Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Books Actually in Yong Siak Street carried books and short stories from local authors. A resident cat can be found sitting on the counter top. Modelling pour moi, the fashionable bookworm, Clara Devi.

You are here for the bookstores?” the lady at our hostel in Singapore asked. She wears her hair long; has colourful eyelids and nails; with a preference for bright-coloured tight top.

I was sitting leisurely at the reception one morning after taking a shower, ready for the day’s book hunting. The hostel lady was there, sorting some envelopes on her desk by the window, and she offered me coffee. When my friends W and C appeared, she asked us about our plans for the day. Hence, the bookstores.

“Go to Bras Basah,” she said. “You can find any kind of books and a generous selection of bookstores to browse from.”

As always, the local was right.

We went crazy in Bras Basah complex, hopping from one bookstore to another, adding more and more books into our backpack.

***

Personally, I love chaotic bookstores with amazing shopkeepers.

The kind of store where you could not really tell which shelves contain which books, but you could always ask the shopkeeper and he would respond as if he were an online catalogue: navigating you in an instant through the small alleys smelled of mildew and old papers to some hidden shelf littered with covers and titles, and there you found the book you were looking for.

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Littered with Books is a wonderful place if you’re looking for travel books, writer’s interviews, or recipes. The travel shelf is upstairs. This picture is taken by my book-hunting partner, Clara Devi of Lucedale.co.

Later that afternoon (or two bags of books later), we sheltered ourselves from the pouring rain and sat at a lovely restaurant in Ann Siang Hill, savouring a pan of hot paella. We had circled this area a few times after leaving Bras Basah, and still not seeing the next bookstore we were looking for. So we asked the waitress if she knew anything about it.

“Oh, they closed down!” she said, and probably seeing our disappointed faces, added, “You are here only for the bookstores?”

***

Yes, most of the times, I’m in Singapore only for the bookstores.

I have been frequenting Singapore for book hunting since they still have this massive bookstore, Borders. I still remember how ecstatic I was when I found a special shelf there, dedicated to books about writing.

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Woods in the Books. Another bookstore in Yong Siak Street. The street itself is so artsy and picturesque. Cannot stop snapping pictures here.

I could spend hours in front of this shelf alone; flipping a writer’s glossary book that would help writers find the correct terms used in specific industry/area. Boating, for instance. (Boat-hook: a pole with a hook on the end, used to reach into the water to catch buoys or other floating objects. Fender: an air or foam filled bumper used in boating to keep boats from banging into docks or each other, Icebreaker: a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters.)

Unlike India, where the price of books is really cheap (the price for 1 book in Indonesia equals to 3 books in India, and I ended up shipping 10 kilograms of books from Jaipur), Singapore may not be the cheapest option to shop for books.

However, the options are abundant!

Although I was heartbroken after Borders was closed, today I cherished the birth of local indie bookstores around Singapore; that only adds up to more varieties and experience for book-hunters. Not to mention the events, workshops, or book discussions they are sprouting from time to time to keep the community alive!

***

Visiting Singapore soon and thinking about having a one-day walking tour for book hunting? I’ve created this walking route for book shopping in Singapore that may help you navigate your way around!

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Wear your comfy shoes, bring a bottle of water, and carry a big backpack with you. You’ll fill the backpack with many, many books! And, 7 books later, you’ll be thankful for bringing a backpack instead of a tote bag 🙂

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour Tour

(0). ARAB STREET & HAJI LANE | 9.00 AM – 9.50 AM

Always start with a good and hearty breakfast! Many food stalls are available in Arab Street, serving Chinese, Malay, Indian, and even Indonesian breakfast from 7 AM. I personally love a warm portion of martabak and teh tarik at Singapore Zam Zam restaurant. From there, walk leisurely along Haji Lane with its lovely murals and picturesque facades. Stores and cafes are still closed in the morning (mostly open around noon), exactly why I love being here at these hours just to stroll along, snap pictures, and feel inspired.

(1) NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SINGAPORE | 10.00 AM (open) – 11.00 AM

A 10-minute walk from Haji Lane, you’ll reach the National Library of Singapore. Why, a library should be in the picture when we’re talking about a literary walk, shouldn’t it? Moreover, we’re talking about a 16-storey library, with gardens in the building that offered a good view of the city: the Courtyard on Level 5, and the Retreat on Level 10. The collections of books go without saying. Find out if there are any exhibitions on the day of your visit.

(2). BRAS BASAH COMPLEX – 11.02 AM – 12.00 PM

Only 2-minute walk from the Library, the upper floor of Bras Basah Complex is full of ‘oldies’ small bookshops selling rare and antique books, second-hand books, comic books, and many more. Book display and shelving may not be their thing (love chaotic bookshops!), but they may hide that one gem you’re looking for! Just ask the shopkeeper if you have a particular book in mind. Amazingly, they would remember whether they have the book, and where they shelf it! This is my go-to place to hunt for South Asian books & literature. Find Basheer Graphic Books (#04-19) if you’re into graphic design books: from typography, branding, animation, fashion, architecture, interior design, and many more.

