It was a sunny morning (well, almost noon) when I met John A. MacDougall. If you are Indonesian and a not-so-new Internet user, you must know him.... otherwise you must be a kuper creature! If one writes a history of Indonesian cyberactivism, then John A. MacDougall should the first name on the list. Why? Obviously because of his Indonesia-L--later was known as Apakabar--the Internet based alternative source of socio-political information on Indonesia. I myself cannot talk about the history of Indonesian Internet without mention John and his Indonesia-L.
Back to that day when I met John, Thursday the 28th of October. I took a subway. It was a long ride from downtown DC to Lanham, MD. I changed the train once and finally reached my final stop, College Park station. I called John from the coin public-phone to announce, "I have arrived. Come get me"..:) (as suggested by John in his email re: 'pick-up stuff') and in only about 7 minutes John showed up with his gray Honda.
I jumped to his car and shaked his hand. Funny feeling.... after 'talking' with John in cyberspace for years, I finally really talked to him with my own voice and listened to his voice! Very exciting! A very short car ride brought us to MacDougall's home. It was a small cozy house, far from luxury, so warm that makes you feel comfortable to be around. In the living room, I saw some pictures of John and his wife --Chew Sock Foon, who is originally Singaporean-- here and there. They looked so happy together. John showed me around his house where I looked at 2 old computers John used in the past for maintaining Indonesia-L aka Apakabar. Wow, those computers like coming from the stone-age of computer.. hehe. Well, I remember my first time using a computer more than 15 years ago, it was that kind of computer as well.
After making tea for me, John and I had some conversations. From technology to politics, from Indonesian election to US election, from Apakabar to Firefox! John actually did not really want to talk much about Apakabar. It was the past, he said, and he didn't want everything about him is seen as equal as Apakabar. So, I talked more about other stuff, yet surely couldn't help to dig a bit about Apakabar too for the sake of my curiosity.
Time went fast, finally it was time for lunch! Yes, worms in my tummy were shouting already...:) John prepared food for me... so very nice of him! Our lunch, rice with fish and veggies, was really tasty. I don't know what kind of fish it was, but I really like it, soooo delicious! I also like the coconut drink John served for me. Soooo fresh!
We had more conversation on the dining table. We exchanged some personal stories. John's stories about his life-work experience, in Singapore and USA fascinated me, humbled me. I really learned a lot from them. I was amazed on how knowledgeable John is about Indonesia.
John A. MacDougall has been portrayed as a 'big guy', a 'legend', and sometimes as 'an arrogant American' and other similar labels. But he is not that guy. John for me is a guy who tries to hold on his values in this idiosyncratic world, whose ideals aren't worn out by world's charlatans. He, at the same time, is a simple guy, who tries his best to survive his life day by day and deals with his difficulties. John too, is a real person, who opens his hands to welcome me to be his friend (thanks, John).
After hours of talk, we decided to stop. John drove me back to the station and we said goodbye. I took a train ride home with a big smile in my face and so many thoughts in my head. Oh yes! Now I know that John A. MacDougall is real! And I even got 'oleh-oleh' from him--2 CDs, one plastic bag of bumbu Laksa, 1 can of Thai curry paste, and 1 can of fish in tomato sauce. And all were real.. you can touch and eat them!
Wow... what an exciting day....