The Allegory of the Trees

It’s the grueling time of the year again where I need patience: immigration paperwork. Often, I meet the most undesirable people who don’t seem to be helpful in processing my permits. As it turns to be unbearable, I ask my self a question: what the hell am I doing here?


This morning, when that question popped in my mind, I happened to notice the unripe mango fruits of this tree standing outside my house. Trees are a metaphor to me. They remind me of the universal truths, like there will always be a time for flowers to bloom. Likewise, there will be a season for them to transform into fruits. Though at times they won’t — but there’ll be another time that they will. What is this mango tree doing here? No one knows. Maybe to ask what am I doing here is a question that’s not too fruitful to pursue. Or maybe, I should ponder on things like if I were to imagine that I were a tree, what fruits do I want to bear? I want to bear fruits of hope. So wherever I am planted, my existence is a gift to anyone around me. But then the pessimistic in me asked: what if the fruits of hope fall into the ground and later turns out to be of no use? I look at the tree again. The fruits may rot, but later the seeds they carry will turn into new trees. Or, whatever happens to the fruits the mother tree has given birth to, she remains to be a tree. No more, no less.


How Fat Shaming People Nearly Turned Me Anorexic

Since I was a kid, I had been called many things: baboy, taba, tabachoy, damulag, dambuhala, tambukikoy. These are Filipino words used to poke fun at fat people. But in 2012, I felt like I was the happiest person on earth. People no longer called me names. I’m finally able to fit on clothes at ready-to-wear shops. From 120 kilos, I went down to 85. My waistline shrunk from 44 to 34. I could borrow my brothers’ clothes. And I said goodbye to double X apparels! I’m size M! Boy, that was the best feeling ever!


The fat/body shamers


But just I thought there’s nothing to worry about, people started noticing the changes in my body — in a negative way. You have so many stretch marks, your body is sagging.  You need to do sports, your body seem to be as soft as jelly. I mean, hello, how would I lose weight if it weren’t for sports?

And there were still people whose first topic for every conversation would be: hey, you’ve gained weight haven’t you? Have you been eating a lot lately?

It’s these kind of questions that get on my nerves.

Why on earth do these people seem to talk like they own my body?

Of course, I always make an effort to keep my composure whenever I encounter these kind of people. But, whenever I’m alone in my room, I would take off my clothes and stand before the mirror. I see a very fat guy. I would stare at him like it were another person whom I hate. I called him names. Although in reality, that guy is me, a guy who’s fat no more.

My desire to lose weight went on. I would eat only small amounts, weighed myself each morning (or whenever I pass by a clinic or a pharmacy). I would swim everyday, and at night I would jog. Takut gemuk, the fear of gaining weight…or in the words of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association: anorexia nervosa.


My weight loss obsession


In 2015, my body weight reached 80 kilograms, the lightest I’ve ever had. My body mass index was at 21.7. I was negative three points away from being clinically underweight.

And I knew things were not going right. My body spoke to me. At night, I could not sleep well. The night breeze felt like it was nibbling the bones in my elbows. I could not sit for a long time; the bones in my buttocks felt like it was piercing my behind.

While I never consulted an expert to declare that I was flirting with anorexia nervosa, I knew that I was at the brim of this eating disorder. But not all people are as lucky as me. Anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness. It is estimated that 4% of anorexic individuals die from complications of the disease.


How I saved myself from anorexia


However, one thing I’ve learned in life is that people will always have things to say; and they’re not really aware of the consequences. We must recognise that not all people think of the consequences of the words they say. And it is not your problem. It is theirs. People think that it’s okay to say that you’ve gain weight, even if they have not actually weighed you. It does hurt, but hey, at least you know you’re aware that the words they say are do not represent reality. In cases like this, the only way to know whether you’re fat or not — is by actually stepping on that weighing scale because numbers do not lie.

Also, ultimately, the best person who should be responsible for your own body is no other than yourself.

