Independence means the liberty to be who we really are, to be what we love, to be where our heart is. After years of suspended animation, one artist sharpens his focus [June 09, 2012]. Independence means having the freedom to believe or not to believe in something. Four injured as mob attacks Ahmadiyah community in Bogor [July 13, 2012]. Independence means the warm feeling of knowing that we will be accepted and welcomed, even if we are (or choose to be) different. Indonesia’s transgender community facing test of faith [May 28, 2011].

Independence means the courage to dream big—because we know that each one of us stands the chance; because the future will be brighter. Dropout rate linked to higher tuition fees [July 07, 2012]. Independence means the freedom from fear, the assurance that justice will prevail and human rights are protected. GKI Yasmin church can reopen if a mosque is built next door [May 02, 2012]. Independence means knowing that you will be treated fairly. Resource rich West Papua: who benefits? [May 14, 2010].

Independence means the freedom to choose between being a part of the problem, or a part of the solution. To know that you can make a difference. Akademi Berbagi: a virtually inspiring idea [July 17, 2011]. To believe that everything is possible. Indonesia Berkebun: Urban farming greening Jakarta [May 15, 2012]. To understand that less is more. Give your coins a chance to do good [May 24, 2009]. That limitation is not an excuse to give up. Gardens of learning: One woman is making a difference by bringing books to remote communities in Eastern Indonesia [April 26, 2012].

We have loads of home works to do. So let’s act now! Merdeka di hati, pikiran, dan perbuatan. Happy Independence Day, Indonesia!

Bali, Bursting in Ubud

I woke up to rain. To the faint smell of pandan leaves and frangipani. The sky was dark gray. The garden were glistening under the downpour. I watched the mist floating silently in the air, astounded by its ghostly appearance. A dark and wet morning in Ubud for a bunch of depressed writers. A perfect gift. When the rain subsided to drizzles, we tip-toed to the breakfast area, to avoid stepping over the offerings (banten).

Breakfast was served in a small hut next to the paddy field. The sound of Balinese gamelan, the hush of the wind, the rhythm of the raindrops, the spores of Actinomycetes. There were three of us at the table, but we did not talk much. I sipped my coffee without hurrying.

Leaving the cottage at around 10, we decided to take our separate ways. The guys went uphill, while I sat on the edge of the bridge, looking down to the mesmerizing beauty of Tjampuhan (Campuhan) river. I could spend hours just looking at the flowing water, orchestrated by the faint sounds of the birds and monkeys from the nearby forest. It was so calming, like a therapy to ignite a sense of melancholy.

Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has spent the last decade investigating the link between negative moods and creativity. He has repeatedly demonstrated that a little melancholy sharpens the spotlight of attention, allowing us to become more observant and persistent. Forgas has found that states of sadness also correlate with better writing samples; subjects compose sentences that are clearer and more compelling. Because they were more attentive to what they were writing, they produced more refined prose, the words polished by their misery*.

That was probably the exact reason why the three of us decided to hide in Ubud for a few days.

True, it was that time of the year when they held this annual International Ubud Writers & Readers Festival—where writers from all over the world came to this little dot on the map for a series of talks, readings, or workshops. But the festival was merely an added topping. The core ingredient of our #PecahdiUbud (“Bursting in Ubud“) journey was actually the one that Forgas mentioned.

We were looking for a place where we could savor the melancholy of being silently depressed and miserable.

Ubud was just the perfect place to do this. A small village hidden beneath the lush canopy of green, with its forests, rivers, hills, temples, and October rain, far from the beach-side’s sunny celebrations. A bunch of traveling companions who could understand these shared state-of-sadness. Those who wouldn’t mind to sit together in silence—each one got lost in one’s own thoughts: racking our brains, scribbling some notes, typing stories, reading books, or gazing out into the emptiness.

In the afternoon, after a long lunch, we would wander around listlessly—only to find ourselves took our separate ways, again. Adit went to a batik workshop, Ney went to a book discussion, and I decided to sit in a class of 15 people; clutching my Vernon God Little novel while the author, DBC Pierre, was sharing his writing experience right in front of me.

When the sadness and depression overwhelmed us, we left Ubud for Seminyak and walked under the sun until our feet got tired and our skin were burning hot. That day, we waited for the sun to set in Cafe Bali, Oberoi Street. Sat lazily on a huge couch overlooking the tiny pool and the Ganesha statue, we sipped our coffee and devoured six types of desserts to wash away the bitterness.

As night fell, we climbed back up to Ubud: the wind was chilly, the air was damp, the sky was dark. A small sliver of the moon was hanging there, looking lonely. We walked past the darkness of the museum not far from our cottage, the sound of the night enveloped us. It was the museum of Antonio Blanco—a painter of Spanish and American decent who came to the island in 1952 and fell in love with Ni Ronji, a Balinese dancer, and got married to her a year later.

Love stories.

