‘Java Heat’ (2013): Review and cultural explanation

So, my wife and I watched Java Heat from Netflix. It’s a Hollywood cop action movie, set and shot in Indonesia. The heroes are an Indonesian cop, Hashim (Ario Bayu), and an American “art history professor”, Jake (Kellan Lutz), who investigate the death of a Javanese princess (Atiqah Hasiholan). It’s an okay movie in terms of storyline, but in terms of cultural depiction, I think it got a lot right about Indonesia. It got low rating and negative reviews in the West. I’m not sure why; I quite enjoyed watching it. I’m very pleased by the effort to depict Indonesia (its culture, ambiance) accurately, even though it’s not perfect.

In this post, I’ll try to explain a bit the cultural background in this movie. Hopefully it clears things up for non-Indonesians.

Background: Indonesia

Indonesia is a developing country in Southeast Asia. Despite not being in the news a lot, actually it’s the fourth most populous country in the world. As alluded in the movie, it has a Muslim majority and also sizable religious minorities (including Christian and Buddhists depicted in the movie). There’s also ethnic diversity, but in this movie most Indonesians depicted are Javanese (the largest ethnic group) – which quite makes sense given the premise of the story is in Java. There’s some degree of intolerance and extremism – these too are in the movie – but largely people live in peaceful coexistence, symbolized in the movie as the friendship between Hashima devout Muslim copand his cop partner who is a devout Christian.

“The Sultanate of Java”

Hamengkubuwono X, current Sultan of Yogyakarta

There is literally no “Sultanate of Java”, as the movie puts it, but the Sultanate and the royal family here closely mirror the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. Indonesia is a republic, but due to historical legacy, one of its provinces, Yogyakarta, is governed by a monarchy instead of an elected governor. The current Sultan (and Governor) is Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. So the royal family part is not entirely made up. However, the movie exaggerates the influence of the royal family.  The princess would not be the “most revered woman” in Indonesia. The royal influence were strong only in their domain, the Yogyakarta Special Region – which makes up less than 2% of Indonesia by population. Meanwhile, the rest of Indonesians do not have any strong attachmentreverence or otherwisetowards this royal family.

Ambiance and culture

The movie was shot in Indonesia and the ambiance and culture were depicted quite accurately. The cops, the royal family, the royal guardsmen, wear the right uniform or costume. What the American cop disingenuously calls “Hawaiian shirt” is actually batik and it is the formal dress for parties. It’s also true that people especially kids kiss the hands of elders as sign of respect. Many chase scenes take place in alleys surrounded by houses, populated by street peddlers and navigable only by motorcycles: this is really how a lot of suburban Java look like.

Cultural inaccuracies

Well the movie’s not perfect. One of the most jarring cultural weirdness is when Jake meets VitriaHashim’s wife, a Muslim woman who wears hijabhe greets her by kisses on the cheeks. Dude, if this happened in real life it would be a huge faux pas.

javanese guards2
The sultan’s palace guards in the movie

There’s also the depiction of royal guards. The Yogyakarta monarchy is not sovereign and it has no real army. Instead, it has royal guards who serve ceremonial purpose. However. as far as I know they do not function as elite commando as depicted in Java Heat. In the movie the troops are young, as well as well-trained in martial arts and modern rifles. One of them even fires an iPad-guided rocket launcher at some point. In reality, they are really ceremonial guards,

The guards in reality

often made up of aged traditional courtiers, and bear traditional weapons like keris and very old muskets.

The main characters

I should also mention that I like the way they combine the duo of an Indonesian and an American as the heroes. For sure, the movie is a Hollywood one, and i needs to have a Western character for the audience to relate to, but the Indonesian counterpart isn’t bad. In fact, Hashim is depicted as a wise and highly educated family man, contrasted with the often careless and culturally insensitive Jake. Hashim even corrects Jake on his Shakespeare lines! Though to be honest, Shakespeare isn’t well studied in Indonesia and this part seems unrealistic to me.


In the movie, main characters mainly speak English, including when Hashim talks to his general (both Indonesian). In reality, English fluency is very low in Indonesia, and it’s extremely rare that Indonesians would speak English to each other in a normal situation, like depicted in the movie. With each other, Indonesians would speak Indonesian (aka Bahasa Indonesia), the national language, or sometimes a regional language like Javanese. But I understand why the movie does this, it’s to make the movie easier to follow for non-Indonesian. As a plus, in my opinion the Indonesian actors in this movie speak very good English with just the right amount of Indonesian accent.

