owning up to who i am: a proud Chinese-Indonesian

When I first went to study abroad to a completely new country, the first thing I noticed was how I am a stranger to everyone, just like how everyone else is to me. I have in me the chance to start life pretty much from ‘zero’, and I had the chance to reshape and rebuild the Adeline I want the world to know, here in The Netherlands. For me, it means that I have the opportunity to rebuild my identity and how I want to be known by others, to highlights my best traits, to decide what I like the most from many business-related courses, to make better choices of the kind of people I want to surround myself with.

I still want to be my authentic self, of course. But I started reflecting a lot on the way I want to present myself, I want to be more mindful with my actions and thoughts. I want to be able to try new things without the fear of what others will think of me (because strangers’ opinions don’t matter as much compared to your closest friends’ and family members’).

One big chunk of my reflection has a lot to do with rethinking my identity, namely my racial identity as a Chinese-Indonesian. It has always been the one thing I am most self-conscious about, and I now realised that growing up I might unconsciously tried to hide it in order to be seen as the same and to be able to fit in with the others. When I told people here that I am Indonesian, I have always feel the need to continue my sentence with WHY I don’t look like most Indonesians, which came from my Chinese descent. When I told my friends about culture and customs I celebrated at home, I noticed that I only heavily recite about my Chinese culture, as I barely have any ties to particular Indonesian tribes and their culture. And even though I feel strong connection to Indonesian land and to its people, because thats where I was born and raised, and thats the people I grow up knowing.

It has always felt like I do not actually belong anywhere. It is like you are seen as Chinese, but at the same time not knowing enough Mandarin or the culture to be one. On the other hand, in Indonesia where I was born and raised, had my whole life at, although my big family still speaks a little of the traditional languages, I also feel physically different, and I feel like I don’t 100% belong there.

When I think back about the first moment when I realised that I was different. In elementary school , the teacher once taught us about the beauty of Indonesia, being a highly diverse country. She first asked if any of us have parents from different nationalities. She then proceeded to ask everyone what Indonesian tribes are our parents part of, to show that we are all diverse and how beautiful that is. And while my friends can easily answer whether their parents are Sundanese, Javanese, Bataknese, or Manadonese, I sat there in confusion.

Yes, both of my parents are Indonesians. But I didn’t think they belong to any of the Indonesian tribes. I remembered being so confused to answer until my teacher then also explained further that usually, where our parents from are also the same with where our grandparents live (because most of the time that where you parents’ grew up). Since then, I have always answered that my dad is Sundanese (because his side of the family reside in Bandung) and my mom as Javanese (because her side of the family lives in Surabaya).

Another big moments in my life happened on my middle school. At that time, it was my prime years of basically reading every book I bought or my parents bought for me. I remembered, it was also the time I gained so much interest in history and I was reading a couple of books written by researchers about the Indonesian history, with the 1965 tragedy and the 1998 riots among them. Not long after, we coincidentally also learned these two events in our History class.

I still can recall how my face pretty much dropped when I realised how different it is between what I read how my school text books and what my teacher explained about the events, with what I’ve read in the books before. The school text book didn’t mention a thing about the impact of those two events for Chinese-Indonesian community. My teacher also didn’t give us any extra information. It felt like a history that was close and personal to me, was not remembered. I felt discouraged to learn about the past of my people.

I remembered coming back home and immediately asking my mom why do the school books didn’t explain the truth. Why did it only brush off the general outline of the event, or instead highlighting the economic crisis behind the riots. The books did not spread lies, but it definitely didn’t tell my friends and I the complete pictures. Thats when my mom, I clearly recalled, sat me down and started telling me hand-me-downs stories from her mother and grandparents. That is when she told me stories of her friends, of the daughter of her mom’s friends.

The stories of how my grandparents and uncles and aunts have to change their name to Indonesian names, how hard it is for them to get a house. How my grandma has to get into a ‘fake’ civil marriage with a naturalized Chinese-Indonesia person in order to be able to get a house since she didn’t have Indonesian name, hence why my family name is actually in my middle name and my ‘last’ name was actually the name of the man that helped my grandma got her house. Stories how my other grandma cycle home along the river, tainted with blood and dead bodies. Stories on rape cases, families getting separated, people forced to leave the country, shops burned down, people having to put signs outside their houses to prove that the building belongs to ‘Native Indonesians’, however absurd that concept is. Of how everything was never properly investigated. Of the generational trauma and damaged caused by it long after even until now, of how understandable it is for hers and the generation before her then to have the tendency to avoid discussing it, to close themselves from others and to have prejudices.

