15 February 2017 09:35

Boffins eat your hearts out: the world record holder for the number of university degrees is a cheery but truculent 70-year old Italian.

Luciano Baietti lives in the town of Velletri in the Alban Hills near Rome and spends his days pottering around his small house and garden.

But at every morning at 3am he pulls out his textbooks and starts studying.

He now holds 15 bachelors or masters degrees from universities across Italy, and is already embarking on his 16th.

"Thanks to books, I feel free, dammit," he tells AFP.

"After all, the words share the same root," he says, referring to the Italian words libro (book) and libero (free).

The certificates proving his prowess hang on the walls of his study, framing a portrait of the 19th century French essayist, Louis-Francois Bertin, whom he cites as an influence.

- Passion for a challenge -

"He was a man of culture and knowledge," said Baietti, a former headmaster of a secondary school, who made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 2002 with his eighth degree, that time in motor skills.

At that point he already had degrees in sociology, literature, law, political science and philosophy, most from Rome's prestigious La Sapienza University, one of the oldest in the world.

Since then he's added seven others to his list, including one in criminology, a distance-learning one in military strategies from Turin, and the latest in tourism from an online university in Naples, which he was awarded at the start of this month.

"Each time I set myself a new challenge, to see how far my body and my brain can go," says Baietti, who started life as a sports teacher.

His long-suffering wife, some 30 years his junior, describes Baietti affectionately as "a real character" who is known throughout their town.

He got most of the qualifications under his belt while also doing his day job and volunteering with Italy's Red Cross. 

This ageing eternal student's first degree was in physical education in 1972 -- and he fell instantly in love with the academic world.

"As well as the sporting events, there were modules in theory which I liked, and which gave me a taste for studying," he says.

- 'I surprised myself' -

The most challenging and unusual degree so far has been the military strategies one: "It was co-organised by the defence ministry and Turin University and dealt with sensitive subjects related to national security". 

"We had to attend the exams in uniform," he recalls, showing off the regimental garb hanging in his wardrobe.

His masters in criminology, which saw him interview prisoners, also had a lasting impact.

"Listening to them, I sometimes surprised myself; I'd be convinced by their arguments, and would wonder about what was right or wrong -- before realising that I had gone off course."

Baietti is back on course, and already preparing to start the next degree, this time in food science.

Once again, he'll be pouring over his books by the light of his desk lamp as outside the world sleeps on.

"At that time the brain is more open to assimilating knowledge, and it also allows me to keep a normal family life," he says with a grin.

© Agence France-Presse


Retno Wulandari  13 February 2017 12:10

For the last past month, people in petak Sembilan area in Glodok, West Jakarta, were busy for the Chinese New Year season. The actual New Year's Day was not the only occassion when people buzzed the area. There's also Cap Go Meh, also known as Yuan Xiao Jie, that marks the fifteenth day of the new year and also the end of the season's celebration.

In Jalan Kemenangan III in Petak Sembilan, where Dharma Bhakti (Jin De Yuan) Temple is located, hawkers set up their stalls to sell Chinese New Year necessities. One of them, right in front of the temple’s gate, was Ibu Yati who owns a flower shop.

Are these flowers for the Chinese New Year rituals?

Yes, they are. Flowers are amongst the most important parts of many Confucian’s celebrations, such as Chinese New Year and Cap Go Meh. They decorate their houses with various flowers during the holiday. The flowers make the houses smell good and they also help to get rid of the choking smell and smoke from the incenses. Fresh flowers are believed to bring the happiness and joy. They are also a symbol of love and affection to their deities. For example, tuberose flower is dedicated to Goddess Kwan Im (Guan Yin).

Why tuberose?

Tuberoses are very fragrant. They are a symbol of determination to always behave well, to maintain family’s good reputation. They’re my best seller. Besides tuberose, another important flower is the lotus. If we assume the flower as a food to the deities, tuberose is the rice and lotus is the meat.

Are you always selling flowers in front of this monastery?

No. I only sell flowers here during Confucian’s religious holidays, during the Chinese New Year, Cap Go Meh, and commemorations of Goddess Kwan Im's birthday. Just like the past Chinese New Year celebrations, I started selling flowers about one month before the day. Then, I had time to prepare my flowers for Cap Go Meh. I'm going back home after the celebration is over.

Going back home? Aren’t you from Jakarta?

No, my husband and I came from Semarang. We have a home in Jakarta but we don’t stay here. I have my mother stay with me, so we want our family to be together so we can take care of her.

When you’re not selling flowers, what do you do?

We are farmers, actually. When we’re not in Jakarta selling flowers, we cultivate the crops in my homeland. That’s also one of the reasons why we won’t stay in Jakarta. We have land to cultivate and crops to harvest. Sometimes at home, I also make traditional cakes for sale.


Retno Wulandari  01 February 2017 11:10

Around nineteen years ago, between 1997 and 1998, Indonesia saw massive riots against the regime of Suharto in various parts of the country, as well as the abduction of pro-democracy activists ahead of the 1997 General Elections and 1998 General Assembly of the Peoples Consultative Assembly.