Other minor nitpicks:

  • In the beginning scene, the Indonesian police watches a surveillance video using a black-and-white TV of the 80’s. Come on, do we really need to exaggerate Indonesia’s backwardness before starting the movie?
  • When Anton, (the Christian cop) died, Hashim took care of the funeral with a clearly Muslim ritual (e.g. ritual washing, mosque). This strikes me as weird, realistically it should be the deceased family would take care of the burial in a Christian way. Wouldn’t they be offended for Anton to be buried as Muslim?
  • Gunfights in broad daylight in Indonesia. I get that this is an action movie, which must have gunfights, but guns are really rare in Indonesia, and people would be super freaked out if there’s a gunfight in the city.
  • In the Borobudur scenethe crowd recognizes that the princess is being kidnappedbut they just let her and the kidnapper pass to the temple? Isn’t it easy to tackle him in that crowd?
  • The Sultan’s advisor is called “vizier”, even in Indonesian? It’s an English word borrowed from the Arabic “wazir”, but neither term is used in the context of a Javanese monarchy. Would “patih” be a more accurate term?
  • The Sultan’s guardsman has a rocket launcher and fires it in broad daylight in the city, guided by an iPad :O Too badass to be true.
‘Java Heat’ (2013): Review and cultural explanation

In defense of ngontrak rumah

Takdir saya so far hidup di daerah-daerah dengan harga perumahan yang mahalnya gak karuan. Baik ketika di Singapura maupun ketika di SF Bay Area. Dengan harga rumah yang mahal seringkali pilihan yang tersedia hanyalah terus mengontrak atau beli rumah dengan KPR atau mortgage dan itupun harus mengumpulkan uang lama untuk membayar DP nya.

Kadang suka mendengar teman-teman yang galau karena mengontrak dan mengira kalau mengontrak itu ibarat membakar uang tanpa pernah memiliki asetnya. Dulu saya pun berpikiran begitu, tapi setelah baca-baca ternyata pemikiran seperti ini mungkin ilusi saja. Dengan sedikit riset dan mengolah data saya menulis tulisan yang dimuat di Bolasalju—sebuah situs edukasi investasi pribadi, dengan judul: Mengontrak Rumah, Bakar Uang?  Di artikel ini saya meninjau dengan hitung-hitungan matematis dan data historis, membandingkan strategi membeli rumah dengan KPR versus mengontrak rumah dan menginvestasikan selisih yang tidak masuk KPR setelah dikurangi uang kontrakan. Kalau dari perhitungan sayam terlihat bahwa mitos bahwa ngontrak rumah = bakar uang itu tidak mesti benar. Silakan disimak, mudah-mudahan bisa mengurangi galau 😀

Link: Mengontrak Rumah, Bakar Uang? di bolasalju.com

Terima kasih untuk Mas Arif Widianto dari bolasalju yang bersedia mengedit dan memuat tulisan saya.

In defense of ngontrak rumah

Account of a Muslim funeral in Indonesia (Pekanbaru 2017)

My dad passed away on November 2017 in our family home, Pekanbaru, Indonesia. I am writing this account for posterity, a kind of log which hopefully will be useful for me in the future and for you, my reader, whatever your reason for reading this is. I try to write in a matter-of-fact way, and to minimize editorializing or emotional content.

My dad passed away at 5am, a few minutes after finishing his dawn prayer. I (his eldest), my mom, brother and 2 sisters were all there as well as some relatives. It was, of course, a very sad event for all of us.

After the initial emotions subsided, we began the necessary processes for his funeral. Unlike some other cultures where funeral wouldn’t happen before many days, in the Islamic tradition it is preferred to bury the deceased as soon as possible.

We made calls to some close friends and relatives to break the news (they would disseminate the news to even more friends and relatives). Both my parents are from Kamang Hilir, about 5 hours by car from Pekanbaru, and many of our extended families there left for Pekanbaru that early morning.

