Author Archives: @beradadisini

About @beradadisini

A writer who travels. I love capturing moments through my camera lens and co-founding random things. I collect memories and blog about you.

On Why Our New Year’s Resolution Doesn’t (Really) Work, and How I Created Mine (in A Slightly Different Way)

I think it’s fair to say that this one is not going to be a quick read, so if you’re in a hurry, you may want to revisit this post later on. But if you’re ready, let’s roll!

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 8.34.03 PM“So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?”

You might have heard this–or being exposed to this question. Especially now that we’ve gone through our first few weeks in the new year. You may scoffed at that question. Or you may simply be reminded of your own New Year’s resolution. The one you made on New Year’s Eve.

I was one of those people who did both (scoffed at the question, but actually wrote down my New Year’s resolution). I no longer scoff at that question now, but I still–to some extent, write down my New Year’s resolution in a slightly different manner (after reading The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte).

But we’ll get back to that later.

My point is, I have written down my New Year’s resolution probably since I was 12. And I didn’t really feel like it was (ever) ‘working’–whatever ‘working’ is supposed to mean in this context. I was simply scribbling mine ecstatically; and in the following year realised that, hey, I didn’t achieve those thingsbut who cares?

So I forgot about it and moved on with life.
But that was when I didn’t know any better.

Now, before we continue…

Let’s do this experiment just for the fun of it. I want you to write 5 things you’d like to do, achieve, or have this year. In other words, your New Year’s resolution. You can write down whatever you like. If you can think of 10 or 30 things, just pick 5. If you can only think of 1 thing, try to add more until you get 5, just to stretch your mind a bit.

Probably you’ve written down stuff like getting healthier. Losing weight. Getting married. Having a new car. Traveling to exotic places. Quitting your job. Being fluent in Italian. Spending more time volunteering. Learning how to become a professional chef. Whatever they might be, just write them down freely now.

Done? OK. Keep that note with you for a while (it will come in handy later!)

In the mean time, I think these could be the 3 most plausible reasons on why my (or your) New Year’s resolution doesn’t work.

1. We don’t really want those things. We only think that we should want them.

Probably we don’t really want a new job. We don’t really want to pay a down payment for a house. Maybe we are not really into traveling, and actually prefer to stay at home, doing our hobbies or spending time with our families.

But we sometimes write down the things we don’t really want, simply because our circle of friends or families (or societies) believe that we should want those things. Because our parents think of those things as the epitome of success. Or because our friends told us that quitting our job to travel is the coolest thing to do–ever! Or because society believes that it’s indeed very respectable to climb the corporate ladder.

2. The things we desire may be fun to have, experienced, or achieved, but actually they are not really important for our lives.

When we created our New Year’s resolution, we may wrote down so many things we wanted to have, experience, or achieve. Now, from all those things, how many of them are truly important?  Or let me rephrase: if we can’t have, experience, or achieve them, how would our lives be affected?

If our lives would still be (relatively) fine even when we couldn’t get those things we want to have, experience, or achieve, it means those things are not that important to us. And it is exactly because we don’t think of them as that important, we don’t have enough drive, inspiration, or motivation to go for it.

3. We don’t really know why we want certain things.

There were times when I looked back to my previous New Year’s resolutions, and felt like I needed to pat myself kindly. Have we ever looked at our New Year’s resolution and asked ourselves why we actually want those things?

Why do we want to have a girlfriend? Or why do we want to get married this year? Or why do we want to quit our job? Or why do we want that new phone? Or why do we want to lose weight? Or why do we want to make more money?

When we are asking these questions–and be honest with ourselves while answering them, we will be able to understand what it is that we truly want. Why we want the things we want. Keep asking why until you’re lost for words.

For instance, if we’d like to lose weight, keep asking ourselves about why we actually want to lose weight.

  • Maybe it’s because we think we would feel more confident being in our skin
  • Maybe it’s because we want to feel lighter when we’re exercising, thus we can feel more comfortable doing it
  • Maybe it’s because we’ll be in a dangerous medical condition if we’re not losing weight, thus we are afraid that we’ll get seriously ill
  • Maybe it’s because we think losing weight will make us look more attractive, hence, we’ll have better possibilities of finding a romantic partner, and in the end we can finally feel loved and enough

The underlying reasons behind why we want the things we want could actually give us more clarity on the things we really desire.

Having a boyfriend, for instance, had made its appearance numerous times (if not every year) in my New Year’s resolutions (not this year, though!).

But why do I want to have a boyfriend?
Because it will make me feel

OK. Stop right there!

Now I want you to just go back to those 5 things in your New Year’s resolution you’ve prepared a while ago.

After asking yourself why you want each of the things you want, look closely at each one of them, and ask yourself, how would it make me feel if I actually achieved, experienced, or get these things I want?

  • Probably by owning a house, you would feel proud, powerful, or accomplished.
  • Probably by losing weight, you would feel confident, attractive, or healthy.
  • Probably by traveling around the world, you would feel excited, adventurous, or liberated.
  • Probably by quitting your job, you would feel courageous or spontaneous.
  • Probably by elevating your career, you would feel energetic or productive.
  • Probably by getting married you would feel secure or loved.

Anything.

Just explore the range of feelings you’d feel if you get all the things in your New Year’s resolution. You may have the same feeling keeps popping-up and repeating itself. For instance, having a house, getting married, and elevating your career… all three makes you feel secure. It’s okay.