As someone who has studied sociology for more than ten years, and having learned that our environment bears a huge impact on who we turn into, I realised that there is no use of spending my luxury of time with people who rub into my face that I’m fat. Because I am not. I have known that three years ago, when I stepped into that store to try on medium-sized clothes. I have defeated obesity. And there is no use to be with people who will do no good — but to push you into the pits of anorexia, a disease that I might have been suffering for all these years. Similarly, think of them like unnecessary weight, they do will need to go…

…because whatever people will have to say….there is only one thing that matters the most:I have been successful in battling obesity. I have shed that critical body weight that I have been carrying for more than 20 years, that bodyweight people used to poke fun of me. I am happy with this bodyweight. No matter what people say.


My current body weight is 82.6 kilos. I am 192 cm tall. That means my Body Mass Index is 22.5, which is normal, according to the World Health Organisation.

So, am I thin or am I fat?

I do think that is not a question.

That shouldn’t be.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Watson



Toastmasters: My fear of the letter I


This is a Toastmasters Project 1 speech I delivered on April 7, 2016, at Malang Toastmasters Club. Project 1 is the first speech project of new Toastmasters members, where they are tasked to introduce themselves to fellow club members.

Esteemed guests, fellow Toastmasters (finally), good evening.

A week ago, Thea told me that introducing one’s self shouldn’t be difficult. You know what? I totally disagree. And tonight I’m going to share to you why

Fear of the letter I

My name is Mick Basa, and over the years, my profession has always been to report the news. As a journalist, my task is to tell the truth without fear . But if there is one thing that journalists are scared of: it is the fear of the letter I.

On the very first day I entered the realm of journalism, my editors made it clear: avoid putting one’s self into your stories. To write in the first person is a mortal sin, almost equivalent to bribery and plagiarism.

So that’s an explanation for those of you who wonder why news reports are never written in the first person. There’s no I, but only he, she, them, and they.

Apart from that, we are told not to disclose our personal views, our political alignment, and religious beliefs. It’s not that they do not matter, but in the spirit of impartiality, these are rules that we ought to abide.

How we introduce ourselves

So here’s how we usually introduce ourselves. We say our our name, and the news organisation we represent. You can say your nationality, but never the presidential candidate you’re voting for.

For nearly 10 years of keeping my personal life from public scrutiny, here’s a journalist trying to do a Project 1 speech — which is breaking the Ice — with the use of the letter I.

But I would like to take this opportunity to get myself used to the letter I.

Indonesia and I

I left the Philippines to take a short break from work in the hope that I could spend time searching for myself.

And what better way to do that by moving to a country with a name that begins with the letter I? Indonesia, a country that’s imagined by many bules as a place for soul searching.

However, instead searching my self, I found myself listening to the stories of the locals. Sometimes, I would take pictures of them. Wherever I go, whatever I do, no matter how far I go, journalism is that mystical ghost that keeps on haunting me.

So, who am I?

Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends, if you ask me the question who are you over and over again, I don’t think I have an answer apart from this: my sense of self will always be tied to being a journalist.

And here I am standing before you, attempting to do a Project 1 speech — while actually evading the very task of sharing details about my life.

But since I joined Malang Toasters Club, I have not felt the need to refrain myself from sharing you my personal stories. And I thank all of you for sharing your warmth. In fact, I have made friends with some of you here in just a short span of time. Perhaps, without Malang Toastmasters, journalists like me would have no way of bracing the phobia of the letter I.

My dear friends, fellow toastmasters, we all have reasons of joining this club.

Fatur said, it’s for his child.
For Lita: this is her passion.
For Adi, it is to excel in public speaking.

And for me, it is to embrace my fear of the letter I.

So tonight, let me do that by formally introducing myself, using the letter I.

I am Mick Basa, and I am very glad to be a part of this club.

Back to you.

