Dark and bright.

Maybe this is a thank-you note, or maybe this is just a note, but the thing is (and you don’t know this) when I spotted you for the very first time, a poem from Silverstein came into mind, instantly, as if you were made out of these words:

There are no happy endings
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.

Oh, and when I said “I spotted you”, I wasn’t referring to the moment when I was seeing you for the very first time (well, didn’t I tell you once that looks can be deceiving?).

Rather, I was talking about the moment when I realized how comfortable it was when you were near.

***

You know how neat encounters with random people you’ve met along the way could change you somehow—giving you worthwhile life-lessons as they brushed upon the walls of your life. My encounter with you is one about being.

I know that life is what you make of it—and most of the time, it’s about shutting down your perturbing mind and letting your heart takes over. To do so, all these times, I thought it was more about having to be brave, courageous or adventurous (even reckless). But I was wrong. Turned out it was more about being comfortable—to feel content, certain, and light. You realized that your mind was still, and you didn’t hear contradicting voices, and your heart was calm and you felt peaceful, as if things were meant to happen and were meant to happen this way.

It feels as if a new chapter of my life is opening up right in front of me: the sun is bright, the path is clear, the breeze is cool, and the future seems enchanting. Of course, I was intrigued to question things, to indulge myself in the thoughts of us, to want more… but soon I felt guilty, as if I weren’t being thankful. Why want more if we have just enough? Because one day, when we meet again, I’ll whisper to your ear that I have no regrets, and you’ll understand.

***

Some people would ask me what the point of this note actually is, and what’s the closing would be.

But, really, do we need any?

A cup of espresso on such a serene afternoon. Embracing the silence by the window, staring into nothingness. The residue of the past turns into dust; and everything’s sparkling under the sun.

I’ll just say: thank you.


Lost in Taipei: 2. The pursuit of hot springs

Taipei in the morning. The weather was nice. The sun was shining brightly—but the breeze was cool. Daud and I had to catch a flight back to Jakarta in the afternoon, so we got up very early in the morning to venture the city and be adventurous. Both of us had this urge of going to Chiufen—but as we consulted this option with the concierge, he said that it would make more sense if we went to Yangmingshan National Park and see the hot springs instead.

Our first destination was the Memorial Hall. The gate was very pretty. I felt like being thrown into an old movie all of a sudden.

Several elderly local women were there, dancing. It was probably a routine practice or something. It was fun to see them dancing around cheerily while another grandma was sweeping and mopping the floor, her head was bobbing up and down following the beat. I wish I could still be such fun when I reach their ages, dancing around in the morning, laughing, being thankful for the good weather, good health, and good life!

We spent an hour or so strolling around the complex of the memorial hall, helping a bunch of tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of the structures. One of the “tour leader” was this uncle from Penang, Malaysia—who handed us his name, address, and cellphone number, and asked us to call him up whenever we were in Penang, as he would gladly take us for a tour around town for free :)

From the memorial hall, we decided to go straight to Yangmingshan National Park, as we had only a few hours left. We took a cab and we had this gut feeling of how things would not be as smooth, when the taxi driver started to ask where in Yangmingshan we’d like to be dropped off. We had no idea. We kept saying “hot springs” and pointed to the image printed on our pathetic little map, but it seemed like none of this registered well to him. So, we decided to get off in front of what looked like a start of a hiking track, with a police station nearby. Maybe we could just ask for direction?

Not really. A bunch of police stationed there were very friendly and very chatty, but they didn’t speak English much. We pointed at the image of the hot springs again, and they moved their hands indicating that it was still very very very faraway, and told us to just get onto a bus or a cab. There were no bus or cab in sight after we stood there on the street for around 20 minutes, so we decided to walk (and maybe, hike) a bit.

That was until we spotted this sign, and thought that maybe we could skip the hiking part?

Our good luck started to kick in. A bus was coming. We hopped on, told the driver that we would like to go to the hot springs. Some exchange of words that none of us understood. And so the bus ride began.

The driver kept glancing our way from one stop to another, like asking, “Kids, were are you heading actually?” — and so, for some reason, we got off at a stop that might be the right stop…

It wasn’t.