That was the moment I realised that no matter how much I tried to fit myself in pursuit of this collective belonging of becoming 100% Chinese or 100% Indonesian, I will never be able to. Because I am bound to different history, different traumas, different roots. A community is bound to connect when they have shared goals, shared faith, shared feeling. Mine was all uniquely tailored to being and becoming Chinese Indonesian. Not tied to only Chinese history (especially the Chinese people who actually live and grew up in China, and it is also not tied to Chinese descent in other countries because we all have different events and history), and although there are some connections, also can’t be fully understood by fellow Indonesians.

That is when I started gaining interest in knowing more about the history of Chinese-Indonesians. I watched films and documentaries made that highlights my community. I read books related to the topic. I took every opportunity i get to write about Chinese Indonesians in my school essays and projects. I cherished the different identity I was born in, I reflected on how I am the same and how I am different to my high school friends.

I reflected on the way I was raised by my parents and how the way of living they are trying to teach us has so much to do with what has happened in the past. We are always taught to never waste our money, to never show off even if we have a lot of it. We are taught that trust is the most important thing in both life and business, and that good friends will last you along long time in life. Back then, I imagined, you probably had no choice but to trust one another. I was even (maybe not intentionally) discouraged from pursuing my interest in politics and other social studies. First reason being their concern as to my career prospects, but I feel like deep inside they knew the risk that it comes with being who I am, being so involved in politics. And although I still have a small calling in me to pursue it as passion through my side jobs or writings, I completely understand where it all came from.

Another big moment was when Basuki Tjahaja Purnama made his way to be the Vice Governor of the capital city, and later on his trials following his 2 years in jail. I wrote about him once. When his name and career and governor started to take off, I saw him as a symbol of hope. I hope that it means there are more opportunities for us Chinese Indonesian to be recognised, to be more involved in more aspects of the country (not only in business and economics, but also in politics, in culture, in law). A hope that quickly died down when the trial happened. It was a sad day for our family. Not only that he actually looks like my dad (I became really sad imagining bad things happening to him, God forbid), but its more because I felt hopeless, I felt defeated too.

The journey to being comfortable with my own identity then continued here, in Groningen too. Studying abroad means you are getting used to being different, of meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. When you are far away from home, you will try to affiliate yourself to a certain group, to a belonging, to be able to feel at home. This was the point when I decided to start embracing myself as Chinese Indonesian.

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to join a hybrid panel initiated by Soy Division Berlin, an art and culinary community by Asian diaspora in Berlin. They were hosting an event called KAUM Festival to celebrate art and alternative performances. The hybrid panel I joined discussed is titled DARE TO BE DIFFERENT – Understanding roots: Being Chinese Indonesian, in which was attended by Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu, Monica Tedja, and Jan Tedja, three Chinese Indonesians living in Jakarta and Berlin.

The discussion, delivered in the form of sharing of personal stories and experiences, had reminded me of my own journey too. As fellow Chinese Indonesian currently living abroad, it does makes you reflect a lot on how being away from home has to do with you starting to want to know and explore your roots. To have something familiar and close to home to hold on too.

When reminiscing about home, I will remember the land of Indonesia, along with the struggles of its people and the constant up and down we are facing. I will also remember the lovely faces of my family, home-cooked Chinese meals and the annual celebration of Chinese New Year or the Qing Ming festival. I will remember that I am, in my own way, are uniquely and wholeheartedly Chinese Indonesian. That maybe it is fine to be in the middle, to be in between, to be different.

The road, still, is never linear. One big point I reflected was the internalised racism and discrimination I had due to the pasts. We are taught to close off and stay exclusive as Chinese-Indonesian (which again, understandable), but we also then have prejudices towards every other group other than ours. This also shows when someone complimented, I felt undoubtedly happier when I am mistaken to be Korean or Japanese instead of Chinese. Of how I tried to hide my Chinese-ness because I thought being Indonesian in The Netherlands makes me fit in easier.

