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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www.berbagisenyum.co.id
#berbagisenyum
@ListerineID

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

 

9 Ways to Make You Want to Write Again.

prose (3)There were times in my life when I didn’t feel connected to my writings. I called these times the dark state.

These were the times when I decided to be lazy. When I felt as if I had nothing left (or interesting enough, at least) to write about.  These were the times when I diligently work on other things and honed my skills in different types of creative pursuits. Surely, writing was not the only one?

Next, came a tidal wave of days, weeks, or even months when I was completely unmotivated and uninspired. I had no drive to write a sentence, let alone a short story. My mind stopped producing ideas, plots, characters, or conversations.

During the dark state, I didn’t even know whether I still wanted to pursue this life of writing. These were the times when I told myself that maybe I should have just given up writing altogether.

But of course, I didn’t.

Because those of us who have always think of ourselves as writers, know that we will always write. Even when we’re in our dark state, when we are not writing, we will keep thinking about writing (or about why we are not writing)—imagining our glory days in the future when we’ll be typing 200 words per minute as this brilliant idea for a short story, an essay, or a novel exploding around our head like a spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.

Every now and then, I needed to be reminded on how to keep my passion for writing alive, on how to fall in love once again with the craft, on how good it feels when I was so absorbed in a new project I forgot to eat, shower, or check how many instant messages have cramped my phone.

Whenever I got caught in a dark state, I tried to ‘jumpstart’ myself by doing some of the things below—if not all of them:

1. Read some books about writing

9 Ways to Make You, Motivated, and Inspired to Write Again.

There are books about technical parts of writing, such as ones on how to write a novel in certain days, how to structure a story, how to create a memorable character, how to make a plot twist, and many more. These are not the kind of books I enjoy during my dark state.

I’d prefer to read books about the love of writing itself—or the creative processes behind it. Of course, you can also find some technical parts such as settings, characters, or dialogues come up in these favourite dark state books of mine, but they are not explained in a technical how-to manner.

2. Follow some fellow writers’ blog on the Internet

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I like writers who blog, and on top of that: those who blog regularly. Some writers use their blogs to hone their skills, to share their thoughts (and worries), to store valuable resources, or simply to record memories, quotes, sentences, or scenes that may work for other types of writings, at other times.

I have followed several writers on the Internet these past few years. However, lately, I only go back to these blogs—mostly, because in my opinion, they are not trying to ‘write the perfect piece’ for their blog. To me, it feels as if they’re just writing effortlessly (although maybe they are actually working hard to produce each post).

The pieces are mostly short, clear, and concise. Reading through, I do not feel an invisible weight on my shoulder or a feeling as if I have to ‘catch-up‘.

  • Alexandra Franzen, mostly on copywriting, non-fiction, and writing for the Net
  • Jeff Goins, on thoughts, resources, tips, and challenges in writing books, e-books, and articles
  • Nick Miller, on fiction and creative process (Nick happens to be one of my favourite writers of all time)
  • Austin Kleon, on creativity and creative life
  • James Altucher, on life, thoughts, and musings on self-development
  • Allie Brosh, on doodling and looking at life from a funny lens
  • John Green, on writing, writing process, and the life over the Internet
  • Dani Shapiro, on life and writing life
  • Tim Ferris, on writing, productivity, and showing up for your work

3. Read books/writings from the writers you admire, or from the genres you want to write about

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This is one of my favourite ‘shortcuts’ to get out of my dark state. Reading just a ‘random’ book or a new book doesn’t always have the same effect.

I’d prefer to read a book I’ve read more than once for various reasons: maybe because the book is really good, the story is really twisted, the premise is mind-blowing, the technique is excellent, the sentences are compact and effective, or because the way it is written has never failed to make me hate myself for not writing this book at the first place. There has to be something about the book that hooked me, hard.

For me, these kind of books are the best to be read during a dark state, and below, you could find my dark state reading list:

Fiction:

Non-fiction:

4. Read, watch, or listen to interviews or talks about a writer’s creative process that are available on the Internet

Listen to an interview with a writer.

I had a selfish motive when I first came up with Behind the Pages, a special section in this blog dedicated to interviewing Indonesian writers (in English) about their writings, writing life, and creative process. Basically about things that happened behind-the-pages.

