Pseudonym vs. Real Name

In the beginning, it was taken for granted that a girl in Saudi cyberspace should never write under her real name. First names can derivate from Samar to Susu, Reem into Mimi, Baraa into Batta. But to actually see an Aysha Al-Kusayyer, Muna Siraj or an Hadeel Al-Hudaeif? Only recently. And only amongst very supportive families.

Why the pseudonym?

Security is the obvious reason. Where I grew up, Saudi Arabia was such a small, small place. As many Ghamdis, Otaibis & Sharbatlys as you can find, everybody's related to everybody else by marriage or education or work. And it was relatively easy to pin them out: The old money and the abroad-graduates grouped together in Northern Jeddah. The drug dealers and shady businessmen around the southern part of Jeddah. And the rest of us in between.

The groups dynamics shrunk even further if you're a second and so-forth generation immigrant, with a surname such as Felemban, Khan or Seeni. I don't know about you, but just like in Jhumpa Lahiri's poetic depiction of Bengali immigrants in the US, the Asians in Jeddah cluster together, rarely opening up to the natives.

It wouldn't be so much a big deal if giving away your identity didn't get you in trouble. We still hear about fathers and brothers practicing (and legally protected for) honor killings in these parts of the world. The point is, it's not always out of vanity that pseudonyms are maintained and may take a while of testing the waters until you dare leave the comforts of anonymity.

Why not use the pseudonym anymore?
  1. Because I haven't been living in Saudi. The inherent cyber-paranoia has slowly been replaced with a sense of "fuck if I care what the Citizenship has to say about my work".

  2. Value for my work. I tend to think that credibility is increased with real names. Not that content is defined by that. Just credibility. It is credible that the writer of this blog is a pompous self-proclaimed curmudgeon, wherever she may be seen in the cyberspace.

  3. The tendency to self-destruct, which also has been the reason that I'm protecting my relatives from being affiliated to me has also been sublimated into other directions. I'm into demon sightseeing these days.

  4. Besides, most people already know that Alia, Adil and Anggi Makki are related, and all three are equally passionate about their unrelated fields of work. So if anyone of us starts screwing up, we don't directly harm each other's professional reputation. If anybody cares, really.

  5. And most folks don't care, really, about who you are or to whom you're related. Most people care more about what you can do for them. How you can inspire and entertain them. It's just the way the world works, right?
What do you think? Leave your opinion on the survey below:


Insomniac Elders

Sometimes, when we get home late, we walk in on our elders stubbornly squinting & trying to stay awake over late night TV or silly knick-knack. That's what they say, that it's a cool show to watch.

We know better. They've been up so late because they've been waiting for us to get home.

We tuck them in bed, and coax them to rest their eyes. We might lay parallel to them or drag a chair beside the bed. Maybe we just dim the lights and leave the room after bidding them good night. We assure ourselves that we've been the good children for putting our elders in a place where they should be, in that hour of the night.

Have you noticed how difficult it is for them to fall asleep?

One day, out of curiosity and deliberation, a limb is added to break the parallelism and distance. Let's cross an arm over their chests, or touch a foot with theirs, or maybe even rest our fingers on their temples, in a soothing massage. Or a lighthearted caress.

Ever noticed how quickly they'd drift to sleep?


The Islamic Belief in Palmistry

"The thing with palm reading is that, it can distort your image of the future." ~ Dee Nord

It's not a simple response that built up in my head after reading Dee's comment. Divination, whether palmistry, tarot cards, cup reading, does not predict the future. It only draws conclusions from the present signs.

For example: The nail on my right thumb is shorter than the other. Looking at my thumbs, you might assume that I'm either a masseuse or a frantic BlackBerryist; because pressing with my right thumb a lot made it assymetrically nubby.

On the other hand (pun intended), take my mother's hands: The skin is soft and supple, indicating that she does care after her elaborate beauty routines. Yet, the lines are simple and deep. You won't find intricate webs in her palms, because they've been eroded by the vegetables and dishwash detergents she's been holding in the past 45 years or so.

If you've guessed that my mother had always been a housekeeper, and that her future worries are going to be around her children and home, you're already a Novice Palm Reader.

Compare both my mother's hands and mine with the hands of a lady with 12 servants (I'm stereotyping, sorry). Her nails are exquisitely manicured, the knuckles are soft, the lines are shallow and the shape of her hand is elongated with feminine smoothness. If all goes normal, I can't imagine a person with hands like those scrubbing the back of a toilet seat anytime in the near future, can you?