(3a). THE BOOK CAFE – 12.30 PM – 1.20 PM*

*) If you choose this route, you’ll have to go for a 21-minute walk afterwards to our next destination. If you choose the other route below, the distance to our next destination is only 3-minute away.

This could be your first option for early lunch. Around 29-minute walk from Bras Basah Complex, The Book Cafe is surrounded by bookshelves (love!), and comfortable sofas are plenty! Time to cool off and check your book-list. Do you have everything you’re looking for? (Plus, after walking that far, you must be really hungry now!)

(3b). MAXWELL FOOD CENTRE | 12.30 PM – 1.35 PM

Maxwell Food Centre could be your second option for lunch—if you’d prefer hawker stalls rather than a cafe-like establishment. You may want to try Tian Tian chicken rice, Huang Ji wonton noodles, or Fuzhou oyster cake. It’s a 28-minute walk from Bras Basah complex, and you may think it’s quite far, but here comes the plus point: the location is only 3-minute away from our next stop!

(4). ANN SIANG HILL – 1.40 PM – 2.00 PM

After 21-minute walk from The Book Cafe (burn those calories!) or just a 3-minute stroll from Maxwell Food Centre, you’ll arrive in Ann Siang Hill. It’s a lovely stretch where you’ll find many concept stores with curated goods as well as Instagram-able cafes. The buildings around this area look beautiful in pastel colours. After Haji Lane in the morning, this could be your afternoon dose of inspired walking!

(5). LITTERED WITH BOOKS – 2.05 PM – 3.15 PM

Only 5-minute away, you’ll stumble upon Littered with Books, a beautiful bookstore with special sections for travel and culinary books in the attic; and a section for books about writing & writers downstairs. Couches are provided here and there, so you can flip the pages of your book leisurely. What I love the most is the hand-written notes glued by the owner on each shelves, giving you recommendations on certain titles to read and why you may find them interesting!

(6a). THE READING ROOM | 3.25 PM – 4.20 PM

Have filled your backpack with more books? After a 6-minute walk, what about a quick stop for coffee at The Reading Room before heading to your next destination? With countless books surrounding you from its walls and puffy cushioned sofas to bury your back comfortably, it could be your first option to sit lazily while checking whether you still have enough Singapore dollars to buy more books!

(6b). GRASSROOTS BOOK ROOM | 3.25 PM – 4.20 PM

The Reading Room’s next door neighbour can be your second option for a cool breeze from the hot Singapore sun. Only a few steps away, Grassroots Book Room is a serene unconventional bookshop with an adjoining cafe. You’ll find books on Chinese literature and history, as well as recipe books.

(7). WOODS IN THE BOOKS – 4.20 PM – 5.00 PM

I have an unhealthy addiction towards beautifully-illustrated children’s books. And after a deserving 21-minute walk from The Reading Room, Woods in The Books would come into view. It’s a quaint little bookstore with all kinds of children books to cheer you up: from fiction to nonfiction, in various categories imaginable!

(8). BOOKS ACTUALLY | 5.00 PM – 6.00 PM

This is my go-to bookstore in Singapore to look for works from local authors. A few steps away from Woods in The Books, Books Actually also published anthologies and journals from the newcomers in Singapore’s literary scene. Near the cashier, you would find a stack of Ceriph—a quarterly publication containing prose, poetry, social commentaries, photography, and visual art from local artists. You can take a past issue and pay as you wish by inserting your money into the provided tin-can. There’s a special section containing staff-picked books (I love their picks!) and a resident cat is around if you like to pet it.

(9). THE OPEN DOOR POLICY|  6.05 PM – FINISH

With your backpack full of books, it’s time to head out to a place where you can flip and glimpse at each book you’ve just bought—peacefully, while having dinner. Have a short 1-minute walk to The Open Door Policy, and celebrate the day with a portion of crab cake or their delicious lamb dish. Have a sip of fresh juice, massage your feet, and open your backpack while waiting for your meals to arrive. Now, you need to decide: which book to read first?

Full map for your “Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour”*

*)If you skip The Book Cafe, you can follow the shorter route from Bras Basah Complex to Maxwell Food Centre (refer to map 3b above)

Happy walking! And happy book-hunting in Singapore!

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To You: Whom They Called A Strong Woman

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They called you a strong woman.

Because you’re independent, and always seem to be so confident going about your days by yourself. Because you seem fine all the time. Because you’re the one taking charge when everything goes out of line, and making it all once again calm. Because you’re the one that keeps trying to find the way out when the other have given up. Because often times you would refused a helping hand being offered your way by saying,  “It’s alright, I can do this.” Because you always seem so happy and full in your own little world, even if you have to wake up and go to bed alone, every single day.

