Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Books Actually in Yong Siak Street carried books and short stories from local authors. A resident cat can be found sitting on the counter top. Modelling pour moi, the fashionable bookworm, Clara Devi.

You are here for the bookstores?” the lady at our hostel in Singapore asked. She wears her hair long; has colourful eyelids and nails; with a preference for bright-coloured tight top.

I was sitting leisurely at the reception one morning after taking a shower, ready for the day’s book hunting. The hostel lady was there, sorting some envelopes on her desk by the window, and she offered me coffee. When my friends W and C appeared, she asked us about our plans for the day. Hence, the bookstores.

“Go to Bras Basah,” she said. “You can find any kind of books and a generous selection of bookstores to browse from.”

As always, the local was right.

We went crazy in Bras Basah complex, hopping from one bookstore to another, adding more and more books into our backpack.

***

Personally, I love chaotic bookstores with amazing shopkeepers.

The kind of store where you could not really tell which shelves contain which books, but you could always ask the shopkeeper and he would respond as if he were an online catalogue: navigating you in an instant through the small alleys smelled of mildew and old papers to some hidden shelf littered with covers and titles, and there you found the book you were looking for.

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Littered with Books is a wonderful place if you’re looking for travel books, writer’s interviews, or recipes. The travel shelf is upstairs. This picture is taken by my book-hunting partner, Clara Devi of Lucedale.co.

Later that afternoon (or two bags of books later), we sheltered ourselves from the pouring rain and sat at a lovely restaurant in Ann Siang Hill, savouring a pan of hot paella. We had circled this area a few times after leaving Bras Basah, and still not seeing the next bookstore we were looking for. So we asked the waitress if she knew anything about it.

“Oh, they closed down!” she said, and probably seeing our disappointed faces, added, “You are here only for the bookstores?”

***

Yes, most of the times, I’m in Singapore only for the bookstores.

I have been frequenting Singapore for book hunting since they still have this massive bookstore, Borders. I still remember how ecstatic I was when I found a special shelf there, dedicated to books about writing.

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Woods in the Books. Another bookstore in Yong Siak Street. The street itself is so artsy and picturesque. Cannot stop snapping pictures here.

I could spend hours in front of this shelf alone; flipping a writer’s glossary book that would help writers find the correct terms used in specific industry/area. Boating, for instance. (Boat-hook: a pole with a hook on the end, used to reach into the water to catch buoys or other floating objects. Fender: an air or foam filled bumper used in boating to keep boats from banging into docks or each other, Icebreaker: a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters.)

Unlike India, where the price of books is really cheap (the price for 1 book in Indonesia equals to 3 books in India, and I ended up shipping 10 kilograms of books from Jaipur), Singapore may not be the cheapest option to shop for books.

However, the options are abundant!

Although I was heartbroken after Borders was closed, today I cherished the birth of local indie bookstores around Singapore; that only adds up to more varieties and experience for book-hunters. Not to mention the events, workshops, or book discussions they are sprouting from time to time to keep the community alive!

***

Visiting Singapore soon and thinking about having a one-day walking tour for book hunting? I’ve created this walking route for book shopping in Singapore that may help you navigate your way around!

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour
Wear your comfy shoes, bring a bottle of water, and carry a big backpack with you. You’ll fill the backpack with many, many books! And, 7 books later, you’ll be thankful for bringing a backpack instead of a tote bag 🙂

Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour Tour

(0). ARAB STREET & HAJI LANE | 9.00 AM – 9.50 AM

Always start with a good and hearty breakfast! Many food stalls are available in Arab Street, serving Chinese, Malay, Indian, and even Indonesian breakfast from 7 AM. I personally love a warm portion of martabak and teh tarik at Singapore Zam Zam restaurant. From there, walk leisurely along Haji Lane with its lovely murals and picturesque facades. Stores and cafes are still closed in the morning (mostly open around noon), exactly why I love being here at these hours just to stroll along, snap pictures, and feel inspired.

(1) NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SINGAPORE | 10.00 AM (open) – 11.00 AM

A 10-minute walk from Haji Lane, you’ll reach the National Library of Singapore. Why, a library should be in the picture when we’re talking about a literary walk, shouldn’t it? Moreover, we’re talking about a 16-storey library, with gardens in the building that offered a good view of the city: the Courtyard on Level 5, and the Retreat on Level 10. The collections of books go without saying. Find out if there are any exhibitions on the day of your visit.

