Into uncharted waters

It seems like business as usual. I was trained to do this. I’ve done this a lot of times. Yet, why does it feel like I’m entering uncharted waters?

The preparatory Japanese language classes have ended and here I am, at my research desk, where I’ll spend the next three years of my life. Staring at a wall, occasionally glancing left to a pile of scattered papers and open books, and then back to typing a few words… only to delete them later. Rinse, lather, and repeat for several hours. A short break. Then again.

Basically, business as usual.

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Getting one foot through the door is the hardest part

About five rejections, hundreds of dollars, and months of waiting…

I started applying for PhD positions three years after I had graduated my masters degree. My masters was not particularly spectacular; I decided on it purely out of my own interest. I did my undergraduate program in international relations with a concentration in international security, so I felt it was natural to progress to strategic studies.

It was clear that I wouldn’t progress further without a PhD. I have had to let so many opportunities pass simply because they required a PhD.

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Seven months of online teaching: some updates

In the middle of March, my university decided to suspend face-to-face meetings and move everything online. It took me a while to get adjusted to the format and tempo of online classes (I’ve covered this in a previous post), but eventually, I got the hang of Discord, Google Meet, and even Moodle, where I do the bulk of my quizzes.

I really don’t feel like learning is happening. Most of my sessions are synchronous, i.e., students log into Meet and I deliver the day’s materials, often stopping for short bathroom breaks or to address questions. While this is no different from what I do in a live classroom, it just feels… awkward. I am talking to a screen, to a bunch of faces like I’m talking to the cast of the Brady Bunch. As I don’t enforce a “cams on” policy, it feels even more uncanny as I’m practically speaking to a bunch of letters on screen, unsure of whether I’m going too fast or I’ve lost the entire class’s attention. This makes me pause more often as I ask for clarification and to make sure everyone is on tracking. Teaching becomes a slog, not an enjoyable experience both for me and perhaps even more so for the students.  

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Jokowi’s UNGA speech: a squandered opportunity for Indonesia’s middle power diplomacy

During Jokowi’s first term, Jusuf Kalla would be the face of Indonesia in the UN General Assembly, where world leaders would meet for a week of intense, 24-hour diplomacy. Unlike the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi is much more reluctant to make international appearances. He would give the same reason every time: he’d rather focus on solving domestic problems first. In the rare occasion that he would show up in an international forum, he would usually use it as a platform to advance Indonesia’s economic interests.

This time, it’s different. After skipping six UN assemblies, Jokowi finally decided to show up. Unlike previous UN assemblies, the 75th General Assembly allowed the use of pre-recorded messages. Perhaps this was why Jokowi finally wanted to make an appearance at the UN. He could attend the General Assembly without having to leave Indonesia, where he could continue to work on domestic problems. In fact, while the General Assembly continues to convene, Jokowi is busy dealing with food estates in Kalimantan.

Unfortunately, his speech leaves much to be desired.

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Man of Contradictions: understanding the enigma named Jokowi

Ben Bland’s recent book, Man of Contradictions, is touted as the “first English political biography” of Jokowi. There are two biographies of Jokowi in Indonesian, written by Alberthiene Endah. Other “semi-biographies”, such as “Jokoway” by Joko Sulistyo, are questionable at best, as they are written by active government staff. So, I was anticipating Bland’s biography to provide a more impartial picture of Jokowi’s governance.

Front cover of Man of Contradictions. Source: Penguin AU.

In this respect, it delivered. Drawing from his numerous interviews with Jokowi, Ben Bland manages to deliver a relatively impartial assessment of Jokowi’s governance over the years. His central thesis: to understand the enigma that is Jokowi, one must understand his contradictory nature.

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Creative potholes and the liberating feeling of having freedom to create

My writing has stifled, but I am not talking about raw numbers. As far as numbers are concerned, I think I’m writing more than ever—mostly due to work demands. It’s just that the quality of my writing seems to be slipping, and this is apparent in my scholarly work. I just don’t feel like I’m living up to a certain standard, that I’m always falling short, that I’ll never be like the “cool guys” at the proverbial top, wherever that “top” may be.

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Functioning and teaching from home: some notes

It’s been 3.5 months since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Indonesia. I decided quickly to move away from Jakarta, the epicentrum, to my hometown in Bali. I thought I could function better at home, back with my parents, instead of being cooped up in a shoebox with nobody to talk to. The university also ordered all faculty to stay at home until July, which is among the more generous policies compared to other universities. 

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What is expected of academics?

These are thoughts that have been fermenting for a very long time (around 2 years or so). They’ve been nagging me a lot, but it is only that I’ve finally managed to gather them in a relatively coherent manner. So far, these thoughts only existed on paper, in the private journal that I always carry around.

Earlier in 2019, I was working on an article on the role of community organizations in extremist deradicalization in Indonesia. The premise was simple: state-based deradicalization in Indonesia has not always lived up to expectations. Maybe community-based initiatives can pick up the slack. I was writing the article in tandem with two other senior academics. As the junior in the group, I did most of the work. Once the first draft was finished, we sent it in for review. Then came the naturally long silence that I expected in academia. I used the three-month silence to work on my first conference paper and other things I’ve either picked up willingly or been thrusted upon. (Update: that article is now published in Journal for Policing and Counterterrorism [paywall])

At the conference, I felt it was a holiday. I didn’t have any teaching obligations. I didn’t have to work on anything else. All I had to do was attend panels I liked and present my paper. Other than that, I could practically do anything else. It was there where I met my professor from my Master’s days and we did a bit of catching up. The following conversation happened. It happened a while ago, I may have mis-remembered some details.

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