Watching, reading, or listening to interviews about a writer’s creative process helps me to rekindle my passion towards my writings, since I can clearly see parts of myself through their experiences and relate with their struggles. And don’t you think reading about someone’s creative process somehow makes us want to be ‘creative’?

Here are some of my favourites:

5. Watch movies about writers; or that are related to writing

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Sometimes, we’re just too lazy to read. In a dark state, most of the times, we’d like to do something more… passive. Watching movies (in bed) serves this purpose very well.

  • My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown, about an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy and was able to write or type only with the toes of his left foot.
  • Sylvia, about the ups and downs in poet Sylvia Plath’s relationships with Ted Hughes, as well as her hunger to ‘create’ meaningful works
  • Finding Forrester, about a young writer Jamal Wallace who befriends a reclusive writer, William Forrester
  • Barfly, about a troubled writer spending his nights drinking and fighting, based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski
  • Adaptation, about a sciptwriter who is trying to adapt Susan Orlean’ work The Orchid Thief; a work I read as an assignment during my narrative journalism course.
  • Kill Your Darlings, about the ‘brotherhood’ of the beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
  • Freedom Writers, about a teacher who uses ‘writing’ to inspire a class of at-risk students
  • Bright Star, about the love story between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne
  • Reprise, about two competing friends—both are writers—struggling with life, love, and the choices they make in life

6. Enrol in a writing course or take up a writing challenge

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 3.06.56 PMA bit of pressure is good. When you’re in a dark state and do not want to write, you can benefit from being forced to write.

Either by enrolling yourself in an online writing course (in which you’d need to submit your homework on a scheduled time), or announcing publicly that you’ll take up something like a 30-day writing challenge, what you need is to put yourself, your writings, and your commitment on the spotlight. And the peer pressure will force you to write again.

You can also learn about some writing-related topics online, in which you’ll find yourself jotting down some notes. Who knows, maybe the things you’ve just learned about could trigger the story inside of you to come out!

Some courses and writing challenges to get you going:

Wait, wait, what about NaNoWriMo—you may asked. Well, not for the dark state. In such times, a bit of pressure is good, but a lot of pressure is bad. With NaNoWriMo, there’s just too much pressure. When I’m in a dark state, I don’t feel like writing—let alone writing a novel, in a month.

7. Attend writing-related events, book clubs, or writing sessions. Surround yourself with fellow writers

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When you surround yourself with fellow writers (or fellow readers), most of the times, you’ll be talking about books, stories, or other writers whose works you’ve just read. What are you reading or do you have a book to recommend, would be the natural course of an ice-breaker.

Arrange a meet-up with your fellow writers.

Reserve 1-2 hours in the weekend to stay somewhere and write anything non-stop. No pressure to show or share whatever you’ve written to the rest of the group. Surrounding yourself with the right people and the right environment would be enough to stir up something dormant inside your soul.

8. Go to your favourite bookstore and spend a minimum of 2 hours examining books you like and, most importantly, books you do not like

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Go slowly from one shelve to the next. Browse all the books in the best-selling sections and all the books in the most hidden corners. Flip the pages, read the opening lines, scrutinise the blurbs, study the cover. Which books you’d be happy to receive as a gift? Which books you wouldn’t want to read?

Hold on. Do not skip the books you do not like. Pick them up in a cynical and critical manner. This is badly written, you may think. Or what a lousy title. Or too many typos. Or the cover is a disaster. Surely, you can do something better than this, right? You know how to write better, how to pick a nice title, how to catch typos before they go in print, and you have a better sense of style to design at least a decent cover. Right?

If you’re asked to improve this book (that you dislike so much), how would you write or package it differently? There’s always a critic and an editor inside of us. In a dark state, even the two are absent—because we do not write anything for them to rip off. It’s the right time to provoke and unleash the beast.

9. Have your do-nothing day

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Pick a day (or a minimum of 12 hours) when you can go somewhere or stay at home. You can stay at a hostel or rent a nice hotel room. But you need to be alone, undisturbed. Turn off your phone. No wi-fi. No gadgets.

You can go out and wander around, you can enter shops but you are not allowed to buy anything. You can go to a restaurant or cook your own dish, but you need to eat alone. And no, you cannot bake. You can only cook to feed yourself. You are not allowed to talk to anyone, but you can talk to strangers. Okay, you can get yourself cups of coffee (or tea).

