Rina Anita Syarifah: In Memoriam (1970-2018)

When I was a kid, Tante (aunt) Rina often stopped by my home to bring me chocolates and other delicious treats, which I had always loved. 

Being my mother's younger sister, she had had no children of her own until a few years ago. Therefore, she had always spoiled her nephews and nieces with toys and treats despite the fact that she was never wealthy.

taken in the early 1990s in Taman Safari, West Java province, Indonesia

When she was much younger, not only had she won singing competitions, she also played the piano and danced traditional dances...including Balinese dances which were known to be hard to learn! Her musical talent was such that my mother told me that she was able to sing and hum musical notes while listening to another completely different song in the background!

Friends and family alike had remarked that she could have been a nationally famous celebrity, until she decided to choose another vocation.

Her passion in life was always in teaching children and teenagers, and that was the path she ended up taking.

Tante Rina told me that although she initially wanted to major in Japanese, she ended up enrolling as an English major (Japanese was not available at her college yet, if I am not mistaken). 

So, it is possible that my passion for Japanese language and culture must have been partially inherited from her.

As a college professor, she was a blessing to many of her college students. I must have been 8 or 9 years old when Tante Rina brought me to the class she was teaching. Her students remarked to me, privately, how lucky I was to have such an intelligent and kind aunt like her. And when she moved to teach at a different university, she was greatly missed by the former students she left behind.

When I stayed at her home during elementary school holidays, I was always greeted by Tante Rina's many cats. A well-known cat-lover, she was taking in strays as she could not bear to see them being malnourished on the streets. At one time, she even owned up to 20-25 cats!

However, in Indonesia, house cats are always free to roam outdoors. Thus, there had never been an issue of hygiene because all her cats were always cared for properly.

from left to right: Tante Rina, my late grandma, and my mother

My fondest memories of her was when she took me and other cousins swimming at the waterpark, and afterwards she would buy me books at the Gramedia bookstore (my sister Mary was still an infant at the time). Sometimes Tante would also spoil us by taking us to eat at Japanese restaurants or American fast-food chains at malls.

People had told me that she had never lost a single Monopoly game before. Because of this, I don't think my cousins and I ever played Monopoly with her, choosing instead to stick to "safer" games such as Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, domino, and rummy card games. 

As I was a crybaby back then, I usually started crying when I had a losing streak in my rummy card games. After which, oddly enough, I began winning! I did not understand it back then, but as I got older, I surmised that I started winning because she had chosen to let me win.

Tante Rina told me that she always believed I could be successful in life, and that I had the potential to get good grades at school. It was this belief that helped propel me to gain a scholarship to study in Singapore back in 2005.

Tante Rina passed away at her residence in Jakarta, Indonesia after battling breast cancer for months. She was survived by her husband and son.

my last picture ever taken with Tante Rina in South Tangerang, Indonesia on 7 July 2009

If I had a chance to spend one more hour to meet you Tante, I'd have liked us to play one more rummy card game while we go out to eat at a Japanese restaurant at Bintaro Plaza. And this time, I'd be the one paying for our food.

Rest in Peace, Tante.

(22 February 1970 - 24 July 2018)


Black Panther

A fast-paced, terrific watch featuring many well-renowned and budding actors alike. While it might not have been the first black superhero film as many had pointed out, "Black Panther" brings Sub-Saharan-African culture into the spotlight by combining many elements of pan-African tradition (such as speaking Xhosa and English interchangeably) with American-style superhero story.

My rating: 8 stars out of 10.


Reading literature from most countries

By now many have heard of the Pakistani teenage girl who has vowed to read literature from every country.

I find her mission to be a noble one, and I wish her the best in fulfilling it.

Emulating her example, I would also like to read literature from most countries. Unlike her, I find it impossible to read books from every country —be they fiction or not — for the following reasons:

  1. Some smaller countries may not have had their literature translated into English yet.
  2. Even if they have had their literature translated into English, the subject of the books from that country might not interest me that much. Life is too short to be reading books in topics I have no interest in.
Since I am able to read books in English, Indonesian, Malay, and French, I am able to read many of the books in their original language.