(2). BRAS BASAH COMPLEX – 11.02 AM – 12.00 PM

Only 2-minute walk from the Library, the upper floor of Bras Basah Complex is full of ‘oldies’ small bookshops selling rare and antique books, second-hand books, comic books, and many more. Book display and shelving may not be their thing (love chaotic bookshops!), but they may hide that one gem you’re looking for! Just ask the shopkeeper if you have a particular book in mind. Amazingly, they would remember whether they have the book, and where they shelf it! This is my go-to place to hunt for South Asian books & literature. Find Basheer Graphic Books (#04-19) if you’re into graphic design books: from typography, branding, animation, fashion, architecture, interior design, and many more.

(3a). THE BOOK CAFE – 12.30 PM – 1.20 PM*

*) If you choose this route, you’ll have to go for a 21-minute walk afterwards to our next destination. If you choose the other route below, the distance to our next destination is only 3-minute away.

This could be your first option for early lunch. Around 29-minute walk from Bras Basah Complex, The Book Cafe is surrounded by bookshelves (love!), and comfortable sofas are plenty! Time to cool off and check your book-list. Do you have everything you’re looking for? (Plus, after walking that far, you must be really hungry now!)

(3b). MAXWELL FOOD CENTRE | 12.30 PM – 1.35 PM

Maxwell Food Centre could be your second option for lunch—if you’d prefer hawker stalls rather than a cafe-like establishment. You may want to try Tian Tian chicken rice, Huang Ji wonton noodles, or Fuzhou oyster cake. It’s a 28-minute walk from Bras Basah complex, and you may think it’s quite far, but here comes the plus point: the location is only 3-minute away from our next stop!

(4). ANN SIANG HILL – 1.40 PM – 2.00 PM

After 21-minute walk from The Book Cafe (burn those calories!) or just a 3-minute stroll from Maxwell Food Centre, you’ll arrive in Ann Siang Hill. It’s a lovely stretch where you’ll find many concept stores with curated goods as well as Instagram-able cafes. The buildings around this area look beautiful in pastel colours. After Haji Lane in the morning, this could be your afternoon dose of inspired walking!

(5). LITTERED WITH BOOKS – 2.05 PM – 3.15 PM

Only 5-minute away, you’ll stumble upon Littered with Books, a beautiful bookstore with special sections for travel and culinary books in the attic; and a section for books about writing & writers downstairs. Couches are provided here and there, so you can flip the pages of your book leisurely. What I love the most is the hand-written notes glued by the owner on each shelves, giving you recommendations on certain titles to read and why you may find them interesting!

(6a). THE READING ROOM | 3.25 PM – 4.20 PM

Have filled your backpack with more books? After a 6-minute walk, what about a quick stop for coffee at The Reading Room before heading to your next destination? With countless books surrounding you from its walls and puffy cushioned sofas to bury your back comfortably, it could be your first option to sit lazily while checking whether you still have enough Singapore dollars to buy more books!

(6b). GRASSROOTS BOOK ROOM | 3.25 PM – 4.20 PM

The Reading Room’s next door neighbour can be your second option for a cool breeze from the hot Singapore sun. Only a few steps away, Grassroots Book Room is a serene unconventional bookshop with an adjoining cafe. You’ll find books on Chinese literature and history, as well as recipe books.

(7). WOODS IN THE BOOKS – 4.20 PM – 5.00 PM

I have an unhealthy addiction towards beautifully-illustrated children’s books. And after a deserving 21-minute walk from The Reading Room, Woods in The Books would come into view. It’s a quaint little bookstore with all kinds of children books to cheer you up: from fiction to nonfiction, in various categories imaginable!

(8). BOOKS ACTUALLY | 5.00 PM – 6.00 PM

This is my go-to bookstore in Singapore to look for works from local authors. A few steps away from Woods in The Books, Books Actually also published anthologies and journals from the newcomers in Singapore’s literary scene. Near the cashier, you would find a stack of Ceriph—a quarterly publication containing prose, poetry, social commentaries, photography, and visual art from local artists. You can take a past issue and pay as you wish by inserting your money into the provided tin-can. There’s a special section containing staff-picked books (I love their picks!) and a resident cat is around if you like to pet it.