The official we met told us that we needed to wait for another bus to reach the hot springs. Again, he said, “It’s still so far faraway.”

Daud and I found ourselves sitting on a wooden bench on another bus stop—it was actually a very comfortable one, and the view of our surrounding was actually breathtaking. But our worries started to kick in, because we had spent around 2 hours in this complex and still couldn’t reach the hot springs. We didn’t know that the park would be this huge, and we had a flight to catch in 4 hours! We waited for almost an hour for another bus, and we thought that we would just drop the hot springs search and went back to the city.

The bus finally came, we hopped in, and rode for 30 minutes or so, still we had not reached the city. The fog came down, enveloped us. Everything was white. We could not see our surroundings, we could only sense the bus turning left and right and left and right and after a few minutes of climbing up the hills, we felt that the bus descended to—hopefully, the city. The fog started to disappear, and as we glanced out of the window, we spotted the sign saying: hot springs!

We decided to check it out. After all, this was what we’d been searching for all day long! So we got off, walked a bit until we found a small inn, and asked for direction there—

only to find out that… the hot springs were not public hot springs. There were small huts around these areas that people could rent, and they could enjoy the hot springs inside this hut, in the bathtub. Argh! Luckily, we could just phone a cab to pick us up at this inn and drove us back to the city just in time to catch our flight.

While Daud was waiting for the cab inside the inn’s restaurant, I wandered around the area happily, as the surroundings were so darn beautiful. The huts were amazingly serene as well. I could imagine myself staying there for a month or so, just to read and write and have a cup of green tea in the morning while enjoying the melodious chirping of the birds.

And the area was full of butterflies…

And look at this pretty thing!

I guess, sometimes, it’s good to get lost.


Lost in Taipei: 1. A stroll in the evening

As I stepped out from the hotel that evening, it was pouring outside. I fetched my umbrella and waited for a cab, hopped in, and sat with my nose glued to the backseat’s window—capturing the beauty of raindrops and city lights. It was gorgeous.

There were around ten of us that evening. Everybody had just met everybody else a few hours ago. Our Taiwanese friends brought us to this ‘hip’ mall in Xinyi District called ATT4FUN. They said there was a new Thai restaurant opening up, and we should try it because the food was so good. I know, I know, like we’re in Taipei and we’ll be eating Thai food? But, I was hungry. I needed rice. Thai food would do. The restaurant was called Bangkok Jam. And the food—yeah, it was so darn good, especially the spicy mango salad. Oh, and those chicken in pandan leaves! And the tom yam soup! And… well, apparently, I was really hungry (later on I realized that we have Bangkok Jam in Jakarta, too).

My Taiwanese friend: “Would you like to try some Taiwan beer?”
Me: Sure, what does it called?
My friend: Taiwan beer.
Me: Like, the brand?
My friend: Yeah, exactly that.

And it was (literally) called Taiwan beer, indeed. It tastes like… a beer. A beer that you drink in Taipei. Okay, I know. I suck :P

Taiwan in the evening. The occasional drizzle. The wide pavements. City lights. Such a good friend for those who would like to stroll around lazily, with nothing in mind. You could just sit on a clean and comfy bench when your feet got tired: sipping a cup of coffee from a carton cup, nibbling on some snacks, reading books, watching people. Suddenly, I felt Adele-ish.

Being me, of course, the highlight of my Taipei journey was Eslite. Imagine a bookstore that opens for 24 hours, with 7 floors full of books, stationeries, and art & craft supplies. Heaven! You could see people reading there, sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor. Some teenagers were occupying rows of wooden desks—studying solemnly. Wait. Was this a bookstore or a library?

I found myself got overly excited and overwhelmed, surrounded by tall bookshelves lining up and books with wonderful covers from all around the world! I jumped excitedly from one section to another, flipping over some gorgeous-looking illustration books and gasped and sighed and gasped and sighed. It was just too much, that in the end I came out without buying any books. I know. I just… couldn’t make my choice in such a short period of time. I got only… 2 – 3 hours max? I mean, come on! *drenched in tears*

Coffee should ease the pain. There was this cute Starbucks counter on the street—with cartoony poster in pastel colors. Taipei was full of cute stuff and drawings like that. Just mentioned it: billboards, road signs, city maps, advertisements, posters, brochures… probably watercolor artists and illustrators stood better chances of making a living in this part of the world.

