Posts Tagged ‘ language ’

Efek Rumah Kaca @ GSG Institut Teknologi Telkom, Bandung – 10/2/2012

Efek Rumah Kaca
1 hr 15 min 50 sec / 104 MB / 192kbps MP3

Efek Rumah Kaca are a band from Jakarta who I was actually going to see in Kuala Lumpur last December but their tour was postponed or cancelled for some reason. Fortunately, before leaving Nusantara (and yes, I’m using this term to include Malaysia as well), I had the opportunity to see them. And possibly making it more special, I had the opportunity to see them perform an acoustic set, even if their performance was “acoustic” in the sense that instead of using an electric guitar plugged through reverb, delay and other effects pedals and a guitar amp, the guitarist used an acoustic guitar plugged through reverb, delay and other effects pedals and a guitar amp.

A few of my Indonesian friends like Efek Rumah Kaca. And whenever I ask them why, they usually have the same response: “Mereka pakai Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar” – that is, they use good and proper Indonesian.

Maybe I just don’t understand, growing up with English as my native tongue, in a country that never successfully fought off imperialism with “One Motherland, One Nation, One Language” as its funadamental ideals, but I always found that reason odd. It might be that whereas the “One Language” in the Youth Pledge of 1928 was seen as a progressive move toward unity among all people of the archipelago oppressed by Dutch colonialism, the only analogous Australian example  I can think of is “Speak English or Fuck Off”, the rallying call of unity against the oppression of Anglo-Australians at the hands of the powerless non-Anglo minority populations. But even a brief look over the Anti-Bogan blog, will demonstrate that maybe these Anglo Freedom Fighters weren’t really specific when it comes down to the “good and proper” usage of English.

[TANGENT] I think it would be funny if there was a t-shirt that said: “Speak Cadigal or Fuck Off”. If it hasn’t been done already. [/TANGENT]

Racist connotations aside, I still can’t seem to understand the main reason for enjoying a band is because they use “good and proper Indonesian”. Maybe its because, even though I’ve spent years in school learning something that is considered proper English, I spend so much time trying to find the best ways to break English. I sit and look at pages and pages of LolCats pikchaz on teh interwebz. And although they said he wouldn’t make it, said he was a loser, said he was a fuckin’ psycho, look at Ninja now, all up in the interwebs, two thaasend naarn, and damn there’s just something awesome about hearing that Afrikaans accent rapping in Akrikaanglish. Besides Die Antwoord and their accents, some of the best (English language) hip hop is all about trying to find the best ways to tear apart the English language. And its not just a feature of hip hop, one of my favourite books, The God of Small Things, is a favourite because of the way Arundhati Roy plays with English. I am in awe of her ability to do so. Opening up the first page of the book, you’d find Arundhati Roy dedicating the book to “Mary Roy who grew me up” and people who don’t know any better always ask me, “Is it because she can’t write English properly?”

And I know its not just me that thinks one of the best things about travelling is learning the different ways that English is spoken. Anyone who’s been to Malaysia knows the determination one feels toward mastering the “lah”. You need to know where it goes, and how to say it – it’s not just something you can put on the end of every sentence. And if you stay there long enough, you might start to say, “open your shoes”, “close the light”, and if you stay there even longer you might begin to just use a whole bunch of Malay words in your English, or even impose Malay grammar rules on your English and start putting adjectives after the nouns. Maybe that last one was just me. You cannot deny the fascination of hearing English spoken in a completely different way to what you’re used to. Of course, there are the haters who’d call it “broken”, but fuck Lee Kuan Yew and let’s all Speak Good Singlish!

You don’t even need to go that far to hear English spoken in different ways. Catching a train around Sydney, you’d hear a whole lot of different accents and if you listen close enough you might even notice some little grammatical quirks depending on where you are. Listening to Chinese fathers talk to their children in English in the third person is one. And it wasn’t until I had it pointed out to me by a Singaporean friend, I noticed that I, and others that I know, have a tendency to end sentences with “but”. Seriously, why the fuck am I ending sentences with conjunctions? (Actually, at first my Singaporean friend though I was speaking Indonesian, adding mbak on the end to every sentence I made when talking to a friend). Maybe its a Bankstown thing. Bankstown in itself is a linguistic amusement park. The linguistic tour of Sydney is an internal journey as well. I’m aware that I switch between a variety of accents and styles of English depending on context. Maybe the differences are subtle, but I notice them.

