Friendship Day – Establishing Circles of Trust

By Jason Noghani

2020 has been a strange year for celebrations. Never in our lifetime, has there been a time when the Holy festivities of the year could have been more poignant. Rather than using these times as a means of collectively celebrating such festivities, we were forced to look into ourselves in a cold, puritanical light, in unnaturally isolated conditions, separated from loved ones, or from the places of worship or congregation that would ceremoniously mark the end of a transition and the start of a new one.

If that were not enough, the previous twenty years or so have witnessed an entropic decline in human relationships, as the rapid proliferation of technology has imprisoned us by admission of our own opulent unconsciousness – immediacy and pleasure surpassing nurturement and happiness. And now, here we are: the new normal, the beginning of a chapter where even the basic ingredients of life such as breathing and laughter are potentially coming under scrutiny. Many of us have never felt lonelier, and many others are barely wondering how they can even cope.

The silver lining in all this, however, is that this enforced period of reflection has meant many of us have begun contemplating what needs to change, and how we can make a difference to actualise it. As a musician, I humbly feel I can only speak from the perspective of a musician in expressing this argument on a humanistic level, which pertains to the humanistic aspect of both music making and the musical outcome of these endeavours.

Technological advancement has meant that resources are becoming increasingly limited, due to practicalities and economic limitations, which has also meant that bands have now downsized to no more than three musicians, with duos becoming ever more commonplace, and bands of four or more musicians becoming increasingly rare. There are also more solo artists now than ever before, which has been perpetuated by technological resources enabling musicians to compose, produce, record, promote, market and distribute their own music; not just for DJ’s and composers of electronic music, but for performers too.

Even though this is ultimately a brilliant thing, as it has maximised creative freedoms, it nonetheless is a daunting prospect in a world of social distancing, to be living in a world increasingly made up of solo artists. As a composer by training, I am all for solo projects, and think it is fundamentally necessary for one’s creative liberties, but without collaboration, like friendships, it really makes you wonder if there is any point, as we can only go so far by our own admission without the wisdom, insight and clarity of others!

Gado Gado Ensambal – A Little Bit About Us

“Approaching the third decade of the 21st century, diversity is challenged as if it were avoidable. Humans are destined to be different by the law of nature, thus diversity is inevitable. Gado Gado Ensambal embraces diversity. The name Gado gado itself is derived from an Indonesian traditional dish; it is a rich mix of vegetables with peanut sauce served as the dressing. So, Gado Gado Ensambal is a cultural salad bowl in which the diverse ingredients – in this case the individual performers – are the collective fabric of the new and unique form of creation.

Gado Gado Ensambal was formed in London in 2015; it was initiated by Boo-Boo Sianturi, Jason Noghani, Miryanneka Alwi, and Anwar Baadilla. Since then, the ensemble has gained support from the following talented and inspiring artists: Jonathan Wiseman, Yukiko Kinoshita, I Nyoman (Komang) Astita, Pavel Ralev, Kiril Boshikyov, Pouyan & Rosa Khosravi, Teo Minaroy, Irvan Harjakusumah, Tri Yuniarto, Bintang Perkasa, Tomo Gotou, Mark Day, Ian Sullivan, Nadia Wadas, Tom Nolan, Katarina Kostrevc, Colin Alexander, and Shiva Feshareki. Without their support, Gado-Gado would not have gone this far!” – Boo-Boo Sianturi

Gado Gado Ensambal playing in London | Photo Courtesy of Gado-Gado Ensambal
Gado Gado Ensambal playing in London in July 2019 | Photo Courtesy of Gado-Gado Ensambal
Gado-Gado Ensambal live at Sacred Rhythm Reborn Unison: Celebrate Life | Photo Courtesy of Sacred Bridge

Gado Gado Ensambal emerged almost by accident, with four friends meeting every Friday evening to drink a few beers and make music without being entirely sure of what we were doing, although shortly after its inception, it became clear that the notion of collaborative endeavours and making unique music was at the core of our interests. The harmonisation of both intentions corresponds to the mutual exchange of ideas, mutual enrichment, and above all, the consolidation and trust of friendship.

In the years following 2015, as Gado Gado grew, we also adapted around it, although it was more akin to teething rather than an effortless assimilation, whereby friendships, dedication, mutual interests, ambitions and intentions were all tested along the way, with the intention of arriving at a mutual alignment, to realise a shared collective vision built upon free individual expression.

The hardest challenge, I found, was realigning my personal interests to shared interests. Having not played in a band since adolescence, I was not used to not being in control in one way or another (as you are sort of taught to behave in compositional pedagogy), which meant at times I was uncomfortably at odds with the way things were unfolding. The determination to persist, however, even in the moments of jarring doubt, and the love for my brothers and sisters involved in the project, is what enabled me to persevere amidst these peculiar moments of self-questioning, doubt and existential quandaries.

So, in a nutshell, Gado Gado Ensambal, like a well lived life, continues to evolve positively, although this is never a linear path, as like life, there are peaks and troughs, that either make us or break us – but like any well lived life, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

Cosmic Trilogy

Cosmic Trilogy cover | Photo Courtesy of Gado-Gado Ensambal

This musical diversity of Gado Gado Ensambal could perhaps best be described as a tripartite, psychedelic amalgamation of roots (traditional), popular and experimental musical influences, which are embodied most clearly in our upcoming EP Cosmic Trilogy. It also reflects the three core members of the Ensambal: Gado Boo (Boo-Boo Sianturi), Jon Kuah (Jonathan Wiseman), and J-Sambal (myself), three best friends, who are three very distinct personalities, both in music and in daily life – A Traditionalist, a Rationalist, and an Anarchist, who are at the core of TRAdisi (Tradisi is our respective record label that houses Gado Gado Ensambal, and other artists of roots music origin. Its purpose is to conserve, educate and transcend the fundamental necessities of roots musical and cultural heritage past, present and future)!*