Now I want you to examine all those feelings and group the similar feelings together. Choose 5 (or less) frequent or recurring feelings that appear on your note. At this stage, you should have a list of 5 or less feelings instead of 5 things on your New Year’s resolution.

A year ago (and up to this day), that’s how my New Year’s resolution looked like.

A list of feelings.

What I do next, is simply asking myself, what can I possibly do (in my everyday life) to give myself all those feelings?

Let’s say I want to feel ‘loved‘. For me, (as we’re all experiencing love in different ways), I could evoke the feeling (that more or less resembles the feeling of) ‘being loved‘ by:

  • sending a sweet text message to myself (really!),
  • gifting myself small gifts (a new notebook, a flower, a short weekend-getaway),
  • treating myself for a nice meal or a nice cup of coffee,
  • meeting my friends and laugh with them,
  • standing in front of a mirror, smile at myself and say, I-love-you or You’re-beautiful
  • hugging my dog…

and many more.

Just some small, simple, (and maybe kind of silly) things that I can do for myself to feel (or at least get close to) the feeling I want to feel.

And after that?

I started doing these things to other people, too. I send sweet text messages to my friends, gift a colleague small things, treat someone for a nice cup of coffee, say yes to my friend’s invitation to meet up, tell a friend that I love & appreciate her… and anything that comes to mind.

How does it change me?

I have to say that now I have more clarity in understanding the reason behind why I want the things that I want. I no longer stressing myself out or wasting my time to chase the shadows, because now I know the underlying motives on why I desire something.

I also started to be more in-the-now. I feel like I don’t have to wait for something big to happen before I could feel or experience what I want to feel. I feel much lighter knowing that I can achieve my New Year’s resolution–now that I design it that way.

I only need to do these little things every now and then and feel the feeling I want to feel!

Furthermore, I am not solely concentrating on myself or being totally absorbed in what I want to feel, but I also start thinking about how other people can feel the good things I want to feel.

In a nutshell, creating my New Year’s resolution this way feels like a better fit for me these days. I don’t know if this resonates with you, too–but feel free to try, and let me know if it (somehow) changes you!

Love,
H.

*) on another note, I like this post Your Goals are Overrated (another take on New Year’s resolution issue) & 7 Strange Questions that Help You Find Your Life Purpose by Mark Manson. So maybe you want to read it next!

How We Say Goodbye When Summer Ends

Our retrouvailles marked the end of summer in your city. The city I came to love despite its constant windy chills and random rain showers: in summer.

We remembered the couch—with plush pillows and soft blankets thrown carelessly over its surface; something that reminded us of the chaotic beauty of a studio of an artist. We spent so many times snuggling there; our excuses were the cold, the wind, the rain, and the little time we had. We were surrounded by bookshelf, spice rack, Amy Winehouse, and the faint hum of the world outside: the trams, the bikes, the planes, the still sound of the canals, the rustles of the leaves at the park nearby.
how we say goodbye when summer ends

I came to love the park much more than I ever did when I was there—and I never thought that this was possible, since I had always loved parks with all my heart. When we were outdoors, we spent most of our times riding or walking through it on our way home or on our way to the museums; as it provided us with a lovely shortcut from the busy streets where bicycles whizzed by in incredible speed. We had a picnic when the sun was up: reading books, sharing a generous portion of French sausages and seaweed burgers, sitting leisurely overlooking the lake while talking about our future plans and the end of summer that would also mark the end of our time together.

Probably it was this: the realisation that the clock was ticking (or maybe it was the cold), that made us clutched to each other ever-so-tightly as we zigzagged on your bicycle under the city’s rainy evenings, humming some random songs that came to mind while the street lamps shone their damp lights on us like dim stars hanging low. Or kissed abruptly at the park; behind the supermarket alleys; at the coffee shop; in a bookstore; in front of a closed shop—its roof invested by spiders—as we sheltered ourselves from the hard rain;  or by the street-side of the museum complex—where a couple interrupted us to ask whether they were close to Louis Vuitton store.

***

We had cold mornings, cold afternoons, and cold evenings altogether—and I had no intention to go out on those days. I found solace on the couch, reading your 25th Hour, my feet stretched out on the coffee table, my upper body got buried underneath the soft blanket, while you were working all day and stopping every now and then only to make cappuccino, buy groceries for breakfast, prepare lunch, open a bottle of wine, cook dinner, or hug me in random intervals.

On the rare occasions when you managed to convince me to go out, we would savour food from exotic places with exotic smells of exotic spices before retreating to a beer place for some warmth and random conversations about everything we could think about. We would leave when it was late, and most of the times it had grown colder outside; and I would flinched as the chill hit my face when you opened the door.

When a girl told a guy that it-was-cold, she was simply asking to be hugged.

And you would give me a hug and rubbing my upper arms for a bit of extra heat as we ran to the bicycle, laughing and looking forward to the promises of warmth: that we needed only to brace ourselves against this cold for a little longer and home would welcome us in just a little while.

***

My initial memory of your place was the bookshelf.

I sinned from judging people based on the books they read, and as you prepared some drinks for me that afternoon, I stood in front of your bookshelf and browsed the titles lining up there only to find out that I had also read most of the books you had.

When you showed me the terrace—overlooking the artsy neighbourhood—I noticed a string of Tibetan prayer flags on the porch of one of your neighbours.

