Sun, 18 Jun 2000

Sometimes crying can be a real crying shame

JAKARTA (JP): My colleague was doing her best to avoid my gaze, but the telltale blotches around her eyes gave away the fact that her waterworks had been flowing.

In her case, it was an e-mail from a friend who is set to depart this troubled land for better opportunities on safer shores.

For me, macho man that I am, I get all choked up at the littlest of things.

It can be a sentimental movie, or the CNN Olympic promo showing an athlete crawling along the track after his hamstring snapped, which any physiotherapist would have told him was not the brightest thing to do if he wanted to continue his career.

More recently it was the cry for help from a mother to a Thursday morning Islamic call-in television show, desperately seeking help for her drug-addicted son.

I come clean in admitting I am a soppy sentimentalist at heart. I know others are made of sterner stuff when it comes to judging what is worth shedding a few tears for.

With no small measure of embarrassment, I admit that even Patroli, the addictive TV show relating all the bad things going on around us, can set me off searching for the Kleenex.

The biggest irony of all was that last month it was the reports on thieves who were set upon by mobs and beaten to a pulp. They survived -- barely -- but their faces were black-and- blue from the pounding, their lips swelled to grotesque proportions, like a warning poster for the dangers of repeated collagen use.

"Serves them right," my friend sitting next to me said as he kept on tucking into his lunch. "They're thieves, after all, and they're just lucky the people didn't finish them off."

We are from two different worlds, not only culturally but in how our life experiences have shaped our way at looking at what goes on around us.

Of course, I am coming from the lofty-ideals-head-in-the- clouds school where everything should proceed according to a grand plan of justice and decency, where everyone should get an equal chance to have their say in court.

Not so for my friend, who knows the reality of justice Indonesian-style.

He knows what it is like to go hungry, to work from the age of 18 and to deal with the cheating and double standards which are part and parcel of life in this country for people with little of the green stuff in their pockets.

He knows what it is like to watch the canteen staff at his office get rich quick as they serve up rice which flies off the fork and vegetables so old they are ready to turn. He knows what it is like to have the institution's medical assistant threaten to stub a needle against the wall unless there is a little payment in advance (the injections are supposed to be free).

He is living in the real world of life in Indonesia, and to him, with little confidence in change anytime soon despite the spouting of politicians and self-appointed analysts, it is a constant struggle to survive.

Last Saturday, we learned of the case of five alleged robbers beaten and burned alive near the Kampung Rambutan Bus Terminal. I was disgusted by the images of people clapping and cheering as the charred bodies were hauled away.

I could guess what he was thinking: "What do you expect people to do when criminals rule the street, the authorities wash their hands of the problems or it turns out that they, the vast number of oknum (bad apples), are themselves responsible for the woes besetting the country." He should know -- he is himself a member of the military.

But I have learned not to say too much when he harrumphs at the gory crime reports on TV. I know it is a test of our friendship, and that I must try to understand where he is coming from, just as he has to do with my view that when honest law enforcers are the norm, not the exception, there would be no place for street justice in a civilized society.

There is still the problem of what to do with my overflow of sympathy. I have decided it would be better to save it for the earthquake victims in Bengkulu, who seem to have been neglected in their hour of need. They need it more.

-- Bruce Emond