The Wisdom of Pejeng, Bali.

Pejeng, Ubud
Gunung Kawi Temple. A complex of 10 temple fronts created as ancient royal tombs on the banks of the Pakerisan River.

His was not a happy childhood.

He spent his first few days of living inside Kerobokan jail, when his parents got detained by the Dutch. His mother breastfed him on the cell, and bestowed upon him the name Dewa Gede Badung.

His suicidal thoughts came before the age of 12.

Those were the times when he spent his days mindlessly at Garba Cave. Situated 400 meters above sea level, the cave lies underneath Pengukur-ukuran Temple, above the Pakerisan River in Pejeng village, Bali.

The Caretaker of Garba Cave, Pejeng

Now around the age of 70, he reminisced the days when (for reasons he could not truly comprehend) he got attracted to this hermitage site. As a child, he spent his time running around the cave as well as sitting still with his eyes shut tight. Something he understood later on as meditating.

It was during one of these ‘sittings’ he somehow heard a thought echoed in his head, loud and clear: a message not to end his life.

Thus began the days of new Dewa Gede Badung, as he decided to dedicate his life as a caretaker of Garba Cave in Banjar Sawa Gunung; where Prime Minister (Mahapatih) Kebo Iwa used to meditate back in the 12th century.

I met Dewa Gede Badung one afternoon when I visited Garba Cave. I was still hypnotised by the majestic look of my surroundings when shirtless, he shouted from the top of the huge stairs of stones, asking where I came from. His eyes were sharp, and his built was small, but strong.

Easily, he lifted up a huge piece of stone covering what to be believed as an underground tunnel of Tampaksiring. “Only those with a pure heart can find a way out of this tunnel,” he said. His eyes sparkling underneath the Pejeng sun.

On How One Should Meditate

Dewa Gede Badung told me the secret of meditating that day: “Pray so you can eat. If you cannot eat, you cannot live. Pray so you can work. So you know what is your duty. Pray so you have a place to go home to.”

I was amazed at how these words could sound so simple, yet so true. It’s not only about meditating, it’s also about living a good life.

One does not need too many things to live a good life.

We need only to eat enough so we can stay functioning and live a healthy life. It is not about indulging ourself. It is about knowing what is good for us and our body.

We need to do our duty and play our part both in society and in humanity; we need to serve. When we do so wholeheartedly, we will get what we need in return. Sometimes just enough, or sometimes even more. But we will not experience scarcity.

And last but not least, we need to know that we will be taken care of, to trust, to believe, to have faith, to know that we will always have a place we can call home. A place we can go back to. A place we can reunite with.

On How Nature Heals

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The holy Pakerisan River from the bridge at Gunung Kawi.

David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah found out that our brains are easily fatigued. There’s a full article in National Geographic on how nature helps us (and our brain) to heal; but all in all, when we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, we feel restored.

And our mental performance improves too.

I guess it is for this reason that people take a break from work and go on a holiday to the beach, the lake, or the mountains. Or why I (many times) healed my broken heart by the rice fields in Ubud; or how I felt a strange sense of relief after such a tumultuous relationships just by spending hours sitting surrounded by the trees, birds, and squirrels of Delhi’s Qutb Minar.

Pejeng, once known as the centre of Balinese kingdom, also hosted several natural ‘healing’ sites nearby, like Gunung Kawi, Sebatu, Goa Gajah, and Tirta Empul–all centered around water and holy springs.

The Healing Power of Water

For the Balinese, water has always been respected for its cleansing property. May it be flowing as a river, pouring down as rain, or sprouted from a spring—water is considered a holy element that brings forth life, and is mindfully preserved.

Each and every traditional procession and ceremony in Balinese villages included water or in Balinese, tirta, as one of its most essential elements. It represents a life-giving force, a purifying agent, a blessing.

One of the Balinese traditional purification ceremonies, melukat, resembled a river-bathing activity. A Balinese priest would lead a purification ceremony in a resplendent location at a confluence of rivers and waterfalls—where participants would undergo a series of rituals, including praying, bathing, and soaking themselves in a stream.

The palm-leaf scripture of Manawa Dharmasastra stated that the purification ceremony is for ‘the body to be cleansed with water, the mind to be cleansed with honesty, the soul to be cleansed with knowledge, and the reason to be cleansed with wisdom.’

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The source of the holy spring at Tirta Empul temple is located in the inner courtyard. The spring is filled with green algae.

It was the day before full moon when Yuni took me to Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul, and Sebatu. Yuni works at Lanna’s Lair, a lovely villa in Banjar Sawa Gunung, Pejeng, a perfect place to wind down, heal, and get reconnected with yourself.