That evening we found ourselves enjoying a live Nepali classical music concert in a small cafe on a hipstery street. People had beers in their hands, nodding their heads to the beat of the tabla, and some were clapping their hands. Soon after, in the dark, we danced to the last song being played with a bunch of friendly Nepalis who had lived in your city for quite some time. We were all just a bunch of shadows moving in unison: people from faraway places with stories of romance and heartbreaks altogether. As the music wafted in the air, around us, the boundaries between friends and strangers disappear.

We jumped and clapped and swayed. And laughed—not because there was something particularly funny, but because we were simply happy. Probably that was the best kind of laughter after all.

***

There were things I didn’t tell you after we parted in front of the supermarket at the end of that cold summer, when we said goodbye as abruptly as we kissed the previous days:

About how I had prepared myself to forget—not because I wanted to, but because sometimes forgetting is better than remembering; the way sometimes the anticipation of disappointment is a much safer option than the anticipation of hope.

About how I dragged my suitcase across the park to be at the other side of the city, and it was raining, and cold, and I was clutching to my phone for directions—but the screen got wet every five seconds or so, after a while I gave it up and pocketed it, couldn’t care less about finding the shortest route to get to where I should be.

About how the park was full of life despite the weather and about how when I got too tired of circling around with my blue suitcase, I sat on a park bench—the raindrops were falling over the hood of my parka jacket—and cupped my hands on my cheeks; both felt oddly cold.

About how I just sat there and for quite a while I thought I could smell the wet soil, the lake, the leaves, the grass, and the grey clouds above. And about how the thought of a warm bed, a cup of Chocomel, and Chinese takeout finally got me going.

***

Distance was a funny thing. We might have thought about it silently as we had our banana smoothie in the morning or our rooibos tea in the evening—though we didn’t really want to go further into it.

I have always believed that distance is not measured in length. It is measured in faith.

And the farthest distance is one that is not crossed. But it was you; not me; that had decided to cross the distance that day, and I was thankful that you did, that you braved it out, that you tried. Because if I was not afraid, I, too, would.

Why I’m Keeping My 100-List and What I’ve Crossed Off This Year.

From picnic-dating to ‘flying’ a fighter jet, I crossed 6 more things off of my list this year.

summer tips

In 2012, I published my 100-lista random list of 100 things I’d like to do or experience in life. Some of the things I listed down there had been on my wish-list since I was still a teenage girl, while some others had been jotted down quite recently. I revisit my 100-list every year-end to see how far I’ve come, how many things I’ve crossed off, and what are the next things I can pursue.

I also feel like I’ve changed a bit (or even a lot) throughout the years, and it’s only natural that the things that once excited me didn’t excite me any longer–or vice versa. So, each year, apart from leaving the crossed-off list intact, I also examine the rest of my list to see if I want to alter one wish for another.

Why I’m Keeping My 100-List.

I keep my 100-list because these random (and somewhat silly) things reminded me of how, as a child, I looked at the world every single day with wonder and amazement. Of how I imagined a future of my own freely, without thinking about what’s possible or what’s impossible. Of how I believed that wishes–no matter how odd, could actually come true.

Climbing a tree, for instance, is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl, and until today, I still haven’t crossed it off of my list. It is indeed such a childish and simple wish. However, seeing this particular wish has never failed to remind me of that childhood thirst: to wonder, to dream, to imagine, to experience something new, to venture to the unknown.

The 6 Things I Crossed Off of My List in 2015:

Until today, I have crossed 42 things off of my list (58 more to go!), and these are some of the things I managed to cross off of my list in 2015 (in no particular order):

ONE: Learning how to ‘fly’ a fighter jet/helicopter.

I received a message from my ex-colleague one day: “Do you want to learn how to fly a fighter jet?” I didn’t even know why she had to ask! I have always been fascinated by helicopters and fighter jet even before I watched Top Gun, so when Eurofighter Typhoon set-up a fighter-jet simulator at a military exhibition and invited an innocent civilian like me to try it out, of course I said YES!

The fighter-jet simulator was actually there to be tested out by Indonesian Airforce’s fighter pilots, but on one sunny afternoon, I jumped into the simulator happily to learn how to fly a fighter jet. When we were about to start, the instructor asked me, “Have you ever flown this before?” and I replied with, “Oh yes, all the time!”

We looked at each other for a moment until he realised the absurdity of his question and we burst into laughter. And yes, it wasn’t easy to fly a fighter jet. I was so proud for being able to have a smooth take-off and get the jet balanced, but when I had to shoot other planes and check the altitude and everything else… *facepalm*

TWO: Learning how to give Thai massage.

I have always wanted to know how to give a proper massage. I think it would be lovely to help my loved ones relax after a long day by giving him/her a massage. In the end, it wasn’t really a Thai massage; but I took a 2-day massage class where the masseuses have combined Thai, Swedish, and Balinese traditional massage into a technique of their own.

“It’s important to know the right technique to do the massage,” said my instructor. “For instance, your body position must be correct, or else, after giving massage, you’ll get back pain or shoulder pain. This is not the way to go. Yes, we are taking care of others, but we need to take care of ourselves first and foremost, too. Self-care is important.”

That message about self-care was so profound.

My instructor has worked there–as a masseuse, for more than 8 years. “I used to be a gardener at the owner’s house,” he told me as we went out for lunch together that day. “I mowed the lawn and threw away the garbage, those kind of things. Until one day the owner called me and taught me how to do basic massage, so I could massage him when he was tired. I started learning how to give a proper massage, and soon after, when some of his friends came over to the house, he would also ask me to give them a massage. They liked it, and along the way I learned some more techniques and massage more people. When I had finished my training, I was recruited as a masseuse at the owner’s massage place, until today. Now I have learned English as well, to communicate better with the customers.”

