music is universal…

… or is it?

i wonder how many of you like songs with lyrics you can’t understand (because you don’t understand the language). and if you do, how many songs like these do you like?

i had always thought it was like that: good music would sound good to my ears, no matter what language the lyrics use. because if the melodies hit the right notes in my ears, they would resonate in my heart as well, causing me to like the music.

the first album i ever bought after i was done listening to kids songs (probably when i was about 10 years old) was from a band called Smokey Mountain. it’s a Filipino band, and though the song that made me bought the album was sung in English, the album was full of songs sung in Tagalog. and since i listened to it back and forth, i actually memorized all the lyrics, even the Tagalog ones. did i like the songs? definitely. did i understand Tagalog language? not at all.

and then when i was in middle school, i got addicted to seeing Chinese kung-fu TV series. one of my biggest addiction was the White Snake Legend, which was also a musical. of course i bought the album when it came out. like i did with the Smokey Mountain’s album, i played it dozens of times a day & i memorized the lyrics… which was naturally in Chinese. don’t ask me what Chinese language specifically, i still can’t tell the difference and i did not know a single meaning of those words. but i loved the songs, and that was enough.

next came the Japanese craze. blame those J-drama series they showed on the national TV channels, but i began by liking the opening songs of these series. and finally found several J-rock bands which completely rocked my world (L’arc~en~Ciel was my most fave of all). in this case, i don’t know if having a super hot singer (=Hyde!!) helped me to like the songs, but the truth is that first i came to like these songs without understanding the lyrics, and partly because of that i then decided to learn Japanese language.

afterwards, it was time for me to be introduced to Indian music. it started when i learned how to play tabla, and our teacher became sort of a family friend, and suddenly we started listening to Indian music & songs in our car whenever we went out (not Bollywood, though). i didn’t get to memorize the lyrics this time, haha… but i did remember the melodies and i can truly say that i enjoyed and liked these songs in foreign language.

after all of this, i moved to Finland. i learned the language first, before anything else, and i seemed to forget about music.

it took me a loooong while to finally be able to say that “i like this (Finnish) band/singer”. and this makes me wonder, if music really is that universal after all?

i must admit, the difference between my life here and in Jakarta was more than just the language. for example, i did not have TV for a while here in Finland, and so i was not exposed to music videos like i was back in Jakarta. the malls or shopping centers that i go to in Finland always play songs in English, and very few of them play songs in Suomi. after a while, it became a habit for me to just forget about Finnish songs, and instead i always listen to radios that play familiar songs in English.

only lately did i finally give it a chance again. i was tired of listening to my same old playlist over and over again, and also the radio that always play English songs seemed to not have moved forward with their song list. so i forced myself to listen to some other radio station, one that plays pop music in English and also Suomi. almost every day i did this, and when i one day woke up with one of the Suomi songs ringing in my head, i knew that it had worked. 😀

some of these Suomi songs i fell in love with the lyrics. some of them i fell in love with the melodies. when i realized these, i was like, hey… there are actually some really good tunes here, and Suomi language sounds more beautiful to me than ever. and then i became thankful that i can actually understand what the lyrics mean this time, it really does resonate even more with my heart when i know the meanings.

Javanese & Finnish: we’re not so different

so, after living in Finland for some time, i’ve come to notice that there are actually some similarities between my husband’s heritage and mine. how this is possible, i have no idea. did Finnish people actually travel much further back then than they have always thought and somehow ended up in Java island and exchanged some words and cultures with the natives?

these are probably not strictly Javanese and Finnish traits, but still i find it quite amusing that there could be similarities between two cultures that seem otherwise unconnected to each other.

1. when we say goodbye, we actually mean we’ll keep talking to you until at least another half an hour. (usually it means another hour.)

–> when i was still living in my hometown, this was what we did whenever we went to some family gathering or get-together with friends. when we got up to bid our goodbyes, the host would walk with us, s-l-o-w-l-y, to the front door, while keeping us talking etc. then just before the door, we would stay to talk some more, and then finally the host would open the door for us, let’s say after 15 minutes. we would step out the door, and the host would follow, sometimes only to the gate, other times to our car or the road where we would then go home from, all the while still talking about this and that. after another 15 minutes, if we’re lucky, we would FINALLY say our real goodbyes and depart. even if the gathering was at some other venue than someone’s house, this happened as well. as we went around telling everyone that we were off, the person we were saying goodbye to would then talk to us for another 10 minutes, so if there were 8 people altogether, it would  mean we would actually leave the venue 80 minutes after we first said to everyone that we were off. PHEW!

i know that there are many different cultures & customs in Jakarta alone, but i can safely say that my experience has always been mostly with my Javanese family members and friends. for example, with my mum’s side of the family (which aren’t Javanese), this almost never happened. but my dad’s side: almost always, LOL.

