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Saturday, March 14, 2015

What's hot in South East Asia?

Wait a second! This title is neither my research paper’s title nor even my dissertation topic. I just simply pick it up from the theme of 17th Annual Southeast Asian Studies Graduate Student Conference for three days start from today (Friday the 13th!). And we have started with ‘hot’ issue about ‘Inside the House of Sampoerna: Ethnography in the Living Industrial Museum’ delivered by Dr Marina Welker, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University. Two days on we have several other ‘hot-issues’ around Southeast Asia by various scholar in- and out-Cornell.

Frankly, this event not only helps me to get warmer discourses but encourages me to understand better ‘Indonesia’ within wider mosaic of Southeast Asian cultures and religions. Many colleagues here said that I have accidentally wrong weather since, for most Cornellians, this winter is worse than previous one they had for the last five years. What could I say about it? I am here now in Ithaca struggling every single day with ‘abnormal’ temperatures around minus 15 degree Celsius. Anyway, I am enjoying Cornell.

Thank you for pak Bernie who recommended me to Cornell University. I never forget when someday before this all happens I met him in ICRS lounge. He started our conversation with question about my study progress and after all he offered me two options for doing my ‘sandwich-program’: Leiden or Cornell. Shortly thought I just replied him: Cornell! Few days later pak Bernie forwarded his communication with Prof. Audrey Kahin (I am sure you all knew who she is) then I received good-news that the South East Asia Program (SEAP) opens for visiting fellow but not Ph.D student. So, I had to sign up as ‘professor’ of my home institution in Ambon. Shortly, SEAP sent me the invitation letter by addressing ‘to Professor Steve Gaspersz’. Praise the Lord!

I spent almost three weeks for getting J-1 visa and itinerary. Thanks for mas Jadmika who was patiently accompanying me for all financial errand. I arrived in JFK International Airport on February 1st and stayed for five days in Indonesian family house in NYC while search for information about transportation to Ithaca. It took five hours from NYC to Ithaca by bus. I was fortunate that through previous communication with Prof. Dieter Bartels (alumnus of Cornell), he introduced me to Prof. (em) John Wolff, senior faculty of SEAP on linguistic and Asian studies. Pak John picked me up at the Ithaca bus terminal and hosted me for six days while helping me to find ‘kamar kos’. Now I live in Malaysian family house nearby north campus so I usually walk back-and-forth home-campus about 15 minutes. Prof. Chiara Formichi is my host faculty here. She is a researcher on ‘Islam in SEA’ issues. Unfortunately, I could not meet Prof. Ben Anderson since every winter season he spends time in Thailand; and also Prof. James Siegel who is taking vacation in France.

I spent mostly my time here in the Olin/Kroch library. This is a marvelous library with incredible collections of Asian Studies. It opens from 8.00am to 2.00am. Oh boy, I imagine if the ICRS library has such a time-work like that. Okay, be realistic! Over all, I am feeling blessed to be a part of SEAP or Cornell University. I am striving to configure my drafts as much as possible even though – you know – I always remember what pak Bernie once said: ‘like a kid in candy store’. Surrounding by huge collections of Asian Studies attracts me to read this, that, this, that… and at last I become confuse ‘so, what is my point actually?’ Three month-exposure is too short to swallow them – not all – mostly. However, thanks God for the opportunity to be here at Cornell. Thanks for all encouragement from the ICRS, especially pak Bernie. This is not merely an incredible academic journey for me but precisely an existential pilgrimage of my life – spiritually, academically, professionally, though still I miss ‘pogung’ and ‘gedung lengkung’.

Ithaca - March 13th, 2015

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces