Wednesday, October 10, 2012

PotPals and DinoPals - Friends for Your Flower Pots

For you who love indoor gardening or anything to do with flower pots, these innovative and creative products are especially made for you. PotPals and DinoPals, as the name suggests, are home decor products made from bendable wrought iron for your flower pots.

The idea is pretty simple, flower pots in itself are plain and boring, so why not spice it up with cute decor item like your favorite animals or favorite dinosaurs. Bend it to your liking, and voila, you have for yourself a cute potholder which would make your guest wow-ing in admiration. Check out the video for more details. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hope is Back. Jokowi - Basuki

This is it, today is the day Jakarta would elect its future governor for the next five years. It's been super exciting to see all people in Jakarta so pumped up to support one of the candidates, Jokowi - Basuki. The support has been unprecedented and the excitement for this sort of political event is unheard of.

This is a message of hope, and the people of Jakarta are desperately wanting to see transformation, not only changes, happening. There are tons of lingering issues need to be solved and we have been waiting too long for changes too happen. Slowly, at one point along the line, we stop hoping. Thus, the emergence of this candidate most surely resurrect the passion and hope we have for Jakarta again; the vision, values and dedication that they have for Jakarta are inspiring, and contagiously yet unconsciously, we start to hope, once again.

Today, we bring our hope to the ballot and put it to the test. Today, together we hope for a new Jakarta and  for leaders who are actually working for the good of the people. Today will mark a historical event, either it will be the abomination of hope, or the re-creation of one. Pilih no 3!! 


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Short Term Mission Trip to Cambodia

Here is bits and pieces of my two weeks short term mission trip to Cambodia. Although I can't say definitively that there are lots of new discovery (maybe mostly because it is pretty similar to Indonesia), it is still a great learning experience nonetheless.

Just like real missionary, being sent off to the field. 
First day, we went to this floating village. It's amazing how they manage to live in this kind of environment, I get sea-sick easily so this is not a very friendly environment to settle in. Most people stay in one places and depending on the rain level that season, they move to other places. It is basically like a small town of their own, only the roads are water. They have people going around selling produce every day (kinda like a moving market),and they also have schools for the kids. 
I still can't wrap my mind around it. There are not one, or two, but many of these kind of children, wearing a real snake like a necklace and pointing it to all the tourist, while muttering "one dollar, one dollar". Not a really good marketing strategy though, you can't make me grab a dollar and give it to you if you have that creature on your shoulder like it ready to devour me. 

We have the opportunity to have a buffet dinner at this restaurant that also showcases local dances. Some of the dances are pretty boring for me maybe because it is too traditional and we don't really get the meaning behind it. But some of the more modern dances are pretty entertaining. One dance tells the story of rice farming and the love story between the farmers. Now, that is more relate-able! 

2nd day: Temple Hopping - we visited four temple, all of which have distinct and unique characteristic of their own. We took a group picture with the renown Angkor Wat as the background. 
I just thought this is pretty awesome. Imagine having no sophisticated tools at that time, and using your hand to carve this statue. The precision level (and frustration level too) must be very high. 
After done with all the temple hopping - we took a 7 hour bus drive to Pnom Penh where we will start our work week.  I am with the construction team and our big task is to build a wall around the church's compound. This is one of the sites - digging dirt, building a gutter, putting solid foundation. Next couple of days later: mixing cement, pouring the cement, and building the poles. 

Look at their expression, really adorable. The kid on the left is my favorite, he is pretty playful although a bit spoilt. Well, what can you do, he is a kid. He forces me to put him on the wheelbarrow and push him around.  Our VBS (Vacation Bible Study) team play with them, teach the Bible, do some craft work. We are so grateful for the four kids who accept Christ. 

We also get the chance to visit two historical sites: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Field. These were where the Khmer Rouge, led by Pot Pal tortured the Cambodia people back in 1975 - 1979 and then all the bodies were being dumped in what they called 'The Killing Field'. It is a very gruesome and bizarre pictures of human's cruelty and we all are very overwhelmed by what we've seen there. 

We all miss the good old American ice cream so we don't waste our time during our free day and quickly go to DQ to satisfy our craving. They have a green tea blizzard, so in the name of being adventurous, I try it and not regret it. 
Once we're done with our work week, we spend two wonderful days in Kep at this wonderful resort. I get to sleep on this outdoor bed complete with mosquito net, a pretty wonderful experience I should say. Back to nature!

Dinner by the beach, waiting for the sunset. The picture does not do the view justice though, the view is much more stunning if you see it by yourself. 