From left to right: Pouyan Khosravi, Gado Boo, J Sambal, Yukiko Kinoshita and Jon Kuah | Photo Courtesy of Gado-Gado Ensambal

These elements are all apparent in the EP, with each of us overlooking and producing one of the three parts of the trilogy. Work on Cosmic Trilogy began around 2016, and despite being close to completion, it is unarguable that the past four years have been a journey, whereby challenges, growth and renewal have emerged from the experience. Even though music was the primary focus, without the inspiration, encouragement and obstacles inherent within friendship, it would have been impossible to have even conceived of the idea, let alone realised anything at all. Alongside the three of us, the project would not have been possible without the help of our friends; most particularly in the track and video for Cosmic Vibrations I (the first track on the record), which was made in response to the distances imposed upon everyone during the global lockdown.

Gado-Gado Ensambal – Cosmic Vibration (1st movement) live at Erasmus Huis, Jakarta

Gado-Gado Ensambal – Cosmic Gamelan (Live at Sacred Rhythm Reborn Unison: Celebrate Life) | In collaboration with I Nyoman Astita, Made Agus Wardana and Namarina Youth Dance

Whilst the finishing touches are being put onto what was initially planned to be our debut (which I can guarantee will be a delectable feast!), the immediate response to the alarming events of this year meant that a new project is currently underworks – namely, the Circle of Trust EP.

*It is also worth noting that the triangulation of science, art and conscience (spirituality) were also in the back of our minds upon conceiving the album.

Circle of Trust

“Extracting one of the core elements of basic human values: Trust. Sharing across differences, establishing value through capitalising on co-creation across cultures, and the obtainable treasures of mutual understanding and truthful knowledge, which are holistic necessities across the arts, science, and conscience.

In alignment with the ‘Polyphonic Co-Creation’ originally proposed in the musical framework of Stomu Yamash’ta; Listen to the Stone – Searching for Spiritual Harmony in Polyphonic Coexistence (Kyoto Manifesto 1, Chapter 8). Different Themes are brought together into an overall creative ‘harmony’.” – Boo-Boo Sianturi

Gado-Gado Ensambal – Circle of Trust (1st Movement)

I have been spending the past four months in Cambodia, where I have largely spent the lockdown on the remote island Koh Rong Sanloem, most particularly in the village M’Pay Bay (which means “twenty-three” in Khmer), having initially only come for a three-week holiday before lockdown meant deciding to stay put (if you ever came to this unparalleled paradise you would understand why!). Therefore, when Boo-Boo proposed the new musical project, all I had at my disposal were my laptop, my phone and a $10 set of headphones, having initially arrived in Cambodia with a week’s worth of belongings.

The limitation of resources meant that I felt creatively liberated and undistracted, and before we knew it, Boo-Boo and I (with a little help from our friends!) had completed the first movement of what is planned to be four movements of this new EP. Another thing that spurred this creative burst was growing to increasingly appreciate being able to make music with Gado Gado, which at times I took for granted or was at odds with, but I suppose like many of us in these times, we grow to value what we previously had much unlimited access to.

Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia | Photography: Jason Noghani

Another interesting fact worth mentioning, is that in the 1st movement of Circle of Trust, the sounds of drawing and writing with charcoal can be heard throughout. Of the text that is written, a quote from Albert Camus is used, which is what Bintang Perkasa (the artist) chose as a source when I asked him to find text related to trust. Had he not chosen such a specific text, I am uncertain as to whether or not I would have written this article, nor explicitly considered the connection between friendship and trust.

“Do not walk behind me, I may not lead.

Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow.

Just walk beside me, and be my friend.”

Albert Camus

Drawings of some of the soundscapes produce in Circle of Trust Mvt I

From there, Circle of Trust has continued to evolve, and friends who we have collaborated with and are yet to collaborate with, have all signalled interest in their involvement for the remaining two movements (the third movement has also just been finished, again, with a little help from our friends!). This could not have come at a better time, as without the help and support being offered, it would not have been possible to have even come this far, and in saying that, we have barely made it past the halfway mark!

Therefore, whereas Cosmic Trilogy is a musical manifesto of Gado Gado, Circle of Trust is Gado Gado’s humanistic manifesto.

Through collaboration, friendship, mutual interests, freedom of expression, inspiration and love, we are currently making something that was previously inconceivable, and is turning out to be a testament to our friendships with one another. In our small, humble way, even though we are on different corners of the earth, we are ensuring that human connections and friendships can survive this age of adversity, by establishing a circle of trust, to ensure that we have each other’s backs and are there for each other no matter what. And that as long as we look out for each other and treat each other with respect, we are free to do as we please!

This also brings to another aspect of friendship; namely, thinking of others. Even though individualism has been virtuous in liberating and maximising human potential, it has nonetheless brought separateness and narcissism as its unsavoury by-products, which fundamentally speaking, deters the true virtue and responsibility of individual freedom. Therefore, to ensure we are individually mindful, we should think of others. Even though this is a common tenet expounded upon across societies globally, in artistic practices this is not always the case, as egos have commonly resulted in band break-ups, and acrimonious relationships that become toxic to creativity. Personally, I feel being mindful in daily life is easier than being musically mindful, as despite not being easy, does not usually result in the emotional irrationality that can arise when becoming attached to certain sounds or ideas. However, the advantage with music, unlike daily life, is that it is abstract, with innumerable dimensions, which means that mindfulness can be continually practised depending on the context of the situation.

