Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The History in the Night Sky

This is a speech I made for our speaking class at STBA LIA Yogyakarta. It is an example of an informative speech. We were free to choose whatever topic we liked. I chose to talk about one of my favorite subjects: the universe.

I hope it can be a satisfactory example for those who need to make a semi-formal informative speech in English.

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The History in the Night Sky

Imagine a typical date held outdoors at night. The boyfriend says, “Look at the sky”. The girlfriend looks at the black canvas decorated with millions of blinking lights. “It is beautiful,” she says. Romantic, right?

How many of you have ever been in this situation? If not, I believe all of you have seen what the sky looks like on a clear night, when the stars are scattered everywhere. However, as you were admiring their beauty, did you ever think about what the stars really are? Did the science behind their existence strike you at all?

In this opportunity, I would like to tell you about the amazing scientific and philosophical fact behind the beauty of the stars. Don’t get bored yet! Stay with me. I promise you it will be interesting (I hope).

I will deliver three major points: 1) What stars are, 2) Where they are in the universe 3) The light-year concept.

Firstly, what is a star? A human being on earth gazing at the night sky would see a tiny, blinking dot in the night sky. However, in the universe, that pretty speck is actually a gigantic ball of gas floating far, far away in our infinitely large universe. The closest star to earth is actually our sun. It is the center of our solar system. It is the miracle that gives the earth life.

Secondly, where are they in our universe? To get a brief glimpse of how far stars are, lets us start with our sun. Most of the time, we don’t think of our sun as a star because, to our eyes, it is this giant ball that we can see on the horizon at dawn or sunset. The other stars are tiny blinking lights. This is because, compared to other stars, our sun is very, very, very close to earth. The sun is 150,000,000km away from our earth. Meanwhile, the closest star to our solar system is Alpha Centauri, which is about 4 light-years away.

Thirdly, what is a light-year? Very literally, it is the distance light travels in a year. To grasp just how extraordinarily vast this is, let’s remind ourselves how fast light travels. The speed of light in a vacuum (c) is 299,792,458m/s. It is approximately 300,000km/s. Now, sunlight takes about 8 minutes and 17 seconds to travel the average distance from the surface of the earth. This value is achieved by dividing 150,000,000km by approximately 300,000km. The result is the value in seconds, so about 500 seconds. Since there are 60 seconds in a minute, divide 500 by 60. This is about 8 minutes and more. So, when you wake up at dawn and you see the first rays of sunlight, realize that the sun sent those rays to you 8 minutes ago and it had to wait 8 minutes for you to wake up and feel it.

So, can you get any idea how far is a light-year? There are 60 seconds in a minute, 3600 seconds in an hour, 86,400 seconds in a 24-hour day, and 31,536,000 seconds in 365 days or a year. Now, multiply that by the distance at which light travels in a second (300,000km/s). You get 9,460,800,000,000km. That is the distance light travels in a year. You can go round and round the earth at current humanely possible speeds for a hundred years and you will barely cover that distance.

Now, most stars are light-years away – light “years”. There is an “s” there which means more than one year. The closest star to us, Alpha Centauri, is about 4 light-years away. So, it is 9,460,800,000,000km times 4. The result? Very, very, very far away. Airplanes today travel at thousands of km per hour. Rockets cover probably tens to hundreds of thousands km per hour. It is like the speed of a very slow snail compared to the speed of light. But even if man managed to build a vehicle that could travel at the speed of light, it would take a human being 4 years just to reach Alpha Centauri.

Here on earth, Alpha Centari is a really bright star. However, that star sent you light four years ago for you to be able to see it tonight. It is like receiving a letter from your beautiful girlfriend or boyfriend who lives so far away that it takes 4 years for the mailman to give it to you. So the letter you get today was made 4 years ago. Talk about a long-distance relationship.

Again, most stars are light-years away. Some are even millions of light-years away. The average human lives for 60-80 years on earth. If a star is 1,000,000 light-years away, light had to travel 1,000,000 years to reach you. The view of the star you get today is the view of the star 1,000,000 years ago.

I’ll give you a moment for this to really sink in.

By looking at the night sky, we can see the past. We see what the sky was years ago. We travel back in time without moving. Meanwhile, the condition of the stars right now is something we cannot see yet. Actually, it is already happening, and we do not know it is. We can’t see it happening now, but we may see it in the future. The future is already happening somewhere in the universe.

More interestingly, a star can be born and another star can die. What if a star somewhere in the heavens just died? However, because it is 100 light-years away, we can’t see it die. In the view from earth, it hasn’t disappeared from the sky yet. As humans on earth, we can still admire its light which was sent 100 years ago. We can still see it twinkling in the sky until the day we die, and we will never see it fade away and disappear.