On our last day, we go to one of the provinces where World Vision do its work. This is a puppet play educating the children the importance of washing hands and staying healthy. We also got the chance to hear the testimony of one HIV positive patient, how she got the disease, how Jesus gave her hope again, and how the support group has been very helpful in helping her go through her struggle. Pretty impactful. 

My last picture - in front of World Relief Cambodia office. Very grateful to have these guys working for the cause of the Lord there.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Update on Writing Class

Finally, after long deliberation and tons of excuses, I registered for the writing course that I have been planning to take since last year. There are many options available, but I think my heart finds its rest on the "Article That Sell" program from Christian Writers Guild, basically a six month writing course which goal is to produce 10 ready-to-publish articles by the end of the course.

So what do I exactly want to achieve from this course? Of course not to be the next John Grisham because taking one writing course does not even slightly close the one light year gap between his prowess and mine in fiction writing. I guess I have no definite and satisfactory answer to this question as well.

Part of it because  a bunch of friends have encouraged me to take one, maybe too naively thinking that I can really pull this off. Partly because I am still pretty much ambivalent about this, can't seem to put my foot down; I do enjoy writing to a certain degree, I feel I am able to express myself better in words, but it is nothing like a walk in the park, definitely nothing like spelling an ABC. I mean, c'mon, there are so many better writer out there; every time I read an intimidating column or article from Time, it always, without a fail, leave me with a sense of belittlement, think of an image of an overweight guy looking at the P90X workout guy.

And the last part, maybe I am still intrigued to find out how much I really want to do this, and how much writing capacity hidden down there I can excavate, is it a gold mine? or actually only a seasonal almost dried out well? Is this something that I need to take seriously in the end? I hope that the course can really push me out of my comfort zone, and give me the technical tools required to be a better writer - of which it has done a great job at, been scratching my head numerously to complete my first assignment, a deja-vu to my undergraduate experience.

So yeah, I have completed my first assignment, and I was about to celebrate it with a champagne when I realized there are 11 assignments to go, so as crestfallen as I was, I decided to postpone the celebration until a more significant time. The next assignment is due in two weeks, so I definitely have strong excuses to disregard the next assignment, don an invisibility cloak on the textbook, and update my blog with my recent travel to Cambodia and Indonesia. Finger-crossed!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Preparation for the Trip to Cambodia

Not many people are familiar with Angkor Wat in Cambodia; it never get as much spotlight as The Great Wall in China or Eiffel Tower of course, but it holds such beauty nonetheless. It is not a familiar discussion as well to hear people going to Cambodia for vacation, despite its fascinating historical background. However, that is where I'm planning to go this late July. Together with 30 other people, we are going to Cambodia for a 2-weeks mission trip.

This trip might be the highlight of the year for me. I have been planning to go abroad to some 3rd world countries, not to witness the beauty and pretentiousness of skyscrapers and mega-complex shopping mall, but really to understand the low and reality of life; the side that is frequently hidden behind the glossy cover of tourism magazine.

I was born and raised in Indonesia; a developing country with one of the highest corruption, population and pollution level. Street beggars are conspicuous, slums are a daily eyesore, and criminal activity is a normal everyday threat, not to mention circulating rumors of bombing here and there. Growing up in this surrounding, I am certainly not unfamiliar with poverty. So what else do I need to understand about poverty?

I actually do not have a great answer for that. What I know is, so far my involvement with poverty has been confined to mere emotional and intelligence level. I know I look at them with teary eyes, my heart breaks and my gut shouts for the world to help them. I also read books and study about several poverty alleviation business models, I attended seminar and created a social business club as one of the efforts. But still, even after all that being done, I know I have not even crawled anywhere near sacrificial level.

To witness is not to understand, to have an eye-opening revelation is different than to have a life-changing experience, and regardless of how many cook books a person has read, that doesn't make him a chef.

And these are what I'm expecting to do and achieve to get nearer to that level
1. Talk to as many people as possible to identify one specific problem that can be tackled through social entrepreneurship
2. Although we are supposed to stay in a hotel during our trip, I'm gonna try to find a local that is willing to let me stay at his house for a couple of nights
3. I am with the construction team, so I'm gonna work my head off to help them build a school

Last but not least, I will hold on to this promise from Numbers 6:24-26

"The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen" 

When times go rough, and when the heat of the day is just painfully suffocating, when there is no power left to even form a simple thin smile, I will see upon the Lord's face, who will graciously lend his smile and lift up the light of his countenance upon me, and give that peace that surpassed all understanding. That's, where my heart will rest. Amen. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Commencement Speech - You Are Not Special

Be careful what you hear. We tend to selectively hear only things that validate our opinion and sense of liking. We like to hear messages that tickle our ears, telling us that we deserve it, we are strong, and we are special. Aren't we the contender? Imagine that you are one out of the millions sperms that being dispensed, and you're the one who swim victoriously towards the egg? But hey, listen more carefully please: there are 6.8 billions sperm that manage to do that too, and more are following. That is why when one commencement speaker states that we are not special, the whole world throws a tantrum and gasp in disbelief.