You can play musical instruments, alone. Or do some sports, alone. You are not allowed to read. Or watch movies. Or listen to music. Or play video games. You cannot immerse yourself in other crafts and hobbies (no painting, drawing, doodling, sewing, knitting, gardening, taking pictures, or the like).

At some point, you will want to write. You’ll feel the itch to go to your computer and type something, or to grab a piece of paper and create a snowflake-method outline. Your mind will be full of chatters and ideas, characters and plots, as well as dialogues and sentences to begin or end a story.

Because when you have nothing to do, nothing to do at all, you’ll be reminded of the reasons why you pick up writing at the first place. About why, as a writer, you just need to write. It has been the one thing your 10-year-old self has always wanted to do—the little girl who would cry her eyes out if she only knew that the grown-up you would betray her: by giving up that love of writing.

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The Short History of Instant Noodles.

WHENEVER it was raining outside, my mind always went to instant noodles. A bowl of steaming comfort topped with egg and fried shallots, drenched in my favourite savoury soup. When I was a little girl, this meant Chicken Curry or Special Chicken flavour.

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Of course, later on, instant noodle brands came up with all kinds of flavours you could ever imagined. But, as always, nothing beats the classics.

It’s all about the signature taste that brings you back to reminisce the old days from the very first sip: to feast on memories, to slurp on nostalgia, to savour a feeling of going back in time.

***

THERE was a certain period in my life when my mother and I moved in to stay with my mother’s parents. Every evening, after the call for Maghrib prayer, my grandmother would prepare a bowl of instant noodles for my grandfather.

For Grandfather, it was always the Chicken Curry flavour—and he wanted the noodles to be extra soft. His should be topped with egg, fried shallots, boiled mustard greens, and sweet soy sauce, served inside a white Chinese bowl with a red chicken painted on it.

Grandfather always had his bowls of instant noodles exactly like that, every single evening, at the same time. He would be having it in front of the TV set in the living room—while watching the evening news or a soccer match.

Before bringing the spoon to his mouth, he always asked me the exact same question: “You want this? This is delicious. You want this?”

I would shook my head and looked at him as he savoured his instant noodles with gusto, slurping the savoury soup noisily. Sometimes, a splinter of boiled egg yolk were still stuck on his long white beard even long after he finished.

When in very rare occasions Grandmother made me a bowl of instant noodles, she would prepare it the way she prepared it for Grandfather. I didn’t like the mustard greens back then, but I liked the way the too-soft noodles made the soup seemed way thicker, the way they absorbed the full flavour from the seasonings.

No one could prepare the perfect instant noodles for Grandfather but Grandmother. My mother was a good cook, but even she couldn’t emulate Grandmother’s signature bowl of instant noodles. Grandmother also knew the way Grandfather liked his sweet hot tea; the precise thickness of tea and sugar, as well as the precise level of warmth when it should be served.

Grandmother prepared instant noodles for Grandfather every single evening, until one day she fell sick. She passed away a month later.

After Grandmother’s death, Grandfather still had his bowl of instant noodles every evening—the one prepared by my mother. He no longer asked me questions about whether I’d like to have the noodles or not, and I suddenly lost interest in watching him finishing his instant noodles. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I was simply growing up. Maybe the sight of Grandfather eating his instant noodles had stopped to excite me.

But I thought it was because something was missing:
the gusto.

A year after that, Grandfather passed away. As far as I could remember, I had never seen Grandfather served anything for Grandmother.

***

I AM always curious at the fact that a bowl of instant noodles can develop its own signature taste.

The noodles came in identical packagings, with identical seasonings, and identical instructions on how to prepare and serve them. Nonetheless, I have heard of people lining up in front of certain instant noodle street stalls because ‘the noodle here is so delicious‘.

I thought this would be something Grandfather would understand. Maybe he would line up in front of an instant noodle stall that served one with Grandmother’s style.

In Java, instant noodle stalls can be found almost in every corner of the street. Many stay open until the small hours. One should only look for street stalls carrying the word ‘INTERNET’.

A friend who visited from abroad pointed at those stalls one day, and asked me whether those were street-style internet cafes. I told him that it was a different kind of internet. This INTERNET stands for Indomie-Telur-Kornet (instant noodle, egg, and corned beef). It’s a bowl of comfort food for most Indonesians; as well as for clubbers who roamed the streets hungrily after partying hard, trying to prevent hangovers.