They called you a strong woman.

You, who forever postpone your dreams to ensure that the ones around you can chase theirs. You, who make sure that everyone have enjoyed their meals before picking up whatever is left on the table. You, who always let everyone else voice their concerns and opinions first, before starting to speak. You, who will only cry when nobody is looking.

You, who always be the one retreating from a relationship when they begin the conversation with, “I know you’re a strong woman,”—as if being a strong woman makes you immune from heartbreaks.

You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish they do not see you as someone strong. You wish you could rest, because life can feel so exhausting. You sometimes imagine how wonderful it is to be the one others are fighting for; and instead of being someone who is constantly fighting. You wish someone else would want to carry your life’s burden without you even asking, and not the other way around.

You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish you could shed some tears when you’re sad, explode in anger, or pour your heart out whenever you are in doubt. There are days when you feel like crying—but you simply forget how to: it has been too long that you force yourself to smile whenever you’re feeling down.

You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to cry out, “I want that!” and let others withdraw to give you what you want. You want to be a bit spoiled and stubborn, to have others give way to your will, not the other way around.

Sometimes, you want to be the one who gives up.

You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to admit the fact that you are lonely. That after facing such a backbreaking world, you would love to come home to loving arms, that would envelope you in their embrace. Sometimes, you wish to be the one being protected; you wish you could be this vulnerable being that would invite endearment and affection.

When a relationship went wearisome, you would like to hear: “I need to stay with her, I cannot imagine hurting her,” instead of, “She’ll certainly be fine without me, she has always been a strong woman…”

You, whom they called a strong woman, carry so many burdens, so many dreams, so many responsibilities on your shoulder. You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes question the fact: that if you are not the one to be strong, who else could carry all these?

But, you, whom they called a strong woman—yes, you: you deserve to be happy as well.

You deserve a break, to sometimes be a bit ‘selfish’, to ask for what you want, to say, “Help me, I cannot do this alone.” You are allowed to let your tears fall without having to be shadowed by a smile, to be someone being kept—instead of being released.

Because you, whom they called a strong woman, you are not always as strong as they may think you are.

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This is the English version of an article published in Kamantara.id, an Indonesian UGC website.

The Wisdom of Pejeng, Bali.

Pejeng, Ubud
Gunung Kawi Temple. A complex of 10 temple fronts created as ancient royal tombs on the banks of the Pakerisan River.

His was not a happy childhood.

He spent his first few days of living inside Kerobokan jail, when his parents got detained by the Dutch. His mother breastfed him on the cell, and bestowed upon him the name Dewa Gede Badung.

His suicidal thoughts came before the age of 12.

Those were the times when he spent his days mindlessly at Garba Cave. Situated 400 meters above sea level, the cave lies underneath Pengukur-ukuran Temple, above the Pakerisan River in Pejeng village, Bali.

The Caretaker of Garba Cave, Pejeng

Now around the age of 70, he reminisced the days when (for reasons he could not truly comprehend) he got attracted to this hermitage site. As a child, he spent his time running around the cave as well as sitting still with his eyes shut tight. Something he understood later on as meditating.

It was during one of these ‘sittings’ he somehow heard a thought echoed in his head, loud and clear: a message not to end his life.

Thus began the days of new Dewa Gede Badung, as he decided to dedicate his life as a caretaker of Garba Cave in Banjar Sawa Gunung; where Prime Minister (Mahapatih) Kebo Iwa used to meditate back in the 12th century.

I met Dewa Gede Badung one afternoon when I visited Garba Cave. I was still hypnotised by the majestic look of my surroundings when shirtless, he shouted from the top of the huge stairs of stones, asking where I came from. His eyes were sharp, and his built was small, but strong.

Easily, he lifted up a huge piece of stone covering what to be believed as an underground tunnel of Tampaksiring. “Only those with a pure heart can find a way out of this tunnel,” he said. His eyes sparkling underneath the Pejeng sun.

On How One Should Meditate

Dewa Gede Badung told me the secret of meditating that day: “Pray so you can eat. If you cannot eat, you cannot live. Pray so you can work. So you know what is your duty. Pray so you have a place to go home to.”

I was amazed at how these words could sound so simple, yet so true. It’s not only about meditating, it’s also about living a good life.

One does not need too many things to live a good life.

We need only to eat enough so we can stay functioning and live a healthy life. It is not about indulging ourself. It is about knowing what is good for us and our body.

We need to do our duty and play our part both in society and in humanity; we need to serve. When we do so wholeheartedly, we will get what we need in return. Sometimes just enough, or sometimes even more. But we will not experience scarcity.