(9). THE OPEN DOOR POLICY|  6.05 PM – FINISH

With your backpack full of books, it’s time to head out to a place where you can flip and glimpse at each book you’ve just bought—peacefully, while having dinner. Have a short 1-minute walk to The Open Door Policy, and celebrate the day with a portion of crab cake or their delicious lamb dish. Have a sip of fresh juice, massage your feet, and open your backpack while waiting for your meals to arrive. Now, you need to decide: which book to read first?

Full map for your “Book Hunting in Singapore: 1-Day Walking Tour”*

*)If you skip The Book Cafe, you can follow the shorter route from Bras Basah Complex to Maxwell Food Centre (refer to map 3b above)

Happy walking! And happy book-hunting in Singapore!

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.01.55 PM

Berbagi Senyum.

DISCLAIMER: Tulisan berikut ini adalah sebuah advertorial. Saya bersedia menuliskannya karena percaya dengan tujuan baik yang layak disebarkan. Tulisan ini dibuat secara independen—tanpa suntingan dari pihak sponsor. I hope you’ll enjoy this one. A story about a smile.

@BERADADISINI

Peace begins with a smile. – Mother Teresa

Banyak kenangan manis dalam hidup saya diawali dengan sebuah lengkungan sederhana. Bentuknya seperti sebuah mangkuk: mangkuk yang mewadahi perjumpaan-perjumpaan pertama dengan mereka yang kemudian menjadi kekasih (atau mantan kekasih), mengawali persahabatan dengan sesama pejalan di negeri-negeri asing, membuka percakapan-percakapan yang biasanya baru akan berakhir selepas tengah malam, juga meninggalkan jejak-jejak singkat—yang bertahun-tahun kemudian masih lekat untuk diingat.

***

Malam itu, kami berada di Medeu—area seluncur es berskala Olimpiade di daerah pegunungan Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Orang-orang lokal lalu-lalang dengan santai—bercakap ramai seraya membawa-bawa berbagai perlengkapan piknik: vodka, gelas-gelas dalam tas belanjaan, bahkan pipa-pipa untuk mengisap sisha. Kuda-kuda berderap, membuat saya sempat berhenti sejenak dan memandangi mereka dengan takjub. Tak seperti kuda-kuda yang biasa saya lihat menarik delman, kuda-kuda di Medeu begitu tinggi, begitu besar, begitu tegap. Saya sampai perlu mendongak untuk melihat wajah mereka.

Saya sebenarnya berada di Almaty untuk menjadi pembicara dalam sebuah konferensi. Tetapi, ketika mengetahui bahwa saya akan memperpanjang masa tinggal di Almaty, Zhamilya—salah satu pengurus konferensi tersebut, mengajak saya untuk mengunjungi Medeu di malam hari. Ia menjemput saya di penginapan bersama kekasihnya, Alex. Dan setelah sekitar satu jam berkenalan, Alex tiba-tiba saja bertanya mengenai lengkungan sederhana yang nampaknya ia perhatikan terus saja melintas di wajah saya.

“Apakah semua orang Indonesia suka tersenyum—atau hanya kamu yang seperti itu?”

Mau tak mau, saya tertawa. Bukan karena pertanyaan itu, tetapi karena Alex menanyakannya dalam rentang waktu yang begitu singkat sejak kami pertama bertemu. Apakah mungkin, dalam rentang waktu tersebut, saya sudah terlalu banyak tersenyum?

Oh, I’d like to think that most Indonesians are like that,” saya menjawab. “Sepertinya senyuman sudah menjadi bagian dari masyarakat kami. Sesuatu yang sangat natural.”

Well, mungkin saya hanya lebih jarang melihat orang tersenyum di sini,” ujar Alex kemudian. “Dan karenanya, wajah-wajah penuh senyum menjadi hal yang tak lumrah.”

Meskipun Alex sempat menetap selama beberapa waktu di Almaty, ia sendiri adalah warga Amerika Serikat. Saya tak tahu seberapa sering orang-orang tersenyum di Amerika, namun saya sedikit-banyak mengerti apa yang Alex maksudkan mengenai Almaty.

Jangan salah, ini bukan berarti orang-orang di Almaty tidak bisa tersenyum!

Saya melihat banyak senyum selama konferensi berlangsung: dari para pengurus acara, anak-anak mahasiswa yang secara sukarela menjadi penerjemah, bahkan dari beberapa peserta yang hadir. Namun, sepertinya budaya yang berbeda membuat senyum tak beredar ‘seluas’ di Indonesia.