One my mother’s sisters lived just 15 minutes away from our home. Her family knew many of our neighbors (they used to live in the same neighborhood), and her husband (my uncle) was often involved in community events, so once they arrived, he emerged as the de-facto coordinator of the funeral process. Initially, I was thinking about getting supplies and arranging logistics for the funeral rituals and burial, but he told me not to worry and explained that “the community” (i.e. our neighbors) would usually take care of it, in accordance to the Islamic principle that the funeral of a Muslim was the responsibility of not just the immediate family, but of the Muslim community where he lives.

He directed us to clear the living room area because “soon everyone would be here”, and then woke up the Ketua RT and other neigborhood notables. Before we know it, dozens of neighbors (whom we knew) arrived to volunteer, helped with cleaning the house and putting away stuff, brought the funeral supplies, set up (open-air) tents and portable chairs on the street in front of our house, and directed traffic/parking for the incoming funeral attendees.

Meanwhile, we decided on the funeral time and place. One of our neighbors secured a funeral lot less than 1 km from our house, and we went for it–over the objection of a few Kamang Hilir relatives who wanted him to be buried in his birth village. We decided the funeral prayer and the burial would take place immediately after Dhuhr (midday prayer) at the mosque. As the eldest, I would lead (be the imam for) the funeral prayer (salat al-janazah).

We wrapped my dad and moved him to the living room downstairs, and our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and relatives began streaming in to say their condolences and see my dad for the last time. The immediate family (my mom, me, my siblings) were seated on the floor next to him; we met and shook hands with the guests. Everyone were very sympathetic, many offered consoling words and their help if needed. Then they waited in the tents for the funeral after noon. Since words already got out, streams of WhatsApp messages also came directly or in groups I was part of. I also took the opportunity to re-memorize the recitations for the funeral prayer that I’d lead.

At around 10.45 we proceeded with the bathing (ghusl) of the deceased, part of the Islamic funeral process. It was done in our garage. The logistics were taken care of by our neighbors–they were obviously experienced in this. They set up a platform were we laid the body down, and a hose was set up underneath it which drained water to the ditch (selokan).  There were buckets of water and other supplies as well. A blind covered the garage, so that people could not see this private affair from outside. Me, my brother, my uncle, and some of my dad’s nephews cleaned and bathed my dad, as well as a couple trusted religiously-learned neighbors to ensure that it was ritually correct. Then we shrouded the body, and put him on the bier in our front porch.

Here everyone gathered, and a small function was held. My uncle, representing the family, gave a short speech, formally announcing the passing of my dad, asking for the attendees’s forgiveness and prayers for my dad and thanking everyone for coming. Then there were three eulogy-like speeches, first from our Ketua RW, then from one of our mosque’s notables, and then from a representative of my dad’s University. They praised my dad as someone with integrity, discipline, and spoke of his eagerness to help others and contribute to society. Our family had been one of the first to move in the neighborhood, and my dad had played no small role in the nascent community as well as in the founding and early management of our neighborhood mosque. Then a prayer (du’a) led by one of the regular imams from the mosque. Throughout all this, people stood in our yard and the street in front of it, under the heat of Pekanbaru sun just before noon.

At the end of this function, it was less than half an hour before Dhuhr time. People began to walk to the mosque, which was literally across the street from our home.  My dad was also moved there in the bier. I managed a quick lunch–our neighbors were gracious enough to bring us food,–made my ablution (wudu) and went to the mosque. It was not yet Dhuhr time, but the mosque was already overflowing. This was my childhood mosque and I had attended funeral prayers for other people here, and I didn’t remember the crowd had ever been this big. I think this was due to the vast respect people had for my dad. I couldn’t find space to sit, so I stood in the back until a mosque elder called me to the front, given that I would be leading the funeral prayer. At a few minutes past 12 the adhan for Dhuhr was called.

The Dhuhr prayer was performed in the packed mosque–some worshippers had to pray outside. The regular mosque imam led it and I prayed in the first row. After Dhuhr, the imam announced a standard reminder for everyone about the movements and recitations in a funeral prayer, and then we prayed– I was the imam.

After the prayers, a funeral ambulance waited outside the mosque. We carried my dad’s bier there. With the bier inside, there was only space for a few people, which was filled by me, my brother, and few other family friends/relatives. On the way to the cemetery, I saw rows of cars of funeral-attendees parked on the streets and empty fields in our neighborhood. But other than our ambulance, other funeral attendees walked to the cemetery, except for one other car which carried an elderly cousin of my dad’s who couldn’t walk anymore.

