What to Do in LodTunduh Village: The Hidden Gem Near Ubud, Bali.

prose-6“Jo! So, tell me what’s around!”

It was a cloudy morning in LodTunduh village. I was sipping my coffee at the breakfast table. The villa where I stayed, Villa Lestaru, belongs to the family of a friend. It consisted of 3 lovely bungalows with private pool, located in the middle of a rice field and a small forest. Amazingly, amidst being ‘off-the-beaten-path’, they have the fastest wi-fi connection I’ve ever found in and around Ubud so far.

After checking in the other night, I tried to Google the things I could see or do around LodTunduh, but it seemed useless. I couldn’t get anything. My search always led me to see or do something in Ubud, instead of LodTunduh. So, I decided to ditch Google and went to Jo instead.

Jo, who worked in the villa where I stayed, is a friendly guy with a big smile. During the times I stayed there, he seemed to be doing everything from driving guests around to taking orders for breakfast. Jo was born in LodTunduh and had been staying in this little village ever since.

Surely he knows the best spots around here?

Deciphering Lodtunduh Village.

Jo looked at me quizzically when I asked him about ‘interesting’ stuff in LodTunduh. “Well, there isn’t much but paddy fields,” he shrugged his shoulders. “However, there are many things in Ubud, the palace, the market…”

“But Jo,” I cut him midair. “What’s in Lodtunduh? I know what’s in Ubud, because I’ve been spending so much time there. But what’s around here? In this village? Is there anything interesting to visit, to see, to experience?”

Jo seemed perplexed. He bit his lower lip. And started thinking. Hard. “Here? Well, just the village,” he scratched his head. “Not much, really.”

I started to feel as if my enthusiasm level suddenly dropped to zero. But I was not ready to give up. Located only 10-15 minutes away from Ubud central by bike, LodTunduh is a charming little village that–I believe–hid its own gem.

Some people, including myself, choose to stay in this area when visiting Ubud. Not only because the area is quieter and less-packed with tourists, but also because a lot of villas, inns, bungalows, and homestays in LodTunduh are offering beautiful rooms with much lower price than the ones in Ubud Central. If you can ride a bike, the distance from Ubud won’t bother you at all.

Have you ever played ‘tourist’ in your hometown?

I had been visiting or passing LodTunduh village a few times before, and I remembered passing a huge sign for Luwak (Civet) Coffee Agrotourism site by the street. Coffee that comes from part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by palm civet is what they called Luwak Coffee, or Kopi Luwak.

“What about that Luwak Coffee Agrotourism nearby?” I probed Jo.
Jo’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes! Yes, you can walk around that agrotourism site and drink coffee. And not far from there, there is this beautiful restaurant that serves crispy duck, it’s called Bebek Teba Sari!”

I smiled. My enthusiasm level went back up a notch. We’re getting there, Jo. We’re getting there.

“So, what else apart from the duck? Where can I get good food around here?”

“Well, I guess, that’s it. The duck. There aren’t so many restaurants here, because LodTunduh is only opening itself for tourism not long ago–so, we don’t have as many restaurants around. LodTunduh is more of a farming village. People are farmers. Now, some of them are becoming tour guides and drivers, or work in hotels, but most are still farmers. So, not so many options for food, but Ubud has many restaurants!” Jo smiled a winning smile.

And then I got it.

I believed that Jo actually knew so many ‘interesting’ things to see, eat, or experience around LodTunduh. But I guess, my interpretation of ‘interesting’ is simply different from his.

Jo was born in LodTunduh. He had been seeing the same views: places, fields, and temples around this village his whole life. Nothing is ‘interesting’ for him, because he grows up with them all. He has become so used to it–he couldn’t really see (yet) his village from the eyes of a curious traveler (or tourist, I don’t mind that word) like me.

Are we all partially-blind when it comes to our own hometown? Well, if we have never played tourist in our hometown, I think that could be the case.

I used to be partially-blind about my hometown in Bogor, too. I only started to see it as a town with more ‘hidden gems’ than the obvious Botanical Garden and the overpacked Puncak Pass mountain-side when I started giving free tours for Couchsurfers & travellers who were visiting. Suddenly, I was interested in everything: about the spotted deers in the Presidential Palace’s garden, the culinary street around Suryakencana and Air Mancur, the hidden Pulo Geulis temple…

I could see it clearly now. If I’d like to know more about LodTunduh, I just needed to ask Jo the right questions.

