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.
One of the reasons why I love second-hand books is this: because sometimes–when I get lucky, I’ll find one with hand-written notes inside of it.
I am always fascinated by such random collision of lives; knowing that the book I am holding once belong to someone else; given as an act of love by the people who are/were close to their hearts. Reading those hand-written notes, I can’t help to wonder who these people are, what are their stories, and why those books find their way to greet me in some random bookstores in different parts of the world.
So, I guess the idea has been occupying my mind since then, leaving me questioning:
“What will happen when you leave hand-written notes: a poem, a prose, a flash fiction–anything that is close to your heart, to be found by random strangers?”
Last Saturday, together with my soul-sister, Ollie, we decided to find the answer to that question. And today, we come up with TheTravelingWords. It’s an idea that I have discussed with Ollie a few months back, but I guess an idea will always be an idea unless it is being executed. So, here we are now, inviting you to initiate connections with strangers by leaving hand-written poem/prose/flash fiction–or anything that is close to you heart, in various places.
“When you are traveling, carry your words with you. When you are not traveling, let your words travel for you. Magic happens when we let words travel.”
This November, we invite people to leave their hand-written notes with the theme “Distance” in a coffee shop. They can actually write their notes on the back of their bills and leave it on the table when they have finished their coffee. If the coffee shop have a tip jar, they can also put your notes there. They just need to put TheTravelingWords.com on the bottom of their hand-written notes (they can also put their names/contacts if they like), and send the pictures of the notes where they left it to us. We’ll showcase them all on the site, so that people who found their notes would know what this is all about! :)
Personally, coffee shop (especially tiny ones) is a place that is close to my heart. I spend many times there, sitting on the table far from the busy counter, writing some random lines on my notebook while watching people and sniffing the lovely smell of fresh-roasted coffee beans. I always find it amusing to leave something for the barista or the waitress… just to brighten up their day a bit more–especially when they are about to clean the table.
I guess now I have a stronger reason to do so.
It’s something about closing your eyes
and trying to forget something you
have always remembered.
It’s something about chasing
the feelings that burn the back of
your eyelids, knowing that it
comes from something unrequited.
It’s something about running towards
someone else’s back as they’re
walking away from you, leaving
all your whys unanswered.
I remembered one sunny afternoon in Delhi’s Khan Market. I was inside a small bookstore–looking for some Hindi poetry books for Ollie. The room was packed with books, starting from the floor all the way to the ceiling. Books were stacked here and there. I needed to walk very carefully to avoid collapsing those book piles. Once and a while, I climbed into a wooden bench to see the titles on the upper shelves. I was rummaging through some Hindi poetry books when I found a pink book that caught my attention instantly. OSHO was written in big letters on the cover. Ollie was the one who introduced me to Osho’s works a few months back–and I had tried to look for his works in English bookstores in Indonesia to no avail. That afternoon, the universe guided me to find Osho’s book and the title was: BEING IN LOVE. I spent my days in India reading this book–mostly during my 6-hour ride from Delhi to Agra. I wished I found this book sooner, but I guessed everything falls into place when the time is right. When I am ready.
Here’s a beautiful excerpt from the book that I’d like to share with you:
Love cannot be learned, it cannot be cultivated. The cultivated love will not be love at all. When you learn something, it means something comes from the outside; it is not an inner growth. And love has to be your inner growth if it is to be authentic and real.
Love is not a learning but a growth. What is needed on your part is not to learn the ways of love but to unlearn the ways of un-love. The hindrances have to be removed, the obstacles have to be destroyed—then love is your natural, spontaneous being. Once the obstacles are removed, the rocks thrown out of the way, the flow starts. It is already there—hidden behind many rocks, but the spring of love is already there. It is your very being.
Love is a breeze.
Don’t think that love has to be permanent, and it will make your love life more beautiful because you will know that today you are together, and tomorrow perhaps you will have to part.