“These places would be full, because tomorrow is full moon. Everyone is going for the water purification ceremony there,” said Yuni, as she bought banten (offerings) and incense from one of the stalls lining up towards the melukat site.

The first thing I noticed about these sites were how beautiful their surroundings were. All those greeneries, the faint chirping of the birds, the sounds of splashing water… no wonder such places are believed to have healing powers. Just by standing there in silence and absorbing their beauty, I could have felt a wave of peacefulness washing all over me already.

Sebatu turned out to be the most challenging site of the day. One must climb down hundreds of steep set of stairs to the holy spring; but the stunning view and the lush canopy of green above my head gave me the fuel to keep going.

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Melukat in Sebatu, Pejeng. You need to climb down a set of steep stairs to reach the water purification site.

Going Historical in Pejeng

I have always thought of Pejeng as a small village with nothing but rice fields and natural surroundings. So I was surprised at how many things I could actually do in Pejeng during my stay there. The village and the area nearby are swarming with historical sites!

Apart from Garba Cave, Gunung Kawi, Goa Gajah (or Elephant Cave, a Buddhist sanctuary built in the 9th century), as well as Tirta Empul and Sebatu holy springs, Tampaksiring Palace is located only 20-minute away. Sacred temples like Pengukur-ukuran, Penataran Sasih, Kebo Edan, Samuan Tiga, or Pusering Jagat are placed only a few kilometers away from each other.

Penataran Sasih temple was well-known for hosting the Moon of Pejeng. It is said to be the largest single-cast bronze kettle drum in the world and the largest known relic from Southeast Asia’s Bronze Age period. The locals believe that the Moon of Pejeng is sacred.

“We believe that The Moon would make a sound as a sign that a catastrophic event would take place,” said Dewa Gede Badung. He remembered how The Moon was last heard made a sound in 1965, before the Indonesian grim massacres.

Pusering Jagat temple, on the other hand, is believed to be the center of the old Pejeng Kingdom. The temple attracted devotees who are wishing for fertility and seeking healing powers.

Pejeng would still be my secret village to wind down from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. It was always lovely to talk with the villagers and holy site’s caretakers–listening to the way they embrace ancient wisdom and making meanings out of it in such a modernised world.

As I floated along Lanna’s Lair pool overlooking the jungle, suddenly I felt so insignificantly small. As if I was surrounded by something way much older, way much more ancient, and way much more sacred than all the world’s history I’ve ever known.

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What to do in Pejeng
Ask the lovely local staff at Lanna’s Lair to arrange a private cooking class (their Chef used to work in Ubud’s most well-known fine dining restaurant), a melukat trip or other Balinese traditional healing experience, meeting village elders and caretakers, meditation class (including their routine full-moon meditation), bicycle trip around Pejeng’s historical temples and healing sites, and many more! 

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

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.

2014: Kissing Fireworks in Alor

I don’t normally spend New Year’s Eve traveling or partying with friends. Most of the times, I’ll be reading some good books in my bed until the clock strikes 12. This year, 10 days before New Year’s Eve, a friend of a friend invited me to come with her to Alor–a small island in Eastern Indonesia. She wanted to visit some schools in the villages and asked me to do some storytelling for the local kids. I was making an impulsive decision when I said yes.

To be honest, I was pretty reluctant to spend New Year’s Eve outside the comfort of my own bedroom–remembering how last year’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Penang had turned into such a disastrous experience. However, I was happy to say that this year I didn’t regret my decision at all! 2014 began ever-so-beautifully in Alor–and I genuinely hope that the rest of the year would be as (if not more) beautiful! *cheers*

December 31, 2013, around 9:30 pm, I found myself sitting in a shack near the port in Kalabahi (the small town in the island) with my friend, Monica, and four of our new friends from Alor. We had just ordered our humble New Year’s Eve dinner for the night: some plates of rice with chicken, beef, and goat satay; hot coffee and tea, as well as some bottles of Bintang beer for our Alorese friends. The air was filled with the salty smell of the ocean, the explosion of firecrackers, and a blast of dangdut music from the nearby shack–where Alorese men and women danced festively in every possible moves. Some were already drunk from the unlimited supply of sopi (local alcoholic beverage); poured directly into people’s mouths from time to time.

In Kalabahi’s street-side, every 5 meters or so, the youths had set up their own pop-up clubs: filling empty areas or house terraces with huge speakers (blaring the kind of music you’ll hear in clubs all over the world), disco lamps, and rows and rows of beer bottles.

Everyone was laughing and enjoying the night. Me included.

I wish you all a wonderful 2014–and may you have the courage to follow your heart’s desires.

Love,
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The Book.