What to see, eat, and do around LodTunduh–according to Jo.

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“Jo, where is the best place for you to get some food around LodTunduh? Places that you think serve the best food?”

“Well, there are some small warungs (small shop/stalls) that serve delicious food,” Jo answered. “I like Warung Ibu Ida that serves nasi campur (mixed rice) and there is also a nice warung that serves babi guling (suckling pig). But I don’t remember the name,” Jo laughed. “I always eat there and I know the place, but I just don’t know the name, I never noticed.”

“Where are they located?”
“Near the market.”
“Which market?” I asked, a bit confused. I never noticed any market around LodTunduh before.

And then Jo enlightened me.

There was a junction in LodTunduh, and in one of its corner, you can find a mini-market called Puri Kawan. Each morning, from 4 am to 8 am, the streets in front and along Puri Kawan will turn into a local market. The locals go there to sell and buy groceries: vegetables, spices, meat, fish–and we can also find many local delicacies sold there for breakfast.

The warungs that serve nasi campur and babi guling with local taste can also be found along this street. If you came after 8 am, the ‘local market’ would have disappeared without trace–and all you could find is the junction and Puri Kawan mini market.

“Jo! This is awesome!” I clapped my hands enthusiastically while jotting down all the information he gave me. “This is exactly what I’m looking for! Now, tell me, if I go around LodTunduh from here, what are the things I can see? It doesn’t have to be a tourist attraction or a restaurant, just tell me, if you go around the village from here, what would you pass?”

Jo thought about this for a while. And then he started out with Pura Bija, or Bija Temple. It was located right at the mouth of the alley leading up the street from the villa where I stayed. Jo told me that Bija Temple and 2 other big temples around LodTunduh are not ‘touristic’ temples. You cannot just enter these temples without permission–they are still closely restricted only for prayers and ceremonies.

The temples are only open for public during odalan–or the ‘birthday’ of that temple,” said Jo. “Different temples have different birthdays. I can find out when is the odalan for the temples, but even if there’s no odalan, I can also help you to get permission should you like to enter the temples. Pura Bija, that is closest to this villa, is a temple for Aryan caste.”

“Then you can drive around and see the rice fields,” Jo continued. “Just go to the market and drive South. You’ll see loads of rice fields with the farmers working, sun-drying their grains… all activities are still conducted traditionally. Like I said before, most people here are farmers. But if you go around, you can also see little shops selling paintings.”

“Farming is still the villagers’ main occupation, but most of them know art by heart, and in their spare time, they create art you can see in many galleries around here,” Jo explained. “There is a place called Silungan, only around 150 meters away. You can learn how to paint there–abstract paintings or caricatures. If you want to learn carving, I can also take you to some little shops. They don’t put up signs for classes or anything, because they are just local people who knows how to paint or carve. But we can go to one of them and ask them if they can give you a private class.”

The more I listened to Jo talking, the more I was amazed by the hidden gems LodTunduh has to offer. And Jo himself had transformed from someone who said ‘there-isn’t-much-to-see-around-here’ to a guy with tons of valuable information, local insights, and precious contacts.

He also knew a pottery place nearby where you can buy pretty ceramics like mugs, bowls, and plates. If you’d like to have your own set of Balinese traditional costume (the colorful Balinese kebaya), you can tailor-made it at some small tailors along the junction. For one set (the top and the cloth you wear like sarong), you need only to pay around IDR100,000,- or USD 8! This one really blew my mind, as I personally love Balinese kebaya!

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From LodTunduh to the North, East, South, and West.

“Tell me, Jo, what can I see if I drive North, East, South, and West from here?”

“If you continue to drive West, you’ll see the Luwak Coffee Agrotourism, loads of local warungs and the morning market, you can drop by at Ibu Ida’s warung for nasi campur and the other warung for suckling pigs. There is the duck restaurant, and if you continue to drive West, you can see Taman Ayun Sangeh and end up in Canggu,” said Jo. “While to the East, you’ll pass stretches of inns, homestays, bungalows, and villas. Further East, you’ll pass the Tegenengan waterfalls, and the Elephant Cave.”

