Counting Blessings

Remember my earlier commitment to write as frequently as I can in this year?

Well, I took it a step further by joining an essay competition held by Speak! Magazine, a production of The Jakarta Post, about the oil and gas sector in Indonesia.

I came across the announcement of the competition on the website of Asia Writes, an excellent website for writers looking for opportunities, and was stunned to see the amount of prize being offered to the winners. A cool eight million rupiahs for the 1st rank, another six for the 2nd, and the remaining four to round up the big three selections. And I’ll just casually drop the bomb here that the money is for EACH of the categories. Say what? I don’t think there is any writing competition in Indonesia that ever put up such a big prize. Plus, the main requirement of the competition is very simple – each of the participants is required to submit a maximum 700-word essay about one of the two available topics: 1) The views of young people on the oil and gas industry and how it contributes to the national economy, and 2) The way to optimize the contribution of the younger generation for the sustainable development of the oil and gas industry. Then, the participants would have to be between the age of 15 and 21 – the category I barely fit in as I just added another one to my twenty years of existence. But, all is well,and I went on to join the competition.

Deciding to join was easy; it was the following-up process that was giving me a big headache. After a long mulling session, weighing the pros and cons of each topic, I decided to settle for the second option. My reasoning was this: Obviously, the first topic would require some sort of market survey in order to produce an essay with legit results and also research, and I simply couldn’t fathom asking 100 people to gather their opinions. It was too much of a hassle. Meanwhile, the second topic requires solutions – something I can think of on my own – and doesn’t involve anybody else but me. Second topic it is.

I would skip the boring part of research and the writing process of my essay for you, but suffice to say, I did a re-write and performed numerous little alterations before I was happy to see it reside in my sent e-mail folder.

Flash forward two weeks later, I got an email from the Speak! Magazine saying that I was one of the top ten finalists for the competition. Being the slow-witted that I am, I thought that the committee was only sending the congratulation for being a finalist – the usual greeting. I couldn’t be more wrong. Apparently, the judges have whittled down the total 100 finalists to only ten in the past two weeks (I only knew this fact after I attended the workshop in Jakarta). The event organizer then proceeded to call and ask me to fly to Jakarta to receive the award and whatnot and also attend the workshops at JCC.

With every expense paid and arrangement put in place, I arrived in the sweltering Jakarta on Thursday afternoon wearing a backpack and a huge grin on my face. I have always loved this place – not so much on the traffic – ever since I spent two weeks of my graduation holiday three years ago. It had never treated me bad, until that Thursday. Granted, the blame is to be put on the people and not on the place, but the incident marred my experience anyway. The event organizer was a nightmare to work with. Miscommunication between the travel personnels, dead phone, and unclear hotel arrangement forced me to look for other alternative for my short stay there. Thank God for my Dad’s close friend, Felix. I ended up staying at his house, just like I did three years ago. All of his kids didn’t recognize me anymore, except the eldest, Angelina. I guess children forget fast. I spent the day with Felix’s wife, Nelly, at Puri Mall, watching the newest Star Trek and eating Bakmi.

I woke up at five the next morning to avoid the crazy rush hour of Jakarta, with everybody commuting to Jakarta Pusat to go to office and conduct important businesses. During the two-hour drive (Hello, Jakarta,) I talked a lot with Felix about his life and my family, before finally reaching the central at 8.15. I rushed like a mad person, as I already got the call from the EO saying that every contestant was already there – a big lie. Upon entering the building, I was greeted with big dogs and lots of policemen scanning and securing the area. A big day, indeed. There were a lot of very important people in the oil and gas sector that would attend the convention later, so the security was necessary.

JCC is a very big building famous for holding exhibitions of national and international scale. The place was pristine and freezing cold – a literal ice box. I met with the other participants at the lobby; most of them are from Jakarta with the exception of four people: Danu is from Surabaya, Danny Yogyakarta, Bima Singapore, and I Medan. We chatted a while before being ushered to the 1st workshop of the day, conducted by The Jakarta Post.

Bruce Emond is head of the supplementary department of The Jakarta Post, which also produces the Speak! Magazine. We had an informal discussion with him about the proper way to write essays and to write in effective way. The editor of Speak! Magazine, Willy Wilson, joined us not long after and contributed his share in the discussion by recounting his experience working as journalist. It was a very nice discussion, and we took photo to preserve the moment in the end.

With Bruce, Willy and all of the top nine finalists.
With Bruce, Willy and all of the top nine finalists.

We continued to the 2nd workshop, an open discussion with Michael Putra, the head of HCSE at Shell Indonesia. It was a fascinating experience to be able to exchange ideas about one of the most important sectors in Indonesia with the top person involved in it. One surprising fact that I remember is that our government owns up to 85% of the total revenue from the oil and gas in Indonesia, regardless of where company’s from, local or foreign. That is a very big number, the 4th in the world, in fact. The misconception that foreign companies control up to 74% of the energy industry is also debunked by this statement. Our government is still pocketing the bigger bucks.

Lunch commenced around 12, and we moved to the back part of the building to have our meal. The place was thick with cigarettes’ smoke – which I absolutely detest – and I persuaded the rest of the finalists to finish the meal fast to tour the exhibition and got out of there.

Finally, I was able to explore the countless sleek, luxurious booths representing the big names in the oil and gas industry in Indonesia. I might not make a very important deal with their reps, but one can always look, right? A lot of people possessing impressive collections of goodie bags hanging from their arms were making serious conversations with very important-looking people, a scene that was so prevalent in the exhibition one was bound to feel dwarfed in comparison.

a peek into the exhibition.
a peek into the exhibition.

Of course, we had to pay a visit to the booth that sponsored our competition, The Jakarta Post. We were laden with goodie bags from The Jakarta Post itself and also Speak! Magazine upon arrival.

Say cheese!
Say cheese!

We were left wandering around with nobody to supervise us, and we toured every crook and cranny of the place that our small, yellow ID card’s clearance allowed. I found the part of the exhibition where the committee was displaying our essay. Mine was my proudest achievement.

my essay.
my essay.

When the clock struck four, we were only too relieved to attend the closing ceremony of the event, too exhausted and hungry. Speeches were given, names were mentioned, half-hearted applause simmered down – then it was the time of the announcement. You can never get used to seeing your name printed in that scale on the screen, and I was shaking when I made my way to the stage. I received 3rd place for my essay – something that I still could’t believe until I was back at my hometown.

Too bad I didn’t take any photo of the award giving moment, but the experience of receiving the award itself was something that would be etched in my mind forever.

I made nine new friends that one day, but I made a whole lot more memories to be brought home with me. Thank you,God. đŸ™‚


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