The Batik Of Life

As I type this post down, I am still in the midst of reorganising my thoughts and attempting to consolidate my learning in the neatest way I know. (albeit a futile attempt). .

On Saturday, I grudgingly dragged my feet out of my room to embark on a trip to Yogyakarta with my suitemates and Dean Fellow’s Group. I was not thrilled with the idea of this “learning journey”. I assumed that this was going to be one of those learning journeys masqueraded as a holiday by the school. Prior to the mandatory readings handed to us, I had no idea what Yogyakarta was. I had no clue of the rich culture, heritage, and history that forged the city that was known to be “fit to prosper”. However, as I embarked on this journey with my fellow Saga College mates (SAGA STRONG), my pre-conceived notions began to unravel and crumble. This short 4-day trip would prove to be one of the most  insightful travels I have embarked on in my life.

Hence, in this post, I will just share with everyone a reflection I had on my recent trip to Yogyakarta with Yale-NUS as part of my RCX. (I really hope to be consistent in following this post up with my other reflections throughout the trip)

The Batik Experience
The first stop of this journey was a trip down to a Batik Workshop. Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth, or cloth made using this technique. From my understanding of Batik, it was considered to be part of the textile market which formed a large component of the Indonesian primary industry. So, in my mind, Batik was considered to be something simple and rudimentary. It was a skill I thought i could pick up easily, without much effort.

However, I was humbled and humiliated completely. I was confined to the space of a small chair, my hand was trembling as I fumbled the stylus that was filled with hot wax. My inability to co-ordinate my hands properly would cause my pre-traced cloth to be filled with blots and marks that were not intended in the original design. The pungent smell   coupled with the scalding heat of the wax that would burn my skin with every misstep I took with the stylus created a highly disconcerting experience for me. At the end of the day, my end product was an aberration of what batik should be. I felt exasperated and disappointed in myself for failing to complete what was an easy task. I would notice how everyone would gladly show off their masterpiece while I handed my “artwork” discreetly, hoping no one would laugh at my work.

My immediate reflection was one of introspection. It was to understand and respect the art of the trade. No matter how simple things look, one should adopt a learning attitude of humility. He should see how much he can glean from the experience and not indulge in his own ego that would assume the trade of others was worth any less than his. I learnt on the first-hand basis, just to trace out the outlines of a circle with wax would require a gargantuan amount of effort, superhuman patience and incredible stability in your hand. To be able to churn out a beautiful piece of garment that would encapsulate the intricacies of the design intended by its creator would mean years of practice and perfecting the technique and craft of batik. This experience not only humbled me but also earned a new-found respect for the workers who were assisting me throughout the way.

As we sat on the bus, the writing prompts (which was superbly prepared by the college) were given to us. They not only challenged us to absorb the experience of our travels, while at the same time, they challenged us to draw a connection to our lives through our journeys. This prompt deeply challenged me as I reflected on my flailing and absolute failure in my crafting of the batik.

I began to draw an interesting parallel of how the production of batik as a novice was similar to the navigation we attempt in our own lives. Just like how there are pencil tracings on the cloth for the person to trace, there are these grand plans and elaborates we have in our lives, as we seek to draw out a map in which we want our lives to unfold. But as I clearly experienced, nothing ever goes according to your plan. Life is never a smooth line of wax lining up in perfect accordance with the lines we trace out. There will be mishaps along the way, where ugly blots and spots pop up on the canvas of life in places we never intended them to. And in our perception, it is what destroys the beautiful piece of batik that was supposed to be, it screwed up our grandmaster plan of how the perfect life that was supposed to happen. We get angry, disappointed, exasperated with how we screwed things up.

But the story doesn’t end there. When I received my final product , the completed batik, I felt happy. Sure, there were blots and imperfections on this piece of batik, some like the mistakes in my life turned out to be blessings in disguise, that only served to make the final product more beautiful. The uneven ink spots made this piece of batik unique. And obviously, given my poor batik crafting skills, there were those regrettable spots in which I wished I held my hands steady and did not let the ink spots drop . But, just like I learnt that those ink spots itself would never outweigh the “beauty” of my batik. These regrets that we have should never outweigh the beauty of the life we have itself.

So I end this post off, encouraging everyone who reads this post, that no matter what stage you are in your life, be it tracing the pencil lines on your batik, or gingerly lining it with the wax of your energy or even when you screw up and allow little blobs of ink to form on your batik, it is ultimately the batik of your life, unique and beautiful.



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