Nowadays, with exception to a few artists and DJ’s, very few artists realise everything entirely themselves. At the very least, audio engineering personnel may be at hand for final mixes, although in many instances, instrumentalists and other personnel are usually required to contribute. Fundamentally speaking, session musicians will be happy to be told what to do if they are reasonably paid, but in the context where all musicians are creatively contributing, boundaries and etiquette have to be observed, just as they are in friendships. If this is the case, then the creative process will undoubtedly be smooth, whereas if disequilibrium arises, this could disrupt the harmony within the group.

One of the most famous examples where this arises is with Pink Floyd, due to Roger Waters’ heavy-handed approach to ensuring he could realise his vision at the expense of the other musicians’ ideas. Even though Pink Floyd have made some exceptional albums, their history as a band was terse at the best of times, which would have made the experience unenjoyable in many instances. As with anything, it would make one wonder why bother if a sense of joy cannot be obtained from making music, something of which is cherished and heightened when shared with others in the name of friendship. This of course does not mean great music cannot be made during times of adversity; The Beatles’ white album is arguably their greatest album, and it was made at a time when the Fab Four were on the verge of breaking up. But one thing that does occur in these instances, is the eventual breakdown of the band, which in itself can be a tragic thing, even if it is meant to be. Even though nothing is meant to last forever, we should at least be working to ensure that everything ends on a good note, particularly as there is never an appropriate moment to ever say goodbye! Even though The Beatles and Pink Floyd eventually made amends later on, you still can never be so sure when someone will go (John Lennon!), so at least when they do, you will not be filled with regret but with joy of the memories you shared together.

Gado-Gado Ensambal – Gondang si Pala-Pala (Live at St. Mary’s Kidlington, Oxfordshire)

Epilogue

It currently seems as if humanity has currently reached a crossroads, whereby we can continue as we have done at our own peril, or we can change our ways to stave the severity of impending catastrophe. This principle also applies to friendships. Rather than succumbing to aimless, nihilistic pleasures, of which we have all been contaminated at one point or another in today’s world, we should be focusing on the fundamental values of friendship, to preserve what could be taken away if we neglect our connections in these times of isolation. We also have to bear in mind, that some of us find it easier to reach out than others, which makes it all the more important to reach out, because what is the worst thing that can happen if you show someone you love them?

I encourage anyone at a loss to do the same now – reach out to another if you can. Make art with others, share ideas, share interests, and above all, enjoy what you are doing! Keep yourselves sane during this time of constrained human interaction, and use this time to establish intrinsic value in your friendships, and reach deeper levels of connection, and higher levels of experience. Establish a circle of trust! For art, like friendship, can only exist with love.

And on that note, on behalf of Gado Gado Ensambal, we would like to wish you all a very Happy Friendship Day!

(JN/BP)

LTTW September “EQUALITY in DIVERSITY” Compilation

By Listen To The World

It has been three months since Listen to the World has started to use a monthly theme, and for September 2020, “Equality in Diversity” was chosen as the theme. The reason why we chose the theme is not only because the world is in a socio-political turmoil right now that threatens various aspects of our way of life  – not to mention an ongoing pandemic and all that surrounds that – but September also contains International Days dedicated to humanity as a whole, such as an International Day of Democracy, International Day of Peace and World Tourism Day to name but a few. So, we thought, it is now appropriate to contemplate such contrasting events.

Our theme “Equality in Diversity” is all about perspective. The broader the perspectives, the better we can comprehend situations we are in. Having said that, without further ado, here is a list of writings, artworks and thoughts of LTTW’s contributors and friends voicing out “Equality in Diversity” from various perspectives. May this compilation triggers us to not only contemplate, but also to engage in healthy dialogue.

Your Food for Thoughts (a compilation of September articles)

How Language Cannot Stand Alone – Enter the Loanword
An article by Bramantyo Indirawan

Diversity is what makes us social beings in the first place. It is what makes human interaction and communication serve its purposes. There is much evidence that shows humans by nature are diverse; scientifically, politically or historically. One of the simplest examples we can find is in fact right in front of our noses. Read an article above about loanwords to understand how many everyday words we use are multicultural by nature.

 Guitar, Music, Faith, and Brotherhood
An old article by the late Serrano G. Sianturi

Another evidence of equality in diversity comes from an unpopular piece of history that happened a long time ago in Spain. In this article, you will find how the birth of guitar and the development of western music very much related to a chemistry between faiths.

Black Muslim in the USA – The Hidden Truth Beneath Our Eyes
An article by Erlangga Utama

In contrast with previously mentioned articles that addressed a positive side of diversity, this article discussed more about the inequalities that arose due to differences such as racism. In this article, you will find an interesting history of how Black Muslim in the US fought against inequality through religion and arts.

What to Wear in India: an Existential Guide
An article by Alice McGettigan

An act of inequality is found everywhere on a daily basis. Without even needing to mention major issues, to some extent, all of us have advocated inequality so often we do not even realise it, including the way we dress as discussed in this article.

Cambodia and the Culture of Charity – Ethical Tourism in a Post-Coronavirus World
An article by Jason Noghani

There are many bad things are happening in the world we live in today, but rest assured there also many beautiful things also occurring. The article above discusses the culture of charity in Cambodia. Not only can this help the locals very much, but most importantly, the writer believes the culture of charity will become a deciding factor of humanity’s survival and durability in a post-coronavirus world.

Symbols and Visual Meanings on “Respect Each Other, Care the Environment” Murals
An Article by Adikara Rachman

Ancestral symbols affect our life more than meets the eyes, both as guidance and discordance. With that in mind, there are symbols we should cultivate and there are one we should correct. The article above explains semiotically how traditional/ancient symbols are still relevant in correspond to today’s context, thus we need to preserve, cultivate, and last but not least, apply its wisdom in our daily live.

