi memang suka dengan cara menulis Om Piring yang santai, lucu (banget!) dan tetap mengandung sesuatu yang memang menarik untuk dibaca dan dicerna. Kekurangan buku ini? Sepertinya untuk saat ini belum ada, ya. Buku ini menghibur dan yang paling penting, cukup informatif dengan cuplikan-cuplikan teori sainsnya. Oh ya, ini buku ketiga yang saya beli dari penerbit Kompas Media dan sepertinya ciri khas buku dari penerbit ini adalah halaman yang berwarna-warni dan ukuran huruf yang bervariasi di bagian-bagian yang dianggap penting. Sangat menarik secara visual! :)

[ID] Payudara

langit amaravati


Judul Buku: Payudara

Penulis: Langit Amaravati

Tahun Terbit: 2013

Penerbit: Metafor Imagination, Bandung


Buku “Payudara” adalah sebuah kumpulan cerpen karya seorang penulis yang berasal dari Bandung, Langit Amaravati. Sudah bisa ditebak dari judulnya bahwa benang merah dari seluruh cerpen dalam antologi ini adalah tentang jalan kehidupan kaum perempuan dengan berbagai latar belakang.

Berisikan 27 cerpen, buku berukuran mungil ini dibuka dengan sebuah cerpen berjudul “Air Mata Air Mata” yang menceritakan tentang sosok seorang perempuan bernama Ijah dan ia tak bisa membiayai perbaikan makam anaknya. Ijah dilarang untuk memperbaiki sendiri makam tersebut karena dianggap akan membawa sial. Namun, Ijah tetap bersikeras untuk memperbaikinya, menantang kemiskinan dan kepercayaan setempat yang tidak berpihak kepadanya.

Kemiskinan dan perjuangan hidup perempuan untuk mengatasinya juga akan menjadi premis cerpen-cerpen berikutnya seperti “Makam”, tentang Marni yang kehilangan anaknya; “Perempuan Sukaesih”, tentang Sukaesih yang berusaha mempertahankan harga dirinya ketika dituduh berselingkuh dengan suami pemilik kontrakan tempat ia tinggal;  “Simpang Jam, Dini Hari”, tentang seorang wanita korban perdagangan manusia yang melarikan dari tempatnya disekap; dan “Merindu Emak” yang berkisah tentang seorang tenaga kerja Indonesia yang dihukum mati di luar negeri karena membunuh majikan yang berusaha memperkosa dirinya.

Kekerasan fisik dan psikologis juga menjadi tema cerpen-cerpen milik Langit Amaravati. Selain kemiskinan, kekerasan dari orang-orang terdekat juga rentan menghampiri kaum hawa. “Payudara”, yang judulnya juga menjadi judul dari antologi ini, menyentuh isu ini dengan cerita Ervina yang menyaksikan kakaknya menjadi korban kekerasan seksual ayah tiri mereka, hingga akhirnya hamil dan bunuh diri.

Lalu ada cerpen “Tangis”, tentang seorang istri yang mengalami kekerasan dalam rumah tangga; “Bagi Dunia, Isum Sudah Mati”, tentang Isum yang membakar rumahnya ketika sang suami membawa pulang wanita lain; dan “Am, Lelaki Dermagaku”, tentang wanita muda yang terpaksa mengaborsi kehamilannya karena sang kekasih menghilang tanpa kabar. Sebuah cerpen berjudul “Mozaik” mencoba menyajikan sesuatu yang berbeda dengan mengajak pembaca berandai-andai – bagaimana jika akhir cerita-cerita sedih itu berbeda? Bagaimana jika para wanita itu berhasil mengalahkan dominasi lelaki jahat atas kehidupannya?

Langit Amaravati tak melulu menuliskan tentang penderitaan kaum wanita yang tertindas. Antologi ini juga memiliki cerpen-cerpen yang menjadikan tokoh wanita yang menjadi subjek. Dalam “Cinta Itu Luka” dan “Pemintal Kenangan”, ada tokoh wanita yang memilih secara sadar untuk jadi selingkuhan. Dan juga, jika dalam cerita lainnya, tokoh wanita lah yang selalu menangis dan tertindas, dalam “Doa”, terdapat seorang tokoh istri yang mendapati suaminya sedang berdoa dan menangis, karena merasa bersalah atas ketidakmampuannya memuaskan sang istri.

Namun dari semuanya, cerita favorit saya adalah “Cantik”. Berkisah tentang seorang pengacara wanita yang sedang sibuk menyelesaikan pekerjaannya di sebuah kafe, ketika dia dihampiri oleh seorang pria yang berusaha menggodanya.  Sang pengacara dengan cepat meluncurkan pertanyaan yang tak bisa dijawab oleh pria berwajah tampan tersebut: apa yang membuatnya tertarik? Saya pribadi tidak setuju dengan mereka yang menempatkan kelebihan fisik diatas kecerdasan dan kepribadian, jadi tentu saja cerita ini menarik perhatian saya.

Hal pertama yang saya lakukan setelah menutup halaman terakhir buku ini adalah menarik nafas panjang.  Saya paham bahwa sang penulis sendiri pernah melalui hal-hal yang juga dilalui oleh tokoh-tokoh dalam tulisannya, sehingga emosi yang tersampaikan sangat nyata. Sungguh berat menjadi seorang perempuan di tengah budaya patriarki, apalagi banyak dari kaum perempuan ini hidup dibawah garis kemiskinan. Dengan berbagai alasan pula, mereka menerima semua perlakuan buruk yang ditujukan kepada mereka dalam diam. Entah sejak kapan dan mengapa, kombinasi kemiskinan dan menjalani kodrat sebagai seorang perempuan selalu saja lebih buruk ketimbang menjadi lelaki dalam kondisi yang sama.

