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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Bogor Botanical Garden

Bogor Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places in my hometown. It’s always nice to get lost in the lush canopy of green, daydreaming by the lotus pond, or reading some good books while sitting cross-legged on the grass. Built during the Dutch colonial period by Stamford Raffles, the garden houses more than 15,000 species of trees and plants, covering an area of 80 hectares. I always love to see my City of Rain as a fried egg: the yellow part is the Botanical Garden, and the white part is the town–all around it. I went to the Botanical Garden again with Patricia, Ewan, and Vidi. It was a spontaneous decision, actually.

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Bogor Botanical Garden

Ewan

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A few days before, I had just decided to let go and move on from something that had tied me down and made me sad. It was difficult, but like my dear friend Ollie said, we’ll get better in overcoming heartbreaks. And she is right. Being in the outdoors was good for me: laughing, walking for hours, taking pictures, telling stories, making jokes, eating out. For the first time after such a bad few weeks, I felt whole again. I felt genuinely happy and free. Suddenly the world turned beautiful once again.

In two days, I’ll be off to India, visiting Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Again, I am hitting the road, meeting people, enjoying life, reuniting with old friends, counting my blessings, and loving myself. And when people ask me how-are-you-doing, I can just give them a huge smile and say I-am-doing-great and it’ll feel so damn good because I know that this time, I am telling the truth.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovelies!

xx,

H.

Making Batik in Ubud: Susuwatari Spotted A Lotus.

Batik (/ˈbætɪk/ or /bəˈtiːk/; Javanese pronunciation: [ˈbateʔ]; Indonesian: [ˈbatɪk]) is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on October 2, 2009. 

I had always wanted to learn how to make batik. The hot wax, the tracing of the lines, the coloring, the patience… I found the process both beautiful and calming; like a meditation practice. The opportunity to learn how to make batik came to me not in Yogyakarta or Solo, but in Ubud, Bali. Adit introduced me to Pak Nyoman and Ibu Rai, who own Nirvana—a small inn/gallery hidden in the midst of Ubud’s touristy Gautama Street.

Adit batik

Pak Nyoman is an Ubud-born painter who works with batik, oil paint, and water color. He had been an artist-in-residence at Bondi Pavilion, Sydney and Toorak College, Melbourne, lectured at John Kennedy Hall, Guam University, and exhibited extensively in Australia, Italy, Guam, Japan, Singapore and Switzerland. One morning, together with Adit and his cousin, Uma, I spent a day in Ubud to learn how to make batik.

The very first thing to do is to draw a pattern on the cloth with a pencil. Since it was my very first time, I decided to draw something simple and playful. I ended up drawing Susuwatari (wandering soot/ススワタリ)—that appears in Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away; who got curious due to a sudden appearance of a lotus.

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Once the drawing is finished, we continue to the second step: tracing the lines with hot wax. Dip the “canting” pen into the hot wax and make sure the canting isn’t too full, or else the wax will spill out. Before tracing the lines, blow the tip of the canting pen to make the wax flows easier. We need to concentrate during the tracing process and keep the canting pen at the right angle to ensure that the wax will continue to flow without spilling over.

batik susuwatari

batik susuwatari

Next, a more relaxing process: coloring! Don’t mix the paint with too much water if you’d like to have a vibrant color. Uma worked on a Balinese drawing with Balinese color that day—the kind you’d be seeing in cloths sold at some small shops along Kuta or Legian street stretch; while Adit worked on something more Japanese with the drawings of a fish in a pond.

batik susuwatari

batik susuwatari

batik

Once the coloring is done and the paint is dry, we need to go back to the hot wax. The next step is to glaze the paint (colored areas) with hot wax. We don’t use canting pen for this. We use a brush instead. Dip the brush into the hot wax, and glaze, dip and glaze, dip and glaze. You need to ensure that the colored surface has been glazed perfectly. You can check this by turning the cloth over; the spots you miss will be visible. Pandjul—the son of Pak Nyoman and Ibu Rai helped me in checking the missed spots and glazing them; while Bocil, the family dog, was waiting for us to finish with sleepy eyes.