THREE: Picnic-dating by the beach or in the park.

I almost did this at the end of 2014, when I was in Paris and a guy from Bordeaux asked me to have a picnic-date with him by the Seine. “I’ll bring the wine,” he said. And he did. And we did have a picnic by the river. But I was there with my other two friends. So I hesitated for a while about crossing this one off from my list, and I decided not to cross it–yet.

But I finally experienced my picnic-dating–in the park, not the beach–and it was in Vondelpark, Amsterdam. We went to Albert Heijn for some freshly-squeezed orange juice and a bag of Doritos; and I sat on the passenger’s seat of my date’s bicycle, clutching his waist as he rode it skilfully to the park. Turned out there was a culinary fair at Vondelpark that day, so we treated ourselves to some grilled sausages and seaweed burger before retreating to sit on a low-raised stone wall overlooking the pond, reading books.

What? Reading books? If that doesn’t sound like a romantic date to you, trust me: that for a bookworm such as myself, reading books with your date is always counted as a romantic thing to do!

FOUR: Learning Latin dances.

I love to dance. And I always think that Latin dances are sexy–the music and the beat are so dynamic, and the dancers are always looking so passionate and confident. I had trained myself some moves via YouTube videos every now and then, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to really ‘dance’ that way. So the last time I was in Bali, I took a 2-hour private salsa lessons.

My teacher is a Balinese salsa dancer, Made Lasia. He was so good in explaining and demonstrating the steps–and I was surprised to know that in the first half of an hour I could dance salsa already!

Of course, I am still a beginner. Sometimes I still lost count of my steps as I dance, or couldn’t really grasp what my partner was trying to say when he lifted up my hand a certain way. But I’m learning! *baila, baila*

FIVE: Traveling across Indonesia and visiting all the big islands.

Finally! This is something I have always wanted to cross out of my list–and the opportunity came to me in mid 2015, when I got an assignment to cover the stories of various nonprofit organisations from Nias to Ambon, from Muna Island to Pontianak. I traveled non-stop for 3 months, while working on interview transcripts and writing feature stories all the way, and it was really tiring. At the end of the trip I didn’t feel like I want to go traveling again for at least 3 months (but, of course, I travel again in less than a month).

I have to admit, though, that I didn’t have that much time to go ‘sightseeing’ during my 3-month all-around Indonesia trip. So, we may need to erase the images about a relaxing time by the beach or a leisurely hike by the mountains. The schedule was so packed, and I spent my whole days following the activists on their field-duty, but I didn’t regret it at all. In fact, it was a money-can’t-buy experience altogether; as I was exposed to inspiring stories and courageous people throughout–and it made me believe that Indonesia is going to be alright.

In some remote islands, villages, or forests all over the archipelago, there are actually some amazing people doing amazing things for their community. For their country. And this gives me hope.

SIX: Sleeping in the outdoors, underneath the sky.

Sawendui is the highlight of my traveling journey in 2015. To reach this hidden paradise, I needed to fly from Jakarta to Biak and then hopped into Saireri Paradise Foundation’s speed-boat that would took me to Sawendui village in around 2.5 or 3.5 hours, depending upon the mercy of the sea.

There’s only one wooden hut by the beach in Sawendui–it’s a basic hut where the staffs of Saireri Paradise Foundation gather with the Sawendui people every day; either to have a briefing, a meeting, a communal lunch, or to throw an all-night-long musical fiesta. The foundation has worked together with the locals in Sawendui for some time to conserve Paradise birds and turtles around the area.

Yes, there are rooms inside the wooden hut and bathrooms, too. But the staff (one from Sumatera and the other one from Sulawesi) preferred to sleep in the outdoors–either by the beach or in the forest, and they didn’t understand why one would want to use the bathroom if one could jump into the pristine river inside the forest–that can be reached in 30 steps from the main hut.

I spent the days in Sawendui with my friend, Windy–and we did experience the lovely feeling of sleeping by the river inside a forest; to be woken up by sunshine and the cries of the birds and to fall asleep while listening to the serene crackle of the branches from the fire where the staff and the locals grilled some chicken, corns, and bananas close to midnight.

There was this one time when we came with the locals and the staff at night on their turtle-patrol. We walked through the pitch-dark forest and then along the beach, the wave sounded so furious yet majestic, and the moon was our only source of light. When we were tired after walking for 2 hours, we decided to wait for the locals-on-patrol by the beach, and just slept there until they finished their patrol. The log is our pillow, the sand is our mattress, the sky is our roof. It was the closest moment I have with nature: and it felt so humbling to know that I am only a tiny dot in this Universe of Creation.

***

What about you? Do you have your 100-list, too? Are there some dreams or wishes from your childhood that are still close to your heart until today?

Mount Bromo and the Price of Happiness

What is the actual price of ‘happiness’?

Bromo - Tengger

PHOTO BY NICO WIJAYA.

IT was 2.30 in the morning when I jumped into a red jeep heading to Mount Bromo. I was still a bit sleepy, but excited nonetheless. There is something about the mountains that never fails to envelope me in a certain sense of wonder and serenity. I had wrapped myself in thermal clothes, two layers of scarf, an overcoat, and an adopted brown ushanka–a thick and warm hat with earflaps that are normally used during winter (my friend decided to throw his ushanka away, and I decided to claim it as mine). The temperature in Bromo could drop to around 3°C – 5°C in early morning. Not to mention the wind!