Some of those activists were finally returned home to reunite with their families, but some are still missing until today.

They became a constant reminder of how expensive the price of democracy is.

Among those whose whereabouts still a mystery is Wiji Thukul.

Wiji Thukul (born Wiji Widodo), a poet from Solo, Central Java, was allegedly abducted on July 27, 1998. He wasn’t just another poet; he was brave, intelligent, and outspoken. When the freedom of speech was strictly suppressed by the government, Wiji courageously wrote poems that criticized the ruling regime. He moved labors and peasants to fight for their fate and became a driving force in various organizations, including the government opposing People's Democratic Party (PRD).

In no time, Wiji rose to popularity as a poet and human right activist, with couplets of his poems taken to the street and screamed by fellow activists: “There’s only one word: FIGHT!”

When the event of July 27, 1996 (later known as the “Black Saturday”) broke out, several pro-democracy activists were killed and the several others were arrested by the New Orders' troops.

Activists from PRD were accused of being the ringleader of the unrest and all who managed to escape ended up being a fugitive. The situation forced Wiji to flee from Jakarta and moved from town to town to save himself, while his wife Siti Dyah Sujirah and his children were repeatedly visited and questioned by police officers and soldiers.

From the hideout the man still wrote various poems —a string of words etched with a wooden pencil on sheets of paper, and one of them goes  “I’m still intact, and the words don’t die!”.

After being on a run for a while, Wiji briefly came home to see his family. Then, he went to Jakarta.

Nobody ever heard from him ever since.

Though we dont know whether Wiji is dead or alive, his legacy lives on.

He gave the people courage to speak out even though the government tried to silence any dissenting voice. His words gave the people the courage to get up and fight for their rights.

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata

Nineteen years after his dissapearance, we can have a peek at a piece of Wiji Thukul’s life story through Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (translation: Rest, Words) movie.

“Wiji Thukul was jus an ordinary man doing extraordinary things,” said producer Yulia Evina Bhara. “He was so honest in protesting against the inequality and injustice committed by authoritarian rulers. There were many people contributed to the opening of the taps of democracy in Indonesia, and Thukul is one of them.”

Through the story of Thukul, according to Yulia, they want to inspire the younger generation to not only remember but also share to their peers that democracy we are enjoying today is an outcome of a long and painful struggle and sacrifice.

“Thukul didn’t come from a well-educated family. However, his words and poems, which were bold yet simple, were able to move people to fight injustice, inequality, and lack of rights,” she said.

Yulia Evina Bhara, producer of Istirahatlah Kata-kata (Photo: doc. Yulia)

The film is now being screened in theaters across Indonesia from January 19, after featured to several countries in various film festivals, including Festival del Film Locarno in Swiss, Filmfest Hamburg in Germany, and International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherland. Produced by Yosep Anggi Noen and Yulia Evina, Istirahatlah Kata-kata has recently granted the best movie in Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF) 2016.


Retno Wulandari  29 January 2017 10:00

There are two things we can learn from sisters Florentia Jeanne and Felicia Febry. First, that sharing the same interest with your sister can bring you closer to each other, and second, if done right, it can also bring you money. 

Florentia and her younger sister Felicia teamed together to embrace their love for fashion by cofounding a fashion brand called NoonaKu Signature.

According to them, Noona loosely means "me and my sister" and Ku means "God." When combined, the name means "me and my sister belong to God."

Under the brand, Florentia and Felicia create girly yet elegant collections of women’s clothing to satisfy the needs and tastes of today’s young ladies.

They try to offer something we all love: quality goods at affordable price.

Can you tell us how you started NoonaKu?

Felicia: This business started from a small project that we did during our college years, you know, to make extra money. We've always been fans of fashion. One day we started to sell some clothes to our friends and quite surprisingly we received good response. We started to sell more and get items from bigger suppliers. After a while, we managed to make enough money to start making our own products.


So you started as a reseller. Why did you decide to make your own products? Isn’t it much easier to simply get them from suppliers?

Florentia: Right from the start, we have a dream to make our own products, so we can establish our own brand. But we didn’t have money, the tools, the resources, and other things. So initially, we decided to be a reseller to make money and raise capital.

Once we’re able to make our own products, we watched the market to know the current trends. We also tried to fulfill the needs and concerns of teenagers. For example, we found out some teenagers don’t like sleeveless tops that can reveal their big upper-arms, stuff like that.

(Photo: doc. NoonaKu)

(Photo: doc. NoonaKu)

Felicia: We have ideas of our own, and by producing our clothes, we can realize those ideas and vision. We can also set the budget, get the best materials at the lowest possible price, and set the price of the products by ourselves to reach teenage and young adult markets.

Why teenagers? Isn’t the potential income from the working women market much bigger?

Felicia: We want to accommodate the needs of teenagers and young adults because we think they don’t have much choice that can meet their budget for fashion products.