I want to quote my source, Fajri Matahati M., who used to study Physics at UGM: “What if life is not a four-dimensional stream, flowing from start to end? What if everything is one eternal timeless movement, where all time and space overlaps? Is the future already happening now? Is the past still happening?”

He calls the dead stars “real ghosts” because the start seen at night might have died already. “So what you see is a mere imprint. Imagine that”.

What we see in the night sky is actually history. We see stories of the stars from the past. We travel through time with one look, and we might have never realized it.

We may never grasp how extraordinary, how infinite, and how mysterious the universe is. However, we can prove that God is indeed the Divine for creating it. Think of how much love was put into it. The sun got up 8 minutes earlier than you so it could say hello to you each morning. Millions of stars were made and they had to be born so many years ago so they could wink merrily at you tonight, and some of them keep on twinkling, even years after they pass away. They wait patiently to reach you and they are there for you even when they are gone. To me, that is romantic. That’s true love.

I hope these facts can benefit you in some way. At least, you will look at the sky differently, and maybe send Him a compliment or two.

As an end to this speech I would like to quote my favorite scientist, Albert Einstein:

“Watch the stars, and from them learn. To the Master’s honor all must turn, each in its track, without a sound, forever tracing Newton’s ground.”

Thank you for your attention.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ramblings #1: Suffocating

- Friday night at a café


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It’s hard to breathe and keep calm. Mainstream faces and voices crowd the area. Smoke, shrill laughter, painted faces everywhere.

Trivial talks. Meaningless conversations. Fake expressions. Selfies vainly taken.

Under-appreciated entertainment playing in the background.

Unfinished food. Money carelessly spent.


Such worldly pleasures are too easy to come across.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Reflection of the Article: Half of World’s Languages in Danger of Extinction

Michael Krauss, from the University of Atlanta, argues for the preservation of the native tongues that exist around the world as mankind’s linguistic diversity. Currently, they are under the mercy of technology which, on the other hand, drives the need for languages that many understand. Common languages such as English, Arabic, and Spanish do enable people to communicate easily – at the cost of the small languages. Krauss says that most of the world’s languages are no longer being learned by children. He also says that they are “beyond endangerment” and becoming “the living dead”. Even the United States, most significantly in California as the world’s third most linguistically diverse region, is losing languages fast. However, many of the small languages that are on the verge of dying out are in the tropical parts of the world, especially Africa and Indonesia.

As a person who lives in Indonesia, which has thousands of small languages scattered across the archipelago, I must worry about this “language extinction”. We Indonesians consider our languages as part of our rich and diverse culture. It is a heritage that we must protect. It is my relief to witness languages such as Javanese and Balinese still spoken in their respectful areas. The language of my hometown, Sasakese, is still frequently used by my people. Some schools still include the study of the language in their curriculum. There is our own common Sasakese for regular interaction, and there is the more restricted and polite form that we are supposed to use with elders.

I honestly do not know whether all the old languages in Indonesia still exist. However, after reading this article, I am quite certain that probably half of them have disappeared. The least we can do is protect the existence of our own unique language and hope that it does not enter the void of nothingness, like many others have, taunting us about the multiplicity of linguistic intelligence that once was.

*A one-page summary plus personal review I made for an article we read for the Reading IV class at STBA LIA Yogyakarta.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Loving Language

For a long time, I’ve wanted to dedicate a post to the English language – something I am currently studying at a college in Yogyakarta. However, as usual, laziness and distraction conquered all and this task was put on the forsaken, monstrous pile of pending tasks. Fortunately, after a long holiday, utter boredom and an urge to make myself somewhat useful (and reanimated) have pushed me enough to bash-up my alibies and do this. I don’t know if I will do this post justice since I haven’t written something original in what seems like a century, but I have to jot down the words that have been swarming in my head or I’ll have to succumb to agitation.

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*My desktop. Do not attempt to conclude the purpose of each note, or decipher the method of organization used. LOL

Okay, so talking about actually studying language formally with its branches of literature and linguistics. Why would anyone want to study it? Don’t we already know it from practice? Is it even useful in a practical way? I will try to answer these questions one-by-one.

When I was young, I was given the privilege to study abroad, in a public school in Australia called Gwynneville Public School (refer to the post My School Homework). The years I spent going to that school were some of the best years in my life. I just loved the learning process within the education system that I was lucky enough to witness and experience. To explain it all would take maybe over 100 pages, so I will recount the thing that is most relevant to this post.