Another friend of mine would enthusiastically vouch for an instant noodle stall in another part of the town. It would take her 45 minutes to get there by car—an hour and a half if there was a traffic jam. But she would brave it all. She said this stall served the most delicious bowl of instant noodles she had ever tasted.

Probably it was the way they prepared the noodle.

About how long they boil it. About whether they stir it or not. About having it really soft or really chewy. About whether they put the seasonings into the pan or into the bowl. The kind of eggs they use. The amount of chilli they put in. On whether they sprinkle fried shallots or not. The brand of the corned beef. On whether they boil the corned beef or serve it right away from the can. On whether they put in green vegetables or not. On whether they grate the cheese before or after the noodle is ready. On whether they add some salt or chicken stocks.

Or maybe, ‘delicious’  has nothing much to do with the taste itself. Maybe it has more to do with memories.

***

WE moved out from my grandparent’s house into a rented one when I was 10. The house itself was really small. The kitchen was oddly located right in front of the bathroom. But it had a huge backyard.

Seeing it, as a little girl, I imagined a huge swimming pool; but my mother realistically decided to grow peanuts.

I didn’t know why she chose peanuts, but after spending a few hours under the sun in the backyard for a few months, she managed to grow 10-12 rows of peanuts there. I didn’t get my swimming pool, but my mother bought me a huge plastic bucket. On sunny days, she would fill it with cold water. I would soak myself happily; wearing my swimsuit and playing with a yellow rubber duck, while my mother worked on her peanuts.

During harvest time, we always had more than we could consume, and my swimming bucket would be filled with peanuts. My mother would boil several batches of peanuts for hours; I could smell them from the street. We would eat some of them, but ended up giving away most of them to our neighbours. My mother also made peanut cookies and peanut butter, but we kept those for ourselves.

When there were simply too much peanuts to handle, my mother would leave the peanut-filled swimming bucket outside our fence, so anyone could grab some.

However, peanuts were meant for sunny days. For rainy days, we had instant noodles.

My mother always scolded me for forgetting my umbrella—or for losing it. On some wet afternoons, when it rained heavily and I came home with a soaked uniform, my mother would scold me for not having my umbrella, while—at the same time—preparing a bucket of warm water for a bath. Then she would send me to the bathroom and reminded me to wash my hair so I wouldn’t catch a cold.

When I finished, my mother would have prepared my ‘rainy day’ meal on the dining table: a plate of warm rice with a bowl of steaming hot instant noodles; and some eggs—fried with margarin and sweet soy sauce. A glass of sweet hot tea would have been ready on the side. At this stage, my mother would have stopped scolding me about the umbrella. She would tell me the stories of her days; or ask me to tell some stories of my days.

My mother could cook anything from rendang to gulai, from gudeg to siomay, and they were always delicious. But nothing reminded me more of the comfort of coming home than the signature smell of her simple rainy day meal.

A warm plate of rice, a steaming hot instant noodle, egg fried with margarin and sweet soy sauce, and sweet hot tea. That was the best set of meal one could ever have after a long, tiring, and challenging day away from home. It was the smell I came home to—the taste of warmth I came to long for.

For the sake of living a healthier lifestyle, in the past few years, I had drastically reduced my frequency of consuming instant noodles.

However, every time I came home from a long traveling journey, I still treated myself to a bowl of Chicken Curry or Special Chicken, and fried myself an egg in margarin—drizzled with sweet soy sauce.

Because if coming home had a taste, to me, it would taste just like that.

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5 Ways to Find Story Ideas for Your (Travel) Write-ups.

How do you find story ideas for your travel write-ups? How to write about a place from another angle instead of reporting about what you do on a day-to-day basis? I’ve been asked this question quite often in various occasions, so I thought I could share about it through this post:

prose1. Follow your curiosity

You are not a cat, so hopefully, you won’t get killed (and even cats have 9 lives!). Have you ever looked at something, heard something, or read about something, and felt curious about a certain thing afterwards? Curiosity is human. We like to ‘sniff around’. We want to know what is happening, we want to know more, we want to know what will happen next. Our mind is full of chatters and questions–even about the most trivial things. The next time you are curious about something, follow it like a detective.