Take the hands of a carpenter, a clerk, a writer, or a surgeon. Our personal histories are drawn in and by our hands. The callouses on our feet. The stoop of our backs. We are what we do, think and want, and our bodies give us away.

Palmistry is easy because our hands are the immediate agents of our intentions and thoughts. They reflect our secrets and dreams, our past and what will become of the present. The more prominent the lines in our hands, is the more likely you shall actualize in that direction.

Now you know why Leonardo DiCaprio was so fascinated with the prostitute's hands on the Titanic, right?

The Lord said that there shall be a day when our tongues, hands, and feet will testify to what we had done (HQ 24:24), bearing witness to our days and deeds and dimes. I say, we don't need to wait so long.

They already do.


Cultural Cliché

Westerners, who are called employees in their own countries, are called expatriates in Indonesia.

Arabs, who are masters in their own countries, remain masters in Indonesia.

Indonesian who are employees in Indonesia -- elsewhere, are called slaves.
Here's another funny thought.

Two American journalists got in trouble in North Korea. Who do you think will express concern? Their families, their Secretary of State, their President and the rest of the world knows about this because there's a nuclear bomb doing a headstand with no hands somewhere in the background.

The journalists in question don't even need to LOOK American.

On the other hand, 2.7 million documented Indonesian migrant workers working overseas, while the number of undocumented workers could be four times that (source), the story about one of them getting burned or boiled alive is so common that it is tired.

Nobody gives much a damn anyways.

Oh yes, following the mainstream media will definitely get you stuck with stereotypes.


"Pay What You Want": It works, but..

Daifuku said...
"I think it would work anywhere. Most people would pay responsibly, and some perhaps would make up for others who don't."
Repeating my reply to Daifuku, and despite our inherent cynicism, I too want to believe that "Pay What You Want" as a business policy can be applied globally.

The examples from the food, consultancy, and cartomancy industries highlight the conditions in which "Pay What You Want" have worked:
  1. That it's a non-profit (non-fucking-corporate) establishment, serving those who are truly in need.
  2. That customers are aware of "Pay What You Want" as soon as they walk-in to such establishments.
  3. That the establishment maintains its commitment and transparency.
So why aren't a lot of people doing it? Why do most businesses focus on profit more than service? Wouldn't we have come back for more of that cake if the batter was really good? Why do Seth Godin's books cost Rp250.000 if that same content he's preaching have been passed on through generations, for free?

I think I've babbled enough about this subject that it's time for me to handover the thinking processes to you. I leave you with these thoughts.

Be well.


"Pay What You Want" for a Glimpse of Divination

Image: Garry Gay

Let's get a couple of things cleared up: I'm mentioning this as example to "Pay What You Want" because – well – tarot card reading is just as ludicrous as a commodity can get. Among my skeptic buddies, anybody admitting a stint of belief in the art of divination is basically predicting his own dark future filled with ridicule and accusations of an unsound mind.

I get that.

Now stop point-and-giggle at me for three reasons:
  1. I don't have divination talents, or absolute belief in them. I just know how attract attention by fancily spreading and dealing cards.
  2. It's not my money vouched in return for psychic smoke.
  3. Psychic readings do not come in cheap.
Compared to struggling artists and bloggers, Psychics are basically making a better living, considering a package of "Divination 101" textbook and a proper deck of Tarot cards barely reaches $100. That, and a knack for theatrical storytelling.

A private 30 minute psychic reading would come at the impressive rate of $75 to $85 - and you should check this article on 12 things to watch out for when getting a psychic reading before reaching for your wallet. If you ever.

The is the third of a four-part essay on "pay what you want" business practice.
  1. Pay What You Want for Food
  2. Pay What You Want for Valuable Advice
  3. Pay What You Want for a Glimpse of Divination.
  4. Pay What You Want: Where, How and With Whom It Works, and Doesn't

The Tarot Card Reading Experiment
  • Thesis:
Would people pay for tarot card readings? If yes, how much?
  • Cast & Crew:
Me, as the card reading babushka, and two friends who will deny any association with me and my cards if I ever mention their names.
  • Setting:
What's the easiest setting to make believers flock and pay for psychic readings? A Bazaar, of course! The Bazaar was held at the higher-end of Bintaro, Western Java. I had a stand banner that read:
[Haha. Sure, you can laugh.]
  • Procedure:
A client comes, asks a question, shuffles and deals the tarot cards, then I - Mama Alia - will spread it on the table for reading and interpretation. Usually starting sentences with, "Hmm..interesting..."