I remember that almost every day, from year 4 until 6, my classmates and I were encouraged to read and write as much as we could. There were these “book-review” sessions where every one of us was required to present the book we had finished reading in front of the class and answer everyone’s questions about it. If we did a good job, we would get a merit certificate or at least a sticker on our work books. At other times, we were told to write stories. More often than not, the theme wasn’t specified by the teacher. We were free to write about anything we wanted. Thus, I was introduced to the written world of fantasy, mystery, and adventure.

My teachers were very kind to me. I would like to mention a certain Mr. Dwyer, who was so appreciative of my ideas, however outrageous they were. Once, he read my work out loud in class, acknowledging my different way of beginning a story. As a 10-year-old kid, I felt so overwhelmingly proud of myself. I still remember that moment very clearly.

My classmates and I were also introduced to a very methodical process of writing and publishing our stories. Firstly, we were told to write our stories in our draft books. After we had finished writing them, we had to bring them up to our teacher to be checked and marked. We had to stand by the table patiently while our teacher checked our draft for any spelling and grammar mistakes. This activity reminds me of a teacher named Mrs. Hunt. I loved her for many things. She was strict but caring. She always wore these neat suits, which she had in many colors and varying styles. Her blond hair was cut short and not a hair was ever out of place. Her nails were always beautifully manicured, and her nail polish was a different color every week. I would get pleasantly distracted by her pretty nails every time she checked my work. Fortunately, I took care to check it before I submitted it to her so there were few mistakes. When she did find mistakes, however, she was very kind about them, and she corrected them in a way I would understand. I would realize my mistakes, understand why they happened, and know how to correct them. I think this is something crucial in any child’s learning process, including in their fundamental understanding of language.

After being checked, our work was ready for publishing. This meant we had to re-write our stories neatly on a piece of paper and decorate it with illustrations. Our teachers encouraged creativity and gave credit for extra effort. Since I also loved art, this was something I thoroughly enjoyed. Even so, I would take more time to finish publishing my work compared to my classmates because I liked to make long stories. Frequently, my writings were so long that my teacher would realize that it would take a long time for me to rewrite it. This happened a lot in Mr. Dwyer’s creative writing class when I was in the 5th grade. Very kindly, he would let me type my work using one of the computers in the classroom. Sometimes he would actually type it for me because we had to start working on another story.

At the end of the year, Mr. Dwyer gave me full acknowledgement for my hard work in his class by giving me a special certificate of achievement, presented during our final assembly in front of all the students, teachers, and parents who came to the event. I cannot express how happy I was to receive the award on stage. Maybe it meant more because I was a foreigner in that country and I felt like I needed to be acknowledged. Maybe I wanted to prove my worth to all the bullies who had given me a hard time for being who I was. Maybe it was because my parents were there and I wanted to make them proud of me. Whatever the reason really was, as I stood on the stage with the other students who had received awards, I allowed myself to indulge in the short moment of applause and admiration. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be an educator, like Mrs. Hunt and Mr. Dwyer. I wanted to study the English language (since that is the language of my childhood) and write stories for the rest of my life.


*My graduation certificate, as you can see. They used the shorter version of my name. That’s another story.

During my high school years, most of which I spent in Indonesia, I couldn’t really cultivate my English skills. I was too busy with catching up with challenging and demanding subjects like science and math so I could graduate with satisfying results. Don’t get me wrong. I love math and science. Unfortunately, they are the kind of subjects that don’t leave time for anything else – well, at least that’s how it was for me. Luckily, there was a teacher who gave interest in my passion for writing in English. He was my English teacher, Mr. Arsyad who I call “Pak Guru” until now. He gave me a lot of books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Nancy Drew series. I have always loved the old classics since I first read Little Women when I was in the 5th grade, so his gifts made me very happy. He also taught me a lot about how to be a good teacher and, indirectly, a good person. He was, of course, exceptional in English and he developed many creative ways in teaching it. He was (and, I believe, still is) a religious man and he reflected that consistently in every aspect of his life. He could always slip an ayat or two in every wise thing that he said to us in class after he told us an interesting story. He had a great sense of humor, so his passion for Islam was not disconcerting for me, at least, as a student who knew so little about religion at that time. He was a role model for me, and he greatly influenced my concept of an ideal teacher.