Your Snack for Thoughts (repost from “Equality in Diversity” Social Media Campaign)

From @trip2103 and @junejunia

Rainbows has been a human symbol to represent hope and diversity for ages. One of the latest implementations of a rainbow is LGBT’s awareness symbol. Thanks to science, we can now symbolize rainbows not only as a representation of diversity, but also as unity, knowing that rainbow’s color spectrum essentially comes from a single ray.

From @zitanadia

“All colors are equal, all colors are beautiful.”

From @junejunia and @dwiejudha

Reflecting ongoing major problems we are facing today such as political division, trust issues, territorial wars, media biases, police brutality and racism, does an International Day of Peace we commemorate annually become the lighting in the storm, or rather, nothing more than a decoration?

From @binatangperkasas and @junicornason

How can we achieve peace if we are too obsessed to be right all the time while cursing the one who we believed to be wrong?

From @gadogadoensambal and @b00.bo0

It’s time to exercise “equality in diversity” one step at a time… with full awareness every time we make a mistake.

From @suttasoma and @monicahapsari

Let us start by understanding ourselves first in order to understand equality in diversity.

From @boxgss

(BP/JN)

Cambodia and the Culture of Charity – Ethical Tourism in a Post-Coronavirus World

By Jason Noghani

Spending lockdown and the following months of this year in Cambodia has been an educational experience and a privilege unlike any other to say the very least! Not only were the circumstances of fellow expats and myself quite unlike most other places during this period, due to relatively few Covid-19 cases (for a variety of reasons) and a comparatively normal way of life that still continues, but the fact that only a fraction of berang (“foreigner” in Khmer) have remained since lockdown, has meant that those fortunate enough to remain have most likely been able to experience Cambodia in greater depth and with greater clarity than previously. Angkor Wat is almost empty, the comparatively fewer berang make us feel less like outsiders to the already accommodating Khmer, and things that may have previously gone unnoticed may now draw our attention.

Aerial View of Angkor Wat | Source: Wikipedia

One such thing that caught my attention were the various non-profit incentives aimed at alleviating Khmer in disadvantaged situations; something of which occurs in developing countries across the world. The socio-political particularities of Cambodia make this instance one that not only sheds light on the distinct aspects that make these incentives authentically Cambodian, but also how these can provide answers to humanity as a whole.

Why a Culture of Charity?

Without drawing too many comparisons, one main difference between neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia is the difference of living standards. Whereas Thailand has significantly benefited from years of tourism and remaining unaffected from Western colonialism, Cambodia has not had the same fortunes; having experienced some of the worst of the 20th Century’s atrocities, with repercussions still being felt to some extent today. Therefore, not by choice, most Khmer are confronted with living conditions that do not directly correspond to their potential as human beings, which when contrasted with the various similarities that they have with berang (basically exactly the same apart from some local customs and a noticeably greater emphasis on the collective than the individual), reinforces the unfairness of life circumstances, and how our actions could directly affect this for better or worse.

Village in Cambodia | photo: Srey “Vicky” Mao

My time spent living in Cambodia has shown how most fellow berang share the same views on this matter, and like me, also cannot help but love the Khmer people (for those who have not been to Cambodia, the Khmer are quite literally some of the friendliest, most inspiring and accepting people on the planet, and for me they are the very best thing about this amazing country!). This does not mean, however, that we always act in a charitable manner, as not only do our actions often contradict our words or intentions (usually by lack of awareness), but given that Cambodia is commonly known as the Asian Wild West (East!), it therefore attracts the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Nevertheless, there have been many amazing souls who have devoted much of their lives to the betterment of the Khmer people’s situations and prospects, as exemplified below.

Some Prominent Examples of Practices Advocating the Culture of Charity in Cambodia 

To name all charitable acts and organisations currently operating in Cambodia would be too many to list, but several significant contributions have been made which evocatively reflect the culture of charity within the country. Perhaps when we thinking of charitable organisations, the first thing that may come into our minds concerns the wellbeing of children, which in a country like Cambodia is of considerable concern, due to decades of poverty and war-torn conditions, resulting in generations of orphaned children. Furthermore, many young children in impoverished conditions are unable to receive a basic education, as many are required to fulfil manual labour obligations to help their families, and unlike Primary (Elementary) education, Secondary (Junior High) education upwards is privately funded. Organisations such as the Operation Hope Foundation make it possible to sponsor a young Cambodian child, which can enable them to go to school and receive an education and opportunities that they would otherwise be denied.

The Epic Arts Café in Kampot, Cambodia | Photo Courtesy of totraveltoo.com

Although the wellbeing of children is the utmost responsibility of any generation, there are also adults in disadvantaged situations who have also benefited from various charitable endeavours. The Epic Arts Café in Kampot is a UK registered charity which employs locals with disabilities, and revenue from the sales of food and beverages in the supporting café goes towards local arts’ incentives. Similarly, The Bayon Pastry School in Siem Reap, which was set up in 2014 and teaches up to 20 local women per year to become pastry chefs, is also funded by the supporting café on the premises. Café’s it seems are fruitful places for charitable activities to take place, such as APTBY (A place to be yourself), another café in Siem Reap, which provides respite for the local LGBT community to find others to confide in and avoid persecution (despite being more open to LGBT rights than neighbouring countries, Cambodia still has homophobia running within various societal circles; particularly amongst older generations).

There have also been endeavours from various organisations who have sought to archaeologically retrieve and conserve remnants of Khmer culture that were decimated under the Khmer Rouge regime. One prominent example is CLA (Cambodian Living Arts), whose mission it is to conserve Khmer culture for future generations, and also archaeologically retrieve anything that may have been lost during the years of the Khmer Rouge regime. Similarly, the KCDI (Khmer Cultural Development Institute) in Kampot enables orphaned and disabled children to learn music and about their musical cultural heritage, and the KKO (Khmer for Khmer Organisation) in Siem Reap, provides educational opportunities for impoverished youth; thereby enabling them to learn more about their heritage, and increase their opportunities in adulthood.