Funny how I, as much as I say I am proud to be a Chinese Indonesian, still from time to time intentionally or unintentionally tried to dissociate myself from who I really am.

Along with the yesterday’s celebration of Indonesian Independence day, although not with as much spirit as usual, especially remembering the lives lost and the injustice still faced by many every day in the country, I wore my batik proudly. It was the Batik top I made together with my family, in which I had mine designed to be similar to Chinese’ qi pao / cheong sam collar style and top. To remind myself that I am proudly an intersection of both, of being born in a very beautiful land with rich history that is my home country, along with its amazing people that comes in a form of helping hands, close friends, and inspiring teachers that strengthen me and my life values, and of having the genes and celebrating the Chinese culture my whole life, the culture that shaped me to be who I am today.

I never have to choose one over the other. I don’t have to worry about fitting in into one of them. I am proudly both Chinese and Indonesian.

adel

outgrowing

out·grow/ˌoutˈɡrō/verb

  1. grow too big for (something).”babies outgrow their first car seat at six to nine months”
    • leave behind as one matures.”is it a permanent injury, or will the colt outgrow it?”
    • grow faster or taller than.”the more vigorous plants outgrow their weaker neighbors”

One of the hardest reality to accept as an inevitable part of growing up is to outgrow. You outgrow your old self, your friends, you environment. And as other people also evolve, you are outgrown by them too. I’d rather say it this way instead of leaving, because it sounds harsh while outgrowing feels warmer; they grow, you grow, and it is ultimately, a good thing.

It is human to grow.

I know everything is temporary and I know that there is nothing in the world meant to be forever. But even after multiple heartbreaks, friendships ending, ends of eras in my life, growing and fully realising how you start to slowly lose the grip of those you love the most, sucks. Each time it happens, I unconsciously build higher walls, hardens my own heart, swearing to not open it for the next person because I know how it will end.

And yet when they come, I’ll happily let my guard down, allowing them to come, speaking to my inner child that maybe, just maybe, this time, people will stay. Unlike how babies learn to avoid doing things that harms them by continuous practices, I don’t. I trust people again and again, and I hurt myself with my expectations again and again, having a hard time each time to learn how human is it to outgrow one another.

I have had the opportunities to be surrounded, constantly, by the most amazing bunch of people. People who inspires, people who are passionate, those who genuinely cares. We had the best times together. And yet everytime its the time to leave, to close another chapter in life, it still feels surreal, as if its not suppose to happen this fast. This soon.

I guess that is why it is harder for me to truly open up to people as I grow. I find comfort in concealing my true feelings, leaving it out for my blogposts and journal entries to see. I don’t often open up with my secrets to people, and time and time I learn better to keep my distance safely while being their close friends.

I thought, only by this way, I will be able to lessen the pain I’ll feel when we both have to leave.

Being able to tale control of my feelings make me feel safe, and yet it makes me seems cold. I got used to (pretend and conceal) when I lose someone or something in my life, as I carry on and mourn the loss of a friend all on my own. And there it goes, people thinking I am the most independent creature there is. That even the presence or absence of another don’t bother me as much.

No one on earth will ever be able to get use to it. We like our comfort zone. Our people. Our tribe. And yet we are forced to move, to choose, to part ways, to decide on our own the very life we are each living in. In that process, we will hurt and get hurt. And we will think we’ll never heal from it. And we will think that those who left will not be able to be replaced.

They are irreplaceable. And you do never heal from it.

The pain didn’t become smaller, you are just more use to it, time and time.

We all leave behind things, people, place, as we mature. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we all never really leave behind things, people, place, as we mature. Maybe we continue to carry them in our hearts, minds, prayers, instead.

May we continue to carry them in our hearts, minds, prayers, instead.

adel.

moving away, living alone

It has been some time since I managed to write anything here, and much have changed since my last writing. I am currently 11.237 km away from the capital city of Indonesia, leaving with 29 other housemates, in Groningen, The Netherlands. In a short period of time, I went from the girl who’s stuck in quarantine for months, to officially a university student!