At the cemetery, a grave was already dug, and a ladder was set up. My uncle, my brother and my uncle went down the grave. Others brought my dad’s body and carefully handed him to us, then we laid him down. Then we went up and everyone began to bury the grave. I managed to shovel a few scoops before someone offered to relieve me. It was quite a physical job that needs a lot of people to help.

Then we planted a marker on the grave, and we stayed at the grave and said prayers before the ambulance took us back home. At home lunch was prepared for me and my family, and others returning from the burial were offered food at the house next door (who happened to also be our Ketua RT), prepared by volunteers from the neighborhood. This was a most welcome offer because it was lunch time and people had been standing and walking in the hot sun.

After lunch, most of the guest asked their leaves and went home, except for close relatives and friends who still stayed. The Kamang Hilir relatives mostly began arriving now, except for those who rode with my dad’s brother–they had managed to arrive well before Dhuhr by leaving very early in the morning and probably taking liberties with the speed limit. In the afternoon, I took some of the out-of-town arrivals–who weren’t there during the burial–to visit the grave.

In our neighborhood, it is customary that in the there would be recitations of Yasin and Tahlil for three consecutive nights at the bereaved house. This practice is somewhat controversial, as some argues that it constitutes a forbidden ritual innovation in Islam. My mom was not a fan of this practice for a different reason – the whole recitation would be in Arabic, and most attendees would just read (or sleep) through the ~1 hour without much reflection. So we would skip this practice. But our home would still be open for visitors in the next several days, and at night there would be speakers delivering reflections about death (mostly from religious point of view) as well as related topic.

Visitors did come at nearly all times of day in the next few days. Most looked for my mom, who was both entertained but also exhausted by the guests. She tried to manage short naps between visits. Thankfully we did not need to worry about food, because our neighbors sent delicious meals for us (and our relatives who stayed over) several times a day. In fact we often had more food than we need, and we sent some to our less affluent neighbors. We really appreciated the neighbors for arranging the food.

The peak for the visits was at nights, when we had the speakers after Maghrib prayers. The house was full, as well as the chairs and tent that still remained on the street. The mosque people brought microphones and loudspeakers for the guest outside to listen to the speakers. The guests were there until it was time for Isha. The mosque across the street had noticeably more worshippers than usual, as visitors made their Isha prayers there. On the third night, by popular request, we had light food (100% brought by attendees, so we did not have to prepare anything), and the timing was moved after Isha so that there would be time for light socializing after the lecture.

During these days some close relatives (if their schedule permitting) stayed with us, including some from Kamang Hilir. They helped with chores, entertaining guests, as well as of course consoling us. I really appreciated the consoling part, amid this sad mood it was so nice to hear jokes, or see little kids playing, in order to take our minds off the sadness. My uncle and some of my cousins cracked jokes which made us laugh so hard that I half-worried about what random passerbies would think about hearing laughs that hard from a bereaved house. Also, in a Minangkabau family, sleeping arrangements weren’t a problem. Crashing a relative’s house is very common, hosts don’t usually mind the several extra families overnighting and guests are usually content sleeping in the carpet if no room is available.

In the next following days, visitors & relatives ramped down, as well as the meal delivery. I stayed for several more days to be with my family and to help take care of administrative stuff. Life slowly returned to normal, even though it would never be the same..




Account of a Muslim funeral in Indonesia (Pekanbaru 2017)

Siapa itu “Negro Fort” yang disebut di biografi Hatta?

Di biografinya “Untuk Negeriku”, Hatta menyebut pernah bertemu dengan seorang tokoh bernama “Negro Fort”, yang beliau deskripsikan sebagai seorang komunis dari Amerika Serikat

Pada Kongres Liga Menentang Imperialisme (…) yang berlangsung di Frankfurt (…) Juli 1928, kaum komunis hebat sekali menggasak gerakan yang bukan komunis. Juru bicara mereka ialah Lu Ki dan komunis Negro Fort dari Amerika Serikat.