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The entire top of Mount Bromo has been blown off in an eruption and the crater inside it is like a giant chimney that paints the sky with white sulphurous smoke. Today, the mountain sits majestically inside Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, surrounded by a sea of volcanic sand and a ring of green valleys. In the dark of the morning, enveloped by the fog, hundreds of jeeps and motorbikes were racing along the road’s rough twist and turns to reach the Sunrise Point, or Penanjakan, as the locals dubbed it. At around 4.30 – 5.00 am, everyone would gather around the viewing point with their cameras–ready to snap the breath-taking view of the first rays of sunshine bathing the mountaintops with golden lights.

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That morning was no exception. Plus, it was also a Sunday. The amount of people who were trying to reach Sunrise Point was overwhelming. Old people, young people, little kids–they competitively shoved their way along the steep hill to occupy the front row at Sunrise Point, their cameras out and ready. I didn’t feel like joining the crowd; or pushing my way forward, so I just sat at the side of the road–next to the Tengger people selling chilis, onions, and Teddy Bear made out of dried flowers; enjoying the cool mountain breeze and the warmth of the rising sun on my face.

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***

“DID you see that?” a friend of mine who just got back from Sunrise Point shook her head in disbelief.

“See what?” I asked, a bit confused.

“You see that platform over there?” she pointed at a raised platform with a roof next to Sunrise Point. “That is actually a platform for prayers. People are not supposed to stand there; and definitely not with their dirty shoes on–but because the Sunrise Point is so full, the crowd just spilled onto the platform. Some tourists even stepped over a pile of clean praying mats, and a local guy was desperately trying to tell them to step off, but they were not listening!”

***

A FEW minutes later, I found myself in a small warung not far from Penanjakan, sipping tea while listening to the chatter around me–looking dreamily at the wave of tourists who were climbing down the hills cheerfully; now that the sun had risen. Some of them who traveled in groups were busy chatting and showing each other pictures from their cameras or smartphones, before taking more pictures along the way.

It was heart-warming to see their happy faces in the cold, however, I was also feeling a bit sad thinking about the incident at the praying platform. Some people might be too focused and too excited in getting their perfect sunrise shot that they couldn’t care less about anything else. They were so proud and happy to show their perfect sunrise shot later on, unconscious about how they might have hurt someone’s feelings during the process.

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I wondered, if I also did this as I went through life–sometimes unconsciously, some other times carelessly. What is the actual price of a perfect sunrise shot? What is the actual price of ‘happiness’? How many people and feelings I have ‘hurt’ so I can be ‘happy’?

***

I was reminded of a story told by a friend of mine one day–about him trying to climb up a mountain in East Nusa Tenggara with a group of friends and a local guide. “I wasn’t that fit to climb a mountain,” he told me, laughing. “So after a while, when everyone was still so energised, I told them that I might not be able to continue. I was so sad and disappointed at myself, because really, I would love to get to the top and see the view from up there!”

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 6.47.09 AMWhen my friend told the group and the local guide that he was going to ‘give up’ and just wait for the rest of them there, the local guide apparently saw the disappointment on his face. “Why were you so disturbed by this?” he asked.

“Because I want to see the view from the top! It must be really beautiful! But I couldn’t get there,” he replied, a bit pissed off with himself.

“Look around you,” said the local guide.

“Huh?” my friend looked at the local guide, confused.

“Look around you,” the local guide repeated what he was saying.

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So my friend did just that. He looked around him. And only then he realised that he was seeing the lush green valleys, the view of the small town beneath, the swaying trees, the wild flowers dancing in the wind, the bright blue sky…

“Isn’t it beautiful?” the local guide smiled.

“It is…” my friend answered in amazement. “I didn’t realise how beautiful it is here, I was too busy climbing and watching my steps along the way!” he laughed.

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“Yes, sometimes we’re too busy thinking about getting to the top safely, so we watch our steps and we push ourselves, and we just ignore the beauty around us–because in our mind, we’re only thinking about enjoying the view from the top,” said the local guide. “But the view from here is beautiful, too, right? We have been surrounded by beautiful views from the point where we started.”

My friend told me later that it was one of the most eye-opening moment in his life.

***

MOUNTAINS will always have a special place in my heart.

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The town I live in is surrounded by mountains. To me, mountains represent reconciliation–something to mend what has been broken. When my parents got into a heated argument and didn’t talk to each other for a few days, one of them would say, “Let’s go to Puncak (the mountain area).” The pursued party would not say a thing, but if it was my mother, she would start packing some snacks and drinks for us to say ‘OK’–or if it was my father, he would start heating the engine of our red Chevrolet pick-up.

And off we go to the mountains.

I would sit in-between them. My father behind the wheels, my mother next to the passengers’ window. I didn’t really know what happen, but they usually started talking after a while, and when we got back home, they were already reconciled and started cooking dinner together or teasing each other at the kitchen, just like the good old days.

***

So what is the actual price of ‘happiness’?

I am always reminded of this question every time I think about Bromo. And it is, in itself, a reminder for myself every time I think about being ‘happy’. Or maybe I just need to redefine ‘happiness’ once more.

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Maybe happiness is not really about getting the perfect sunrise shot. Or about enjoying the beautiful view from a mountain top. Maybe it’s more about everything we hold dear in our hearts on our way there. Because maybe, the happiness we’re looking for is already here all along.