They remind us of ourselves in our younger years, when we didn’t really have money to buy expensive fashion items. Thus we want to make quality clothes that are affordable. We are also focused on providing our customers more wearable pieces, so we tend to explore basic designs.

Do you have any plan to make a premium collection?

Florentia: We already have premium collections, actually. We have released our batik collections, in which we explored batik as our identity. We want to show that we, Indonesians, have a very beautiful textile that can be stylish too. We want to show that batik is for everyone, including young people. Using batik, we created designs that are suitable for teenagers and young women to show that batik can be fashionable, not only for mature people but for youngsters as well.

We also created a premium line which is only sold in certain e-commerce, such as Line Shopping and other online shops.

Have you ever encounter any unforgettable moments along the way?

Florentia: We’re glad to know that our business is growing rapidly, especially after we started selling and promoting our brand on some e-commerce sites. We also have resellers, which many of them are  secondary school students. We remember when one of NoonaKu’s resellers, who is only a teenager, told us that she eventually managed to buy her parents a house by installment. That’s just amazing! We’re happy to know that people love our products and they sell well, but what makes us believe in this business is that we can also help people making a living. We’re on the right track, I believe.

Florentia and Felicia are now exploring further to seize more challenges, as their customers grow rapidly, as well as their resellers. They have set up a legally authorized company, with NoonaKu’s new boutique and office located in Green Lake City, West Jakarta.




Sabar Artiyono  15 January 2017 07:14

Cuban politician and revolutionary Fidel Castro died at the age of 90 on Saturday. The controversial figure ruled Cuba for five nearly five decades up until 1976 and has managed to evade numerous assasination attempts by the United States government throughout. 

In Indonesia, however, Castro is known for his warm relationship with former President Soekarno, as can be seen in these photos taken during the latter's visit to Cuba in 1960, where Castro personally went to greet Soekarno at the airport. 



Retno Wulandari  06 January 2017 14:54

It was dark and cloudy Thursday afternoon, the rain about to pour. An old man, with a pole balanced on one of his shoulders, walked slowly through the alleyway. The gloomy weather didn't seem to concern him as he kept moving forward, two boxes hanging at each end of the pole.

As he walked past my house, I thought of the three pairs of shoes with broken soles on my rack. I knew I couldn't miss this rare opportunity; a traveling cobbler is hard to come by these days.

So there he was, Pak Yoyok, at my front yard with one of my husband’s shoes in his skillful hands, sewing up the sole with bare hands and making neat stitches. With a thick and hard sole to work with, the craftsmanship built over what he claims as 42 years on the job shone.

Curious, I decided to ask him few questions and we ended having talking about his job.

How long have you been repairing shoes? How did you start?

I started several years ago. I have a basic skill in shoe-making and remairing shoes from my time working at a shoe factory. I started (working there) around 1974, in a factory in Tangerang. I was only fifteen when they placed me in the production department. I helped in the shoe-making process as a pattern maker. You know, in the factory, each worker has his own role: pattern makers, fitters, cutters, sewers, and more. It usually takes five people or more to make a pair of shoes.

I thought shoes are made by machine. So they’re actually handmade?

Mostly handmade. The machines only help make several parts, but we had to put together the details and machines couldn’t do that. Most of the shoes, even if they are made in a factory, are actually handmade.

Why did you decide to leave the factory?

I didn't actually choose to leave the factory. The shoemaking industry enjoyed a glorious time when I started. Many well-known brands like Reebok, Adidas, and Nike made their shoes here in Indonesia. The factory I worked in produced Adidas shoes for many years. But then there was a monetary crisis resulting in a massive layoff. Some shoe factories in Tangerang, including mine, went bankrupt. I was let go from my job in 1998.

So you decided to be a traveling cobbler?

Yes. Life must go on and I have mouths to feed. I had several jobs before settling as a cobbler. I once worked as a porter in a traditional market, as a trader, and more. But then, I started to think that I needed to find a job that I can do very well, then a friend introduced me to this job. I also learned new skills such as sewing sloes. Anything to make a living for me and my family.

I saw you around here for several times. Do you and your family live here?

No, just me. I live in a rented room nearby, but my family lives in my hometown in Garut (West Java). I come home regularly to see them.

What’s the hardest part of being an traveling shoe repairman?

Well, people don't need to repair their shoes every day, so I need to have some alternative routes to reach new potential customers. Sometimes I have to walk further. With modern one-stop shoe repair shops emerging these days, our number (fellow traveling cobblers) is diminishing. But it’s important to always be grateful with all we’ve got.

In a day, how much did you get in average?

It’s uncertain. I used to get Rp 10,000 per pair, but sometimes I got fifteen thousand, or even twenty-five thousand. If I'm lucky enough to meet generous customers, I might get Rp 50.000 a pair. Sometimes people also ordered a sole with special shape or material and I get it for them. But there were also days when I went home empty-handed. However, I believe that every person has his own portion, so we shouldn’t complain and just be grateful.