The Khmer Cultural Development Institute in Kampot, Cambodia | Photo Courtesy of KCDI

Siem Reap it seems is a hotspot for expounding the culture of charity, as various NGO’s there and in the capital Phnom Penh have been created to ensure educational, social, environmental, medical and cultural incentives are implemented, to help young Cambodians who would otherwise be disenfranchised from such enrichment. This does not necessarily mean that other places are neglected, although it is unsurprising that places further off the beaten track would receive considerably less attention than more popular tourist destinations.

Furthermore, in light of the economic consequences of the pandemic, it is important to consider economic limitations when embarking upon various charitable endeavours. Fundraising may not be as easy it as it once was, which means that other means of currency will have to be exchanged – namely, cultural exchange rather than monetary exchange as a means of mutual enrichment.

What are we Doing?

LTTW and its related organisations have embarked upon two projects that correspond to advocating charity in Cambodia. There is firstly the roots music project with Phleng Khmer musicians from Takéo province (in light of the observation accounting for less touristic places, Takéo province is far less touristic than popular neighbouring tourist mecca Kampot), with the intention of enabling the musicians to record and promote their music to a wider audience, with potential performance opportunities outside of Cambodia once travel and social distancing are no longer an issue. However, not only will we hope that this project will benefit these amazing people and musicians, but can also provide an opportunity for mutual enrichment, whereby ideas can be exchanged, and both parties can learn and reciprocally correspond with one another. Proceeds from revenue for the recordings and the transcriptions of their music (as much traditional Khmer musical education relies on oral teaching methods), will go towards the musicians and their families, and proceedings from what would usually be my cut for production and transcription services, will go towards one of my local friends and his family, who have inspired me through their persistence to continue against all odds, despite economic difficulties during this unforeseen time.

 

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Here’s another one from yesterday morning’s impromptu performance in #takeoprovince #cambodia – enjoy!

A post shared by Jason Noghani (@junicornostrich) on

The Phleng Khmer musicians in Takèo province, Cambodia | Photo: Jason Noghani
Takèo Province, Cambodia | Photo: Jason Noghani

The other project that we will be embarking on, will be helping to raise funds for the medical centre in M’Pay Bay, on Koh Rong Sanloem island. On this link, you can help sponsor the cause, of which the current target of £3,000 has almost been reached! However, this is just the beginning, as having briefly conversed with Tim Seel (the wonderful soul who initiated this project), the ambitions for a fully equipped medical centre would require much more funding to reach the desired standard.

Hilltop view of M’Pay Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia | Photo: Jason Noghani
Figure M’Pay Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia | Photo: JAson Noghani
The Medical Centre on M’Pay Bay, Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia | Photo Courtesy of @MPaiBayMC 

Even though this and the Phleng Khmer project will be discussed in respective articles in the coming weeks, it is nonetheless important to highlight the significance of the medical centre on M’Pay Bay. Since lockdown, the future of the village is somewhat precarious, given that the living standards of the local community has been largely due to foreign incentives and investments. With fewer tourists and business owners jumping ship due to economic uncertainties, the living conditions for the local community could deteriorate unless certain actions are undertaken. Given the importance of universally available education and healthcare, it therefore becomes imperative that a properly funded and equipped medical centre, which also cooperates with the neighbouring primary school, is established. Therefore, at the very least, the residents of the island are still able to have their basic needs met, and tourists can become incentivised to explore the island paradise (known as Cambodia’s worst best-kept secret due to being overshadowed by the larger neighbouring Koh Rong island), with assurance that their medical needs can be instantaneously met, without needing to travel to the mainland to receive basic treatment.

We hope you continue to join us on these journeys in the not too distant future!

Epilogue

Even though this article specifically focused on Cambodia, the practices described could be applied to any culture or society. The economic repercussions of the pandemic will mean that we will need to become more charitable by nature if we are to endure the difficult times ahead. We can also learn this from the Khmer. Despite having always been a collectivist society, living in Cambodia has shown that this is not only by terms of value systems, but also by means of necessity, as they are all too aware of how precarious their situation can become if they do not undertake responsibility to ensure their community’s wellbeing. This also highlights another virtue I have noticed amongst most Khmer I have met; namely, that despite financially struggling, their strong cultural values ensure that the vast majority will not cheat, steal or exploit others, even if making money is their utmost priority.

Unfortunately, we have neglected such values during years of economic prosperity in the West, as material gain replaced moral virtue, but now this is becoming increasingly less of an option, as the economic difficulties of the foreseeable future will mean that we will need each other’s support more than ever. However, if we are to successfully fulfil this, we will need to become dependable ourselves in order to give unconditionally without ever taking more than our fair share. Even though a country like Cambodia and other societies that adhere to collectivist and community-orientated practices may be able to weather the storms ahead, we in Western societies should be aware of this if we are to avert falling apart as a society or within ourselves.

This in itself can work in a very straightforward sense. The economic fragility of our times in a country as economically precarious as Cambodia has made me more aware of where I am spending my money. Instead of necessarily satisfying all my urges (as I would have typically done on previous holidays to Thailand!), I am beginning to think more of the cause and effect of such actions. Instead of thinking of where to stay each time I return to a place, I return to the same guesthouses to help their owners who have since become friends. I eat and drink at a handful of places to help friends running businesses and supporting those who I feel deserve to be supported for their services. Whenever the locals here stop me on the street to come and drink with them (which they like to do quite often given their hospitable and jovial nature), I always make sure I have something to give in return, given that the advocation of sharing food and drink is universally practiced here. Even though these are little things, it has gone to show how a little can go a long way in different instances – if anything, it brings some inner happiness knowing how such gestures can make a positive difference to someone else’s life! It is positive to know that Cambodia is not the only place where such incentives are taking place right now (such as in Bali), so perhaps there are changes taking place around us!