——————-

*) thank you to The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia for having me in your Wonderful Indonesia trip to Mount Bromo.

Windry Ramadhina: On Characters, Choices, and Chronicles.

Windry Ramadhina is the writer of Orange (2008), Metropolis (2009), Memori (2012), Montase (2012), London (2013), Interlude (2014), and Walking After You (2014). She was nominated twice in Indonesia’s Khatulistiwa Literary Award. With a friend, Windry hosts tastelifetwice.net to share anything reading-related. She also appears in the show Breakfast with Author 1: TIGA CERITA CINTA.

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Me: Where do your characters come from?

Windry: Every time I write, I start with a conflict. Other elements, including characters, are born from there. Certain characters are only suitable for a certain conflict in a certain story. Thus, each character is unique.

A character becomes unique when we get to know him/her well enough. I am imagining that my characters are alive, just like us. They have certain tone of voice, certain way of thinking, as well as certain values–that are predetermined by the things they’ve experienced in their lives. They have background stories. And I have to know them all.

I even need to know what’s in their closet, what’s in their fridge, or how they look at someone who is meaningful to them, or what they would do if they were bored, or who they hang out with on a Saturday night. It’s a long list.

Often times, sketches help me. The more I know my characters, the more I get to know what to write about them.

Sometimes I also look at the people around me and borrow their characters for a novel. Rayyi’s friends in Montase (the novel), for instance. They are actually my real friends (in real life). This is an easier way to go, but it’s not a done deal that we can always find real-life model that suits our story.

Me: What do your choice of characters tell us about who you are, your dreams, your fears, yourself?

Windry: My readers could easily recognise me through my characters. Each one of them is a part of me. I’m like a tiny jar full of various kinds of candies. When I write, I take a candy to be thrown into the story. The candy is myself–who wants to be a photographer. Or myself–who believes that rain falls down carrying angels. Or myself–who is afraid to get hurt because of love.

To me, writing is an expression. Either consciously or subconsciously, I  guess I always show the real me to my readers. Through a story. Through the world I write. Through my characters.

It’s very important for me to write honestly, by being who I really am. Because I am not writing to be ‘liked’. I write what I like so I can find readers who like the same things as I do.

Me: How is your childhood upbringing and he people you know affect the way you choose your characters?

Windry: In my family, I was raised with such discipline, it was pretty tough. I was taught to be independent, not to rely too much on other people. And I do not have many siblings. I have a little brother who is really close to me–we’re like best friends. But most of the times I am all by myself, because in many occasions, we’re living in different cities.

So it should not be surprising if most of my characters are strong, ambitious woman who find it difficult to compromise. They are perfectionist, cynical, and has the tendency to appear cold. I am not really into weak characters; the way I do not wish to see myself as a weak person.

I grew up influenced by Japanese pop-culture. There were times when I read more manga than novels. Shounen manga, especially Naoki Urasawa’s, made me fall for witty, dominant, and complex characters.

Only after I got acquainted with Ichikawa Takuji’s novels, I learned to like sweet and sloppy characters, who make insignificant mistakes, something we can laugh at. I learned to have fun with them.

Me: What do you find interesting about people?

Windry: I believe that everybody has a story. I like watching them, and then asking myself, who are they? What are they like in their daily lives? How do they live their lives? And in the end, I start to create some scenarios that–I think–might happened to them.

At other times they let out certain expressions, or do something I don’t normally do, or talk about things I just knew, or wear–for instance–a kind of hat I rarely see. Usually, these are the things that pique my imagination. But in essence, all I need to do is asking questions.

Me: What’s your definition of a strong character in a story? Who is your favourite protagonist and antagonist from a book?

Windry: A strong character can make the readers feel their presence; their presence affect the readers; something that is long stored in your memories. Such characters must be created wholly. They need to be just like us, with multiple sides and complexities.

Each time we’re talking about protagonist and antagonist, I want to distance myself away from the trap of good-and-evil or right-or-wrong. I like ‘grey’ characters more. I like imperfect protagonists, with weaknesses of their own, that gives me a chance to get annoyed at them from time to time. And I always want to find antagonists who would make me fall in love, who would grab my sympathy.

One of my favorite protagonists is Sophie Kinsella’s Rebecca Bloomwood. She is not trying to be perfect, at all. She is what she is. Just like Agatha Christie’s Arthur Hastings. And both are funny–in their own ways. They offer themselves to be laughed at. Sometimes, when I read, I just want to laugh and have a good time.

My favorite antagonist most probably is Johan Liebert from the manga Monster by Naoki Urasawa. A handsome (if not pretty), smart, and cold murderer. But what makes me fall for him is that he’s hurting. He’s hurting so deep; to an extent that the readers won’t be able to hate him.

Me: If you can pick one real character from your personal life, someone who definitely has changed the way you look at things, who will this be?

Windry: My mother. She pass along the things she love to me. Books, language, traveling. I got my first book from her. I fall for words and languages because of her. I went on many traveling journeys with her. And she taught me things that defines who I really am, until today. We’re not always on the same page about everything, but I think most of who I am comes from my mother.

Since I was a kid, most of the times, my mother is not at home. She is not ambitious, but she is always so lucky when it comes to work. And basically she’s not the type who’d like to stay at home. She is sharp and independent, and a bit nonchalant. If we’re traveling in a group, she’ll separate herself and discreetly slip away.

Sometimes I ask myself, if my writings actually talk about me–or about my mother.