How could he? 

How dare he? 

Yes, what rarely said and often only heard in a faint whisper is the line after that: how could he tell that disturbing truth that soon? How dare he shatter the beautiful yet misconstrued pictures that we have been constructing for this little child - that he is the most special and that the world revolve around him?

This speech is an appropriate wake up call not only for these children, but also for all of us. Listen to what David McCullough Jr, an English speaker from Wellesley High School has to say during this commencement speech. 

Here are some of my favorites:

'Yes, you've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You've been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You've been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we've been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your tweet. ... And now you've conquered high school ... and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community ...

But do not get the idea you're anything special. Because you're not.'

'Your planet ... is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it'

'Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It's what happens when you're thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion- and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joy of life, then, come only with the recognition that you're not special. 

Because everyone is'

See this for complete transcript

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Easy Gardening with Fertilizer Tree Spikes - Winchester Gardens

Do you have trees whose leaves are turning brown or yellow, or stems getting broken easily? Chances are, your trees suffer from the same fate as mine, and are in dire need of fertilizer. But the idea of fertilizing trees, with all the mess and intricacy, really push me away. It is easier to rationalize that the mother nature will faithfully supply all the nutrients that my trees need without me having to bend down and hurt my back. Right?

Well, thankfully I have some fertilizer tree spikes. Most people are not familiar with tree spikes but they are basically very similar to any granular fertilizer, only they are being compressed and compacted into a solid spikes form. Thus, allowing a very easy & customer-friendly usage, I just have to drive the spikes into the soil, let mother nature do its charm, forget about it, and voila, my trees are fertilized constantly throughout the season. 

Tree in my backyard where I apply Winchester Gardens tree fertilizer spikes
The tree which I fertilized with Winchester Gardens' Fertilizer Spikes
The 'secret' is in its slow-release formula. Once the spikes are placed beneath the soil, water and micro-organism will help to break down the nutrients slowly but continuously all season long. At the right pace too! Thus, it eliminates the need to apply your fertilizer every week or two weeks. You just have to apply it, not twice, not thrice, but just once! No more 'Oh my, I forgot to fertilize my tree'. With fertilizer spikes, you can literally forget all about it. 

For the most effective result, place the tree spikes along the drip line. Let me explain. Basically, look for the outermost branch or leaves, and then hammer the spikes just below it, exactly where water drips from and unto the ground. This is important because the root is usually located along the drip line so you are basically geo-targeting the fertilizer. 

Winchester Gardens' Tree Shrub Fertilizer Spikes
Tree Spikes before I
hammered it in
Another tips is to water the soil before hammering the spikes in, you basically want to make sure the ground is moist and soft and is happy enough to welcome the spikes. If not, you are creating troubles for yourself. Don't worry, contrary to the popular belief, spikes do not easily break apart during application. Well, at least the one that I used did not. 

The most typical tree spikes you can find out there are tree & shrub, evergreen and fruit citrus. However, Winchester Gardens has a wide collection of fertilizer spikes, from tomato spikes, vegetable spikes, rose spikes, and even berry spikes. I use the tree shrub and evergreen on my yard, and everything are looking good so far. I might have to apply them again in the Fall, but at least for the next two months, I can cross one task off my to do list, forget about it and just sit back enjoying the beauty of my yard. That's, my friend, how you can improve your quality of life :) 

Friday, March 9, 2012

StopKony 2012 - Campaign Against Child Soldiers in Uganda

Today, a social campaign against child soldiers is going viral, taking all social medias by storm. Kony 2012. A campaign initiated by Invisible Children with the purpose to create awareness about Joseph Kony, an international criminal who abducted children and forced them to be child soldiers. Pretty horrifying fact although the issue itself is not new.

I laud the campaign for successfully bringing this issue to the dinner table. At least, I've seen more post about Uganda now on my Facebook feeds rather than the usual food pictures and I am excited that such issue can be shared with millions of people around the world, and now people know what's happening in Uganda and hopefully many other parts of the world.

As with anything viral, things will wane and all these people now tweeting #StopKony will wake up a week from now and have no slightest remembrance of this issue. It is expected that most people are driven emotionally and only feel the nudge to press the like or share button mostly to make themselves feel better. However, I believe out of millions who sway and move on, a few will take the issue to heart and would not be able to erase what their eyes have seen and what their ears have heard. These raging unstoppable passion will be the driving forces once more, rallying people to care about issues that matter.