Kita mungkin lebih ‘mudah’ tersenyum pada orang asing, ketika menerima kembalian dari pengemudi taksi, ketika memesan secangkir kopi, ketika masuk ke sebuah kantor dan melihat resepsionis duduk di meja depan, ketika petugas keamanan mengecek tas-tas kita saat melewati detektor metal, ketika disenggol seseorang secara tak sengaja dan mendengarnya meminta maaf…

“Saya tak tahu mengapa kamu ingin sekali pergi ke Rusia. Di Rusia, orang-orang akan mengira kamu gila, karena kamu tidak bisa berhenti tersenyum.”

Pernah, teman saya yang lain berkata.

Namanya Alex juga. Ia meninggalkan kota tepi lautnya di Vladivostok, Rusia, untuk bekerja menjadi instruktur selam di Labuan Bajo. Sesekali, ia mengirimkan tulisan dan foto-foto perjalanannya di Indonesia untuk dimuat di majalah-majalah berbahasa Rusia.

“Masa, sih, orang Rusia tidak pernah tersenyum?” saya tak percaya.

“Tentu saja mereka tersenyum,” Alex membalas. “Tapi, tak seperti di sini, di sana orang-orang tersenyum hanya jika mereka punya alasan kuat untuk itu. Tak semudah itu buat kami untuk tersenyum begitu saja. Meskipun demikian, hanya karena kami tidak tersenyum bukan berarti kami marah, ya.”

Ketika Alex mengatakan hal ini, perihal senyum-tersenyum di Almaty—yang merupakan salah satu negara pecahan Uni Soviet—kemudian membuat saya terkikik geli.

Saat berada di Almaty, saya tinggal di sebuah penginapan yang terletak di pusat kota. Di sebelah penginapan itu, terletak sebuah restoran—The Noodles namanya.

noodles

Setiap pagi, sebelum konferensi dimulai, saya dan beberapa pembicara lainnya biasa mampir di sana untuk minum kopi. Dan setiap sore, setelah konferensi berakhir, The Noodles menjadi tempat yang kami sambangi untuk membeli sepotong pizza atau tempat pelarian untuk makan es krim di malam hari ketika kami tak bisa tidur.

Jadi, tentunya, beberapa kali setiap hari, saya mendorong pintu The Noodles dan tersenyum pada pramusaji yang bertugas saat itu: “Selamat pagi! Selamat siang! Selamat sore!”

Belakangan, ketika konferensi berakhir dan saya sempat jatuh sakit selama beberapa hari, The Noodles menjadi tempat yang saya datangi setiap waktu—karena jaraknya hanya beberapa langkah dari hotel.

Praktis, beberapa kali sehari saya akan duduk di meja sudut di The Noodles, dengan tablet parasetamol yang dibelikan kawan saya Sean, tablet isap untuk sakit tenggorokan dari kawan saya Bota, dan novel remaja Julia Hoban yang sesungguhnya agak depresif, Willow. Dengan demam tinggi, hidung mampet, dan tenggorokan yang sakit, saya masih saja mendorong pintu The Noodles setiap harinya dan tersenyum: “Selamat pagi! Selamat siang! Selamat sore!”

Rasanya tersenyum sudah menjadi hal yang begitu lumrah, begitu pantas, begitu otomatis.

Selama beberapa hari itu pulalah, senyum saya tak pernah berbalas.

Pramusaji-pramusaji di The Noodles bekerja dengan efektif dan efisien. Mereka tak salah mengantarkan pesanan, juga selalu sigap melihat tamu mana yang akan membutuhkan bantuan—namun satu hal yang mulai membuat saya penasaran saat itu, adalah mengapa mereka tak mau membalas senyum saya—yang saya rasa sudah cukup sumringah.

Di hari terakhir saya di Almaty, hari ke-12, saya mampir di The Noodles demi secangkir kopi. Yang bertugas saat itu adalah seorang pramusaji perempuan yang sudah seringkali saya lihat. Saya yakin, ia juga pasti sudah mengenali saya yang setiap hari mampir ke sini. Untuk kali terakhir, saya pun melemparkan sebuah lengkungan sederhana padanya. Tersenyum lebar sambil berkata, “Selamat pagi!”