And last but not least, we need to know that we will be taken care of, to trust, to believe, to have faith, to know that we will always have a place we can call home. A place we can go back to. A place we can reunite with.

On How Nature Heals

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The holy Pakerisan River from the bridge at Gunung Kawi.

David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah found out that our brains are easily fatigued. There’s a full article in National Geographic on how nature helps us (and our brain) to heal; but all in all, when we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, we feel restored.

And our mental performance improves too.

I guess it is for this reason that people take a break from work and go on a holiday to the beach, the lake, or the mountains. Or why I (many times) healed my broken heart by the rice fields in Ubud; or how I felt a strange sense of relief after such a tumultuous relationships just by spending hours sitting surrounded by the trees, birds, and squirrels of Delhi’s Qutb Minar.

Pejeng, once known as the centre of Balinese kingdom, also hosted several natural ‘healing’ sites nearby, like Gunung Kawi, Sebatu, Goa Gajah, and Tirta Empul–all centered around water and holy springs.

The Healing Power of Water

For the Balinese, water has always been respected for its cleansing property. May it be flowing as a river, pouring down as rain, or sprouted from a spring—water is considered a holy element that brings forth life, and is mindfully preserved.

Each and every traditional procession and ceremony in Balinese villages included water or in Balinese, tirta, as one of its most essential elements. It represents a life-giving force, a purifying agent, a blessing.

One of the Balinese traditional purification ceremonies, melukat, resembled a river-bathing activity. A Balinese priest would lead a purification ceremony in a resplendent location at a confluence of rivers and waterfalls—where participants would undergo a series of rituals, including praying, bathing, and soaking themselves in a stream.

The palm-leaf scripture of Manawa Dharmasastra stated that the purification ceremony is for ‘the body to be cleansed with water, the mind to be cleansed with honesty, the soul to be cleansed with knowledge, and the reason to be cleansed with wisdom.’

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The source of the holy spring at Tirta Empul temple is located in the inner courtyard. The spring is filled with green algae.

It was the day before full moon when Yuni took me to Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul, and Sebatu. Yuni works at Lanna’s Lair, a lovely villa in Banjar Sawa Gunung, Pejeng, a perfect place to wind down, heal, and get reconnected with yourself.

“These places would be full, because tomorrow is full moon. Everyone is going for the water purification ceremony there,” said Yuni, as she bought banten (offerings) and incense from one of the stalls lining up towards the melukat site.

The first thing I noticed about these sites were how beautiful their surroundings were. All those greeneries, the faint chirping of the birds, the sounds of splashing water… no wonder such places are believed to have healing powers. Just by standing there in silence and absorbing their beauty, I could have felt a wave of peacefulness washing all over me already.

Sebatu turned out to be the most challenging site of the day. One must climb down hundreds of steep set of stairs to the holy spring; but the stunning view and the lush canopy of green above my head gave me the fuel to keep going.

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Melukat in Sebatu, Pejeng. You need to climb down a set of steep stairs to reach the water purification site.

Going Historical in Pejeng

I have always thought of Pejeng as a small village with nothing but rice fields and natural surroundings. So I was surprised at how many things I could actually do in Pejeng during my stay there. The village and the area nearby are swarming with historical sites!

Apart from Garba Cave, Gunung Kawi, Goa Gajah (or Elephant Cave, a Buddhist sanctuary built in the 9th century), as well as Tirta Empul and Sebatu holy springs, Tampaksiring Palace is located only 20-minute away. Sacred temples like Pengukur-ukuran, Penataran Sasih, Kebo Edan, Samuan Tiga, or Pusering Jagat are placed only a few kilometers away from each other.

Penataran Sasih temple was well-known for hosting the Moon of Pejeng. It is said to be the largest single-cast bronze kettle drum in the world and the largest known relic from Southeast Asia’s Bronze Age period. The locals believe that the Moon of Pejeng is sacred.

“We believe that The Moon would make a sound as a sign that a catastrophic event would take place,” said Dewa Gede Badung. He remembered how The Moon was last heard made a sound in 1965, before the Indonesian grim massacres.

Pusering Jagat temple, on the other hand, is believed to be the center of the old Pejeng Kingdom. The temple attracted devotees who are wishing for fertility and seeking healing powers.

Pejeng would still be my secret village to wind down from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. It was always lovely to talk with the villagers and holy site’s caretakers–listening to the way they embrace ancient wisdom and making meanings out of it in such a modernised world.

As I floated along Lanna’s Lair pool overlooking the jungle, suddenly I felt so insignificantly small. As if I was surrounded by something way much older, way much more ancient, and way much more sacred than all the world’s history I’ve ever known.

