10 Years of Blogging and Being Here.

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

I was 17. I was lonely and sad.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

I AM 33.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

THE blog has been running for 10 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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I Want To Do Nothing & Everything With You

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I can listen to you talking about your grand adventures for hours. About the foreign cities you have visited. About Bosnia and Kosovo and Albania. About the exotic beaches and fellow travellers you meet at the seaside bar. About the things you see and the things you think about as you see those things. About the museums and the park and the rivers and the rooftop bars glimmering with lights.

I can live out of a backpack and walk beside you to explore the vast possibility the world has to offer. We’ll photograph each other with the stunning background from the countries we are in, upload it to Facebook and Instagram, and snap some pictures of our morning coffee and croissant, our afternoon’s garlic naan and tandoori chicken, our evening sangria. We’ll make friends with people from all walks of life and listen to their stories before going out together for a dance.

I can also listen to you talking about nothing for hours. About how you run for another 8 kilometres today, or 9 kilometres the other day. About how you clean some pots and pans or fix a loose hinge on the door. About how your client meetings go and the things you have on your to-do list for the rest of the day. About how you’re about to go to the nearest supermarket to buy a pack of cookies.

I can stay at home for months, with you ordering some interesting Kindle titles we have listed down on our wish-list so we can just read all day. We’ll be reading to each other every morning before we start our day and every evening before we end our day, one chapter each. We’re going to read someone else’s travel stories and journeying with them from wherever we are: the bed, the terrace, the kitchen.

We’ll have coffee in the morning and cook pasta in the evening–spaghetti carbonara or penne with smoked salmon and cream. You’ll be doing nothing, just sipping beer while watching another MotoGP race on a TV set in a small restaurant downtown; because we do not own a TV set. I’ll text you from the comfort of our kitchen desk that is full of art papers and watercolours, with the list of groceries to buy on your way home: some corn chips, please xx.

We’ll be doing nothing: just waking up in the morning and having breakfast, doing the laundry, going out for work and having lunch, finishing up some left-over work and playing squash, having dinner somewhere and heading out for salsa, reading books and watching old movies, whispering secrets and trading childhood stories.

We’ll be doing everything: from traveling the world to experiencing new adventures, learning a new language and dropping by at someone’s kitchen for a crash-course in cooking local delicacies, starting an exciting project together and making all sorts of meaningful connections…

We’ll see sunrise and sunsets and the twinkling stars from our balcony again and again and again. We’ll see sunrise and sunsets and the twinkling stars from places faraway from home again and again and again. I’ll see you here and there and everywhere, again, and again, and again…

And still, I want to do nothing & everything with you.

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9 Ways to Make You Want to Write Again.

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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:

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1. 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! 🙂