So, I am totally behind this movement and this ground-breaking visibility especially after lately been exposed to testimonies from former child soldiers themselves. A Long Way Gone is a great memoir of a boy detailing his odyssey with war in Sierra Leone. Another book that I've read is First They Killed My Father, another gripping story of a girl's journey in a devastating brutal war in Cambodia. And now, the story of Jacob in Uganda.

Too many things are left unsaid and too many tears have been poured out invisibly. It is time for the people of the world to start noticing and sharing their problem. I know how the pain of losing a family member can be torturous, but to witness your parents being murdered is another different game, let alone to be forced to kill them yourself. There is no closure for that. No one should go through that kind of nightmare. Not us, and certainly not them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lessons Learned - The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The idea of helping the poor has never escaped me, I am always internally drawn to the possibility of making the world a better place. I believe this is the passion that I share with Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen fund, who unlike me started to realize her dream early in her career. It is with elation that I ravage the pages of her book, The Blue Sweater, mostly for sharing stories that had I possessed the courage, I would also be able to experience and share.

When the idealist and novice imagine a life of a social entrepreneurs in Africa, one would sway, due to their inept knowledge of the reality, to either one extreme: the painful rough path of suffering or the rewarding transcendental joy of changing the world. I myself have unconsciously been apologizing to myself for wanting the former and for enforcing such 'curse' upon my own life, why not vie for that wall street or consulting job? This book, however, shatter my misconstrued reality

Yes, the business of changing the world usually entail certain level of loneliness and hardships, but do not all roads contain their own rubble and hard path? Being negatively judged, unlawfully accused and even being poisoned are part of the package. Jacqueline described it perfectly here,

"Doing this in a different language, in a place far from home, where navigating even simple things could thwart the best intentions challenged me to my bones. There were plenty of nights when the sheer injustice of the world in which I lived would come crashing down. With no means of communication other than letters, a sense of isolation would envelop me, and there were nights that ended in tears of tiredness and sadness for a world that didn't seem to want to see the possibilities right there in front of it. In those times, I would turn to music. Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Cat Stevens began to feel like good friends on lonely nights" 

But unbeknownst to me is the magical adventure this life has to offer at the same time. Weekend is still weekend wherever you are, and the world is not lacking of any perks and fun to throw at you. For Jacqueline, it is that climbing one mountain in Africa or an adventurous travel from the far reaches of Ethiopia to the Kenyan savannas or to the volcanoes of Rwanda. Or even as simple as eating shish kebabs and grilled bananas, dancing to the tunes of African music with Rwandan beer at hand. Those are pictures that my misconstrued mind often denigrated as not being philanthropic, but certainly with every trough, a peak is about to follow.

Another issue that I am having hard time to grip with is the issue of lifestyle: how much are they going to change me and vice versa, how localize should we conform to their lifestyle and how much freedom are we throwing out of the window? I think big part of that answer depend on the level of involvement you want to be in. But this story helps me to understand and find a better conciliatory point between the joy and suffering of social entrepreneurs.

"I'm not sure I even want the champagne, Dan," I said. "I feel a little ashamed by it. I just don't know if it is right to be doing this while we're living here." 

Dan looked at me. "I know it doesn't make a lot of sense on one level. We're working with the really poor, and you and I couldn't be more privileged in relative terms. But don't pretend to be someone you aren't. If you were at home, you'd celebrate with champagne. If you want to remain happy and alive in this work, you need to reconcile this part of who you are and understand the inconsistencies with the work you do and how it all fits into your whole way of being." 

I looked at my lovely friend. As a young man, he'd lost his brother and had already endured great sadness in his life. His commitment to social change had never wavered. Maybe he knew something I didn't. 

Certainly, there are something I do not know unless I jump into it and get my hands dirty. Reading this book awaken the sleeping giant in me, I know I am several years behind, I am 24 now and little that I did except reading and learning about the issue. Other passionate young men and women have flown high and even let their wings being clipped and plucked during the quest, while mine remain ironically unscathed.

Going to Cambodia this year is my first action plan; an adventure to learn the world beyond me and to be familiar with what I think would be my world. Cowardice and comfort are two vices that I have been submitting into, but this time I refuse to bow down and present my tithe. I know I will take what Jacqueline said to heart,

Entrepreneurs see possibility, an idea, and won't stop, regardless of the obstacles, until they make it happen. They aren't necessarily the smartest people in the world, but they are the ones who have the guts and the heart to do whatever it takes to make dreams come real.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Do I Choose to Yelp?