I took a rather complicated turn when I went to college. As my own small effort to regard to my family’s financial condition, I chose to go to STAN which is quite a prestigious state college which promises a full scholarship for tuition and guarantees a stable job in the Ministry of Finance. Quite a long way from studying literature, no? I, in search of a better word, coped with the subjects I had to learn. Consequently, they went by without much of an impression. I just wasn’t very interested in them. Extracurricular activities saved me from absolute boredom. I joined the English Club and learnt how to debate. I became fascinated with it, regarding it as an art of both logic and spoken language. I also joined a literature club called AKSARA. Even though we mainly discussed literature that existed in the Indonesian language, I learnt a lot about literature itself from the other members. From both clubs, I made friends with a lot of incredible people with outstanding minds and vibrant personalities. They became my teachers of literature, in a way. As I observed them, I found my inspiration in them. Therefore, I was never short of ideas for my writings. However, in my last semester at that college, an unfortunate event occurred. Someone broke into my place and stole many items. Among them was my laptop. I was stupid enough not to have made any back-ups, so gone forever was the diary I had kept from childhood. Gone were the poems, the short stories, and the in-progress novels. After that, I gave up on writing for quite a while as I mourned for my loss. It was like a piece of my soul had been stolen and there was nothing I could do to get it back.


*The only photo I have of my first laptop – the laptop that was stolen.

I retired from writing anything original for a long time. My job was my main focus and, honestly, making money was frankly the main motive. There is not much to write about it since I have discussed it in previous posts (refer to the post Why I Chose English Literature: Clarification and Confession). I coped with it for a year before quitting. I decided that it was now or never. I had to pursue something I believed in, something I had passion for.

So here I am, writing to you at home, while I am on holiday after my fourth semester at my beloved campus, STBA LIA Yogyakarta. I can’t help loving my major more and more every semester as I am introduced to new subjects. In my first semester, I was privileged to experience “Introduction to Linguistics”, taught by a lecturer named Ms. Emmie. She taught us about the many subfields of linguistics, including phonetics (the study of speech sounds), phonology (the study of the sound system in a language), syntax (the study of how sentences are constructed from smaller units called constituents), and semantics (the study of the meaning of words). I could go on and on about what she taught us, especially after following her phonology and syntax class this last semester. Basically, even though the tests were reasonably difficult (I am bad at memorizing things), she made me uncover many dimensions of language from her classes. I learnt that language is both physical and abstract. Most of us speak the way we do and don’t know why because it is both intuitive and unconscious. We can learn how we acquire that knowledge through the study of psycholinguistics and understand the socio-cultural properties of a language by studying anthropological linguistics and sociolinguistics. Our language is both arbitrary and systematic, and was born through social convention which occurred long, long ago, at the time of our ancient ancestors… How is all that not fascinating? I officially became a linguistics geek.

In my last semester, another lecturer called Ms. Tetty introduced us to the product of language created by the brilliance of mankind: literature. She asked us a fundamental question: why study literature? Our answers would go as far as “because we want to teach English”, “because we just like English”, or “because we want to know more about literature”. She answered this question by discussing the basic characteristics of literature, on how it encompasses works with artistic value. Literature gives us a glimpse into the writers mind and, through history, tells us about what we humans are like. It gives us an understanding about human interactions and how existing social conventions affect them. Thus, the purpose of literature is not just for the obvious entertainment, but also for knowledge. This includes knowledge of the art of literature itself, but also from the meaningful content of literature, including certain moral values that exist in life. So, although people might question the practical side of learning about literature, they might not realize that literature will affect the way we think. That, of course, affects the way we act. So, in the name of science and technology, humans may invent all kinds of tools for the benefit of mankind. However, if humans don’t comprehend themselves, these inventions will just become objects with little meaning and worse, if they are misused.

After attending her enlightening lectures, Ms. Tetty gave me a new perspective about literature I might not have discovered on my own. Furthermore, she was supportive about my growing interest, and lent me another classic to store in my mental library entitled The Scarlet Letter. How could I not be more encouraged to learn?

I am inspired and motivated by practically all of my lecturers at my current campus. Ms. Ontje gives me direct motivation because of her motherly care and fiery spirit in supporting our student organizations. Mr. Agus, our campus director, inspires me with his passion for teaching English and making English “an epidemic” at campus. Mr. Widi awes me with his unique teaching methods, high sense of humor, and philosophical beliefs. Ms. Hilaria, Ms. Ririn, and Ms. Rini dazzle me with their youthful spirit and cheerful nature which enables them to truly connect with their students. Ms. Nunuk, Miss Hesti, and Ms. Ismi touch me with their gentleness and thoughtfulness in teaching their subjects. Ms. Rena and Ms. Imelda fascinate me with their creativity and talents in addition to teaching.