(dari Hatta “Bukittinggi-Rotterdam Lewat Betawi” (2011) hal. 303, penerbit Kompas, kusingkat dan kugarisbawahi)

Tokoh ini disebut lagi di halaman 304, dimana Hatta menulis Fort dan Lu Ki meminta izin Hatta (pemimpin sidang Kongres) untuk berpidato, tapi Hatta tidak mengizinkan karena merasa pidato mereka akan “menghantam” tokoh Kongres lain, padahal Hatta sedang mengusahakan persatuan.

Nama ini lumayan memancing rasa penasaranku karena namanya janggal sekali (istilah “Negro” sekarang ini ofensif sekali di Amerika Serikat) dan anehnya lagi dia seorang komunis di Amerika Serikat yang nantinya jadi negara musuh besar komunis. Ketika penasaran begini aku suka cross-check di internet, dan anehnya tidak ada hasil yang jelas ketika ngegoogle namanya (coba lihat sendiri).

Usut punya usut ternyata yang dimaksud Hatta disini adalah James W. Ford, tokoh kulit hitam Amerika yang menjadi aktivis Partai Komunis Amerika Serikat. Clue-nya adalah

  1. Ia hadir di Kongres Liga Menentang Imperialisme di Frankfurt, Juli 1929. “In 1929, he and William L. Patterson attended the Second Congress of the League Against Imperialism in Frankfurt, Germany” (profil James W. Ford di website Communist Party USA). Di kutipan diatas disebutkan “Juli 1928” tapi sepertinya kesalahan ketik karena di teks sebelum dan sesudah kutipan tersebut Hatta membicarakan kejadian tahun 1929.
  2. Ford adalah tokoh Partai Komunis USA. Ia bahkan 3x menjadi cawapres partai ini tahun 19321936, and 1940 (walaupun hasilnya urutan papan bawah). Menurut Wikipedia memang ada Partai Komunis USA, yang lumayan populer selama Depresi Besar (mulai 1929). Ketika itu belum ada perang dingin Amerika Serikat-Uni Soviet. Malah ada yang menganggap gerakan komunis sebagai sekutu melawan gerakan fasis yang mulai bangkit di Jerman dan Spanyol. Partai ini baru mengalami kemunduran ketika komunis menjadi musuh besar Amerika Serikat di Perang Dingin.

    James W. Ford
    James W. Ford di poster kampanye 1940
  3. Ford memang tokoh Afrika-Amerika, yang ketika itu umum disebut “Negro”. Menurut Wikipedia, istilah Negro hanya menjadi ofensif sejak dekade 1960an, dan sebelum itu istilah ini dianggap biasa saja untuk merujuk kepada orang-orang kulit hitam di Amerika Serikat. Bahkan kata ini digunakan oleh tokoh kulit hitam Martin Luther King Jr. dalam pidato terkenalnya I Have A Dream: “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”.

Yang membikin bingung adalah kesalahan penulisan nama di buku ini. Nama marganya disebut “Fort” padahal aslinya “Ford” dengan huruf ‘d’, dan nama depan dan tengahnya (“James W.”) tidak disebut sama sekali malah diganti dengan “Negro” yang sepertinya sama sekali bukan nama yang bersangkutan. Dan bukan sekadar sekali saja, nama ini disebut beberapa kali di halaman 303 dan 304.

Aku tidak tahu ini kesalahan Hatta atau kesalahan penerbit, tapi aku cuma bisa berspekulasi saja. Biografi Hatta terbit pertama kali pada 1979, setengah abad setelah peristiwa ini terjadi, dan sangat mungkin Hatta lupa detail ini. Mungkin salah baca dari catatan, dan peristiwanya juga sudah lama. Atau bisa jadi salah dengar karena bunyi t dan d di akhir tidak begitu kedengaran beda. Dan tentu saja ketika itu tidak ada internet untuk memastikan. Ini kesalahan kecil yang sangat bisa dimaklumi.

Oh ya, tulisan ini maksudnyaa bukan untuk menghakimi buku ini. Cuma ingin mengkarifikasi kesalahan kecil, barangkali ada juga yang bingung terus jadi terjawab dengan tulisan ini (tolong tulis di komentar kalau Anda orangnya! hehe). Lagian, memoar Hatta ini menurutku bagus sekali dan sangat pantas dibaca. Selain politisi dan ekonom, ternyata beliau juga penulis yang hebat. Tulisannya renyah dan akrab sekali, dan selain berisi cerita hidup, kita juga bisa sekalian belajar sejarah Indonesia dan Eropa ketika itu. Serius – mungkin salah satu buku terbaik yang pernah kubaca.