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What to do in Pejeng
Ask the lovely local staff at Lanna’s Lair to arrange a private cooking class (their Chef used to work in Ubud’s most well-known fine dining restaurant), a melukat trip or other Balinese traditional healing experience, meeting village elders and caretakers, meditation class (including their routine full-moon meditation), bicycle trip around Pejeng’s historical temples and healing sites, and many more! 

10 Years of Blogging and Being Here.

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I WAS 17, typing away from my desktop computer in my room from 7 pm to 3 am, non-stop. The fan was blowing to keep the CPU from overheating. We didn’t have an air conditioning unit back then. I typed letters I would never sent, grammatically incorrect short stories in English, angry poems, sad poems, almost-love poems, teenage novellas and many unfinished novels I kept on revising.

I was 17. I was lonely and sad.

I felt unwanted, unattractive and unaccepted in a world that didn’t really belong to me. I ran into my books (they make me laugh, they make me cry, but they never hurt me) and my writings (my most genuine company). But books, with stories written by someone else, were like the world I didn’t belong. They were out of my control. Writing, however, was the opposite.

And that was how, when I was 17, I learned about the balance of life.

I wrote about things I’d like to experience. About things I couldn’t (or too afraid to) experience in real life. In the afternoon, he was the popular guy with a popular girlfriend, and I was the best friend who silently loved him. In the evening, I wrote about how the popular guy fell in love with his best friend, eventually. Realising that she was the ‘perfect match’ all along. Finding out that his popular girlfriend had been cheating on him all along. But the best friend was already in love with a more popular guy who had been kind to her all along—who had silently loved her all along.

It was only in these stories that I became cute and beautiful, cool and confident, rebellious and couldn’t care less of what other people think of me.

But morning always came, and I had to go to school.

***

I HATED high school because I wanted to learn, not being lectured.

I wondered if high school would be better if I chose social major instead of natural science. Unfortunately, at the time, I hadn’t had the courage to choose anything for myself. So I tried to skip as many classes as I could, legally: being too active in the student body so I needed to visit other schools and attended school meetings, signing up for debate team and English-speaking club so I needed to spend many days competing in different schools or campuses, offering myself to help the choir team if they didn’t have enough people to sing that day… anything, as long as I didn’t have to be in class.

In the afternoon, my math teacher called me stupid numerous times, scolded me because I often missed his class during the month of the debate championship. In the evening, I wrote about a math teacher who looked down on his student and bullied her all the time. At the end of the semester, the student won numerous awards in various poetry-reading competitions and she made the school famous.

The day I found the Internet in college, I started reading about stars and supernovas, blackholes and mutations, literary critics and the beatniks, Freud and Jung. I couldn’t stop asking more and more questions of the things that had always intrigued me, because it seemed as if the search engine had the answers for them all.

And then I found out about blogging. Where I could just write and threw my words away to the world, for some complete strangers to stumble upon them accidentally. It was the days of Blogspot and Livejournal and Friendster blogs. WordPress came last.

The blogs were my ways of both reaching out and reaching in. And I never stopped ever since.

***

MY FRIEND once told me that my blog is reserved to those who are heartbroken.

Maybe because in the old days, I wrote about sad things. I was sad. I didn’t know happiness back then. It was such an abstract concept. Sadness fuelled my writing in such a way that got me somewhat addicted to it. I couldn’t write when I was happy. So I made myself sad, sometime subconsciously, other times consciously.

But I was tired of being sad. The idea of a troubled and angry writer didn’t excite me anymore.

I used to daydream about being broke and living in a rundown flat without electricity; about working as a waitress in a small jazz club and writing under the candle light at night. I used to romanticise the idea about being a struggling miserable writer. It sounded like an indie movie.

Then Rory Gilmore came along. She made me thought about how I, secretly, have always wanted to be happy. And so I braced myself to cross over. To be happy; even if it meant I had to lose my writings.

It was true that I couldn’t really write for quite some time, but then I started learning to write as a happy person. I learned about it all over again. When I came to think about it, the blog was all about that: about me, learning to write—and about me, learning to understand myself.

***

I AM 33.

I remembered how in my early 20s I found my childhood friend and got reconnected with her when we stumbled upon each other’s blog. About when in my mid 20s, I giddily launched an idea for a social movement with my bestfriend in the blog, and kind people shared the post to the point that we got more support than we thought possible—that 8 years later, the movement is still running.

About how people I didn’t know reached out to me (or I reached out to them) from the blog, and we poured our hearts out as if we had known each other for years, and then we became friends.

I remembered about how in my late 20s I got hosted in New Delhi, India, by an Indian blogger who knew me through the blog.

About how I shrieked and jumped around the room in happiness when my Santorini blogpost got featured by WordPress for the very first time—a few days before my birthday. About how I still shrieked and jumped around the room when some of them got featured again in different years: The Answer, My Saturday with Mishka, Why I’m Keeping My 100-List & The Things I’ve Crossed Off in 2015, and recently, The Short History of Instant Noodles.