Love comes like a fresh, fragrant breeze into your home, fills it with freshness and fragrance, remains as long as existence allows it, and then moves out. You should not try to close all your doors, or the same fresh breeze will become absolutely stale. In life, everything is changing and change is beautiful; it gives you more and more experience, more and more awareness, more and more maturity.
The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it is not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of the other person—without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other into a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.
My dear friends, Adam and Susan (an awesome traveling-couple from an awesome travel blog PergiDulu.com) were calling for pictures and stories about “roads and streets” from random people’s traveling journeys. Indeed, traveling is about ‘the road’ that you take.
Surprisingly, my mind instantly went to the street-side of Pakistan. After all the news reports I heard about bombings and killings and everything else, I was amazed when a bajaj driver flashed a friendly smile to my camera and made a peace sign with his fingers as I passed him on the street. I was mesmerized to see the bustling city; full of lights and laughter, when a friend of mine took me out to the street for some sweets after midnight. I was touched when a cloth seller in Zainab Market told me how much he loved batik when he found out that I came from Indonesia. I was humbled throughout the journey. It was definitely mind-blowing. And from all the countries I have ever visited, I make the most friends in Pakistan. The friends I am still frequently in touch with until today. I love the country and would love to go back.
The picture above was taken on a street-side in Karachi, Sindh. Adam and Susan, this is my picture for you :)
I always find it comforting, to be surrounded by greeneries, enveloped by silence, only to catch the faint sounds of birds, cicadas, and waterfalls. I ran away here one afternoon a few weeks ago with a friend, Martijn. A few slices of yellow watermelons, a pack of grapes, a carton of fruit juice, and Susan Wooldrigde’s Poemcrazy book were resting nicely inside my flowery canvas bag. My head was still spinning with the beautiful words from the book. I remembered one line where Wooldridge quoted Gary Snyde: poetry has an interesting function; it helps people be where they are. And suddenly, my world was bursting with pinecones, the smell of the leaves and the wet soil, the shape of the rocks, the changing colors of the sky…
I was sitting on a rock; dipping my toes into the flowing river, while Martijn went underneath the waterfalls. I was thinking about everything that had happened in my life lately: about hellos and farewells, and how curious was it that I kept stumbling upon random people who brought ‘messages’ for me and answered some questions I have pondered upon for a while through simple conversations.
I once wrote inside my black travel notebook: what if we think of everyone we meet on our journey as a messenger? What if we don’t bump into them coincidentally? What if they were sent to tell us something, to deliver a message, a lesson… what difference would it make if we stop, say hello, glance a smile, and make that connection? Don’t you think it would make you feel like you are never alone in this world? That every step you make is another chance to learn new life lessons? That everyone of us is, in one and another way, carry ‘The Prophet‘ inside, like that of Gibran’s?
Last evening, a girl on Twitter sent me a direct message, and asked, out of the blue, “What should I do when the person I care about decided to disappear?” and I found myself typing away: just pray for them to be alright, and to be happy. Maybe I was talking to myself or hearing myself asking the same question to my other self; this could be more complicated than understanding the flower petals and Fibonacci numbers–but such ‘creepy’ or amazingly coincidental things happened more often in my life lately (oh well, I never believed in coincidences anyway). When I came to think about it, I guess even our prayers (or wishes) define who we are and how we see the world. If you do believe that prayers have such a vast amount of energy that will resonate to the universe and being echoed back to you, you would want to recite beautiful prayers, wouldn’t you?
I fell in love with Indian literature when I first read Jhumpa Lahiri‘s collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. It was then that I got obsessed with Indian–and South Asian–literature in general. Soon, I found myself immersed in the works of other Indian writers like Thrity Umrigar, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Chetan Bhagat, and Raj Kamal Jha, as well as Pakistani writers, including Roopa Farooki, Bina Shah, John Siddique, and Daniyal Mueenuddin. When I landed in India mid-February this year, hitting Mumbai and the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, I got swept away by this nostalgic feeling of being at home. Everything seemed distant and foreign, yet comforting and familiar. In one and other way, India reminded me a lot of Pakistan. The two countries captivated me in an instant to the extent that I would gladly think of them as my second home. And these are the 9 things I miss the most about India, not in any particular order:
1. The beautiful buildings and architectures. Especially in Mumbai. I love the feeling of going back in time every time I look at those beautiful structures: palaces, flats, train stations, government offices, forts, temples.