Siapa itu “Negro Fort” yang disebut di biografi Hatta?

Belajar sejarah dan menghafal tahun-tahun

Ketika ujian sejarah sering kali ditanyakan tahun atau tanggal berapa suatu peristiwa terjadi. Misal, “Pendudukan Jepang di Indonesia terjadi pada tahun ____?” (Jawab: 1942-1945). Seorang nerd sejarah sering digambarkan hafal berbagai tahun dan tanggal diluar kepala.

Apakah tahun dan tanggal perlu dihafalkan? Padahal bisa dicari dengan mengetik beberapa kata di hape Anda. Apa untuk mempersulit siswa kalau ujian saja?

Pendudukan Jepang : Terjadi pada 1942-45 (Koleksi Tropenmuseum)

Menurut saya, memang menghafal tanggal dan tahun persis peristiwa sering sulit sekali dan tidak begitu banyak gunanya, tapi tunggu dulu. Dalam memahami sejarah kita sering harus mengerti konteks dari suatu peristiwa, hubungannya dengan peristiwa lain, dan sebagainya. Tanggal menyerahnya Belanda pada Jepang (8 Maret 1942) mungkin tidak begitu penting, tapi kalau kita menganggap bahwa tanggal dan tahun tidak penting sama sekali, kita mungkin tidak akan paham bahwa pendudukan Jepang terjadi setelah ratusan tahun penjajahan Belanda, terjadi pada konteks Perang Dunia II dimana Jepang pada fase awal berekspansi besar-besaran di Asia Tenggara, dan berlangsung hanya sekitar tiga tahun sebelum proklamasi kemerdekaan. Konteks dan relasi ini penting untuk memahami pendudukan Jepang yang dimaksud.

Karena itu, sebagai penggemar sejarah saya tidak setuju kalau mengetahui tahun-tahun peristiwa itu tidak penting. Tapi bukan menghafal mati, melainkan bisa memperkirakan kapan terjadinya peristiwa suatu di luar kepala. Hal ini memudahkan kita untuk memahami konteks peristiwa dan relasinya dengan peristiwa lain tanpa harus googling sana sini. Tentu saja, semakin jauh dari masa kini, “resolusi” pengetahuan sejarah biasanya berkurang dan wajar kalau perkiraan kita jadi lebih kasar. Misalnya, saya tahu berakhirnya Orde Baru itu di tahun 1998. Runtuhnya Uni Soviet, tidak tahu tahunnya tapi bisa dikira-kira 1990 ± 1 atau 2 tahun. Kemerdekaan Amerika Serikat: akhir abad ke-18. Masa kekhalifahan Abu Bakar dan Umar: di luar kepala saya cuma bisa bilang mungkin sekitar abad ke-7.

Belajar sejarah dan menghafal tahun-tahun

“Aksi bela Muslim” ala Silicon Valley

Salah satu ciri bangsa yang kuat adalah melindungi anggotanya yang vulnerable, sekalipun cuma minoritas. Bangsa Amerika sedang berjuang membuktikan hal ini.

27 Januari lalu, Presiden AS Donald Trump mengeluarkan executive order -mungkin semacam Keppres di Indonesia – untuk membatasi masuknya warga negara dari Iran, Irak, Suriah, Yaman, Somalia, Sudan, Libia. Entah kebetulan atau bukan, ketujuhnya negara mayoritas Muslim, dan entah ada hubungannya atau bukan, pada masa kampanye Trump pernah menyerukan “total and complete shutdown” terhadap masuknya orang Muslim ke Amerika Serikat.

Executive order ini langsung berdampak ke banyak orang, karena bahasa perintahnya mencakup puluhan ribu orang yang sudah secara legal tinggal dan bekerja di AS. Sekarang mereka terancam tidak bisa kembali ke rumah dan keluarganya di AS, atau malah terkurung di AS karena takut tidak bisa masuk lagi. Selain itu, perintah ini juga menghentikan pengungsi dari Suriah yang negaranya jelas-jelas sedang dilanda perang saudara dan butuh bantuan. Tak kalah parahnya, dikhawatirkan ini hanyalah langkah pertama sebelum Trump perlahan-lahan memenuhi janji kampanyenya terhadap orang-orang Muslim. Saya sendiri juga was-was, apakah nantinya Indonesia akan masuk daftar juga dan masa depan saya bisa jadi tidak jelas.

