Sunday, March 30, 2008
  A polymath in his own mould

This past week has been potentially one of those life-changing periods which are, for me at least, quite rare. Keeping interested when everything seems to be the same old, same old, isn't that easy.

I've already chronicled the book launch, and I mentioned that among the friends 'Er Indoors and I reconnected with were Irfan Korstchak and his wife. What Irfan didn't tell us was that he has also written a book about Jakarta. Entitled Nineteen: That's life but not as we know it, and reviewed in today's Sunday Post, it is a series of interviews with "some of the people we see every day -- but don't notice. The book covers the lives of 19 street vendors, ranging from the ubiquitous warung and kaki lima vendors (meals on wheels), a blind masseuse and a young sex worker, among others. Each person's story is told in text and photographs across four to six pages".

Published by Mercy Corps-Indonesia, as yet I have no information about sales outlets or price. However, any book which demonstrates "a deep respect for the experiences of the subjects, without ever dissolving into pity or being patronizing" and which helps our understanding of the world around us is worthy of appreciation. I look forward to reading it.

As Jakartass, I was interviewed by Isyana Artharini, a journalist from the afternoon issue of Media Indonesia, because apparently this blog is "extremely rich in describing daily life in Jakarta." I hope to have advance notice of when the interview is published so you can all make a mad dash into the traffic jams around town and buy a copy. Then you can let me know what I actually said.

Among the points I do recall rambling on about is that I love rambling on about different things, and that this blog is therefore a reflection of my different interests and concerns. That the quality of life is paramount in my thoughts is because I'm a parent, which leads me to my next point.

Our Kid is about to take what, in the UK, used to be called the 11 Plus. Yesterday, I went to his school to have a good old chinwag with his class teacher and the Vice-Principal about his potential for passing and thus 'graduating'. What I hadn't realised is that he has to pass three subjects, Indonesian, maths and science, none of which I can help him with.

In my day back in the UK, the level of maths and science he, and every Grade 6 child throughout the country, has to master were not taught in primary school, but later. Other subjects were considered important and we were encouraged to explore. That all the tests here are multiple-choice only renders the subjects even more pre-determined. There is no room for interpretation or experimentation. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to re-educate the test-setters. Few indeed are the tests taken which do not have errors of fact, thus ensuring the correct quota of failures.

Is it any wonder that school is something to be endured? Thankfully, there is now a backlash among educationalists seeking an escape from the moralistic and uptight strictures of self-appointed arbiters of learning.

Can you tell which of the following two quotations refers to the English education system and which to the Indonesian?

"We teach students many subjects at school every day, yet we do not teach them how to learn. There is a missing link; we want them to be successful but abandon them when they ask how to do so. I suggest students be taught learning skills from an early age and learn how to think critically so they become independent and pure learners throughout their lives."

"Teachers want a return to a system which is liberal and flexible and not top-down [and] imposed by government. We want a return to a time when there was a potential for magic moments in the classroom."

Aah, and indeed, wow. Magic moments are those which surprise and invigorate. There aren't many of those to be found deciding which of the A,B,C or D circles on a computer answer sheet needs to be filled in with a 2B pencil.

Although there is always a need for specialists and experts, in order for humanity to develop we need explorers. Just as there is supposedly a thin line between genius and madness, there is probably a thin line between specialism, obsession and addiction.

It may be that for some who blog our writing is a sign that we have endured dysfunctional relationships, so readers can help with our recuperation. Simon Garfield, for example, found himself seeking professional help when his stamp collecting took second place to his marital relationship, so he wrote a book about it.

I don't think I'm obsessive to any great degree, so you don't find me chronicling, with notes and photos, food I've tried in various restaurants around town, unlike Jenz, who loves to eat around Jakarta, even when she's already "quite full". (I won't deny that there is a need within the blogosphere for specific interest niches. Perhaps I should set up a special site annotating the music I've listened to whilst typing this ~ Moondog, Emilié Simon, Delta Sax Quartet, Baaba Maal, anyone?)

An interview with Donald Sutherland, "a sperm-filled waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator" (according to Federico Fellini who cast Sutherland as Casanova), also describes him as a polymath - a person of great and diversified learning according to my Websters. Now that, I can identify with - the polymath bit, I mean.

As Isyana Artharini and I agreed, there are few blogs like Jakartass around. I know a little about a lot of things because I am curious. Through writing here, I've learned a lot and I generally provide several links which, because they serve as background and back-up for my musings, will also help you to explore further and, if you wish, to challenge my thinking..

That the majority of those posting their musings online generally stick to a fairly limited subject matter could well be a reflection of the paucity of the education system. If the curriculum states that black is black and white is white, where is the grey to exercise their grey matter?

This also probably accounts for the restricted thought patterns of those promoting sections of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law which outlaw the promotion of or access to NSFW sites.*

Sad, really. If these over-grown schoolboys, who are no doubt going through their mid-life crises, had looked beyond those pornography sites whose images they have been downloading in order to condemn them, they could discovered some recently published research. This has shown that male masturbators generally have a lowered risk of getting prostate cancer. Images which stimulate sexual desire therefore have a medical function. For once, science transcends art. Beauty is in the hands of the beholder, so to speak.

Get a life guys. Make a friend and go out and play, assuming you haven't built a shopping mall where a playground ought to be.
* It's important to recognise that the main focus of this law is on providing security for e-transactions, legalising e-documents and providing protection of personal data on the internet, for which we can give two cheers.

The third cheer will be awarded when the telecommunications providers ensure ready broadband access for all, and not just the rich folks in their enclaves.



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