Two decades ago, I packed my bag and took a trip to a faraway place, leaving Dayeuhkolot, a place where I grew up, my family and friends behind. What began as a 4-months excursion had turned into an exquisite journey of life.
Two decades is such a long time, I ended both of my 20s and my 30s during this journey. Not only I survived it, I thrived in this endeavour, thanks to the love and kindness of friends, colleagues, and strangers I met on the way.
I don’t know what the future holds. But I look forward to continuing the journey, if I am granted the luxury of time to do it. And hopefully still thrive in it, and wish to do so with love, kindness, passion, compassion, wit, and humour.
I’m presenting “The Evolution of Merlyna’s a Critical Monkey’s Intellectual Freedom” (bottom) .
It was part of my last public lecture which basically attempted to provide an alternative imagination of possible career/life pathways. It’s my take vis-a-vis a (valid) critic of the state of intellectual freedom in academia by a brilliant Jorge Cham/PhD comic in 2011 (top). I think Cham’s is on point, but luckily his comic doesn’t apply to me.
~ eh, ini beneran lho dari slide kuliah umumku ~
I believe in (trying my best in) being curious, having fun, and staying critical. Also “naughty” — and becoming naughtier as I get older . And never stop to be really bothered by injustice–hey, a critical monkey can be really angry, too . No, never follow the “money” or the “safest” pathway. No, it’s not easy or smooth; sometimes you fail and/or people/institutions failed you, but speaking for myself and myself alone, I never and will never regret this choice. FYI, I am one of the lucky ones who survived academia and became a tenured professor several years ago by fully exercising my own freedom, doing research that I believed in. I hope to swing up-side-down while holding a banana when I am an emerita professor (if I ever become one someday) and grin satisfactorily when I RIP .
~ aku katanya kelakuan mirip monyet, tapi ngga suka pisang sih ~
I made an initial drawing, then my talented artist-friend Rivi Rian decorated it with beautiful viney leaves.
p.s. some grad students who took my class probably had seen this critical monkey appeared in their assignments .
“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her … She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.”
— from: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chapter 1, p. 1.
One of my best friends thought this passage could have been written about me. Ah, I guess she is right :-). I spent nearly a year living in Princeton where I always felt that I, as Merlyna Lim, did not quite fit the place. It was not only my feeling, in fact some Nassau Street shopkeepers really treated me as if I didn’t belong there. In contrast, my Princeton credential allowed me to enter the circle of elites. I have to admit, from time to time I secretly enjoyed how well people treated me once they found out that I worked at Princeton, as a professor, no less. And yet, while my Princeton privilege always worked like a charm, I was never at ease with it.
About the image, it’s an ice cream shop at Nassau Street Adichie was writing about. Thomas Sweet Ice Cream is the legendary ice cream parlour of Princeton. I stood outside this shop frequently, but wasn’t a frequent customer. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Growing up, I ate ice cream very rarely, not even once a year. But I do appreciate high quality home-made ice cream, such as one made at the Thomas Sweet. The first time I was there, I could not decide what I wanted. Just like a little kid who entered the ice cream shop for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the choices. How do you decide? There were tons of colours, flavours, and blends. Not to mention toppings. I was amazed that some kids in the shoppe seemed to really know what they wanted. I eventually settled with the combination of what’s familiar with a layer of newness, which probably resembles what I always choose in life when I am exposed to many pathways.
Looking back, it was a sweet memory. An overwhelmingly sweet memory.*
Image: Thomas Sweet Ice Cream, Nassau Street (by Princeton University) – Princeton NJ. Sketched 2014, coloured in 2019, by merlynalim.
*This post and the sketch is dedicated to my wonderful colleague Linda. We both share a special memory of Thomas Sweet and beyond that, we also are bound by a special connection and beautiful relationship — despite the fact that we first met in such a horrendous situation. Thank you, Linda.
Early this month, I called my mother on her birthday. After wishing her well and chit-chatting about this and that, I told her about a recent award I just got. Unlike many previous research accolades I was awarded which were too “abstract” for her, she was actually truly interested in this one. She said, “Oh, that’s a good person award.” I replied, “Mom, just want to let you know that I am always trying to be a good person…not always easy, but I am trying.” “I know you are” she replied back.
So, this award is dedicated to my mom, a loving beautiful soul who always taught me to be kind, generous, and yet, honest and fair. I think the world needs to know that about her. <3
Standing in front of the mirror of my parents’ cabinet, I’m seeing the shadow of myself. I am definitely much older. It’s been seventeen years since I left this house for good. Now I am a different person with my own life, different than and separated from the life I had in this house. The old mirror. It is the only full body mirror in the house. It is the same one I used when I was a little child. Looking through this mirror, I realize that I am changed and, yet, everything I had in Dayeuhkolot remains the same. Continue reading “Dayeuhkolot and me”→
After standing in line for hours, it was finally my turn. I was one of thousands of high schoolers who were queuing to register for the national entrance examination for public universities. I wished to be admitted in the best technical university in Indonesia. My very smart eldest brother, who applied to the same university a decade earlier and wasn’t admitted, already warned me not to keep my hope too high. He said, “I know you’re smart and everything, but remember, we are classified as ‘non-native’ (non-pribumi). While others just need to score around 80 (out of 100) to get in, we need to be near perfect”. It was only later in my life I learned that during the Suharto’s New Order era there was indeed a very narrow quota for those who were classified as “WNI Keturunan Cina” (people of Chinese descent in Indonesia or Chinese Indonesians) to enter state universities. Having said that, my brother encouraged me to try anyway.
The admission officer checked my documents and asked, “Where is your proof of citizenship? Where is your change of name document?” “I am Indonesian and never changed my name,” I replied. Continue reading “Being Lim”→
As you have noticed, I have reconstructed the site and came up with a new design. This site is somewhat under construction and will be so indeterminately.
I’ll not explain much why and how I came to the new look. In short, I was half-asleep playing with the site and did something stupid. As a result, I lost most of the content of my site. I have backups for some posts, but lost hundreds of them. I am not sad, I just have to write again. But, it’d be nice to get some of them back.
If you keep copies of my blog posts (a couple readers told me they saved my old writings), please share with me.
In case you need some “#activist” and “for #justice” pick-up lines for the #Valentine week, here are some I made for you. Enjoy
Baby, I tell ya direct action beats inaction.
Let me distribute my love equally all over you.
Do you believe in oppression at first sight?
Let me be your Wall street, babe. Occupy me and march on to me.
The revolution is here baby, I can feel an uprising in my lower class.
Facebook asks what’s on my mind. Twitter asks what I’m doing. Instagram asks what I’m seeing. Foursquare asks where I am. Social media is like an obsessive ex-boyfriend.
In this place you have a profile picture and what you do is just sitting around, making friends with strangers, bragging about life you don’t have, and wasting time by writing on and talking to the wall.
No, I am not talking about Facebook. I am talking about a prison.