I drew this practical information in my mind, making a ‘compass’ of my own with LodTunduh at its center. It seemed easier now to navigate everywhere from LodTunduh. I was thinking that if I could spend 4 days here, I could just spend a day to drive West, a day to drive East, a day to drive South, and a day to drive North… and there would so many things I could see already!

To the South, you can see all the art galleries, the rice fields and the traditional mills, then more inns, villas, and bungalows. You can also end up in Canggu going this way,” said Jo. “To the North, is to the direction of Ubud. You can find more Coffee Agrotourism places, Kengetan bridge and the river below it where people threw away the ashes from the cremation ceremony, and there are also many temples along the way, oh, and you can go to a restaurant called Warung 9 at the border between LodTunduh and Ubud.”

Warung 9, later on, turned out to be the highlight of my culinary trip in and around Ubud. They have another branch now in Jalan Suweta–a street next to Ubud Palace, called 9 Angels. The concept is brilliant.

Decorated eclectically, the warung serves buffet of vegetarian food. You serve yourself from the buffet and grab your own plates and spoon and fork. There are baskets of tropical fruits and a blender, so if you’d like to make a smoothie, suit yourself.

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Afterwards, you pay what you eat by donation. Left your money inside a glass jar. There is no cashier whatsoever. The place operates based on trust and kindness. If you have more money, leave more money inside the jar–you may help feed those who do not have enough money who came to eat here! When you’re done, wash your own plates, and leave the place with your tummy and heart, full.

And on my last day in LodTunduh, lazying around by the pool under the drizzles, I realised that I am indeed, full: of delicious food, of Jo’s ‘local traveler’s map‘, and of another amazing experience of discovering a new place–seeing the way it opens itself up to me through the many kind souls I’ve met along the way.

For LodTunduh, I would say:
Thank you, Jo!

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Where to stay in LodTunduh to meet Jo:
Villa Lestaru
Jalan Lodtunduh, Gang Pura Bija, 80571
Ubud, Indonesia
*Guests can enjoy airport pick up service, free use of 2 bicycles for each room, and scheduled shuttle service to central Ubud.
Where to get crispy duck & betutu in LodTunduh:
Bebek Teba Sari
Jl. Raya Kengetan – Lodtunduh,
Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia
Where to experience a full tummy and a full heart in LodTunduh:
Warung 9
Jl. Lodtunduh
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
+62 817-776-768

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.

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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.

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

A Parisian Note: A Reminder “To Feel”

It was not Louvre. It was Musee d’Orsay I fell deeply in love with.

From one floor to another, from one alley to the next, those enchanting paintings and sculptures never ceased to amaze me.

PHOTO BY HANNY KUSUMAWATI

At times, silently, I hovered around some visitors who were accompanied by a guide–most probably an art student–and eavesdropped as the guide explained the symbolism behind “the color orange” or “the appearance of a tiger” used in a certain painting.

I do not ‘understand’ art–though I wish I do. Eavesdropping the guide’s detailed explanations suddenly threw me away to another miraculous realm–where all shades, shapes, lines, tints, colors, brush strokes, hues, shadows… hide deeper meanings then what the eyes can see.

But the deeper meanings behind the paintings in Musee d’Orsay struck me on the 5th floor–where they exhibit the works of the ‘impressionists’, like Monet and Renoir. It might not be a coincidence that one of my most impressive moments in Paris happened exactly there.

I was sitting on a bench overlooking walls of paintings, resting my feet while looking at the museum’s guidebook. In front of me, a father and his son stood side by side. I guessed they were African-American. Both were dressed stylishly–very Parisian in a way.

“I don’t understand this!” the son, most probably a 9 or 10-year-old, let out a sigh of desperation. “We keep looking at these paintings and I just don’t understand what to make of them!”

The father turned his face towards the boy and smiled.  He casually lowered himself so that the two of them were on the same height, and then he said, “Hey, man. It’s okay if you don’t understand. You don’t have to understand it. You just need to feel it.”

There was a pause in the air, and I realized that I was actually holding my breath.

“Now here, look at this painting here,” finally the father pointed out at a painting and looked at his son once again. “Do you feel anything by looking at it? Just recognize how you feel about it. That’s it. Just note the feeling.”

“What if I feel nothing?” the boy asked.

“If you feel nothing–nothing at all, then just move on to the next painting,” the father smiled calmly.

That conversation was the first thing I wrote in my notebook that day. Later that evening, the conversation was still playing ever-so-vividly in my mind.