The other evening, we had seen a display of an uber-cute artistic work at Taipei 101, the landmark of Taipei that used to be the tallest building in the world.

Look at this Taipei 101 mascot, called “Damper Baby” (a 730-ton tuned mass damper that acts like a giant pendulum to counteract the building’s movement; reducing sway due to wind by 30 to 40 percent). Could you see that the mascot was actually designed out of the number 101? :D

Riding the elevator up to the observatory on the 89th floor, I sat in front of a glass wall overlooking the city, covered in fog. The city lights were disappearing. Everything was gray and white and dark blue. The open-deck on the 91st floor was closed that day due to the bad weather and the strong wind. I treated myself a cup of green tea and sat on a bench, resting my feet; then took more pictures of me with the ever-popular Damper Baby. We actually looked alike.

The night had fallen. The youths and the elders came out in couples, holding hands, landing light kisses on each others’ cheeks. Earlier that afternoon, a Taiwanese guy, D, mentioned about The Raid when he knew that we came from Indonesia. He said The Raid was one of the best action movie he had ever seen. The movie was definitely a big hit in Taipei, too.

There was this one particular evening when I got into my hotel, dead-tired, and just went straight to the bathroom for a quick shower. As I finished up, I realized how beautiful it was: bathing with the city lights twinkling around you. And then it registered to me, way too late. Wait, why did I see these city lights from the tall buildings? Oh. The bathroom had these glass walls, and apparently, I forgot to close the curtain.

 


Red Velvet Scoop-Cake

Apart from eating, writing, reading, and sleeping, I spent my Lebaran holiday trying out this Red Velvet recipe from Magnolia’s recipe book (a present for my 29th birthday from Ri). It was indeed quite complicated, so many ingredients, and took quite a lot of time to finish, but it turned out surprisingly well!

Red velvet cake recipe:

  • 3 ⅓ cups flour (not self-rising) 
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature 
  • 6 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Steps:

  • In a bowl, sift the flour and set aside (a)
  • Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixture (medium speed), for around 5 minutes, until it’s light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time (b)
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla, add to (b)
  • In a cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. If you have difficulties in finding buttermilk (like me), you can replace it with 1 ½ of milk + 1 ½ tablespoons of vinegar (cider vinegar) and wait for 5 minutes before using it. Add this and the flour (a) to the batter (b). Beat until the ingredients are mixed well
  • In a small bowl, stir the cider vinegar and baking soda, then add to the batter (b)
  • Bake the batter in the oven, 180oC,  for around 20 minutes
  • Let it cool

Vanilla frosting recipe:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Steps:

  • Beat the butter (medium speed mixer) until it’s creamy and smooth, around 3 minutes
  • Add the vanilla extract and the milk
  • Add the sugar gradually
  • Refrigerate for around an hour before using

Well, you can decorate the cake as usual, meaning: cut the cake in half and spread the vanilla frosting on it. On the other hand, I love love love this cute birdie jar Nia gave me for my birthday, so I decided to store the cake in a jar.

I layered the bottom of the jar with vanilla frosting, then put some of the cake on top of it, and covered it with vanilla frosting, and then the cake, and the vanilla frosting, and the cake, and so on. Then I refrigerated my cake-in-a-jar and used the ice-cream scoop to serve the cake—thus, the Red Velvet Scoop-Cake, served cold! You can have around 30-35 scoops of red velvet with this recipe. Perfect for a lovely summer party! :)

Happy baking!


Through Windless Night The Glinting Moon.

Through windless night the glinting moon
Illuminates in flowing waves
The village nestled in the vale
Where crests the overflowing stream

The thick-trunked, bare-branched tree
speaks in whispers to itself–
don’t you see the bustling earth
Turning its face green again?

~ Through Windless Night The Glinting Moon, by Abai Kunanbaev ~


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Almaty

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AlmatyModels: Bota Iliyas, Ulan Scheff, Timur Azizov. My lovely friends in Almaty, Kazakhstan.


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