Yang bikin terharu adalah reaksi orang-orang Amerika ini. Pada dasarnya, bangsa Amerika Serikat terdiri dari orang-orang yang menganut berbagai agama, berimigrasi atau memiliki asal keturunan dari negara lain. Mereka tidak ingin kalau Trump merusak ini. Pengacara dari ormas-ormas langsung bekerja keras dan hasilnya keesokan harinya beberapa pengadilan memerintahkan penundaan perintah Trump sebelum sidang dilakukan untuk menentukan apa perintah ini sah. Warga melakukan aksi damai di bandara-bandara tempat para pendatang ditahan atau dideportasi. Media memberitakan kisah-kisah penderitaan yang disebabkan executive order ini. Dari anggota DPR sampai CEO perusahaan-perusahan teknologi ramai mengecam dan mencari cara untuk menghentikan aturan baru ini.

Kantor saya sendiri di Google juga tak kalah. Walaupun executive ordernya dikeluarkan pada Jumat sore waktu California (ketika weekend dimulai), berbagai pihak langsung bereaksi. Resources perusahaan dikerahkan untuk membantu karyawan dan keluarganya yang terjebak di luar negeri. Forum-forum internal, termasuk yang biasanya dipakai untuk lucu-lucuan, dipenuhi karyawan -dari berbagai bangsa dan agama, yang dengan spontan meluapkan reaksi marahnya dan menyampaikan pesan simpati terhadap karwayan-karyawan Muslim terutama dari negara yang masuk daftar Trump. Pak CEO mengeluarkan statement, dan co-founder Sergey Brin sendiri ikut demo di Bandara San Francisco.

Menjelang masuk kantor lagi hari Senin, muncul kabar bahwa akan ada aksi damai. Aksi ini digagas oleh para karyawan grassroot yang merasa ingin menyalurkan aspirasi – tanpa organisasi dari para petinggi perusahaan. Lalu pada jam yang direncanakan hari Senin, para karyawan yang sedang sibuk ngoding maupun kerjaan lain, ramai berjalan keluar kantor. Saya pun berangkat bareng teman Indonesia yang kebetulan satu bangunan. Dari tiap bangunan keluar beberapa gerombol, ke pekarangan gedung utama Googleplex. Entah kenapa melihat gerombolan seperti ini saya jadi ingat kayak lebaran di Indonesia orang ramai-ramai ke lapangan.

Aksi damai dilakukan di halaman utama Googleplex, salah satu landmark kompleks Google yang bisa dilihat di foto-foto turis atau bahkan di film The Internship. Seumur hidup saya belum pernah demo, sebelumnya tidak menyangka kalau akan demo di Amerika membela orang Muslim bersama-sama dengan teman-teman kantor dari berbagai negara dan agama. Buru-buru saya bikin tulisan di kertas untuk dipegang, dan sekalian bawa peci untuk dipakai.

googlerTernyata yang datang banyak sekali. Saya bukan ahli memperkirakan jumlah peserta demo, tapi menurut media yang melaporkan kira-kira ada 2.000 orang di halaman itu. Banyak yang membawa kertas bertuliskan simpatik terhadap Muslim maupun imigran. Orasi pun dilakukan – dimulai dari karyawan dari Iran yang menceritakan pengalamannya baru saja lolos lubang jarum imigrasi berkat bantuan perusahaan yang standby 24 jam selama weekend. Sekalipun aksi ini digagas oleh grassroot, petinggi perusahaan ikut hadir. Sundar Pichai menyampaikan kegiatan dan rencana perusahaan menghadapi kebijakan ini. Lalu co-founder Sergey Brin, yang sebelumnya juga ikut aksi demo di bandara San Francisco, juga berorasi. Ia bercerita kalau ia lahir di Uni Soviet dan berimigrasi ke Amerika sebagai pengungsi, di zaman perang dingin ketika Uni Soviet adalah ancaman terbesar terhadap Amerika. Walaupun pada saat itu ancaman perang nuklir ada di benak semua orang, Amerika dengan berani membuka pintunya kepadanya dan pengungsi-pengungsi lain. Para peserta aksi langsung setuju – tanpa keberanian dan keterbukaan ini, tentu tidak akan ada cerita sukses Sergey dan Google. Setelah aksi selesai semua bubar dengan tertib dan bekerja kembali.