—Photo courtesy of WIndry Ramadhina. For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click here

On Learning How to Love My Body.

“Have you lost some weight?” 

Recently, this was the first thing people said to me–especially if they haven’t seen me for quite a while. Then the follow-up questions soon ensue: Are you on a diet? What have you been doing, are you exercising a lot? Are you a vegetarian now? The fact is, I did lose some weight these past 2 years, about 10 kilograms all in all. Which, when you look at it that way, is not that impressive, really, as this means losing only around 0.5 kilograms per month. That’s quite slow–at least compared to the promises of various dieting programs out there. But, this is not the point. The point is this: I started losing weight when I had given up on losing weight.

Grocery shopping in Firenze, Italy. Summer 2015.

***

For those of you who have been following this blog for quite some time, you know that I used to have issues with my body image. There were times in my life when I hated the way I look; and up to this day I could still recall that memory of feeling ugly, worthless, unloved, and unwanted.

When I looked into the mirror, I only saw a girl who was overweight, with oily face and bad acne, straight oily hair, with excess fat here and there and I hated what I saw. I thought I wouldn’t be able to wear a certain dress or carry on a certain hairstyle or following a certain fashion trend because it would only make me look even more ridiculous, as if I was trying too hard. There were times when my diary was full of harsh comments I uttered to myself–again and again, repeating the self-pity rants about how ugly I looked, about how ugly I felt.

I tried various diet pills and herbs to no avail. I used various acne creams and capsules and went on painful facials but the pimples kept coming. Until a few days before New Year’s Eve 2013; when I took an impulsive decision to travel with a guy I liked to Penang. I thought it would be fun, to actually celebrate New Year’s Eve with someone, some place new.

Go.

We arrived in Penang quite close to midnight. On the ferry, we met a couple who was about to head in the same direction as we were, and so we decided to share a cab. The cab driver brought his wife along with him, so the front seats were occupied. Thus, the four of us squeezed ourselves at the back seat, but the space was quite small, so the guy I liked decided to have me sat on his lap, to give more space for the couple–as they brought some huge bags with them. After a while, he laughed and said, “Wow, you are heavy like a fat whale!”

Maybe he was joking. Maybe he didn’t. But at that very moment, I hated him for what he said; and on the following days, I hated myself because I realised that I had said those kind of things to myself too, quite frequently. Why did I hate him for saying the same thing I had been saying to myself, when I had called myself names worse than “a fat whale” and had become my own worst bullies?

That was when I started looking at myself (the bullied self) with a wave of compassion like never before. For the first time, I had this strong urge to stop being mean and harsh to my body, and committed to stop trying to change it. If this was the body I needed to live in for the rest of my life, so be it. I better started to accept it as it was. Because it was too tiring, depressing, and sad, to call yourself names worse than ‘a fat whale’ and play victim all the time. This was the time when I couldn’t care less about my body. I decided to shift my attention somewhere else: my work, my personal projects, my writings, my arts, my love of books, cultures, and languages. I left my body alone. I accepted it, but did not befriend it.

***

At the end of 2013, my father got a lab report presenting his high blood-sugar and cholesterol level. Good food has always been the heart of our family. And I have always believed (still am) that the kitchen should occupy he largest space in a house. But having that lab report changed something: we needed to alter our lifestyle. Yes, our. It didn’t seem so supportive to have me eating all those food we used to love while his options were limited. I looked at the long list of food my father was not allowed to consume (basically everything we usually savoured), and the short list of what he should consume. This should be a team effort.

“Let’s do it,” I said to him. “From tomorrow, let’s start by replacing white rice with brown rice.” We did not reduce the amount of food we consume, we just made a healthier choice. More fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies, soup, green juice, salad, or stir-fry (with olive, canola, or coconut oil). Less red meat and more fish. Less coffee and more lemon water. Less sugar (now almost to the point of no sugar), less salt, and more healthy spices and herbs. Eat dinner before 6:30 pm.

I browsed through dozens of healthy recipes, along with some vegetarian options.

Green Mango Salad with Sour and Spicy Asian Dressing.Spinach and mushroom oatmeal.

Mango yogurt with coconut water and nuts & dried fruits.Brown fried rice with organic egg and chilli.

Since I went to Bali quite frequently those days, I started getting myself familiar with the world of raw desserts, and when I got back, I started making those healthy treats for my father’s love of sweet things. The only difference is that we’re using dates instead of sugar, butter, and egg, as well as unsalted nuts and shredded coconut instead of flour.

We have our weekends when we sometimes eat meat (but cooked it in a healthier way) or pig out on that delicious chicken noodle we love, but 5 out of 7 days, we were pretty comfortable with our new habit. My father started swimming again, and I did, too. Plus I did a bit of yoga (home practice by using YouTube videos–thank you Adrienne and Tara Stiles–apart from one or two Kundalini yoga retreat per year) and introduced my father to Lee Holden’s qigong.

Getting in touch with yoga made me feel more comfortable with my own body, especially because my yoga mentors were always highlighting the fact that yoga is not a competitive sport. Just because a friend can do a headstand it doesn’t mean that you need to do it, too. You just need to follow your own pace and listen to your own body, and it will evolve with you. You don’t have to compare yourself with others or parade what you have achieved. I love how yoga has become such a serene and personal practice for me, a time and space I can dedicate to myself every now and then.

Morning yoga.