Semoga semua jiwa yang terlahir menjadi seorang perempuan di dunia ini, dapat menjalani kehidupannya tanpa rasa takut. Semoga apapun tantangan yang diletakkan dalam jalan hidup masing-masing, tidak pernah lebih menyulitkan hanya karena seseorang adalah perempuan, melainkan karena ia dianggap mampu melaluinya sebagai seorang manusia biasa. Semoga mereka semua, dan saya sendiri, tidak pernah merasa bahwa terlahir sebagai seorang perempuan adalah suatu kesalahan. Semoga.

[EN] The Rose Of Cikembang

                                        the rose of cikembang

Book Title: The Rose of Cikembang

Author: Kwee Tek Hoay

Translator: George A. Fowler

Year Published: 2013 (first published in 1927 by Panorama)

Publisher: Lontar Foundation, Jakarta


This is by far the oldest translated Indonesian novel I’ve ever read in recent years. I stumbled into it in a shelf of a bookstore, and I was particularly interested in the author’s name and the fact that it was first published 74 years ago. I’ve never heard of a Chinese-named author from the era. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to know that there was a prominent Peranakan author prior to Indonesia’s independence, since overseas-born Chinese people have always been synonymous with trading or medicine and rarely venture into arts and literature scene.

Kwee Tek Hoay,  or KTH, was born in West Java in 1880 and first went to help his parents’ business before publishing his own magazines and newspaper . Kwee was especially interested in religions, theosophy and philosophy, ended up establishing Sam Kauw Hwee (The Three Religions Society). He included this aspect in his works “Bunga Roos Dari Tjikembang” (The Rose of Cikembang, 1927), “Drama Dari  Gunung Merapi” (The Drama of Mount Merapi, 1931) and “Drama Dari Krakatau” (The Drama of Krakatau, 1929). Kwee also wrote about his ideal political vision in a four-volumed series “Drama Di Boven Digul” (Drama in Boven Digul, 1929-1932). He even wrote a satirical episode both on Dutch presence in the Indies and the disparancy of Peranakan and totok culture in his works, such as “Zonder Lentera” (Without Light, 1930) and “Nonton Capgome” (Viewing Capgome, 1930). Still, he wrote about Chinese heroism under Japanese occupancy with passion.

Bunga Roos Dari Tjikembang“, or The Rose of Cikembang, revolves around the love story and interactions between Chinese Peranakan families with the native of the Indies, or referred as pribumi,  set against the bustling trading days of Batavia in 1920s and also  the life led in a plantation in Priangan highland.

There goes the story of Ay Cheng, a manager of a plantation who lived far from his glorious past in Sukabumi. His family fell into bankruptcy and he decided to retreat into the quiet hill. Although he was already 30 year olds, he was not married yet, for he feared that his future wife would not afford to lead a simple lifestyle, far from the lights of Batavia. That was what he told other people . However, the more important reason could be the presence of Marsiti. Marsiti was a young Sundanese girl he could not marry due to racial difference. An interracial marriage was not openly welcomed in higher social classes of the time.

But fate caught up with Ay Cheng and he was asked to marry the daughter of a rich man named Liok Keng Jim. His father Pin Lo insisted on the marriage as it would help them to return to a social class they once belonged to. Ay Cheng was torn between his deep love towards Marsiti and the obligation as the only son of his family. Marsiti, aware of her position, requested Ay Cheng to obey his parents’ wish and set to leave the house quietly albeit in tears. The heartbroken Ay Cheng finally married Gwat Nio, Liok Keng Jim’s daughter, and slowly forgot about Marsiti as he grew accustomed to his new life.

Few years later, it was Ay Cheng’s grown-up daughter, Lily, who was about to marry an American-educated young man named Bian Kun. All of a sudden, she became very ill and passed away. Bian Kun vowed that he would never get married despite Lily’s  deathbed wish. Ay Cheng’s family and his would-be in-laws, Choan Hu and his wife, were drowned in sorrow.

Ay Cheng and Gwat Nio retreated to Garut, a small town in West Java, to recuperate their peace of mind and health. After the tragedy, they wanted to live quietly somewhere far from Batavia. However, it did not last long for Bian Kun was said to meet someone who resembled his deceased lover. This created another series of ripples and the couple’s new life was not spared.

To me, reading the book was a unique experience. Throughout the book, I kept imagining how certain lines sounded in the type of Malay language used at that time. It could have been much more dramatic, especially for the dialogues.  It is worth to note that The Rose of Cikembang was first appeared as a stage play before being published weekly at Panorama magazine.

The using of Malay terms such as “nyonya” (ma’am), “tuan” (master, mister) or “juragan” (literally means “helmsman”, but it was used to address people of higher status) alongside English text highlights the prevalent feudalism, giving us an insight on the first-hand account of a life in Batavia before the end of Second World War. Before reading the book, I didn’t have an idea that a pribumi woman could never gain a status of a principal wive to Chinese men of higher status and the Dutch. The term “nyai” was used to refer these women and her status was only as a concubine. She could also be ushered back to her folks anytime.   The societal pressure would eventually force the Chinese and Dutch men to marry someone from their own kind, regardless of their feeling as depicted in The Rose of Cikembang.

The  theme of loss, meeting, fate and reincarnation are written in simple manner with interesting twists. For readers who are used to read novels with more intricate plots and endless intrigues, this book might be considered as a lighter read. Nevertheless, as a classic Chinese-Malay literature, it is a good introduction to a unique literary community whose echo is almost gone with time. Aside from the author’s foreword and end note, which was written as a poem, The Rose of Cikembang is also completed with a brief chapter on the variations of Malay language existed in the East Indies and how Chinese Peranakan people played their role in the colonized yet dynamic society.