2. The food. In Indonesia, I am not a big fan of Indian food. I never really liked the taste somehow–there’s always something that isn’t right. But I found myself falling in love with Indian food in India. Wherever I went, from the street-stalls to a fancy restaurant to someone’s kitchen, the taste of the food was always perfect. I loved it so much that I had no cravings for junk food at all–despite the fact that I spent 13 days in the country and passed by McDonald’s or KFC numerous times.
3. The birds. I don’t know why there are so many birds in India. Birds are flying freely above the temples, the street, someone’s backyard, and nesting right outside your window. I miss their constant cooing. I miss going to sleep at night with the sound of their flapping wings against the windowsill.
4. The squirrels. And I don’t know why there are so many squirrels in India! Just like the birds, they are everywhere: temples, buildings, streets, backyards, random trees, you name it. They are the cutest thing ever. I love them!
5. The bookshops. For someone who spent most of her money on books, India is definitely a paradise for book lovers. Compared to Indonesia, the price of books in India is very cheap. You can get a classic English book for IDR 30,000 only (USD 3)–and bookshops can be found everywhere: from the posh Khan Market area to the bustling street-side of Colaba’s night market. I bought so many books in Delhi and ended up sending them back home from Jaipur to avoid excess baggage–because they weighed 10 kilograms.
6. The Qutb complex in Delhi. Qutb Minar is the tallest minaret in India, but the complex housed several other ancient structures from that era; including Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque–the first mosque to be built in India. It was so serene–the morning when I was there–I could breathe in the glory and the divinity of what it once had been. And the huge garden inside the complex was just breathtaking. I could see myself spending my mornings in this complex, walking around mindlessly or sitting on a bench under a tree, painting, reading a poetry book, or writing on a piece of paper.
7. The city’s outdoors. I love it when you’re in the middle of the city and you can just walk by to the nearest park or a riverbank or the seaside to sit and chill. And India has loads of spots like that. From Mumbai’s Marine Drive to Delhi’s public parks, I found it charming to see people from all ages having picnics at the outdoors: couples, friends, families, some blokes… *giggles*
8. The color-burst. Those colorful saris, bangles, buildings, trucks, rickshaws, desserts… India’s color palette is extremely rich. No matter where I looked, I was exposed to those amazing colors, like a constant feast for the eyes. Immediately, it brought me back to my childhood days–to the nostalgic feeling of wonder and amusement as I opened up my first box of 32 Crayola crayons.
9. Gee. It was amazing how we got to know each other through this blog. And that we decided to meet up in Delhi. Gee, or Geetanjali Kaul, is definitely the highlight of my India trip. She is also a living proof that arranged marriage can actually work; romantically speaking. Amazing to see how–after 15 years of marriage, she is still madly in love with his husband, Ashish. Maybe wonderful souls did find each other. Gee and I spent an amazing three days together, and she took care of me like we had known each other for years. I miss her. And her best friend, Neeraj. And her mother-in-law (Didi), and her mother-in-law’s mother (Nani), and her wonderful kids Anika and Vivan. And her dogs.
I miss India.