Almost Indonesian

February marked my first year of living in Malang, the longest in my history of transient life, surpassing my length of stay in Manila, Jakarta, and Balut Island near the Philippines-Indonesia maritime border. In case you wonder, why Malang? I’ve written a post about that here. Continue reading “Almost Indonesian”

I saw the Yellow Star in Lombok

Five days ago, I saw the Yellow Star appear infront of me after alighting from a taxi that brought me from Lombok airport to Tanjung. She wore a striped shirt and a pair of dark-rimmed glasses that never failed her to stand out from a crowd. The Yellow Star rushed and extended her arms, as if to signal a welcome to Indonesia gesture, but no, the Yellow Star is in Indonesia, the land where Chalice thinks I’m from. I thought you’re Indonesian because you’re our interpreter for today, she said. Well it almost did not happen, Chalice. Before I boarded the 9 am flight from Juanda, I actually missed my original flight at 7. On my way from Malang, around 100 kilometres away from the airport in Surabaya, the roads turned into a sea of murky flood water. That was in Sidoarjo, the last regency before reaching Surabaya. The police shut the main road, so I turned to Google maps to find an alternative route. Turn right. Slide left. In 300 metres make a u-turn. Turn left. Turn left. Head south. In 200 metres turn right. Head straight. And there was silence. That tiny road that looked like its flood didn’t seem to be threatening turns out to be a new disaster-made lake. It was nearly 6 when I was walking my dead bike to the main road. The men staring at me were wondering where I emerged. I pointed the road where I came out, and they were shaking their heads. You can’t do anything with your bike unless you take it to a bengkel. They’ll open that and suck all the gas because went in to your engine, they said. Oh, I have a flight at seven, would that mean I couldn’t make it? Well, I don’t think you can find an bengkel that’s open right now, they said. Surprisingly, I wasn’t worried, although I’ve sent the Yellow Star a message of Facebook, saying there’s no way I can make it to Lombok right now. Sidoarjo is flooded. No one is going to Surabaya. At 7, after going around the streets of Sidoarjo, I found a bengkel, thanks to an old man who seemed to know what I was looking for. There only was 50,000 rupiah in my wallet, and fearing it wouldn’t be enough to pay the tukang bengkel, I was rehearsing a spiel in my mind: do you mind if I leave my bike here while I try to find an ATM to check if I have money in my account? At the same time, the Yellow Star called me. They’re now in Lombok, while I just missed my 7 am flight. 15 minutes later, I took 500,000 from my account — and while striding back to the bengkel, the Yellow Star told me that she bought me another ticket, this time the 9:30 am flight. It was 7:15, and I was trying to make it back to the bengkel not later than 7:30. An idea came. Maybe, at this hour, good samaritans are now awake. So upon reaching the bengkel, I asked the bapak-bapaks whether any of them can take me to the airport using my bike (the tukang bengkel said he has already fixed it). No one dared to take the offer until Cipto, the tukang bengkel, phoned one of the bapaks whom he said could take me to Juanda. He told me to wait, the bapa is on his way here. There he was. His name is Samudi. It was already 8:35 when we left Sidoarjo. I lied that my flight would depart at 9 so he has nothing to waste in 25 minutes. Pak, my name is Mick, I am from the Philippines, I am heading to Lombok, but my plane left me. So I want you to take me there and I hope we can make it. While on the road, I told him to take my bike when he returns home, but tomorrow he must pick me up at the airport again. Yes, he said. I didn’t have time for doubts — god knows why I had so much faith with Pak Samudi. But all along I told myself to believe of something good to happen amid the disaster that was in Sidoarjo. We arrived at the airport at 9 am. I gave him the bike’s registration paper, and the key that went with a pendant which the Yellow Star gave me almost 4 years ago. Pak, I said, before you go, let me take a picture of your national ID card, just for me to have proof that you have my bike. It was the only proof. But true enough, the next day, he picked me up at the airport, after a day-long trip with the Yellow Star in Lombok.