Back in quarantine, I made a final decision with my family that I would still study abroad even though the pandemic is still going on and the teachings are mostly hybrid. This is such a privilege I know not many can afford, knowing some of my friends still have to stay back home and attend their classes fully online, adjusting to the big gap of timezone, I can already stay here, make friends, comfortably studying according to the ideal timing.

For the longest time, I know in the back of my mind I would go and study abroad for university. I have several majors I wanted to pursue over the years, ranging from Journalism, History, Politics, International Relations, to Communication, Psychology, Marketing, and Commerce. Reasonings behind these vary every year, depending on my hobby around that time, my friends, the comments from parents and other family members.

Growing up, I wanted to study subjects that sparks my interest the most. I like writing, therefore I’ll take journalism. Then I started becoming interested with politics, and I wanted to take International Relations and Politics. I then realised most of my friends come to me for advices, and that I like giving them, and I started thinking about taking psychology.

It’s simple, and I never thought much about anything else. But as soon as I got to high school, and learned how much money it needed for you to achieve comfortable life, and how much it actually matters. I begin making money as my main orientation, shifting more to what is considered as potential majors with wider job opportunities: communication, marketing, commerce. Then I begin choosing what I study now: International Business.

To a certain extend, I was thinking about it back and forth. I want to pursue subjects I actually like, but I at that time it felt like, with who I am (my race, my family background, how I was raised, etc) it would be hard for me to follow my idealism and studied what I studied. What am I going to be? What if I can’t work anywhere? What about support from families? What if I regret it?

And so I settled with the major I have know. I concluded the war in my head with the mantra: I’ll study IB, become rich, and then I’ll have more power to finally pursue what I love. I can always take Masters or crash courses. It will be fine. I then applied to numerous schools, wrote essays in between classes, went to my English teachers multiple times to get their revisions and letter of reference. Within months, I dived deep and focus more on the procedure of my application rather than really thinking about my major. Maybe when I don’t think about it too much, then I’ll see why its the best choice for me.

And I did not think about it. For the last months of high school, I was just focusing on getting accepted and graduating.

But the pandemic, the months of just staying in your room doing almost nothing, made a drastic change in me. There were moments I doubt my major, thinking whether I should just take a gap year and apply for other major. But I realised its not the time to doubt everything I’ve worked hard for, and it’s not the time to bail. So I took the chance, pack my baggages, and left.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Business. I am enjoying all my classes.

But the pandemic, the time I spent reading on politics, history, sociology, on community development, empowerment, humanities, journalism, made me learned that deep inside I’ll always have my calling for it. I think: this is my calling. This is what I would want to fight for.

But do I regret taking International Business (and further help spin the wheel of capitalism lol)?? No. I do like it. I found numerous ways to connect it to the subjects I like, to the subjects I am passionate about. I learned to see every readings, essay, assignments, as an opportunity for me to see International Business from different perspectives: on labor welfare, on the environmental impact, on the protection of human rights, on sustainable development.

I learned about development and the importance of it: building network, making businesses and profit, providing the right infrastructure, creating a sustainable work place.

But I also learned how equally important empowerment is, which most of us often forget: training labors and low skilled workers to motivates them to create their own businesses, promoting and embracing local wisdom, ensure the wellbeing of women and kids, the importance of adapting to customs and culture (not appropriating them).

And I realised how much we have been always told to be successful and that we have to work hard for it to be deserving of it, but we don’t talk enough about how the power you then have should also be utilise to empower others. I was guilty for how much I used to think that I am naturally born smart, when I was just lucky that I am born to the right family, have the privilege to get the best education, and to potentially work at the best companies. Through this major, I found what I want to do in life: I want to empower. I want to help reduce the inequality that is caused by this very system we are living in.

And I know this might sound like a huge hypocrisy and pretend, but I genuinely feel that my life would be meaningless if I was only focused on my own goals: my prestige, my wealth, my bright future. On the other hand, I felt indescribable happiness whenever I though about all the potentials I could bring back home as soon as I graduated.

That’s how much a pandemic and a whole mess of studying abroad and living alone for the past (almost) 2 months got me: thinking about my purpose, my life actions, and what I would want to contribute to in life. From barely having time to think about what I actually want and not what people expect from me because of high school, to finally having all the time in the world to decide, for and with myself:

This is my life, and whatever other have comments on, this is my life. I am the one in control.