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bocil

After the glazing, the next step is to color the whole cloth. You can pick the color that you like. The cloth will then be dipped into a color solution of your selection.

batik susuwatari

And then, it’s time to get rid of all the wax in your cloth. How? By dipping the cloth into a pan of boiling water, of course!

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After that, you need to put your cloth to dry… and then you can see the results. Adit and Uma’s cloths turned out seriously stunning and beautiful! They are so talented!

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batik

And this one is mine. My batik cloth: Susuwatari Spotted A Lotus 😀

batik susuwatari lotus

Would you like to learn how to make batik, too? If you’re in Ubud one day, come early in the morning to:

Nirvana Gallery
Jalan Gautama 10, Padangtegal Kaja, Ubud,
Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia. (80571)
Phone : +62.361.975415
E-mail : info@nirvanaku.com
Website : www.nirvanaku.com

and please pet Bocil the dog for me!

Hiding in Bali: Here and There.

I spent another week in Bali this October. The actual plan was to meet up with Adit and Ney for our #PecahdiUbud routine at Ubud International Writers & Readers Festival; but I intentionally came a few days earlier, wanting to savor Bali by myself. No wild parties, no shopping spree. I spent those days to walk around aimlessly in shorts, sleeveless top and flip-flops: eating out, having cocktails or coffee, writing, reading, and daydreaming.

And these are some of the places where I had been hiding, alone:

Cocoon Beach Club, Jl. Double Six no. 66, Blue Ocean Boulevard, Legian.

Just come early in the morning (while it’s still empty) for breakfast, plunge into the swimming pool every once and a while, and then spend the rest of your time sunbathing while reading some good books.

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Gusto Gelato & Caffè, 67 B Jalan Umalas 2, Kerobokan, Seminyak

A tiny gem in Kerobokan! Located inside a small road, these gelato shop is offering the most delicious gelato I’ve ever tasted so far. And it’s cheap, too! For USD$2 or around IDR 20,000, you could have one luscious cup of gelato; and the portion is generous! Don’t forget to try the chocolate chili. Amazingly hot and spicy!

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Kunyit Bali, Jalan Kartika Plaza, Kuta.

Craving for some Balinese food? Stop by at Kunyit Bali. Lovely place, good food (the crispy duck is amazingly delicious), friendly staff, cozy ambience.

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Nammos Beach Club, Jalan Villa Kandara, Banjar Wijaya Kusuma, Ungasan.

Located inside the luxurious Karma Kandara resort, you need to pay USD$35 to ride an elevator down to Nammos Beach Club (the elevator ride is free for the resorts’ guests). From that particular amount, the USD$25 can be spent later on, at the beach bar, to order some food and drinks. Though it’s quite expensive, I just love the beach club. I love the service. I love the fact that you can just leave all your belongings if you’d like to go for a swim—because the staff will look after it (very important when you’re traveling alone). I love it that they have a drink called Hemingway Daiquiri.

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JuMaNa Bar, Banyan Tree Ungasan, Jl. Melasti, Banjar Kelod, Ungasan.

They said you need to have a reservation first for dinner. I came at around 4:30, saying that I just wanted to chill at the bar, and then a golf cart came to take me down from the lobby of Banyan Tree hotel to JuMaNa Bar. I sat outside, sipping their signature cocktail JuMaNa Royal (champagne flavoured with yuzu essence and Moroccan rose petal water) that tastes as ‘royal’ as its price, waiting for the sun to set.

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Corner Store, Jln. Laksmana 10A, Seminyak

Lovely place serving healthy meals; perfect for brunch or coffee-time in the afternoon. I fall in love with the smoked salmon bagel.

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Blue Point, Uluwatu.

When some friends from abroad came to Bali, I always take them to Blue Point, Uluwatu. Nothing much to do but to chill while drinking soft drinks or beers, looking at the surfers riding the waves, and telling stories while enjoying the sea breeze. Alone at Blue Point? I’ll just sit there and write for hours.

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Blue Point