“I think I’m going to move to Ubud for a while, maybe for 3-6 months,” I typed on my WhatsApp.

It was a cloudy Monday morning in Ubud. I was sitting cross-legged on the front porch; trying to decide whether I would go for a swim or not before meeting Alfred later in the afternoon.

Ubud, Bali

My phone vibrated.

“Moving to Ubud? And doing what?” Alfred’s words popped up on my screen.

“I don’t know,” I typed back. “Writing my book…”

An emoticon laughed at me. “Seriously?!!” Alfred replied. “Who the heck wrote a book in Ubud? Even Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t write her book in Ubud!”

And of course, he was right.

***

I decided to spend 2 weeks in Ubud; thinking that I would finally have the time and solitude to write The Book. These past few months, I had restrained myself from publishing any posts from my traveling journeys in Malaysia, Yogyakarta, Flores, and India–simply because this tiny (annoying) voice in my head kept saying: “Don’t post them now! Those stories will appear later in The Book!”

The Book is supposed to be my first non-fiction book: a travel memoir–and I have everything I need to finish it: a title, a premise, a rough outline…I even had almost 80% of the stories typed. All I need to do is type the rest of it, rewrite some parts that don’t come out as strong as I intended, and organize them to create a flowing narrative of 297 pages. It sounds so simple and easy, yet I had missed my deadline. Twice. I have no excuse, and I don’t intend to start finding one.

Every day, as I woke up to the sound of the morning in Ubud, I told myself that I needed to sit down and wrote a few pages for The Book, today. I needed to create my own Ubud’s book-writing timeline and stick to it.

I ended up doing everything but writing The Book.

***

Ubud kept me busy.

I bumped into some old and new friends (who happened to know each other)–and spent some days conversing with them on the back porch while munching on mangosteens. There were some days when I was on fire: typing around 6 proposals for several movements and social projects that I was about to pursue, as well as making business plans for some friends of mine–just because I felt this rush of enthusiasm and inspiration needed to find an outlet.

There were some days when I didn’t really have anything to do. And for some unexplainable reasons, on those kind of days, I kept bumping into people who practiced Reiki, spiritual healing, channeling, or yoga… to one point whereby I met a friend of a friend, and somehow ended up in a house full of statues and crystals by the rice fields near Penestanan for a kundalini meditation session–all the while asking myself, “What the heck are you doing, exactly?” and immediately answering back, “This could be an interesting story for The Book!”

When I didn’t bump into those interesting flocks, I went out for coffee or some healthy meals in one of those organic restaurants sprawled around the town; then walked around aimlessly for around 2 to 3 hours–checking out different alleys and shops and gelato bars, too lazy to even snap pictures. Other days, I would hang out with the staff at the hotel–conversing all night long by the pool while being bitten by mosquitos, listening to their life stories, and ended up explaining about meteors, eclipse, and earthquakes (“So, it’s not because of the dragon that is moving under the earth’s surface?”).

But most of the times, I would find myself sat lazily somewhere: reading a book, sipping watermelon juice, watching people, and then went back to my hotel–took a cold shower, wrote a long letter for my muse, and fell asleep.

It sounded like a vicious cycle, but the funny thing was: it actually didn’t feel vicious at all. I wanted to feel guilty because I didn’t touch The Book while I was in Ubud, but I just couldn’t.

***

It has been around a month since I got back from Ubud, and this week, I started to revisit The Book again. I realized that a ‘rough outline’ I have at the moment was not enough. This time, I committed to tighten it, restraining myself to edit (and re-edit) my stories before I could get that nice flow of narratives mapped out in a final outline.

It was not an easy task. To be honest, I hate making outlines–especially detailed one with so many bullets and sub-bullet points. I always think of myself as a ‘spontaneous writer’ and outlining just doesn’t work for me. However, deep down inside, I know that I won’t go anywhere if I am still unsure of where I should place my stories on The Book. I can keep on rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and it will never get done. The stories will simply get lost somewhere in the middle of it all.

Ubud

And then it hit me. Right there. When I thought about ‘getting lost’.

I laughed at myself for a while, as I realized that ‘getting lost’ was actually my way of exploring a city when I travel. I am too lazy to read a map, I am not good in remembering routes (too busy noticing the small things along the way), and I get disoriented quite a lot–to the point that I could even get lost in a big shopping mall. I don’t plan things. I don’t keep a list of places I want to see. I don’t aim for landmarks or museums or souvenir shops. I just… go.

Now I know why mapping out The Book’s outline feels so darn hard since the very beginning.

Walking around aimlessly, not really heading anywhere, and letting the city I visit opening itself up to me as I get lost in it–that is how I travel. And The Book, indeed, is my travel memoir.

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