–> in here, this happens again every time i go to my husband’s family gatherings. okay, maybe not as long as we did in my hometown (since they say Finns are people of very few words), but the similarity is uncanny! i felt immediately at home after the first time i experienced this here. 😀 and apparently my husband’s big family also think of this as something common.

2. something bad happens to you? don’t worry, we’ll tell you the silver lining.

–> rumour has it that for whatever bad thing that happens to you, the Javanese people will always say, “well, but luckily you… (fill in the blank with some positive thought)”. yeah, we’re pretty famous for seeing the silver lining, no matter how dim the situation might seem.

–> imagine my surprise the first time i heard a Finn telling me my silver lining after i told a story of a mishap that happened to me earlier. again, i guess you could say that pointing out the silver lining isn’t strictly Javanese or Finnish, but based on my experience with people from other backgrounds, those who always come up with the silver linings (before saying anything else to comment on my story) are either Javanese or Finnish, LOL!

if you’re still not convinced yet, then number 3 is probably going to.

3. we have the same names.

–> even before i moved here, i already knew some from my husband. for example, his name is actually a popular Javanese women’s name (spelled with 1 different letter). in Finnish, there’s the name Helmi for girls, which is commonly used for men’s name in Indonesia (not limited to Javanese).

–> then i got to know that the name Ari is common in Finnish culture, which is also widely used in Java for either women or men. there’s Samuli in Finnish, similar to Javanese word “ngemuli” or “muli” or “mulih” (so many options, all different meanings!).

–> and the latest one that i found was quite a revelation: Putro is used as surname in Finland (and NOT for someone who has a root in Javanese or Indonesian ancestor, by the way), and it’s a very VERY common name Javanese name for men (we don’t have surnames in Indonesia, so we use it as the first name or one of the first names). it means “son” in Javanese, so of course it’s a very common name.

so i mean, seriously???? how many other countries in this world actually uses Putro as a name? and the thing is, Finnish words and Indonesian (or Javanese) words are pronounced the exact same way, so that makes it even more eerie.

i wonder if there is any world history/culture expert out there who would care to give me some insight?? i would really like to know how this happened (most especially about no. 3)! :p

languages, and their importance

some months ago, i read some Indonesian news that for the new curriculum year 2013-2014, English will no longer be a mandatory subject in elementary schools in Indonesia. actually, i read the headline on one of my friends’ FB page, accompanied with all sorts of cursing words and protests from fellow Indonesians.

curious, i went to read the news. and i know that by writing this, i would probably be hated by my friends/other Indonesians, but i have to say: i actually agree with the Indonesian Ministry of Education.

their reason for taking out English as a mandatory subject is so that students of elementary schools would first learn & perfect their Indonesians before learning foreign languages.

i’ve written here once, how much it GETS to me that fellow Indonesians these days can’t seem to speak or write good & correct Indonesian. and i meant every word, it worries me that one day, Bahasa Indonesia will cease to exist because nobody speaks it well enough to teach the next generation. i don’t know if it would actually help or not that they take English out of the curriculum, but at least the idea behind it is something that i also believe in.

one of  the first few things i learned after moving to Finland is how much Finns value their own language. i’m not saying  that the people here speak correct Finnish all the time, but how they appreciate their own language is different than in my own home country. movies here would have Finnish titles instead of the original English ones (not all, but most of them). translated books would actually cost more than the original English books, which means the translators here are appreciated, much more than the translators in my home country are appreciated. translated books in Indonesia cost much cheaper than the original English books, so you can pretty much calculate how much a translator make for every book; that’s just how much they are worth. although i guess, in a way, it’s good, because that means more people there would have the money to buy the Indonesian version of books, which means at least SOME people can still learn how to use good & correct Indonesian. but how many people are willing to work as a translator with a low payment? and these people who actually do it, how good are they? i’ve heard one too many stories from book editors in Indonesia, how the supposed “translators” actually have no idea what they’re doing, not understanding the very thing they are “translating”, and sometimes, it even seems like they use google translator to translate the book, and claim it to be their own work. how long will this keep going on? and if the editors aren’t even as good as these editors i know, how many “translated” books out there have taught Indonesians wrong?

another thing i learned in Finland is that people at the daycare centers here would keep pointing out to the parents (especially those from different national backgrounds) that mother language is the most important one for the child, no matter where you live. so in my case, my future child’s priority would be Indonesian, even though we’re living in Finland. kids will learn the country’s language from the schools here, and English comes even later.

