The Short History of Instant Noodles.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably it was the way they prepared the noodle.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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How To Love.

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make and break the rest.

***

Love by giving it all out. Love by seeing it whole instead of seeing it partially. Love by loving it all in. Love by knowing that the person in front of you are made of mistakes and tears and wounds and past regrets, as well as wonder and wisdom, hopes and promises, present dreams and future longings. Love by seeing the other person as who they were, who they are, and who they could turn out to be.

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Love by being fully present during the best and the worst of times, by bringing your highest self to the table first and foremost, by knowing that everything that is pouring out of you would be none other than love and respect, understanding and compassion, happiness and acceptance.

Love by knowing that people get hurt sometimes, that people has to go through their darkest days and alleyways, that some are trying hard to keep their heads above the water every now and then–and though wherever they are and whatever they are going through may not be able to keep the two of you together, you would still love them nonetheless, since being separated from each other does not make you love them any less.

Love by storing the best memories until they are ripe with meanings, by blowing away the worsts to the winds until they slowly disappear. Love by being honest about how you feel and how you want to feel, about what makes you sad and what makes you happy. Love by knowing that you can’t share something you do not have, by understanding that no matter how much someone loves you, they can never make you feel full if you feel empty when you’re alone. Love by asking yourself every single day, what would I do if love and respect myself; and what would I do if I love and respect the one I love?

Love by listening to the unspoken, by speaking without words, by seeing without judging, by being emphatic of the oblivious. Love by being aware that each words spoken, each gestures presented, and each moments shared could bloom or wilt a soul; that it takes only a second of carelessness to leave a scar that would faint but won’t completely disappear, that it takes only a second of mindfulness to leave a loving memory that would spark someone’s inner light brighter than ever.

***

Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make or break the rest.

Love kindly. Love courageously. Love thoroughly.

“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”

— Ernest Hemingway.

Lucca, Tuscany, September 2015.

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About Someone Who Loves You.

One day, you’ll understand that the highest compliment you could ever receive is having someone who is with you; instead of having someone who wants to be with you.

PHOTO BY NICO WIJAYA.

By then, you’ve learned the hard way: that promises are not that difficult to break, that people don’t always mean what they say, and that hearts will always change its course. When the day comes, you’ll just get it: that the highest compliment you could ever receive has nothing to do with having someone who wants to spend the rest of his life with you. The highest compliment you could ever receive–on the contrary, has everything to do with having the one who is with you: right here, right now.

The most precious gift one can give you is time: the willingness to spend one’s time with you–conscious about the fact that one will never know how much time one has left in the world. What makes us think that we will always have more time? What makes us believe that there will come a perfect day when we will feel better and stronger and bolder… and only when the day comes, then we can offer more of ourselves and our love to the one that deserves it? How do we know that this perfect day will ever come? And even if this perfect day does come to us, what makes us think that the one we love will still be around?

One day, you’ll understand that I-miss-you is actually one of the saddest word one could ever say to you. You used to blush and giggle to the sight or sound of the three words, until you started to hear the unspoken words accompanying the three. I-miss-you means I-want-to-be-with-you (but I’m not). I-miss-you means I-want-things-to-go-back-the-way-they-used-to-be (but they’re not). I-miss-you means I-want-us-to-be-together (but we’re not). Now you realize that there are conscious options in every I-miss-yous; conscious options not to do something about it but simply saying it–though we know that we may not have more time.

The best I-miss-you one could ever get is the I-miss-you that is never spoken. Because the one who wants to be with you is there with you; the one who wants things to go back the way they used to be is currently making an effort to do so; and the one who wants the two of you to be together is sitting by your side: holding you as if it’s the most pressing thing in the world one is supposed to do.

Someone who loves you doesn’t need to hear a promise of forever-ever-after. Someone who loves you is not waiting to finally end up with the best version of yourself. Someone who loves you is not looking forward to the day when you can offer what you think she deserves.

Someone who loves you simply wants to be with you–for who you are, with all your flaws and imperfections, right here, right now. Someone who loves you simply wants to hold your hand and look into your eyes in silence and kiss you and smile at you with all of her being and tell you how much she feels for you, right here, right now. Someone who loves you knows that we have no idea about how much time we have left in the world, and precisely because of that, someone who loves you makes a brave and conscious option to spend that time with none other but you: right here, right now.

So be here. So be there.

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Farewell: An Open Letter to Goodbye.

Dear Goodbye,

Sorry for I have been quite unwelcoming (again) the last time around. I mean… I always know that you would eventually come for a visit. I know that on one of those random days, I would hear someone knocking on my door and rush over to open it–only to find you standing there awkwardly, swaying from one foot to another, a look of guilt is painted all over your face. It’s as if you have predicted (and expected) the terrible reactions you would receive from those who cross path with you; while you know full well that there is nothing you can do differently.

PHOTO BY HANNY KUSUMAWATI.

I know you pay me a visit because you have to, not because you want to. Sometimes I think it must be such a lonely and melancholic job: to cast farewells upon others; to separate hearts and cut down ties; or to let people know that their time is over. I could not imagine what if I were the one who had to do such thing every single day. That must be pretty awful.

People got to do what they got to do, and I know that you’re just doing your job. It’s just that… no matter how often you came for a visit, still I could never get myself used to it. Again and again, I feel hurt, or sad, or betrayed, or confuse–and so, I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you the last time (but at least I didn’t slam the door on your face the way I did before!).

I would like you to know that I am still trying to accept you for who you are–and for what you do; and that I would love to invite you in for some conversations over tea (or coffee) after the shock of your visit dissipates.

But it’s impossible, isn’t it?

Because you can’t just pay a casual visit and hang out without having any farewells to deliver. This means, the next time I see you again, I would be totally unprepared again, totally sad and shocked again, and I would probably react with such an unwelcoming demeanor again. Can I say sorry in advance if this is going to be the case? Though I really hope that the next time I see you, I have had a bigger heart to simply nod and let you come inside for a while. Of course, a tinge of sadness will still be there when I found you in front of my door again. However, from all the people in the world, I guess you are the one who understands the most about sadness. So probably, we can comfort each other just because we both understand how it feels.

I know you have been sending me gifts as well after your visit. Sometimes they reach me in a week or two, other times they reach me in a year or two; and other times it takes 8 years for your farewell gifts to fall on my lap. I have no idea which delivery service provider you are using; as those gifts came in random timings and intervals–but, thank you for the wonderful gesture. I guess, often times, I overlook this lovely side of you–because I have been blinded by animosity towards you, just because you’re doing your job well (which is so unfair of me!).

So, I’d like to say thank you so much for sending me those farewell gifts–even after I reacted so badly towards you. No matter how early or late those gifts are, they always reach me when I least expected them. Mostly, they come in a simple hello; an opportunity to be brave and do spontaneous things; an exchange of smiles and shy glances; or a random conversation that ends up in warm and fuzzy kisses.

It’s fun to receive these gifts–although at the back of my mind, I am always conscious to the fact that one day, you will pay me a visit again and take away a particular gift from me. I know you will always send me new gifts–because that’s the only thing you can do (and another thing you’re really good at) to make me feel better. I know you can’t undo farewells, but you can always throw in new beginnings–when I have allowed myself to answer the doorbell again when it rings. And really, I think you’re kind that way.

Anyway, sorry for bothering you with this pointless letter. I think I’ll stop now. I just want you to know that I understand you–although most of the times it appears as if I don’t. But I do.

This is hard to say, but I will say it anyway: until I see you again.

Yes, until I see you again, Goodbye.

Love,
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