It struck me how often we feel as if we need to understand things in life, and–just like the little boy–get frustrated when we couldn’t find an answer. We said things like, I-don’t-understand-him or I-just-don’t-know-what-to-do or I-just-don’t-get-it all the time, in a sigh of desperation–as if not understanding or not knowing or not getting ‘it’ was something wrong; as if it was our fault; as if we were not trying hard enough.

But how often do we stop trying to understand ‘it’, and start feeling ‘it’ instead? To simply see things as it is and just recognize the feelings that are welling up slowly from the inside? How often do we give a chance for our hearts to just completely feel, without having our minds interfering?

When the feeling has surfaced, actually we will only have two rhetorical questions left: is this the kind of feeling we want in our life, or is this the kind of feeling we do not want in our life? When we have come to these two questions, an answer is no longer needed. We just intuitively know.

And on those particular moments when we “feel nothing”…
are we ready to move on to the ‘next painting’?

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Go Ahead, Paris! #3

DISCLAIMER: Beberapa waktu lalu, saya diundang meliput perjalanan dua pemenang kompetisi Go Ahead Challenge dalam gelaran Paris Fashion Week 2014; dengan tiket pesawat, akomodasi, serta uang saku selama perjalanan ditanggung oleh tim penyelenggara. Meskipun demikian, saya berangkat dalam kapasitas sebagai independent blogger yang berhak menuliskan dan melaporkan (ataupun tidak) mengenai apapun yang saya lihat, alami, dan rasakan selama perjalanan tersebut;tanpa sensor maupun suntingan dari pihak penyelenggara. Bagian pertama dari seri ini dapat dibaca di sini dan bagian kedua dapat dibaca di sini.

Pernahkah kau bertanya-tanya tentang apa yang tak kelihatan? Tentang apa yang terjadi ketika lampu dimatikan dan layar diturunkan?

Banyak orang silau dengan gemerlap–sesaat melupakan apa yang dibutuhkan untuk sungguh-sungguh berkilau. Di baliknya, ada serangkaian pemikiran, kerja keras, air mata, perdebatan, juga perasaan nyaris putus asa. Tentang tertidur menjelang dinihari dan kembali terbangun bersama terbitnya matahari–menantang dinginnya angin dan menahan gigil untuk tetap berdiri anggun di tengah suhu yang semakin turun.

Lain kali kau bertemu seseorang yang kau kagumi, tanyakan padanya apa yang terjadi ketika lampu dimatikan dan layar diturunkan. Karena setiap orang, tak peduli seberapa berkilaunya ia, punya perjuangan dan pergulatan sendiri-sendiri; yang mungkin tak pernah kau ketahui. 

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Area resepsionis di Le Meurice nampaknya jauh lebih besar dibandingkan luas seluruh lantai di hotel tempat saya menginap. Diapit Place de la Concorde dan Museum Louvre yang terkenal itu, Le Meurice memang bukan sembarang hotel. Hotel berbintang lima ini kabarnya sering didatangi para seniman kenamaan dari berbagai belahan dunia. Salvador Dali, misalnya, pernah menjadi salah satu tamu reguler di hotel yang menyuguhkan pemandangan Tuileries Garden itu.

Ketika saya tiba pagi itu, masih dengan wajah mengantuk setelah tidur larut malam sebelumnya, lobi hotel Le Meurice telah disulap menjadi sebuah area showroom. Berbagai brand dari desainer terpilih berkesempatan memajang karya-karya mereka di sini, untuk dipamerkan kepada para buyer yang akan datang menjelang siang. Di ujung showroom itulah saya menghabiskan waktu sepagian.

Di sinilah, beberapa desainer asal Indonesia berkesempatan memperlihatkan rancangan mereka kepada dunia dalam rangkaian Paris Fashion Week 2014. Selain koleksi Tex Saverio, di ujung showroom itu saya juga terkagum-kagum melihat-lihat koleksi dari Peggy Hartanto, Toton, dan MajorMinor, dan sempat mengobrol dengan Toton Januar dan Ari Seputra-nya MajorMinor tentang rancangan mereka yang khusus dibuat untuk pasar Eropa.