Yes, my name is Gerry and I am a Yelper! I said that with the most declarative tone and highest pride any food lovers can exude, putting my name in the same caliber with any other food experts yelping and reviewing various kinds of restaurants or food establishments.

I wonder why do I join this Yelp bandwagon pretty late compared to all my other friends. Although at least one shot of espresso and crumbs of chocolate pistachio cake run in my blood, and despite the fact Yelp has been one of my most visited website, at home or unashamedly I admit at my work laptop, I have been reluctant to complicate my life with reviewing stranger's restaurant as if they will remember me and send me a thank you card later. 

But, certain angelic revelation came unto me one day and I was convinced to join the bandwagon and added "yelper" to my part time occupation, only mine is not about raving or bitching over the overly cooked fillet mignon or the not-so tender carrot. No, I refuse to do that, mine is, as I have alluded, contain an 'angelic' aspect,

And this is the reason. I've seen too many great small restaurants and talented chef destined to pack their cookware only because they don't get enough exposure in this super cluttered food business world. Places like Mike's place and Ippudo are reaching to a point of exploding because of glowing review from tons of Yelper, joining the hype at the moment, and at the same time, attracting multitude of crowds. Life is not fair I know, there is a gap distancing the famous and infamous, but I'm gonna try to do my part to make it a little bit fair-er.

And thus is the decision. Those restaurants worthy of five or at least four stars, will get what they deserve. From this day onward, you are going to see me cruising more on Yelp, writing my piece of mind for small restaurants that possess the potential to be the next Ippudo. It might sound petty for some people, but 'do unto others what you want them to do to you' right? With scanty marketing budget and unfamiliar brand name, a simple review from one customer or a rating boost from 4 to 4.5 star could be just what the fledgling entrepreneur needs to put his head at rest and face another day with confidence.

So in short, and yes, this post could have ended 30 minutes ago, but kudos for you who manage to stay until this point. For me, Yelp is not only a platform to evangelize your favorite bar or to express your resentment towards that fail-to-melt molten chocolate cake, but also a platform where people put all of their chips - aspiration determination and hope - into one single business, letting its fate to be determined by some strangers, freely to be crushed or to be actualized. What's your choice? As for me, I rather choose the later. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Response to Marine Urinating Dead Bodies

Only a few really know the cost of war, no one can really claim to understand what's happening out there only by sitting on their couch and watching BBC's documentation on war, just like no one understands tragedy and suffering without actually having your life tied to it, no matter how many movies you watch about death or even the holocaust.

After watching the video of soldiers urinating on dead corpse, and seeing the condemnation the whole world threw at them, I started to think. Of course, that was a stupid act, a 'completely inhuman', and 'utterly deplorable'. But still, granted that, what cause it? What is this shock viralling on the media?

Viktor E. Frankl, a holocaust survivor, in his book "Man's Search for Meaning" wrote that the prisoners upon witnessing so many scenes of beating, are hardened morally and mentally. Their impulse toward violence is increased (add to that the bereavement from food and rest), thus their capacity to handle, tolerate and commit violence is catapulted as well.

Not only the prisoners, the guards are also slowly transformed into a darker evil upon seeing and living and committing act of brutality in an increasing dosage. It dulls you, and suddenly gassing the Jews is not so bad at all. Let alone beating them or withholding food ration and in this case peeing on dead bodies. This kind of hellish environment forces the prisoner's life (and the guards as well) down to a primitive level, where humans cease to have meaning, merely an object, a thing, a weightless matter.

In a pretty much similar fashion, these soldiers are made to commit some atrocious acts which unlike the peeing video, never being taped and posted on Youtube - destroying community, shooting people on their head, bombing houses, and having to watch their friends being tortured and murdered on the battlefield. We often shriek and close our eyes upon watching such gruesome acts in a war or horror movie, these guys see it too often to even bother to close their eyes anymore. 

The urinating incident is indeed grotesque and insensitive, yet are we planting the seed at the first place? These people are put in hell; these are people who are commanded to 'kill on sight' upon seeing another human being and then to celebrate his death while the family, mother and daughter of that person gasping for breath trying to understand the gruesome reality of war. When morality is being taken out of the equation, when such immoral acts are their daily consumption, could they be blamed for urinating on dead bodies? 

If we were to be so "deeply troubled" at this incident, maybe what the world needs is a world without war after all. Maybe instead of putting all effort to bring justice to this, we should put greater effort in ending the war. Maybe war, even the most 'normal' activity of war, should trouble us greater, than the urination.