My family, my friends at campus, and the clubs I am currently active are also so extraordinary in so many ways. I may have to dedicate a separate post to describe how meaningful they are and how they support me because there are just too many things to say (another addition to the pending tasks list).


*Me and among the few most awesome people ever (that’s also another pending story)


*Beloved members of English Club, STBA LIA Yogyakarta

I consider myself very lucky to be surrounded by so many awesome people. In one way or another, directly or indirectly, they support me in pursuing my passion which is English. Whenever I get bored, tired, or frustrated with a subject, at least one of them is around to encourage me – or give me kick to get back on track.

Have I not answered all the questions above? In doing so, have I not expressed how much I love the English language?

It is a wonderful to finally feel like I am in my zone; where I am really supposed to be. I embrace the prospect of learning something new about the English language every day. I can’t wait to make my thesis and present my findings. I am willing to explore the many possible occupations for an English enthusiast, whether it is teaching, interpreting, writing, or even, hopefully, researching. I mean to excel in this major, whatever the difficulties, and do the extraordinary.

Ms. Ontje once asked us in class: “Do you love English? Are you sure you really love English?”

At that time, I could only answer “maybe”.

Today, I can proudly say “I do”.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Between My Place and My Home

I’m writing this post in the living room of our house in Malaysia. That means a lot of things: the exams are over, the holidays are here, a stable internet connection is available, I have finished my chores (or I am running away from doing any more), and I am not too sleepy to go back to sleep after breakfast. I’m sorry that I have started this post with unimportant reports but I really want to write a post and keep this blog alive but I don’t know why I can’t write any good-sounding sentences (goods-sounding… what a pathetic attempt at providing an acceptable adjective phrase). Nevertheless, I am as sarcastic and cynical as ever,and that is enough to keep me going and look away from my current incompetency in producing words.

Anyway, below is another attempt to provide people with a reasonable reference for making articles. It is a “comparison and contrast” type of article. Again, I had to choose a topic from a given list and again I chose something that would free me from too much research (*wicked laugh*). Well, I sure hope it helps!

Between My Place and My Home

Every person growing up has to leave the nest at one point in their life. Their independence needs to be tested by letting them seek a temporary nest of their own and learn to manage it. That is what happened to me. In order to chase my dreams, I had to leave home a few years ago as I finally “came of age”. Currently, I am still studying at a university, going back and forth from school to work, and finally going back to my place in the evenings. My place, which is actually a house I am renting, is certainly different from my house back in my hometown, where my family is.

For one thing, food is not always available at my place. I might have a snack or two somewhere in my cupboard and a can of soft drink in the fridge, but that’s it. I have to buy a larger meal before I go home if I don’t want to go to sleep hungry. In contrast, at home, food is always available on the dinner table and in the fridge. Mom loves to cook. At the least, she always makes sure her family eats three meals a day and she does this by cooking morning until noon. My brothers and sisters and I wake up to the smell of a delicious breakfast being prepared. However, in my current domicile, my alarm clock is the only thing that greets me when I wake up. I rarely eat breakfast there because I don’t have time to prepare it. Therefore, I don’t stock up on ingredients for cooking. The best I can do is boil water for instant oatmeal.

Secondly, I try to keep my place clean, but it is not always so. I sweep the floor every day, do my laundry, and wash the dishes, but that is the most I can do on a daily basis. I clean the bathroom and mop the floor almost every week. However, when I am especially busy, bigger chores are neglected. Therefore, it isn’t always a comfortable place to be in. On the other hand, our house back at our hometown is always clean. My parents are very strict about cleanliness. The floors are swept and mopped almost every day. The bathroom is never dirty. Even the furniture is dusted and polished regularly. Everything is fresh and pleasant.

Lastly, my current residence lacks the warmth my home has. It is a facility which suits its purpose: a place to study and a place to rest after a long day (read: sleep). Other than that, it is just an empty structure on a tiny patch of earth. It is a very quiet place and often deserted since no other human is living there except for me and my brother – and we are rarely at home. In contrast, home is always bustling with everyone’s daily activities. Mom is cooking, Dad is tending the garden, my little brother is playing with his toys, my sister is putting on her make up, and I am usually watching TV (maybe that doesn’t count as busy). It is a busy environment and sometimes it is too noisy to study. However, it is warm and wonderful. I guess that is why it is called home.

In conclusion, living in a rented house is far from pleasant, if you compare it to home. Home is full of the pleasures many people take for granted. However, the purpose of going away from the nest is to leave the comfort zone. It may be a harsher environment, but it trains our wings to fly and finally reach the zone of independence.