Maybe my inability to accept “good and proper Indonesian” as a reason for liking a band come from the fact, that I didn’t grow up with “good and proper” English. Firstly, on my dad’s side of the family, I never had a grandmother or granfather, not even a nanna or a pop (I never knew my maternal grandfather, so I don’t actually know what the informal form of grandfather is. Is it pop?). Instead, I had a nonna and a nonno. And I never asked for hot milk, I would always yell out for hot latte. And no, latte is not a coffee, it means milk. Plain milk. And when I was growing up I never had to poo, I would always caca. On my mother’s side, even my Anglo-Australian nanna can’t speak “good and proper” English. And that’s ok, because if she did, I probably wouldn’t get so much enjoyment out of hearing people say, “I seen it” or “I aksed ‘im”.

Before I get into a real debate about descriptive linguistic versus prescriptive linguistics, I should go back to talking about Efek Rumah Kaca. I seem to be able to go on lengthy rants about language, but I’m not so good at describing music. I like Efek Rumah Kaca, I really do, but I just don’t know how to say why I like them. With most music I listen to, especially music with vocals in a language other than English, or music with vocals that are in English but produce the same feeling (e.g. grindcore), I’m attracted to it on a purely aesthetic level. I also can’t say why I like Efek Rumah Kaca on an aesthetic level, I just do.

After listening to Efek Rumah Kaca a few times, and as my ability to understand Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar increases, little fragments of clarity begin to emerge as lyrics become understood. What previously sounded like Sigur Ros now sounds like a powerful homage to a well-known human rights and anti-corruption activist and a warning to authorities that continue to oppress the rakyat. And then, just like that, I like Efek Rumah Kaca more.

For this gig, catching three angkots, from one side of Bandung to the other, to a place we weren’t really sure where we were going, and finally arriving and sitting on the floor with a hundred or so other people, who were all singing along, was totally worth it.

Oh, and…

Pasta Gigi

I went to a pharmacy to buy some toothpaste.

What are you looking for?
Ubat gigi.
Ubat gigi.
Ah, obat gigi.

Oh yeah, that’s right, they say obat not ubat here.

The worker took me to the chemist area and asked me a bunch of questions that one wouldn’t ask when talking about toothpaste.

Um… toothpaste, ada?
Oh! Pasta gigi!
Maaf, saya dari Malaysia, di Malaysia kami cakap ‘ubat gigi’.
Di Malaysia, namanya ubat gigi?

Masih tak boleh berbahasa Melayu.

All I have is a teh o ais in front of me to show for my ability to speak and understand Malay, even after seven months.

There was a new kakak here at Ammoo today as well as the kakak I call “Kak Az”, though never to her face. I don’t really say much to her at all, usually just a smile, maybe a nod, maybe a nod without the upwards motion so it ends up just being a looking down. Tonight she greets with a smile and a “Hey Boy!” from behind her table of vegetables and condiments and stuff for frying.

The new kakak came to the table I was seated at and asked, “Water?”. I smiled on the inside at her direct translation of the Malay. In Malay, I replied asking for a teh o ais. She then asked what I’d like to eat, this time in Malay. I said the words that I intended to mean “that thing with the rice and that plate of fried tempe and uncooked cabbage and long bean and cucumber with peanut sauce”.

Usually when I say those words the kakak asking would nod and after a few minutes I would get a plate of rice and another different plate with all those yummy things I asked for on it. But this time the new kakak didn’t nod and leave, she started saying things. I got confused which made it harder to understand what she was saying. The shattering of my food dreams made listening to a language I still have a shit grasp over really hard.

I think she told me they didn’t have it and that they only have sambal instead of the peanut sauce but maybe she also said there was no tempe and they only have tempe in the morning and the only stuff they have now is stuff like nasi goreng. It all added up to more confusion. They always have that tempe thing I want at night time, why not now? It didn’t make any sense. I said not to worry, I’d have the teh o ais only.

But I was still hungry. I guess I could’ve easily ordered something else, but I didn’t. Maybe I was hoping Kak Az would come by and save me and say, “Sebenarnya, we have that!” She didn’t though. And when I did finally think I might order something else – nasi goreng without all the animal bits – I was scared the new kakak wouldn’t understand and confuse me more.

The thing I like about that place is that I’ve been there so many times the workers know what I like and want that I could probably make any sounds with my mouth and then in a few minutes i would be given some food that I wanted. But not today. Having to deal with a new kakak ended with me realising how shit I still am at Malay. Seven months on and all I can get is a teh o ais.

I went to pay, at the cash register Kak Az was standing at:

Tak makan?
Tak nak makan?

Kenapa tak nak makan?
Tak tahu.
Kenyang lagi?

Bila balik?
Balik mana?
Tak tahu.

And that was about it. She said something else but I didn’t catch that either.

As I left the shop and walked past the kitchen set up out the front I walk past a plate of fried tempe.