There was this one time around 3 years ago when I watched a TV series, Miss Advised. One of the characters used Craigslist–a listing site, to find herself a date. I was curious whether there were also people posting dating profiles on Craigslist in Indonesia. So I went in. And there were loads of people looking for ‘dates’ on Craigslist, in Jakarta–even just reading their ‘creative’ ads had given me a few hours of uninterrupted fun. Then I asked myself, do people really answer these ads? Does it really work? And so I replied to one of the ads and set myself up for a blind date. The story of the blind date–I’ll keep that for another time!

Stories that may come up: stories about exploration, about your effort in following ‘clues’, about uncovering something, about the challenges in getting the information you need, etc.

2. Keep asking ‘why’ and talk to people

When we travel, there may be many occasions when we realised that we know nothing about something: the way people dress, how they treat each other, their eating habit, the way they treat guests, their local beliefs, about why it seemed like every students in Kazakhstan were always asking me about how many languages do I speak, or about why we would see some old people in Paris walking down the street or sitting in front of a restaurant–talking to themselves.

Of course, we can always shrug our shoulders and let these things pass; or we can always try to understand these ‘unfamiliar’ things by asking people. I talked to a guy working in a villa in Bali, and it turns into this.

Stories that may come up: a feature story about someone you meet/talk to, a conversation with this person, the way he/she left some memories or give valuable life-lessons that are relevant to you, a story about that person and his/her life experience, etc.

3. Observe keenly

Did you still remember the things you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think from one of your traveling journeys? Maybe we remember what we saw–more or less, because we took pictures, but most of the times, we forgot the rest. But these small details are like seeds. When we plant, water, and nurture them, when they are ripe, they can burst into stories. To keep a journal on the things you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think on your journeys is a great way to keep these seeds. For instance, what is the headline of the local newspaper at the day of your visit?

I overheard a conversation at Musee d’Orsay one time, between a father and his son, and it made its way into this post. I played around with a memory of a city in this post. I wrote down the things I felt as I walked around the small alleys of Santorini, and it became this. I’m not saying they are good stories–but they are short drafts and snippets of what can actually come up from keen observations.

Stories that may come up: a reflection on life based on an overhead dialogue, how a dialogue you overheard reminds you of something–or enlightened you about something, about capturing a spirit of a city or an environment through the local’s conversations, etc.

4. Break your habit

If you’re always staying at a hostel, try a nice hotel when you have enough money. If you’re always staying in a hotel, try an Airbnb space. If you are always following a map, try ditching it. If you are always traveling with friends, try traveling alone. If you’ve never bought souvenirs, buy one. If you’ve always bought souvenirs, buy none. Try to do new things when you travel and break your usual habit. It will feel odd and uncomfortable–two sure signs that you’re about to experience something new. And when we experience something new, we are being introduced to a new story.

From trying out Tinder, having a picnic date with a stranger, dancing with a bunch of policemen, staying with a transgender host, hopping on into a stranger’s car at 4 am in the morning, eating horse meat, to hanging out with a bunch of high school students, each one is a story in itself!

Stories that may come up: challenges you need to face when you’re dealing with unfamiliar territories, the internal conflict of doing things you are unsure about, the way you see a place differently because you change your habit, etc.

5. Try to see things from a neutral ‘place’

Are you opposing arranged marriage? Do you think couples should get married because they love each other–not because of their compatibility towards one another? Do you think it’s shallow for a girl to not want to go to college–and opt for an arranged marriage instead? When we travel, we may see, hear, or experience things that are not in-line with our beliefs or our views of the world. It is easy for us to pass judgement instantly; but things are not always what it seems.

I always thought bitterly about India and its arranged marriage tradition; until I tried to be more open about this and started chatting with an Indian woman–who happily chose an arranged marriage rather than a college life; and with a car-rental driver–who said confidently, that of course–he would choose a compatible husband for her daughter through an arranged marriage! I may still disagree to some extent, but opening up myself to see things from a neutral ‘place’ made me able to understand the underlying reasons behind; and to accept the fact that there are couples who really fall in love after their arranged marriage!

Stories that may come up: unveiling the reasons behind why people act or think a certain way, background about a city/country’s cultural or political history that affects the way they interact or behave with each other, busting myths or breaking the stereotypes about a certain place, etc.

So, are you ready to find your (story) ideas?

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If you’re interested in narrative travel writing, maybe you want to check this class to be held in May by my friend (a travel writer and a senior editor, too), Windy Ariestanty. Have fun! 🙂

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,
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*) 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!