I have no qualms against Anglophone authors. As a matter of fact, I have just finished a few novels by American authors earlier this year.

Nonetheless, to have their works translated into English, the authors from that non-English-speaking country would need to pique the interest of international publishers enough lest those oeuvre would not sell.

So the consensus is that if the book is already translated for British/Australian/North American audience, we can be rest assured that it is a quality book.


"The Core of the Sun" by Johanna Sinisalo

What an amusing story!
In this novel, the modern-day Finland is a dictatorship.

Unlike the real-life dictatorships like North Korea, however, the Finland in this story does not have an authoritarian leader to be worshipped. Instead, the Finns are always encouraged to improve their health and their standings in society. Trappings of modern technology such as internet and cellphones do not exist (presumably because of its bad radiation effects). Alcohol, tobacco, narcotic drugs, and chili peppers are outlawed.

Did you just read chili peppers? Yes, you read that right.

Chili in this novel is treated almost like a narcotic substance in our real world, where anyone caught with it is instantly sent to prison. The logic for banning chili is that it can produce a “high” that is deemed unhealthy for the public.

The Finland in this story also has legalized free sex (even sex-for-cash) for the vast majority of the population, as long as the individuals involved belong to the main social classes of “masco” and “eloi”. Mascos are the men who have desirable masculine qualities to pass to the offsprings such as strong and being of sound mind. Eloi are the feminine women who are submissive and willing to serve their masco boyfriends/husbands in anything they do.

The ones outside of the masco-eloi classes (who are called “minus men” and “morlock” respectively) are also allowed to have sex and even marry, as long as they have been sterilized beforehand. The minus men and morlock are deemed unsuitable for the “mating market” because they are seen as not possessing the stereotypical masculine or feminine traits respectively.

Being secretly a morlock who has had no desire to submit herself to any men, Vera was raised by her grandmother as an eloi so that she could receive the better things in life such as high-quality schooling and better treatments from superiors.

Everything was going fine until one day Vera’s sister Mira (who is a genuine eloi) disappeared. Vera and Jare had to do chili-dealing, to save money so they could find out what has happened to Mira (among other things).

The novel goes back and forth from Vera’s perspective to her boyfriend Jare’s, and there are some occasional peeks into Vera’s unsent letters to her sister Mira that shows what a close bond Vera has had to her empty-headed eloi sister who disappeared.

Overall, I really like this kind of dystopian story by the Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo. I had initially expected it the dystopia to be something more like Hunger Games or Divergent, but that is probably because of my overexposure to American novels and films.

There are also numerous references to different types of chilis that the characters try to cross-breed to gain a higher scoville rating (and thus, fetch a higher price when they are sold in the Finnish black market). In the course of the novel, I have read about the milder stuff such as sambal oelek and vindaloo paste, in addition to learning about super-hot chilis such as habanero and Naga Viper.

As the entire novel is told from a first-person perspective, we can also see that Vera also has a synaesthesia gets activated whenever she meets someone new or notices a mood change, among other things. When she uses her “fix” of “chili drug”, she also describes the chili themselves not just in terms of flavour or smell, but also in terms of colour and sound.

If you want to read a dystopian genre that shows a unique kind of dictatorship that is not too similar to the Hollywood-style dystopia you see littering the modern pop culture these days, you would definitely not be disappointed with this novel.

PS: in case I want to reread this novel in the future, some of the most important essence of this book is found on pages 230 to 232 of this English-language edition.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


This review was entirely taken from my own review of the book at Goodreads.


The Department of War

On one of the episodes of Manhattan, there was the Secretary of War coming in to inspect the progress of the Manhattan Project in the New Mexico base.

I have heard of the Department of War before, but I used to think that it was created as a separate department from Department of Defense in order to handle the involvement of the United States in both WW1 and WW2.

Oh dear, I was wrong.

Apparently, up until 1947, the Department of Defense was called the Department of War.

I have always wondered why the United States has been embroiled in a war elsewhere in the world for most of its existence, but now I finally understood.

Semantics matters, people.


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