I remembered when a month before my 33rd birthday, an editor from WordPress, Cheri Lucas, contacted me and asked if she could make a profile about my blog in the Discover section of WordPress.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI remembered how, in some of my lowest days, I found comments or messages from people I didn’t know in or through the blog; saying that they had gone through the things I went through, saying that they could relate to my stories, saying that they enjoyed being around and read along, and then my days became instantly better.

***

THE blog has been running for 10 years.

I didn’t remember it at first. WordPress reminded me when I woke up this morning. It’s been quite a journey.

Some of my friends decided to create a new blog after a few years. Some said that the old blog didn’t suit them anymore. That some of the things they posted years ago embarrassed them. I understood what they mean. I did feel a certain level of embarrassment when I flipped through my first few blogposts here, but I decided to keep them around.

Because they simply reminded me of who I was. About how my writings grew with me.

I once read that we tend not to notice how far we’ve come until we looked back to where we were 3 years ago, 7 years ago, 15 years ago, 25 years ago. For this reason, sometimes, I look back. It keeps me humble when I read my old posts once again and be reminded of where I came from. It keeps me optimistic to know how far I’ve come. It keeps me wondering about what I would see when I look back to this moment 10 years from now.

It reminds me that no matter how much I’ve been broken, I am still here.

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Berbagi Senyum.

DISCLAIMER: Tulisan berikut ini adalah sebuah advertorial. Saya bersedia menuliskannya karena percaya dengan tujuan baik yang layak disebarkan. Tulisan ini dibuat secara independen—tanpa suntingan dari pihak sponsor. I hope you’ll enjoy this one. A story about a smile.

@BERADADISINI

Peace begins with a smile. – Mother Teresa

Banyak kenangan manis dalam hidup saya diawali dengan sebuah lengkungan sederhana. Bentuknya seperti sebuah mangkuk: mangkuk yang mewadahi perjumpaan-perjumpaan pertama dengan mereka yang kemudian menjadi kekasih (atau mantan kekasih), mengawali persahabatan dengan sesama pejalan di negeri-negeri asing, membuka percakapan-percakapan yang biasanya baru akan berakhir selepas tengah malam, juga meninggalkan jejak-jejak singkat—yang bertahun-tahun kemudian masih lekat untuk diingat.

***

Malam itu, kami berada di Medeu—area seluncur es berskala Olimpiade di daerah pegunungan Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Orang-orang lokal lalu-lalang dengan santai—bercakap ramai seraya membawa-bawa berbagai perlengkapan piknik: vodka, gelas-gelas dalam tas belanjaan, bahkan pipa-pipa untuk mengisap sisha. Kuda-kuda berderap, membuat saya sempat berhenti sejenak dan memandangi mereka dengan takjub. Tak seperti kuda-kuda yang biasa saya lihat menarik delman, kuda-kuda di Medeu begitu tinggi, begitu besar, begitu tegap. Saya sampai perlu mendongak untuk melihat wajah mereka.

Saya sebenarnya berada di Almaty untuk menjadi pembicara dalam sebuah konferensi. Tetapi, ketika mengetahui bahwa saya akan memperpanjang masa tinggal di Almaty, Zhamilya—salah satu pengurus konferensi tersebut, mengajak saya untuk mengunjungi Medeu di malam hari. Ia menjemput saya di penginapan bersama kekasihnya, Alex. Dan setelah sekitar satu jam berkenalan, Alex tiba-tiba saja bertanya mengenai lengkungan sederhana yang nampaknya ia perhatikan terus saja melintas di wajah saya.

“Apakah semua orang Indonesia suka tersenyum—atau hanya kamu yang seperti itu?”

Mau tak mau, saya tertawa. Bukan karena pertanyaan itu, tetapi karena Alex menanyakannya dalam rentang waktu yang begitu singkat sejak kami pertama bertemu. Apakah mungkin, dalam rentang waktu tersebut, saya sudah terlalu banyak tersenyum?

Oh, I’d like to think that most Indonesians are like that,” saya menjawab. “Sepertinya senyuman sudah menjadi bagian dari masyarakat kami. Sesuatu yang sangat natural.”

Well, mungkin saya hanya lebih jarang melihat orang tersenyum di sini,” ujar Alex kemudian. “Dan karenanya, wajah-wajah penuh senyum menjadi hal yang tak lumrah.”

Meskipun Alex sempat menetap selama beberapa waktu di Almaty, ia sendiri adalah warga Amerika Serikat. Saya tak tahu seberapa sering orang-orang tersenyum di Amerika, namun saya sedikit-banyak mengerti apa yang Alex maksudkan mengenai Almaty.

Jangan salah, ini bukan berarti orang-orang di Almaty tidak bisa tersenyum!