When people got their readings and asked how much the service was for, we just gave them a tin cigarette pack and asked them to "hide the tin box from our sights and pay us with what they wanted".
  • Results:
We had 22 clients that day. Which by the end of it had the three of us sitting around a pile of money not knowing how to divide it amongst us. We had banknotes in 10Ks, 20Ks and 50Ks, making up to an amount that was far more than we had expected.

And it wasn't even payment for a hearty meal or a sound advice. That money was basically an answer to the question "Am I doing alright?", reflected on a bunch of beat cards. Or, looking at it from another point of view, the money was payment for few minutes of undivided attention on a client's narcissistic needs.

The way people responded to our "Pay What You Want" method made us realize: That when people paid what they wanted, they actually paid more than what we had expected.

Which was – in this case – just as weird as it was awesome.

PS: In case you're wondering, I don't read cards anymore – been too worried about pageranks and traffic [Haha. Yeah, that's enough now]. Besides, that bazaar experiment was enough to snuff every empathetical intuition out of me.


"Pay What You Want" for Advice

To illustrate the importance of advice:
  • Business consultancy hourly rates cost between $60 to $120.
  • Psychotherapy hourly rates come between $125 to $160.
  • Group therapy sessions in Seattle, WA, cost between $40 to $100 for each participating individual.
All in all, with the risk that it may or may not work, consultancy and psychotherapy and any form of advice coming from a genuine expert takes place between a couple of sessions to a few years of routinely visits. And just like the food industry, advice can be a lucrative commodity, and cost a fortune to acquire.

The Timekeeper

On any given day, there would be 50-100 visitors meeting the Timekeeper. Mark that: Any. Given. Day. And all he does is just pray over your waters and sometimes holler at you if you're being unreasonable. .

Whatever it is that the Timekeeper does, the public is grateful and expresses that gratefulness generously, if not anonymously: Through an out of view drop-in box .

For how much?

Nobody knows how much the public has been put in that box. Nobody asks.

But whatever the money that box have been collecting, it was enough to construct a Rp8 Billion (U$D1.5 million) mosque, not counting donations in the form of construction materials, such as marble, stained glass, paint and cleared land.

For a guy who is based in rural Java and rarely ever picks up the phone, that's NOT BAD for a non-profit business revenue.

Next: "Pay What You Want" for a Tarot Reading.


"Pay What You Want" for Food

Are people generally generous or greedy? If you could get away with it and there were no prices on the menu, would you pay for your food at all?

First of a four-part essay on "pay what you want" business practice.
  1. Pay What You Want for Food
  2. Pay What You Want for Sound Advice
  3. Pay What You Want for Intuitive Readings
  4. Pay What You Want: Where, How and With Whom It Works, and Doesn't.

Imagine walking into a restaurant for the first time and have the owner say this to you:
"Hello, we're a non-profit restaurant. We operate on a pay-what-you-want model. So we have no set prices. We let our customers pick what they want to eat and then pay afterward, however much they wish. If you can't pay anything, then we ask you to volunteer an hour helping in the cafe." [Source: Here and here]

On So All May Eat (SAME) menu, you'll find food items, but no price attached to it. The philosophy is very simple: if people eat right, they can work and study better. If people work and make better grades, they can make their living and get off the street.

Or, even if they haven't figured out that much, they can still maintain their dignity and eat by helping around the place; so it’s not exactly giveaway, rather than a community helping itself.

Crazy, right? In order for a project like this to be sustainable, it needs plenty of generous patrons to keep up with the people who come and eat without paying. So, would it work on the long term? Haven't we seen enough examples of people taking advantage of each other?

A person can barely make his own keep and meals, let alone help feed others based on faith in goodness, right?

Fact is, SAME has been running since 2006. If the community project was so crazy, it would have collapsed from the first year. If people really were selfish and ungrateful, SAME wouldn't have been able to feed 55 patrons every day, 15 thousand a year.

All based on the faith that people would be decent and generous enough to volunteer making pizzas and anonymously put money in the donation box.

Obviously, they have.

Next article: Pay What You Want for Sound Advice

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