Fashion adalah industri yang kompleks,” kata Sophie Gorecki–perempuan ramah yang saya temui di showroom pagi itu. Sosok penting di balik penjualan koleksi Tex Saverio ini bisa berbahasa Indonesia dengan sangat baik. “Dalam industri fashion, pekerjaan tak berhenti ketika kita menghasilkan karya yang indah. Itu baru awal. Selanjutnya, ada rantai distribusi yang panjang dan berbelit, proses produksi yang memakan waktu, sampai kemampuan negosiasi dan membangun jaringan untuk memikat buyers.”

“Di balik keglamorannya, fashion sebagai sebuah industri adalah sekumpulan kerja keras, tekanan, dan disiplin tinggi untuk bisa menghasilkan koleksi yang indah dan diterima masyarakat secara konsisten, tepat waktu, dan berkualitas,” kata Angela Quaintrell. Ketika kami mengobrol, saya baru tahu bahwa ia adalah konsultan dari Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) yang berbasis di London. Dengan asyik, saya mendengarkan Angela bercerita tentang CFE–sebagai sebuah inkubator bisnis khusus untuk para desainer fashion. CFE membina para desainer agar dapat memiliki kepekaan dan kelihaian dalam mengarungi industri dan bisnis fashion internasional. Merekalah yang turut membawa desainer-desainer Indonesia ke pentas dunia seperti Paris Fashion Week ini.

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Saya bertemu Tex Saverio di ruang bawah tanah sebuah hotel yang tak lagi saya ingat namanya. Lorong-lorong dan anak tangga sempit mengantarkan saya menuju sebuah dunia yang tersembunyi di bawah permukaan: dunia yang dipenuhi model-model berwajah gugup, foto-foto dan sketsa, juga gaun-gaun gemerlap yang berjuntai dari gantungan di sudut-sudut ruangan.

“Kamu mau jadi cacing atau jadi naga?”

Siang itu, Tex–desainer muda yang didaulat dunia sebagai Alexander McQueen-nya Indonesia setelah rancangannya dikenakan oleh Lady Gaga–mengenakan kaca mata besar dengan pinggiran hitam, cardigan warna sampanye, dan celana pendek cokelat muda. Kami duduk-duduk dikelilingi gaun-gaun indahnya di ruang bawah tanah itu, mengobrol tentang fashion dan hal-hal lain yang muncul begitu saja, dalam percakapan santai yang tak sungguh-sungguh punya agenda.

“Kalau ingin menjadi naga, kamu harus siap bekerja keras. Apapun pekerjaanmu, jangan tanggung-tanggung dalam menjalaninya,” ujar Tex. Suara dan pembawaannya tetap tenang selagi ia mengisahkan pergulatannya meyakinkan orang-orang terdekat saat pertama kali hendak memutuskan untuk terjun ke dunia fashion. “Jangan menjadi cacing. Baru ketemu susah sedikit, ngeluh.”

Hal inilah yang selalu diingat Tex sejak ia menentukan jalannya sendiri untuk mengejar impiannya di dunia fashion pada tahun 2001. Saat itu, ia langsung terjun bebas ke industri fashion tanpa sempat belajar banyak dari rumah-rumah mode ternama. Perjalanannya adalah rangkaian percobaan yang sebagian gagal dan sebagian berhasil. Ia tersaruk-saruk sendiri dan mempelajari segalanya secara otodidak. Rancangannya yang dianggap ‘aneh dan ajaib’ pun tak serta-merta diterima dengan baik.

“Penolakan itu, dimana pun, akan selalu ada,” ujarnya seraya merapikan lengan cardingan-nya dan tersenyum. “Yang terpenting adalah seberapa besar kepercayaanmu terhadap karya-karyamu sendiri, dan seberapa besar kesediaanmu untuk juga mendengarkan apa yang diinginkan oleh pasar. Idealisme dan kreativitas saja tidak cukup.”

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Hari itu, salah satu gaun rancangan Tex yang akan dipamerkan dalam fashion presentation di Paris Fashion Week dalam waktu kurang dari 30 jam, tersampir di lengan Sylvester. Pemuda itu hilir-mudik dengan sigap untuk membantu model-model mengepas gaun-gaun. Wajahnya nampak kencang.

Atmosfir di ruang bawah tanah itu terasa sedikit tegang. Samar-samar bisa terdengar teriakan frustrasi, perdebatan sengit, juga helaan napas panjang. Rupanya, salah satu gaun indah nan ramping yang menjadi pamungkas dalam koleksi Tex tak bisa begitu saja pas pada sembarang model. Belum jelas siapa model yang bisa membawakan gaun itu esok hari. Seharian ini, mereka belum menemukan seseorang dengan ukuran yang pas benar.