Saya melihat banyak senyum selama konferensi berlangsung: dari para pengurus acara, anak-anak mahasiswa yang secara sukarela menjadi penerjemah, bahkan dari beberapa peserta yang hadir. Namun, sepertinya budaya yang berbeda membuat senyum tak beredar ‘seluas’ di Indonesia.

Kita mungkin lebih ‘mudah’ tersenyum pada orang asing, ketika menerima kembalian dari pengemudi taksi, ketika memesan secangkir kopi, ketika masuk ke sebuah kantor dan melihat resepsionis duduk di meja depan, ketika petugas keamanan mengecek tas-tas kita saat melewati detektor metal, ketika disenggol seseorang secara tak sengaja dan mendengarnya meminta maaf…

“Saya tak tahu mengapa kamu ingin sekali pergi ke Rusia. Di Rusia, orang-orang akan mengira kamu gila, karena kamu tidak bisa berhenti tersenyum.”

Pernah, teman saya yang lain berkata.

Namanya Alex juga. Ia meninggalkan kota tepi lautnya di Vladivostok, Rusia, untuk bekerja menjadi instruktur selam di Labuan Bajo. Sesekali, ia mengirimkan tulisan dan foto-foto perjalanannya di Indonesia untuk dimuat di majalah-majalah berbahasa Rusia.

“Masa, sih, orang Rusia tidak pernah tersenyum?” saya tak percaya.

“Tentu saja mereka tersenyum,” Alex membalas. “Tapi, tak seperti di sini, di sana orang-orang tersenyum hanya jika mereka punya alasan kuat untuk itu. Tak semudah itu buat kami untuk tersenyum begitu saja. Meskipun demikian, hanya karena kami tidak tersenyum bukan berarti kami marah, ya.”

Ketika Alex mengatakan hal ini, perihal senyum-tersenyum di Almaty—yang merupakan salah satu negara pecahan Uni Soviet—kemudian membuat saya terkikik geli.

Saat berada di Almaty, saya tinggal di sebuah penginapan yang terletak di pusat kota. Di sebelah penginapan itu, terletak sebuah restoran—The Noodles namanya.

noodles

Setiap pagi, sebelum konferensi dimulai, saya dan beberapa pembicara lainnya biasa mampir di sana untuk minum kopi. Dan setiap sore, setelah konferensi berakhir, The Noodles menjadi tempat yang kami sambangi untuk membeli sepotong pizza atau tempat pelarian untuk makan es krim di malam hari ketika kami tak bisa tidur.

Jadi, tentunya, beberapa kali setiap hari, saya mendorong pintu The Noodles dan tersenyum pada pramusaji yang bertugas saat itu: “Selamat pagi! Selamat siang! Selamat sore!”

Belakangan, ketika konferensi berakhir dan saya sempat jatuh sakit selama beberapa hari, The Noodles menjadi tempat yang saya datangi setiap waktu—karena jaraknya hanya beberapa langkah dari hotel.

Praktis, beberapa kali sehari saya akan duduk di meja sudut di The Noodles, dengan tablet parasetamol yang dibelikan kawan saya Sean, tablet isap untuk sakit tenggorokan dari kawan saya Bota, dan novel remaja Julia Hoban yang sesungguhnya agak depresif, Willow. Dengan demam tinggi, hidung mampet, dan tenggorokan yang sakit, saya masih saja mendorong pintu The Noodles setiap harinya dan tersenyum: “Selamat pagi! Selamat siang! Selamat sore!”

Rasanya tersenyum sudah menjadi hal yang begitu lumrah, begitu pantas, begitu otomatis.

Selama beberapa hari itu pulalah, senyum saya tak pernah berbalas.

Pramusaji-pramusaji di The Noodles bekerja dengan efektif dan efisien. Mereka tak salah mengantarkan pesanan, juga selalu sigap melihat tamu mana yang akan membutuhkan bantuan—namun satu hal yang mulai membuat saya penasaran saat itu, adalah mengapa mereka tak mau membalas senyum saya—yang saya rasa sudah cukup sumringah.

Di hari terakhir saya di Almaty, hari ke-12, saya mampir di The Noodles demi secangkir kopi. Yang bertugas saat itu adalah seorang pramusaji perempuan yang sudah seringkali saya lihat. Saya yakin, ia juga pasti sudah mengenali saya yang setiap hari mampir ke sini. Untuk kali terakhir, saya pun melemparkan sebuah lengkungan sederhana padanya. Tersenyum lebar sambil berkata, “Selamat pagi!”

Saya tak mengharapkan apapun saat itu, sampai kemudian saya melihat ada lengkungan sederhana muncul di wajah sang pramusaji. Ia berkata, “Selamat pagi!” dan tersenyum!

