To look for quiet corners around Malang is a task nearly impossible to accomplish. Every coffee shop has their own way of noise-making. Usually, speakers are on full-blast playing top 20 Billboard music, as if trying to compete with the already boisterous patrons feasting over the latest gossip from their friends who at the same time swipe rectangular screens, checking out what other people post on Path/Instagram/Line/Blackberry Messenger.
Back in the campus, I teach a course on writing to 20-something Indonesian students who often protest on how heavy the tasks I assign them. Every meeting (we meet twice a week), the class starts with a writing prompt. Random questions such as “if you were given 10 more seconds to live, what would you do?” are required to be answered as lunatic as they can. They are to finish it within 15 minutes, but more often than not, they ask for an extension. Throughout the time, they chat with each other — asking for an English translation of a certain thought they wish to write. That, until the room gets flooded with noise.
I wonder whether people have been paying attention. But cities like Malang need a buffer zone to offset noise pollution. Everywhere you go, noise comes in form of a revving motorcycle, a television set with a volume turned up that it hurts your ears, neighbours playing dangdut until 10 p.m. And one cannot live in noise all day. I am not the first to say this, but noise hampers productivity. Has anyone ever wondered why it is so rare to meet people based in Malang who actually create artistic work?
We need quiet spaces: a coffee shop where every noise you make is charged into your bill, a library where people who come in only to disturb people writing their skripsi will be required to pay back by contributing a book, a dormitory designed to make solitary activities such as studying conducive, and a public park where there are places for one to sit exclusively alone. We need those because quiet spaces enable us to think deeply. No creative work is derived from a world where people don’t stop talking. Prophets from the biggest religions in the world met epiphany — not in the company of their friends who wouldn’t stop laughing over a funny video on Facebook.
And this is one of the reasons why until now, I haven’t finished my thesis proposal. It’s a noisy world down here.
Photo courtesy of CGP Grey