Ketegangan itu mengingatkan saya pada sebuah adegan dalam kisah Cinderella, ketika Pangeran berkeliling ke seluruh penjuru negeri untuk menemukan gadis yang kakinya pas dengan ukuran sepatu kaca yang sedang ia cari pemiliknya. Saya tak tahu apakah Tex ikut cemas (atau gemas) dengan persiapan menjelang fashion presentationnya esok hari, karena nyatanya, ia terlihat begitu tenang dan terkendali. Mungkin ia tipe orang yang percaya bahwa everything will eventually falls into place.

“Ketika kamu sungguh-sungguh ingin masuk ke industri ini, kamu tak bisa lagi merancang sesuai suasana hati dan keinginan sendiri,” ujar Tex. “Ya, ketika mood-nya tepat dan inspirasi didapat, rancangan memang bisa dihasilkan dalam waktu yang relatif cepat, tetapi industri tidak bekerja seperti itu. Kamu harus bekerja sesuai jadwal. Dan inspirasi tidak bisa ditunggu hingga datang sendiri. Kita harus menyiapkan setidaknya dua koleksi dalam setahun: spring/summer dan autumn/winter. Ini berarti hanya ada waktu 6 bulan untuk menyiapkan koleksi ready-to-wear: termasuk riset, memilih tema dan warna yang sesuai dengan trend dunia dan permintaan pasar, membuat puluhan rancangan, mencari bahan-bahan, mengawasi seluruh proses produksi, menyiapkan katalog, dan seterusnya. Ini waktu yang sangat singkat. Kalau hanya mengikuti mood, kamu tak akan bisa bertahan. Disiplin, komitmen, dan kerja keras adalah tuntutan yang harus dipenuhi.”

She fits!” seruan itu terdengar tiba-tiba dari ruangan lain yang bersebelahan; seperti pekik kelegaan bercampur kemenangan. Seorang model yang luar biasa tinggi dan kurus, dengan kaki yang juga luar biasa jenjang, melangkah melewati ambang pintu dengan gaun pamungkas Tex–yang ternyata pas dengan ukuran badannya. Sepertinya tatapan semua orang tertuju pada model itu; selagi ia berjalan pelan memeragakan gaun rancangan Tex yang bertema Parametric: perpaduan bentuk-bentuk geometris untuk menciptakan sebuah gaya futuristik yang romantis.

Akhirnya, ketegangan di udara siang itu mencair juga.

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Saya tak tahu ada apa dengan Tex dan ruang bawah tanah, karena fashion presentation-nya dalam gelaran Paris Fashion Week juga terjadi di bawah permukaan tanah. Menyelinap lewat sebuah pintu di samping Palais de Tokyo, saya menuruni anak tangga demi anak tangga menuju sebuah klub bergaya dungeon dengan dinding-dinding yang dipenuhi grafiti.

Semakin jauh saya menuruni anak tangga, suara musik semakin jelas terdengar. DJ tengah memainkan lagu-lagu dengan irama menghentak, diiringi artwork geometris yang berputar-putar di layar yang teramat besar dari atas panggung. Lampu-lampu sorot membentuk lingkaran-lingkaran cahaya di lantai. Di dalam lingkaran-lingkaran cahaya inilah para model berdiri memamerkan koleksi terbaru Tex Saverio–sementara para penikmat fashion dan buyers dari berbagai belahan dunia berkumpul di luar lingkaran-lingkaran cahaya, mengagumi dan menjepretkan kamera dalam gelap. Salah satunya, nampak penyanyi asal Indonesia yang sudah bermukim di Perancis, Anggun.

“Cratfmanship. Itu satu hal yang membedakan kualitas fashion di Indonesia dengan negara-negara Barat,” kata Tex. “Kita sebenarnya sudah punya craftmanship yang hebat, tapi banyak hal yang harus dibenahi untuk bisa bersaing di dunia internasional. Infrastruktur pendukung untuk industri ini harus diperbaiki, misalnya agar kita tidak perlu selalu sourcing bahan ke luar negeri. Kualitas SDM juga perlu ditingkatkan. Ya, PR kita masih banyak.”