Aksi-aksi seperti ini, baik di kantor saya maupun di bandara-bandara, jalan-jalan dan pengadilan-pengadilan Amerika, bagi saya heartwarming sekali. Ciri bangsa yang kuat adalah melindungi anggotanya yang vulnerable, sekalipun cuma minoritas. Bangsa Amerika sedang berjuang membuktikan ini. Walaupun Trump sekarang menjadi presiden – tidak semua sikapnya itu disetujui warganya. Mudah-mudahan semangat rakyat, maupun sistem check and balances yang sudah berabad-abad dikembangkan dalam tata negara Amerika, bisa mengarahkan pemerintah agar tidak semena-mena.


“Aksi bela Muslim” ala Silicon Valley

About flexible working hours

One of the topics I get asked the most from non-Silicon Valley friends is “What is the working hours like over there?”. I think this is a very interesting topic, worth blogging about.


First off, I worked on only one Silicon Valley company (in Google) and heard stories from similar (big, public, software) companies  in the area. These are my only sources in this writing 🙂

In general working hours are not enforced. It’s generally up to the individual engineer. It’s quite normal to see some who only come at lunch-time and also others who leave relatively early in the afternoon (maybe beginning 4pm?). However it’s not a wild west world where you can miss work to your liking. Probably, the minimum expectation is that

  • you do your job and reasonably meet what’s expected of you,
  • you show up for meetings when you’re needed (they are usually scheduled in hours friendly to both late-comers and early-leavers),
  • you’re available in the office for certain duration during the day so that people can consult/discuss with you in person.

As long as you meet those, people, including your boss and teammates, will generally tolerate whatever time you usually come to work and leave.

For me, this is quite a departure from my previous working experience in Singapore. I worked for a company that was relatively relaxed in Singapore’s standard, but there was still general expectation of working at least 8 hours/day, being in no later than 9.30, etc.

Making sure things get done

I think the trick that enables working hour flexibility is the fact that the employees have other motivation to deliver. It’s not necessarily because the tasks are amazing -it is probably impossible to give such tasks to everyone in a company. It’s more because the employees have clearly defined objectives, for example quarterly ones, and a set of incentives make them want to attempt to fulfill it.

For example, managers or stakeholders regularly check and provide feedback on progress.Some projects may be a part of a big publicly-visible project, and you don’t want to let that down by being the bottleneck. And also, most importantly, fulfilling or exceeding expectation has a big impact on your career. There is a technical ladder, and your probability to get promoted depends to large extent on how you can demonstrate your past achievement to a neutral third-party. The consequence of the technical ladder is quite serious – higher level means significantly better compensation as well as respect and influence within one’s team.

Another trick is to make the workplace as attractive as possible. There’s food and beverages all the time at the pantry, and breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided in the office cafeteria. Also, there are the old-fashioned financial incentives like bonus and stock units that are based on performance – these makes up big part of one’s total compensation.



From the companies’ point of view, providing flexibility is also important to attract talent given the competitiveness in Silicon Valley.

The software engineers have various background and different needs with regards to working hours. Some have kids that needs to be sent to and picked up from school, and these employees might need to synchronize their commute with school schedule. Other employees are more of a night owl and free dinner is an incentive for them to stay late in the office. Also, business are not always open during weekdays, so you often have to go to bank, dentist, or mechanic during business hours.

Aggressively working or work-life balance?

A question I’ve often been asked: “Do people work really hard over there?” Of course people do work hard, but do they work all the time? Here, again, people have flexibility and choice. Some people choose to work really hard and they get rewarded accordingly (they get the respect that they deserve, promoted faster, etc.) But if you don’t want that, you don’t have to and you can have balance between work and other interests such as family, hobbies, or travelling.

In conclusion, I think flexible working hours is a workable concept – especially in this case where companies and employees both have interests to make it work. Companies need it to attract employees and increase their contentedness, but they also need to be sure that this won’t negatively affect productivity. Employees love flexibility, and with proper incentives they will still do their best at work. If it works out for both, there’s no reason not to do it.


About flexible working hours