And it just happened. From short-distance trip to crossing half of the globe, I found myself enjoying traveling alone–savoring the privilege of doing whatever I like in whatever pace I want while turning strangers into friends along the way. It has been an enriching experience that helps me to become more confident, thoughtful, and considerate. Some female readers ask me what are the things they need to consider if they would like to travel solo themselves; so I think I’ll just share some tips from my experience below:
- Don’t be a bitch. No matter how pissed off you are, how angry you are, control yourself, control your emotion. You are alone in a strange country–if you’re being a bitch and making hurtful comments to someone, you’re attracting unnecessary hatred towards yourself. Just be kind, but prompt. I know sometimes guys approach you when you’re walking or invite you for some drinks; other times a beggar follows you around asking for money. You can smile and say ‘no’ politely, and then say ‘no’ again promptly when they’re still trying, or say ‘no’ again and walk away briskly. But don’t make a drama out of it. If you don’t like the taste of a local food or find the streets so gross and dirty or think that a local custom doesn’t make sense, don’t make nasty comments or ugly faces or throwing evil judgments. Accept the fact that each country is different, and respect that. Think of how you would feel if a traveler made nasty comments about your country. Don’t make people hate you. Be kind. Be considerate.
- Be prepared and do your homework. Do extensive research about the country/city you are about to visit. Ask around, especially to friends/families who had been there before. With sites like Couchsurfing, you can always get valuable insights from the locals about the best location to stay, local transport, customs and traditions, and so on. Learn a little bit of local language always helps–at least in the countries I have ever visited. I realized that the locals–including immigration officials, became much friendlier when I said a few words in their local language. I think they appreciate the fact that you care enough to try. Find out the proper outfit to wear. In some countries, women adhere to a certain way of dressing. In other countries, you need to wear long skirts or sarongs to visit temples and religious sites. To me, following the dress code is more about showing respect to the culture in a certain country rather than an attempt to avoid unnecessary attention (though it also helps you gain respect when you’re trying to dress like a local). I would suggest you to have your accommodation booked at least for your arrival day. This would calm you down, knowing that you already have somewhere to go and someone to contact as you exited the airport.
- Make connections. You can stay with a Couchsurfer. It’s a great way to experience a country from a perspective of a local. You can select a female host to stay with if it makes you feel safer. I would suggest you to stay with someone whose location has been checked, the identity has been verified, has been vouched for, and has hosted several travelers before. Do read people’s recommendations/testimonials about the host. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of staying with a stranger, go for hostels. You can do your research at HostelWorld. Most hostels have reception areas and common rooms where other travelers hang out. Make friends with them, chat about your itineraries and plans, sometimes you can arrange some trips together or tag along with someone. Make conversations with taxi drivers, waiters, shopkeepers. Ask them about the ‘local places’ to eat or shop.
- Don’t look lost. Sometimes we got worried, scared, confused, got lost. But, no matter what, appear calm and confident. Act as if you know what you need to do. When you’re waiting for someone, appear busy. Bring a book with you, so you can read instead of looking lost. Of course, you can also pretend to take photographs or listening to music from your iPod or fake-texting on your phone–but in some places you don’t want to flash your gadgets out. Book is rather safe. If you need to ask for directions, enter a nice hotel/inn/store/cafe and ask the concierge or the bellboy or the storekeeper or the waiter. If you’re out in the streets, ask in front of a group of people who doesn’t know each other, like in a shop, small restaurants, or bus stop–thus if someone is trying to mislead you, other people will catch that and butt in. Trust your gut. When something (or someone) doesn’t feel right, walk away from it.
- Make sure you can contact someone and can be contacted. Even if you don’t have local numbers, make sure that you can make an emergency phone call or send text messages. Have someone to contact in the city you’re in; either someone from your hostel, your embassy, a fellow traveler, or a local friend. Let someone at home–either families and friends know your plans and your whereabouts: your flights, hotels, and so on; at least they have a grip on where to find you. It will make you feel safer.
- Just remember that we are all human after all. We like to laugh and smile and be happy. We like to make friends and enjoy nice conversation. Some things are universal, like kindness. Be positive and see your next destination as an adventure, as a journey to find that kind-hearted person inside of you. Go out and see the world with this frame of mind, and you’ll be able to see beauty everywhere you go–even when it’s hidden in the most unlikely places.
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.
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!