Rasanya ada sesuatu yang membuncah dalam dada saya. Ia tersenyum! Ia tersenyum! Saya ingin menari-nari gembira. Sepertinya demam membuat saya terlalu emosional, karena saya kemudian menyadari betapa mata saya berkaca-kaca! Akhirnya senyum saya berbalas! Akhirnya, senyum saya… berbalas!

Ah, seindah itukah rasanya ketika kita, sebagai manusia, akhirnya dapat berbagi senyum?

***

Terkadang saya berpikir, mungkinkah di Indonesia saya memang sudah begitu terbiasa dengan senyuman yang dilemparkan begitu saja di mana-mana? Dari para penjaga toilet di mall, ibu-ibu di warung makan, penjual sate di trotoar, penjaja bakpao di pintu tol, pedagang buah di pasar basah, bahkan anak-anak yang mengamen di pinggir jalan…

Apakah saya memang sudah begitu terbiasa sehingga saya lupa betapa indahnya perasaan yang bisa muncul dari sebuah senyuman?

Dan lupa juga—atau bahkan tak bisa sungguh-sungguh memahami rasanya—ketika manusia, tak bisa tersenyum?

Bukan, saya tak bermaksud bicara tentang saat-saat ketika kita sedih, marah, atau berduka, hingga untuk sesaat kita tak bisa tersenyum.

What if you want to flash a smile, but you just can’t?

Saya baru tahu bahwa 1 dari 700 anak di Indonesia mengalaminya. Dan setiap tahunnya, ada lebih dari 9.000 anak Indonesia yang tak bisa tersenyum. Bukan karena mereka tak mau—tapi benar-benar karena tak bisa.

Mereka adalah anak-anak yang terlahir dengan bibir sumbing.

Sampai sekarang, tak ada yang tahu pasti mengapa ada anak-anak yang terlahir dengan bibir sumbing. Naila, misalnya, yang terlahir dari pasangan pedagang sayur, Didin dan Sakinah, di Kabupaten Lebak, Banten. Sakinah, sang Ibu, mengatakan bahwa beberapa anggota keluarganya memang terlahir berbibir sumbing—walaupun hingga saat ini masih belum ada kesimpulan mengenai penyebab pasti kondisi tersebut.

Melihat anaknya terlahir berbibir sumbing, Sakinah sempat merasa sedih. Bukan hanya karena ia tak bisa melihat buah hatinya tersenyum, tapi juga karena alasan-alasan lain yang sebelum ini masih luput dari perhatian saya.

Anak-anak berbibir sumbing akan mengalami persoalan dalam makan dan minum, kesakitan di rongga hidung, juga kesulitan saat belajar berkomunikasi. Semakin lama operasi bibir sumbing ditunda, semakin besar hal-hal tersebut memengaruhi tumbuh-kembang mereka. Padahal, tak semua orang tua punya biaya yang cukup untuk lekas mengoperasi anak mereka sebelum menginjak usia 1 tahun.

Jika kita percaya bahwa senyum adalah ibadah—dan salah satu bentuk ekspresi jiwa manusia yang paling tulus, apakah kita bersedia membagikan senyuman bagi anak-anak Indonesia yang saat ini masih belum dapat merasakan indahnya berbagi senyum?

Sebuah organisasi nirlaba, SmileTrain, telah mencoba melakukan hal ini—satu senyum setiap kali.

Bermitra dengan ahli bedah plastik dan rumah sakit di berbagai negara di dunia, mereka memberikan operasi gratis bagi anak-anak berbibir sumbing. Hanya dibutuhkan waktu 45 menit agar anak-anak ini dapat tersenyum kembali. Organisasi ini pula yang telah memungkinkan operasi gratis untuk adik Naila di Banten, sehingga gadis mungil ini dapat tersenyum kembali, dan menikmati tumbuh-kembang yang lebih baik.

Bulan ini, saya ingin mengajakmu berbagi senyum dengan anak-anak Indonesia—atau bahkan anak-anak di seluruh dunia.

SmileTrain selalu membuka kesempatan untukmu yang hendak mendanai operasi bibir sumbing di sini. Kamu juga bisa membaca berbagai cerita mengenai orang-orang di seluruh dunia yang telah terbebas dari bibir sumbing di sini.

Atau, kamu juga dapat berdonasi lewat senyumanmu di sini. Untuk setiap foto dirimu yang sedang tersenyum dengan menggunakan hashtag #berbagisenyum, Listerine®—bekerja sama dengan SmileTrain, akan meneruskan senyumanmu; membawanya ke wajah anak-anak Indonesia berbibir sumbing agar mereka juga dapat membagi senyumnya denganmu.

Karena jika senyum adalah pembuka bagi banyak kenangan manis dalam hidup kita, bukankah kenangan manis akan selalu lebih indah ketika dibagi?

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*)Listerine® juga memiliki varian Listerine Zero, yang bebas alkohol.