My mind was instantly filled with mythical creatures, kisses and fireworks, invisible inhabitants of the past and the future, the traces of unrequited love, explosion of tears. It was that time of the year. To celebrate sadness and misery, to welcome tears and despair, to get high just by looking at the words pouring from my computer screen. “Bursting in Ubud” was about embracing all these, to wake up again in a different morning one day and walk out with my golden slippers, sunglasses, shirts, and shorts—heading to the beach with a burst of laughter.


*) p. 77, The Unconcealing, a chapter from the book “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer.

November 2004.

sugar |ˈ sh oŏgər|
verb [ trans. ]
sweeten, sprinkle, or coat with sugar : she absentmindedly sugared her tea | [as adj.] (sugared) sugared almonds.
• figurative make more agreeable or palatable : the novel was preachy but sugared heavily with jokes.

Sesungguhnya saya sedang tidak ingin bermain-main. I was just feeling a bit… nostalgic. Saya menemukan kembali surat-suratmu itu, dari tahun-tahun yang sudah lama berlalu. Dan detik itu juga, saya merasa kehilangan sesuatu. Ironis. Saya merasa kehilangan justru pada saat saya menemukan.

Kamu tiba-tiba saja datang lewat sembilan puluh delapan halaman surat yang saya dapatkan tepat saat saya ingin membuang begitu banyak barang. Saya bahkan tak ingat bahwa saya masih menyimpan surat-suratmu itu. Selama beberapa tahun terakhir, kamu bahkan tak pernah hinggap di benak saya meski barang sebentar. Kemudian saya membaca kembali surat-suratmu itu di atas tempat tidur (setelah menyingkirkan dua karung sampah kertas yang selama ini bersemayam di dalam kamar tidur saya) dan berpikir, damn, we did have a great time.

Mungkin karena di antara kita tidak pernah ada ekspektasi atau janji-janji. Kita hanya menikmati waktu yang ada. Menulis kepada satu sama lain ketika sempat. Kamu tidak pernah menagih jika saya terlambat membalas suratmu selama berhari-hari. Saya juga tak pernah memburumu ketika kamu harus menghabiskan waktu satu minggu di tengah belantara. Kita tak pernah punya tali. Kita hanya punya jemari dan huruf-huruf yang mengantarkan sekian banyak cerita. Impresi dari hari-hari yang kita lewati merupakan perwujudan dari segala hal yang tidak berurutan: perasaan yang datang tiba-tiba, lonjakan pemikiran tentang sesuatu hal, segala yang acak tetapi mengingatkan saya terhadapmu, dan sebaliknya.


Malam itu, saya menyimpan surat-suratmu di dalam laci. Saya tak ingin membuangnya. Dan memang tak perlu, karena surat-suratmu tidak memberatkan. Mereka tidak menyeret saya ke masa lalu. Justru membawa saya melambung ke sebuah masa depan yang jauh. Seperti yang pernah kamu katakan, “Let’s run on the beach and laugh and watch the pretty clouds dance in the sky!”

Semoga. Suatu hari nanti. Jika kesempatan itu datang. Dan jika kita tidak pernah bertemu lagi pun, tak mengapa. Surat-suratmu itu akan menjelma menjadi sesuatu yang pada saatnya akan menyentuh hidupmu juga. Until then, be happy. Like always.

And stay sweet.

I See You.

I saw you on a boat-ride from Bangsal to Gili Trawangan. You were sitting by yourself not far from the bow, resting your back on the wooden pole. You had a bottle of mineral water in your hand. It was hard to guess, at first (especially from this distance), whether you came from a Latin or South Asian descendent. There was something ‘foreign’ about the way you carry yourself, about the golden color of your skin, about the structure of your bones, about the small backpack lying next to you. I just knew that you were not from here. Then I zoomed at you through my camera lens, noticed the red string bracelet on your wrist, and made my guess.

I noticed you because from where I sat, you looked like a painting. You just sat there, gazing at the ocean, not moving. What are you up to? Why are you here? I wondered what went through your mind back then. Did you think about the girl that you loved? Why did you leave her? Or why did she leave you? Did you miss her? Did you come to this island all by yourself to run away from those painful memories? Would you write her during your stay here? Would you send her a postcard? Or texted her when you reached the port just for the sake of the good old times?

What is your story?


Some people asked me where do I get the inspiration to write. Well, to be honest, it’s from him. The guy I met on a 30-minute boat-ride. The woman who sold olive hand cream in Fira. Two Japanese guys at Dubai airport who passed me by at around 2 a.m. The bartender at Palia Kameni. The male flight attendant with a sad look on his face. An old taxi driver in Lagos who sat next to me and started talking to me in Portuguese. A guy who took my hand and asked me to dance the night away by the pool. The girl behind the cinema’s popcorn counter. The owner of a small food stall and his teenage son. Someone inside a panda costume, who sat alone by the beach on a sunny afternoon…

I didn’t know who you are. I didn’t know your name. We didn’t really talk. But I looked at you, and a story popped up in my mind.