We have to advocate glocality – acting locally whilst thinking globally!

 

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Love working with symmety #biomechanicaltattoo #biomech #tattoo #doometernal #biomachanical

A post shared by Ronin Tattoo Studio (@orenjef) on

Speaking of glocality, above is the artwork of locally-based tattooist Jef Oren, who in light of this article, I thought would be an opportunity to share his work; particularly as he has been recently tattooing me, is a brilliant artist and an all-round great guy! If you are ever in Kampot and need a memoire, definitely consider hitting Jef up!

(JN)

Featured image by Maria Junia

What to Wear in India: an Existential Guide

By Alice McGettigan

Much is written about what to wear in India, less about why. There are strict expectations from women in regards to clothing that many western women choose not to follow.

As a white western woman (WWW) Does how I dress in India matter? What are the implications?

I myself am British. Some WWW from other countries will relate to some of the broader themes.  Some women of colour (WOC) from other western countries will too. I fully acknowledge the specific problems faced by WOC travelling. The experience of WOC will be different from white women. It’s part of white privilege to be able to travel free of consideration of racism. Hence, I write specifically of my own experience.

What’s expected?

A huge part of travel is learning about other cultures. To respect a culture, you must first find out what the expectations are.

India is an enormous and diverse country with a plethora of different ideologies and opinions. Generally, a conservative country in regards to women’s dress. There’s an expectation of modesty, covering the legs, shoulders and cleavage. The clothes should also be loose. The most popular ensemble being the churidar and kurta, with a dupatta (scarf) to further hide the female form beneath.

Illustration by Maria Junia

If you dress inappropriately, you’ll be aware of it. You’ll notice looks and tuts from men and women alike. I experienced this the first time I was there. Yes, the looks from men made me feel uncomfortable. From women though it made me feel embarrassed and disrespectful. I quickly made more effort to dress respectfully and the change in reception was tangible.

Why?

The full answer is far too complex for the scope of this piece. As the ancestors of colonialists, it’s important to note although pre-colonial India was not without gendered oppression, more sexually liberal attitudes were stigmatised during this period in India. A factor in developing strict social attitudes that persist today.

19th century missionaries began the war against Indian women’s clothing. The sari was discouraged and altered to make it more palatable to the colonial eye. Traditional clothing was considered primitive and indecent, perceived as something to be corrected. Colonialists saw local culture as something to dominate and alter to suit them not as something to embrace.

Illustration by Maria Junia

In modern India it’s about context. In the nightclubs in Mumbai tiny dresses and heels are everywhere. In the Goa bubble bikinis are normalised. In many places, more rural communities or religious places and events even more liberal Indian women will dress modestly.

Indian women have every right to challenge cultural norms. They of course, understand the nuances of the culture and implications of what they’re wearing and when. As WWW we lack this depth of understanding of the culture to challenge it. In fact, we’re unconsciously repeating colonial patterns in thinking we have a right to. Instead of allowing Indian women shape and define what’s acceptable.

Impact on Women

Cultivating respectful relationships with local women is something to strive for. Respecting social expectations is an important foundation for that, especially with older women and rural communities. Why create barriers to connections?

Consider the perspective of a woman who, due to strong cultural attitudes has not had the same free choices on what to wear. Shares a different cultural belief about clothing.

Imagine how she might feel sitting next to you in a skimpy top. Or if her partner looks at you. Or her young child.

How would you feel if you’re with an elderly relative watching a strip show? There are some parallels there. The uncomfortableness.

It’s a simple concept really. To prioritise individual women’s feeling and comfort. This is an important part of respecting a culture. Travel is after all, a huge privilege.

Internalised attitude’s

Many modern Indian women are freer from gendered expectations. Attitudes to clothing, love and marriage for instance have relaxed in certain circles. However, Narayan (2018) discusses how sexist ideas are so endemic, most women have internalised misogyny to a certain extent.

Women, in a variety of cultures, are often a fundamental part of shaming behaviours deemed inappropriate by patriarchy. For example, ‘slut shaming’ as a form of social policing. Kashyap (2019) recognises the need to understand this comes from internalised ideology. Individual women are not to blame for the perpetuation of a powerful cultural narrative.

There are parallels with the way hypersexual culture operates in the west, which has been discussed extensively by Walter (2010), Levy (2005) and Penny (2011). This perspective demonstrates how potentially as WWW, our culture has conditioned us to be resistant to modesty as it devalues our worth in a culture that prioritises sexuality from women.

Illustration by Maria Junia

Victim blaming

The tendency to blame women and their clothing for men’s actions is a mechanism of rape culture. Government officials in India have repeatedly demonstrated this attitude. Indian tourism minister Mahesh Sharma advised foreign women ‘don’t wear skirts’ to avoid assault (Thomas, 2016). Congress legislator Dipak Chakraborty blamed ‘eve teasing’ (the widespread practise of sexual harassment) on “short dresses and short skirts” (Kapoor, 2012)

This is demonstrably untrue. Women of all ages and races are raped at endemic levels in every country of the world every single day, regardless of what they’re wearing.

It’s possible to understand this and still see a certain degree of hypocrisy when WWW complain about the sexualisation from men or disapproving looks from women, whilst dressed in a way that is objectively shocking in India.

Expectations and the culture are different. Both men and women internalise these ideals.

As travellers we’ve chosen to be in a country. As a WWW, you can choose to dress as you please and the majority of the time not face any significant problems. Many of the local women that you see every day and thousands of others don’t have that free choice.