IDK how to end this and in what way, but here’s what I have in mind now. It might be a small, nearly impossible dream right now, but to see myself go from someone who spent their times fulfilling others’ expectations and dreams on me, it’s nice to finally have the answer to: what do you ACTUALLY want to do in life?

To make impact. To empower people.

I hope you find yours soon.

adel.

a stream of unconsciousness

The past months have been quite something. I have always been a highly productive person, contributing and taking part in so many organisations and projects, doing what I love, pursuing what I am passionate about. The last 4 months, I am privileged to be able to take home quarantine as a long needed break.

I started the quarantine being extra productive (as you can read from my earlier posts). I bake, I write, read a lot of books. I even created a new Instagram account to keep all my writings and photographs. I was also occupied by university preparation. Even though the classes are still online, I am genuinely looking at the opportunity to be able to still go abroad. I am currently still processing my visa and everything else.

But the pas few weeks have been quite hard. I can’t help but feeling unproductive and had the tendency to beat myself up for not creating or experiencing anything new. I kind of lost my sense of time, being stuck in the same routine (waking up, eat, some episodes of kdrama, listening to music, doing something university related, or taking my online courses), and have nothing to look forward to (well except for my going abroad).

I realised I am super lucky to still be able afford quarantine as free time. But it I felt guilty for not spending it the right way, in a way that is inspiring, moving, or creating any impact for those around me.

I realised we are surviving in the middle of a pandemic, a big economy crisis, so there should be no expectations whatsoever. We all should be grateful to simply be living until this day. To be able to pass another day yet again.

Today was the 10th anniversary of One Direction, a band which used to be a giant part of my childhood and teenage years. I first know them back in 2011 and have been a hardcore directioner ever since. More than ever, listening to their songs again remind me of specific memories of my teenage years.

Certain songs remind me of my crushes (which I didn’t even remember the name anymore, I just collect the moments in my head), of my happiest times and my lowest, how I manage a giant fan page in Facebook and Twitter, productively created a whole fan fiction dedicated to them (which was a giant hit at that time).

Even though my parents and other family members would told me it was just a phase and that I would forget about it as soon as I grew up, the reality is I still listen to their songs from time to time and even cherish their latest solo albums. Still a big fan of their personality, but my crazy fangirls days have past and know have been changed into simply a deeply admiration and respect.

The fan-girling part was indeed a phase, there was a time where I would ask for all things One Direction related, from their merch, books, CDs, etc. There were times I cried my eyes out for not being able to go to their concert in Jakarta since my parents didn’t allow me.

But I can’t deny the fact that they were a big part of my life, helped me shaped my personality, built my confidence, helped me connect with many internet friends, and taught me a lot of progressive topics. I learned early on about toxic masculinity, about PR stunts in celebrity lives.

Quarantining really make me revisit a lot of my childhood and pre-teen memories again. I thought about the person I used to be, all bubbly and friendly. I am luckily still that person, thank god, and I am grateful I have let my inner child grow within time.

I see too many people pushing their inner child away before it is ready to be grownups way too soon, which cause their relationships with other people and with themselves to be shallow and all kid-like.

I recently also watched the Korean drama It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, which basically highlights on mental health issues. The drama gave a perspective on how people can act because of what happen in their childhood. They may be varied outcomes, be it becoming antisocial, or all egoist, or be someone who are so nice and never break any rules because they suppress themselves from pursuing what truly made them happy.

I am learning that when people seems to be an egoist or narcissistic or push people away and seems to be antisocial, was not necessarily because they are mean or rude. Sometimes their inner child just feel lonely and wanted to be loved. And it is normal, because growing up they didn’t receive the love they deserve to experience.

I am going to spend the next 24 hours just embracing my inner child, the little me who was full of life and ambitions. I am going to cherish the directioner side of me, be happy for her and to remind her of how much she have grown from that person. I have been non stop listening to all the albums and the recently released EPs.

That’s it for this post, I have some more ideas I am going to write about soon, I just need to find the motivation (writer block is real and it is killing me rn).

See you! Also happy birthday One Direction!

adel.