when i went to elementary school, i didn’t learn English until i was at the 3rd grade. before that, i had no idea how to pronounce “bye bye”, let alone what it meant. after English was introduced to me, i began buying English children’s books, and listening carefully to any English TV series or movies that i watched, to know how the words are pronounced. i learned how to sing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” with the right pronunciation without even knowing what the words really meant. as i grew older, i also bought some English magazines, and though i never went to any English language course nor go to school abroad, i think my English isn’t so bad.

i guess what i’m trying to say is, even if English is out of the curriculum of the elementary schools in Indonesia, it’s not going to be a problem for the kids in Indonesia to learn English. first of all, movies & tv shows in Indonesia are always shown in their original languages, which are mostly English. there are still thousands of English magazines and children books available in Indonesia for those who want to teach English to their kids. and for those who have extra money, there are still numerous English language courses available outside the school. really, the most important thing is in fact to let the kids learn their own mother language first before introducing them to other languages.

the next topic, inevitably, would be my explaining why i am writing all this in English instead. who am i to say the importance of Indonesian language to Indonesians if i don’t even use it myself? well, that’s right, i don’t use it to write on my online blog. i do use it, however, to talk to my family & Indonesian friends, and also to write stories, which i’m still hoping one day to be published. at one point i also wrote in my blog in Indonesian, but i decided some years ago that i will write blog posts only in English. the thing is, i want a broader audience than Indonesians for my blog, and so English was chosen. as simple as that. and why is it that i never write “I”s and the first letters of a sentence in capitals? because i’m too lazy to hit the Shift button. 😀 (i don’t do that when i write a short/long story though.)

i think i know my Indonesian well enough that i feel that it’s okay for me to write & speak in English. i didn’t study communication for nothing, after all. and though i can’t speak/write perfect English, i know well enough to say “i’m bored” instead of “i’m boring” like what most Indonesians say when they feel bored (i kid you not). or write “deadline”when i mean to say the point in time when something needs to be completed, instead of “dateline”. and “of course” for something that’s exactly so, instead of “off course”. i could go on forever. it bothers me so much that these people don’t write these words in Indonesian, and instead they use incorrect English words. not only for personal use (i couldn’t care less if it was only in someone’s blog), but journalists and editors very often write these incorrect English words in magazines and newspapers that are printed & published around Indonesia, when their intermediate language is supposed to be Indonesian.

so way to go, Indonesian Ministry of Education. please, PLEASE, teach Indonesians how important it is to master our own language before even learning foreign languages. i hope to one day see a good Indonesian magazine or newspaper that is free from English words (or any other language), using only correct Indonesian language, with the correct spelling and all that.

the next topic, which is also the last, has a bit to do with yet another article i read some time ago. it’s written by an Indonesian mother who lives outside of Indonesia, and upon meeting another Indonesian mother at a random park one day, she got so excited and started talking to this other mother in Indonesian. after a while though, the other mother deflated the first mother’s excitement when she confessed that she has forgotten Indonesian language, since she’s been using the intermediate language used in the country where she lives. i can’t seem to find the article now, unfortunately, but i remember the important points.

yes, it’s unfortunate that you might one day forget some words in your mother language. it happens to me sometimes, i can’t seem to find the perfect word in my own language, even if it’s already at the tip of my tongue. but from what i read in that article, it was almost as if forgetting some words in your mother language means that you don’t love it. and i again beg to differ.

moving to a different country permanently means you would have to integrate with your new living place. getting accustomed with the different customs, and of course, learning the language. i love my mother language, and will continue using it whenever i can, but i can’t lie and say that i remember my Indonesian perfectly well when i very rarely use it. i won’t ever completely forget my mother language, of that much i know, and i won’t even forget how to correctly use the language, but i guess my brain isn’t as good as when i was younger, for i seem to forget some words. so you have the privilege to speak with your kids everyday in your own mother language even when you’re living abroad, good for you. who do i have? i don’t have a child of my own (yet), nor do i meet any Indonesian friend here regularly. i’m exposed to Finnish speaking community almost 24/7, so is it really a sin if i sometimes forget a few words in my own mother language?

loving your mother language is good, i encourage that. but integrating with your new living place is also just as important in my humble opinion. after all, you live there, in your new living place, so isn’t it understandable that you also pay respect to the people in your new living place by learning their language? loving your mother language is good, but closing your mind from other languages, especially the language used in your living place, is in my opinion a bit rude. again, you don’t have to master this other language, but enough to be able to interact with other people outside of your own cultural background.

learn your mother languages well, but don’t close your mind completely from foreign languages. when you’ve mastered your own mother language, you will never forget it, and then it’s time for you to reach beyond and learn those other languages. all in time. 🙂