WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: A week in Indonesia

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (MindaNews/26 August) — It’s hard to conceive of weather turbulence when one’s days unfold to be the friendly kind of cloudy and the nights are balmy with just a touch of gentle breeze.

After a bit of delay caused by the storm and literally hours of counter-hopping in unfamiliar foreign airports, I finally made it to Yogyakarta in Central Java for 10th Biennial Conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology. This would be the fourth and last international conference for me to present relevant aspects of the Mindanao Resilient Communities Project (MRCP) that I did in 2011 and 2012 for Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao and the US Embassy – Manila. Such usually is the timeline for academic research dissemination. It takes months to extract data, months to write before you can send it out for consideration of review panels, and more months before they reply to accept, reject, or seek revisions.

So aside from the presentation I did in Prague for the 1st Global Reflections on the Narrative which basically examined only the utility of qualitative research methods in defining social reality, it would be over a year after I concluded data gathering on the MRCP before I got invited to present it at the plenary of the Pambansang Samahan ng Sikolohiyang Pilipino’s annual conference. The PSSP gave me the venue to present much of unseen Mindanao through the eyes of the Mindanawons and to assure our colleagues that there are competent psychologists practicing in this part of the country.

In early April this year, my paper was invited for presentation at the international convention of the Philippine Political Science Association. This time around, I had reassembled my MRCP data to highlight the security concerns in these grassroots communities, giving it a more political science flavor.

Despite having recently pocketed a degree in clinical psychology, I am more inclined actually to define myself as a social psychologist. I could not pass up the chance to commune with my colleagues in the AASP when the opportunity presented itself because the AASP meets every two years only. So typhoon signal last week notwithstanding, I sent up a prayer for the Fates to get me to the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta in time for the conference. I got lucky. With some harrowing moments and a lot of persistence at mangling other people’s language to get directions that would take me nearer my goal, I finally got the Student City of Indonesia – so named because it houses 80 universities. Some of my colleagues never made it out of the Philippine airports.

A little rest and I was ready to hit the Malioboro district for the decorative teaspoons my hubby collects from all over the world. I shunned the metered taxi for a betya – what the locals called “push-push”, the Indonesian version of the padyak. No decorative teaspoons there for hubby. The vendors gave me a wooden senduk. I said “salamat,” and the vendor promptly rang up my purchase with a smile. It would take me days to learn that selamat meant good, not thanks.

On my second day, I came down to the hotel counter to be told by the receptionist that he had five cancellations from the Philippines.

“Planes not flying. Where are you headed?” he asked.

Borobudur, the oldest Buddhist temple in the world, I replied.

From next door to my room at the University Center, two jolly Malaysian scholars from Kuala Lumpur asked to tag along on my tour. Soon we were like sisters exploring the Mendut temple and losing each other in the Borobudur complex.

I came back to find the wifi working in my room. There was an email from Jojo Abinales in Hawaii. Jojo, bless his heart, is always looking for ways for me to do what I need to do. This time around, he wanted to introduce me to some Fil-Am scholars who were raising money to help Mindanao organizations working directly with conflict-affected communities. Of course I replied yes, and attached a few selfies from Borobudur. He emailed back, “Did you go to the top for a smoke? I did that in 1984!”

Ah, no. The main monument is now a no smoking zone. It survived a thousand years. It survived Jojo’s smoking there 29 years ago. It would probably survive my smoking today, but never mind.

Four days at the conference with 800 delegates from 38 countries gave me an intense appreciation of the vibrant scholarship and warm collegiality that features in the community of Asian social psychologists. A special feature this year was a collaboration night sponsored by the University of Wellington for selected participants who wish to work on multi-country research projects.

The narrative tradition for disaster research is seemingly still in its infancy stage even among practitioners. Perhaps for its novelty factor, my paper elicited much discussion and sharing. I also found that the audience was better engaged by videographics as they could better see the conditions under which I did the research project. Of course, it also helped that at the end of my presentation, I sent my audience away with copies of the MRCP publications and Our Mindanao back issues.

But six days there and I was running out of smokes and instant noodles. On some nights, I had taken to sneaking out to the KFC three blocks away for some of the Colonel’s original recipe. I would tiptoe out so the ladies next door won’t hear me. They like their chicken spicy. And they’re constantly inviting me to hit Malioboro across the bridge and past the train station for batik and tourist stuff that they could bring home. On their last night in Yogyakarta, Ju and Zura had amassed more than their allowable baggage limit.

On my last night in Yogyakarta, I crashed a military wedding held at a function room next to the garden restaurant. The bride was dressed in shimmering gray green, impeccably made up to look like a diwata. She was a shining vision of youthful grace and beauty as she solemnly marched down the aisle beside her betrothed, equally resplendent in his ceremonial garb. I was so awed I forgot to take her picture. She looked so young that I think I was scared for her. So calmly did she stand to be blessed by the stately cross-sword ceremony of the cadets from the Indonesian Army Academy.

In the dark corner of the garden restaurant later, about a dozen cadets asked to join my table for a smoke and slices of the wedding cake. Fine boys barely in their 20’s, wanting to join their Special Forces or armor unit when they graduate next year. They came from all over the 16,000 plus islands of Indonesia. They were interested to know more about the Philippines and about Filipino soldiers. I stayed and talked a bit, but after a while I told them to go and talk to the young ladies at the reception, reminding them that it’s so rare for them to get out of school grounds and enjoy female company. Light was bad. The boys could be forgiven for thinking I was, uh, interesting. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)