Pada fashion presentation Tex yang berkilauan hari itu, Sylvester dan Bram memang nampak sibuk dengan tugasnya masing-masing–namun satu sosok lagi yang nampak lebih sibuk hari itu adalah Faye Liu. Perempuan berambut lurus itu nampak sigap menyapa, mengobrol, dan menyalami tamu-tamu yang datang, selagi matanya tak lepas mengawasi jalannya acara yang tengah berlangsung. Ia adalah fashion director Tex Saverio, salah satu sosok penting di balik nama besar dan kesuksesan Tex merambah industri fashion dunia.

“Saya bisa mendesain, tapi saya tidak pandai berbisnis,” Tex mengakui dengan rendah hati. “Saya bekerja dengan sekitar 20 orang lainnya, dan mereka berasal dari berbagai negara, bukan hanya dari Indonesia. Merekalah orang-orang yang mengerti hal-hal tentang industri ini yang tidak saya kuasai dengan baik: misalnya strategi bisnis dan harga, riset, membangun jaringan, mengatur distribusi, dan masih banyak lagi. Ketika kamu ingin terjun dan bertahan di industri ini, penting juga bermitra dengan orang-orang yang tepat.”

Kamera-kamera masih dijepretkan dengan bertubi-tubi dan gelas-gelas masih berdenting ketika saya meninggalkan Palais de Tokyo menjelang sore. Paris tak lagi sedingin beberapa hari belakangan–atau mungkin, tubuh saya yang sudah cukup waktu untuk menyesuaikan. Daun-daun di pepohonan yang berjajar sepanjang jalan mulai berubah warna menjadi oranye keemasan, ditingkahi suara rantai sepeda yang samar berdesir-desir.

Seorang model berjalan melewati saya dengan terburu-buru, sambil mengunyah sesuatu. Ia sudah berganti pakaian; mengenakan jeans, kaus lengan panjang, dan scarf yang melilit leher–namun make-up dan tatanan rambutnya yang spektakuler nampaknya belum sempat disingkirkan.

Lalu tiba-tiba saja saya teringat celetukan Faye Liu: “Orang-orang selalu salah kaprah dan berkata bahwa para model tidak pernah makan. Lihat kan, sore ini, bagaimana begitu fashion show selesai mereka langsung menyerbu meja yang dipenuhi sandwich keju dan mengunyahnya lahap sambil berteriak: saya lapaaar!”

Berada di belakang layar Paris Fashion Week mau tak mau memang banyak mengubah pandangan saya yang sebelumnya sedikit sinis terhadap dunia fashionThe glam is just an illusion. Di sisi lain cermin, setiap orang bekerja sama kerasnya di industri ini: mereka sama-sama lelah dan frustrasi, juga sama-sama nyaris putus asa. Namun di balik peluh, air mata, gerutuan, dan kebosanan yang selalu bisa melanda kapan saja, sebagian di antara mereka ternyata juga sama-sama masih saja jatuh cinta pada apa yang mereka kerjakan setiap harinya.

Mungkin perbedaannya terletak pada satu hal itu saja: cinta.

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Janganlah menjadi terbiasa.

Kagumilah segalanya sebagaimana yang pertama. Temuilah sesuatu yang baru dalam hal-hal yang sudah kau miliki selamanya. Berjalanlah di sekelilingmu dan lihatlah dunia dengan mata kanak-kanak yang selalu ingin tahu. Dekaplah setiap saat yang lewat demi menangkap keajaiban-keajaiban maupun kebijaksanaan-kebijaksanaan kecil di baliknya. Mengertilah bahwa semua hal sesungguhnya begitu cepat berlalu; dan bahwa segalanya adalah terlalu sementara. Jadi reguklah sebanyaknya selagi kau bisa. Kau tak akan pernah kehilangan waktu dengan berhenti sebentar untuk menikmati indahnya matahari terbenam.

Dan orang-orang yang pernah kau cintai itu; ingatkah saat pertama kau melihat mereka, merasakan kepak sayap kupu-kupu dalam perutmu dan jatuh hati? Dan mimpi-mimpi yang pernah kau simpan di bawah bantalmu setiap malam itu; ingatkah kau akan rasa yang meledak dalam setiap pori-porimu ketika kau memutar ulang mimpi-mimpi itu dalam benakmu setiap waktu?

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