Rape is culture so endemic it often frames the discourse. When women’s appropriate dress is discussed, the onus is on men’s perceptions and protecting yourself. Respecting social expectations, and more broadly the choices we make as women shouldn’t framed by appeasing men or victim blaming.

Why WWW don’t?

Many WWW in India choose not to conform to clothing expectations. It’s important to note I’m not criticising individual women for their personal choices. Everyone is free to decide for themselves.

Yet not following clothing expectations is so normalised it’s interesting to deconstruct. Why do WWW choose not to? Is it that it’s part of our own cultural conditioning? Or do we think it doesn’t apply to us? Is it so normalised we haven’t considered it?

White feminism and privilege

Over 30 years ago Barrett and McIntosh (1985) observed how feminist theory was entrenched in racism and white privilege due to the dominance of white women in shaping the discourse. Soon after, Crenshaw (1989) coined the term intersectionality to describe the intersecting oppressions of sexism and racism WOC face.

Srivastava (2005) found discussions surrounding race in feminist organisations still tend to be dominated by white self-examination and guilt. Striving to empathise with victims of racial oppression rather than work to dismantle it. This has blinded many white feminists the struggles WOC face. Repeatedly and to this day. In order to not continue to repeat the patterns of the past we must reframe our perspective.

Lugones’ (1987) conceptualisation of ‘World traveling’ emphasises plurality as central to feminist discourse. Rather than striving for unity, which implies erasure of difference: we should pursue solidarity. Love and acceptance and celebration of our differences.

This is an excellent way to frame the approach we take as travellers. Why do we travel? To learn about other cultures, Or to enjoy what they have whilst imposing our own culture? This only serves to narrow our understanding and appreciation of another culture.

You don’t choose privilege. If you don’t have it you can’t get it but if you’ve got it you can’t get rid of it. We’re all blinded by internalised ideas about race, class and privilege. As WWW we have to learn to decentre ourselves in the conversation.

Illustration by Maria Junia

White beauty

Colonialism and endemic racism are contributing factors to enforced white beauty standards across the world. White and lighter skin is idealised and darker complexions are vilified. India is no exception and it is evident in the myriad of skin lightening adverts.

Hunter (2011) states:

‘The merging of new technologies with old colonial ideologies has created a context where consumers can purchase ‘racial capital’ through skin beaching creams or cosmetic surgeries.’

Choma and Prusaczyk (2018) found white beauty standards predict greater skin colour dissatisfaction: reducing negative impact on WOC necessitates dismantling them entirely. Part of that is challenging white cultures dominance and white people’s unwillingness to socially assimilate in other cultures.

Choosing to not respecting cultural expectations is participating, to a degree in the perpetuation of western cultural dominance and beauty standards that has caused and is still causing so much damage today.

Conclusion

The question of what to wear is not so simple in another culture. It’s about reframing our perspective. As a white British person there’s a responsibility to consider the impact of racism, slavery and colonialism when we travel. To understand our perspective is shaped by white feminism, white privilege and the dominance of white beauty standards.

We must learn from history, without prioritising absolving white guilt, our own comfortability or projecting our own standards. We can consciously reframe our perspective. Learning to approach other cultures with respect as a priority not an afterthought.

It’s not my place to tell anyone what to wear. I encourage conversations about the complexities of choice. Listening to WOC’s issues whilst allowing them to shape the discourse. Considering the personal and wider implications of disrespecting cultural expectations, why it is the default for many westerners? Perhaps most importantly, making every effort to respect the culture you’re lucky enough to be experiencing.

(AM/JN)

Artwork by Maria Junia

Barrett, M and McIntosh, M. (1985) ‘Ethnocentrism and socialist feminist theory’, The Feminist Review, 20, pp 23-47.

Choma,, B and Prusaczyk, E. (2018). ‘The Effects of System Justifying Beliefs on Skin-Tone Surveillance, Skin-Color Dissatisfaction, and Skin-Bleaching Behavior.’ Psychology of Women Quarterly, 42, pp 036168431774784.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.

Hunter, Margaret. (2011). Buying Racial Capital: Skin-Bleaching and Cosmetic Surgery in a Globalized World. 4.

Kapoor, K. (2012) All the clothes women have been banned from wearing [online]. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/spotlight/All-the-clothes-women-have-been-banned-from-wearing/articleshow/16623656.cms (Accessed: 13 June 2020)

Kashyap, A. (2019) Patriarchy and the politics of policing women’s clothing [online]. Available at: https://feminisminindia.com/2019/05/31/womens-clothes-and-patrirarchy/ (Accessed: 10 June 2020)

Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture. New York, Free press.

Lugones, M. (1987). Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception. Hypatia, 2(2), 3-19.

Narayan, D 2018, Chup: breaking the silence about India’s women, Juggernaut publications, New Delhi.

Penny, L. (2011). Meat market: female flesh under capitalism. Washington, Zero Books.

Thomas, M. (2016) India’s tourism minister has some advice for female visitors: avoid skirts [online]. Available at:  https://qz.com/india/768785/indias-tourism-minister-has-some-advice-for-female-visitors-avoid-skirts/ (Accessed: 13 June 2020)

Walter, N. (2010). Living dolls: the return of sexism. London, Virago.

Pandemic and Children’s Education in Indonesia

A Reminder for Us, Adults and Parents

for Bahasa version, please click here.

Happy Indonesian Children’s Day 2020!

[Jakarta, LTTW] This July is quite a special month for us; not only because we celebrated Saraswati Day (the Balinese’s day of knowledge) on the 4th, but today is Indonesia’s Children’s Day, and also the first time the editorial team at listentotheworld.net initiated a thematic system, of which “Source of Knowledge” was the 1st issue to be raised. To make it even more special, this time of the pandemic can also be seen as a time to reflect on how well we really grasp the meaning of education for our beloved children; our future leaders.