I started learning to befriend my body and thanking each parts of it everyday. When I am in the shower, I talk to various body parts of mine as I cleanse, rinse, and wash them. I say my gratitude and telling them the reason why I am grateful for having them, then sending my wishes and blessing them accordingly.

This can be something like brushing my teeth and saying: “Thank you, my mouth, my teeth, my tongue. Because of you I can speak and eat and taste good food. Because of you I can smile and laugh and sing. May you only speak good words, kind words, may you only speak things that people need to hear, kindly. May you bring out good things and bring in good things–in the form of words, food, drinks, or voices. Be strong and healthy, my teeth, and bless you all.” And then I move on to the next body part: face, hair, arms, legs, stomach, shoulders, back… everything. I walk out of the shower feeling grateful, relaxed, and refreshed. How can I NOT be thankful? How can I not look at my body in a different way, with loads of respect and admiration?

I couldn’t remember when it was exactly, but there was this one day when I looked at myself in the mirror and I started liking what I saw. I could really see that I am beautiful–not based on society’s or industry’s standard, but simply beautiful as a human being who survives her ups and downs and keeps marching along, happily. I hadn’t been weighing myself for quite some time–and when I weighed myself that day, I was surprised knowing that I had lost 10 kilograms. I didn’t expect that at all.

On the other hand, my father’s recent lab report has also shown a great progress. All the alarming numbers has gone down, returned back to normal, and even turned out really good for the blood-sugar level.

***

These days, I do not weigh myself. I don’t really care. I have enough comfort, confidence, and positive body image now to say that I just want to live healthier and to love my body more–for whatever it is. I do not want to be measured by numbers on a scale. Do I lose weight? Yes, I do. How much do I weigh now? I don’t know for sure.

Today, I am measuring my body’s performance through the way I feel: do I feel happy and energised or tired and sleepy? Do I wake up in the morning feeling calm and inspired, or greasy and in doubt? Do I move a lot and create many things, thinking and reading, or lazying around a lot and wasting my time scrolling my Facebook’s newsfeed?

I am also getting better and better not to let other people’s compliments or critics determines the way I feel; because what’s really important is not what other people think or feel about us–but what we think and feel about ourselves. It’s about looking at the mirror when we’re all alone and pose that defining question: “How can I love You more?”

Because at the end of the day, that’s the only question there is.

How To Love.

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make and break the rest.

***

Love by giving it all out. Love by seeing it whole instead of seeing it partially. Love by loving it all in. Love by knowing that the person in front of you are made of mistakes and tears and wounds and past regrets, as well as wonder and wisdom, hopes and promises, present dreams and future longings. Love by seeing the other person as who they were, who they are, and who they could turn out to be.

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Love by being fully present during the best and the worst of times, by bringing your highest self to the table first and foremost, by knowing that everything that is pouring out of you would be none other than love and respect, understanding and compassion, happiness and acceptance.

Love by knowing that people get hurt sometimes, that people has to go through their darkest days and alleyways, that some are trying hard to keep their heads above the water every now and then–and though wherever they are and whatever they are going through may not be able to keep the two of you together, you would still love them nonetheless, since being separated from each other does not make you love them any less.

Love by storing the best memories until they are ripe with meanings, by blowing away the worsts to the winds until they slowly disappear. Love by being honest about how you feel and how you want to feel, about what makes you sad and what makes you happy. Love by knowing that you can’t share something you do not have, by understanding that no matter how much someone loves you, they can never make you feel full if you feel empty when you’re alone. Love by asking yourself every single day, what would I do if love and respect myself; and what would I do if I love and respect the one I love?

Love by listening to the unspoken, by speaking without words, by seeing without judging, by being emphatic of the oblivious. Love by being aware that each words spoken, each gestures presented, and each moments shared could bloom or wilt a soul; that it takes only a second of carelessness to leave a scar that would faint but won’t completely disappear, that it takes only a second of mindfulness to leave a loving memory that would spark someone’s inner light brighter than ever.

***

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make or break the rest.

Love kindly. Love courageously. Love thoroughly.

“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”

— Ernest Hemingway.

A Gift of Being.

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Even if our only prayer is gratitude, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only ablution is acceptance, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only service is being compassionate, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only invocation is words of blessings, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only offering is non-judgement, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only ritual is forgiveness, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only pilgrimage is being fully present, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only scripture is love, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only way is peace, maybe it’s enough.
Maybe it’s enough.

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay.

: : dedicated to t. a. n.

You don’t need to offer anyone an apology for not being okay. You don’t need anyone’s permission for showing, owning, and honouring your feelings, no matter how far-from-okay those feelings actually are.

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PHOTO: I LOVE GRAIN via PHOTOPIN (LICENSE)

Don’t ever feel guilty for not being able to fake a smile when everyone’s dancing and laughing some evenings; and don’t ever feel ashamed for not being able to lift the veil of sadness from some of your heavy mornings. It’s okay to not be okay.

You don’t have to repress your feelings to please others, nor push away your sadness to comfort others. You have the right to feel whatever it is that you feel; to talk about it and to try to understand it in all honesty, unapologetically. You have the right to not be okay.

Release the tension from not being able to bounce back so easily and drop the pressure from not being able to snap yourself ‘out-of-it‘ so quickly–you know you would if you could. You are allowed to be sad; to cry your eyes out when you feel like it. You are allowed to be vulnerable; to reach out when you feel like it. You are not a failure just because you allow yourself to feel what you feel.

You are just being human.
And it is okay to not be okay all the time.