Saraswati Day teaches us that knowledge is dynamic like a neverending flowing river. It is so dynamic that its form can be in the guise of anything; from nature, arts, stories, books and holy manuscripts, and even games. If knowledge is fluid and dynamic, education should directly correspond to this – as it is one of the most vital ways to acquire knowledge after all.

Education

Looking back throughout history, since the first event of Hari Anak Nasional (HAN) was championed by Indonesia’s second President in 1984 up until today, education in many parts of Indonesia is popularly viewed as a rigid system, in direct contrast to the Balinese interpretation.

Generation of adults, including parents and teachers, still believe that formal education is the main system that must be prioritized at all cost, especially in big cities such as Jakarta. Meanwhile, the so-called informal education comes second – if not third (if we also count non-formal education). It is a “yes” if we are looking for good grades, degrees, and alma maters, but it is a “no” if we are looking beyond that. So, it all depends on how well we comprehend what the purpose of education is itself.

Though it’s arduous to briefly discuss the purpose of education due to the various dense layers of subject matter, we can at least narrow it down to a more focused area; in this case, education for children. For Sacred Bridge, education exists to equip children with basic skills that enable them to be self-reliant, not merely to enter “the real world”, but also to thrive above it. Such a well-rounded child perhaps could only grow up in an environment where both formal and informal education are proportionally encouraged.

Formal / Informal

Before we continue, we need to firstly clarify what formal and informal education/ learning exactly are. Both describe educational settings: formal settings often take place in established spaces such as schools and universities with rigid educational structures, whereas informal settings takes place everywhere else (nature, museum, home, surrounding environment) and with an experience-based learning method. Although both settings can facilitate the same syllabus (a learning subject), one thing needs to be well understood, in that different settings will consequently require different forms, methodologies and eventually learning outcomes. As a brief example, a child who learns about their roots in school will have a different impact when they learn it hands-on at, say, a Banjar, in Balinese culture. In short, when we talk about educational settings, we also indirectly talk about the other aforementioned elements.

In this day and age, if we have preferences over educational settings, unwanted implications may arise. If we expose our children to too much formal education, they can distance themselves from their roots or culture. Even more so in many cases, abnormal obsessions towards formal education pose a great threat to an existence of culture as a whole, because it often disrupts the social mechanism within. For instance, a formally-educated young generation in a traditional community tends to lose respect towards their elders and tradition. The reason is because, according to modern society’s “vocabulary”, a person without a formal educational background is regarded as uncivilized. Why? Unlike informal education, formal education is an accumulation of well-established knowledge across generations that have been theorized and standardized – much of which directly corresponds to the achievements of Western civilisation.

Informal education on the other hand, which Sacred Bridge refers to as Cultural Education, has its own role and function compared to formal practices. “Cultural” here is not limited to traditional ones, but culture in general. This education facilitates children to learn and to be proud of their roots; including ancestral knowledge and wisdom (norms, values, etc.) that are not inferior means of knowledge acquisition compared to formal practices. Even so, such education has proven to be better suited to certain extents – especially for traditional communities – due to the context-based and practical nature of the learning process.

Take the Mentawai tribe for example, many of the elders perhaps have no clue in reading and writing the modern alphabet – let alone understand science from the formal perspective. They have, however, a highly sophisticated knowledge that enables them to “read” a compositional structure of local jungles. With this knowledge, Mentawai people will know when to migrate from one region to another to sustain their life as well as the jungles’ ecosystem. The weakness is that the elders are unable to theorize the knowledge they have acquired, and thus cannot facilitate a well-grounded process of learning for the younger generation, with exception to oral and hands-on approaches. Moreover, these approaches cannot be standardized as a means of knowledge acquisition that can be learned by other youngsters in other regions of Indonesia. With such weaknesses, such knowledge will not be able to develop in congruence to global advancements, which means they can become neglected and eventually forgotten over time. This is where formal education fills the gap.

Formal + Informal

Since we have a more comprehensive understanding of the differences between both educations as well as their roles and function, it is safe to assume that formal and informal education are not meant to dominate, but rather, interconnect and enrich each other.

In practice, formal education provides a clue for parents to know when and what their children need to learn in correspondence to their age, thanks to grade classification systems and curricula. With such clues, parents can support their children by honing basic knowledge and skills they learned from school, with more informal and dynamic methods at home (such as using art as a vehicle).

In many parts of the world today, education is continuously explored and experimented and quite often – if not always – combining both formal and informal educational pedagogy to find a more fluidic and context-based form of education that could invigorate the full potential of our future leaders. Having been equipped with both of formal and informal educations, will undoubtedly broaden our children’s horizons, and consequently will provide them a better understanding of their surroundings. Therefore, in the future, they can choose a path they want without being limited by the lack of identity, capacity, perspective and wisdom. In this sense, according to Serrano G. Sianturi , education also facilitates children in exercising their rights – freedom of choice.

To start proportionally encouraging our children with both of these educational settings is of paramount importance, especially in these times of uncertainty where formal settings are restricted, resulting in a more intense and uncontrollable relationship between children and digital platforms such as social media. Thanks to social media, in direct contrast to their parents insistence of following school curricula, the children, are excessively exposed and thus “educate” themselves on new subjects that have demonstrably outpaced the curriculum at the swipe of a finger. This could result in further complications in the future if this remains unaddressed.

Being concerned with such uncontrollable virtual education, listentotheworld.net also decided to have a go at encouraging adults to keep check of their children’s activities by utilising today’s technology. Before then, however, we should revisit and dive deeper into the meaning of technology itself. In light of this final thought, our August issue will revolve around the question: what is technology?”

(BP/RR/JN)