Saya tak mengharapkan apapun saat itu, sampai kemudian saya melihat ada lengkungan sederhana muncul di wajah sang pramusaji. Ia berkata, “Selamat pagi!” dan tersenyum!

Rasanya ada sesuatu yang membuncah dalam dada saya. Ia tersenyum! Ia tersenyum! Saya ingin menari-nari gembira. Sepertinya demam membuat saya terlalu emosional, karena saya kemudian menyadari betapa mata saya berkaca-kaca! Akhirnya senyum saya berbalas! Akhirnya, senyum saya… berbalas!

Ah, seindah itukah rasanya ketika kita, sebagai manusia, akhirnya dapat berbagi senyum?

***

Terkadang saya berpikir, mungkinkah di Indonesia saya memang sudah begitu terbiasa dengan senyuman yang dilemparkan begitu saja di mana-mana? Dari para penjaga toilet di mall, ibu-ibu di warung makan, penjual sate di trotoar, penjaja bakpao di pintu tol, pedagang buah di pasar basah, bahkan anak-anak yang mengamen di pinggir jalan…

Apakah saya memang sudah begitu terbiasa sehingga saya lupa betapa indahnya perasaan yang bisa muncul dari sebuah senyuman?

Dan lupa juga—atau bahkan tak bisa sungguh-sungguh memahami rasanya—ketika manusia, tak bisa tersenyum?

Bukan, saya tak bermaksud bicara tentang saat-saat ketika kita sedih, marah, atau berduka, hingga untuk sesaat kita tak bisa tersenyum.

What if you want to flash a smile, but you just can’t?

Saya baru tahu bahwa 1 dari 700 anak di Indonesia mengalaminya. Dan setiap tahunnya, ada lebih dari 9.000 anak Indonesia yang tak bisa tersenyum. Bukan karena mereka tak mau—tapi benar-benar karena tak bisa.

Mereka adalah anak-anak yang terlahir dengan bibir sumbing.

Sampai sekarang, tak ada yang tahu pasti mengapa ada anak-anak yang terlahir dengan bibir sumbing. Naila, misalnya, yang terlahir dari pasangan pedagang sayur, Didin dan Sakinah, di Kabupaten Lebak, Banten. Sakinah, sang Ibu, mengatakan bahwa beberapa anggota keluarganya memang terlahir berbibir sumbing—walaupun hingga saat ini masih belum ada kesimpulan mengenai penyebab pasti kondisi tersebut.

Melihat anaknya terlahir berbibir sumbing, Sakinah sempat merasa sedih. Bukan hanya karena ia tak bisa melihat buah hatinya tersenyum, tapi juga karena alasan-alasan lain yang sebelum ini masih luput dari perhatian saya.

Anak-anak berbibir sumbing akan mengalami persoalan dalam makan dan minum, kesakitan di rongga hidung, juga kesulitan saat belajar berkomunikasi. Semakin lama operasi bibir sumbing ditunda, semakin besar hal-hal tersebut memengaruhi tumbuh-kembang mereka. Padahal, tak semua orang tua punya biaya yang cukup untuk lekas mengoperasi anak mereka sebelum menginjak usia 1 tahun.

Jika kita percaya bahwa senyum adalah ibadah—dan salah satu bentuk ekspresi jiwa manusia yang paling tulus, apakah kita bersedia membagikan senyuman bagi anak-anak Indonesia yang saat ini masih belum dapat merasakan indahnya berbagi senyum?

Sebuah organisasi nirlaba, SmileTrain, telah mencoba melakukan hal ini—satu senyum setiap kali.

Bermitra dengan ahli bedah plastik dan rumah sakit di berbagai negara di dunia, mereka memberikan operasi gratis bagi anak-anak berbibir sumbing. Hanya dibutuhkan waktu 45 menit agar anak-anak ini dapat tersenyum kembali. Organisasi ini pula yang telah memungkinkan operasi gratis untuk adik Naila di Banten, sehingga gadis mungil ini dapat tersenyum kembali, dan menikmati tumbuh-kembang yang lebih baik.

Bulan ini, saya ingin mengajakmu berbagi senyum dengan anak-anak Indonesia—atau bahkan anak-anak di seluruh dunia.

SmileTrain selalu membuka kesempatan untukmu yang hendak mendanai operasi bibir sumbing di sini. Kamu juga bisa membaca berbagai cerita mengenai orang-orang di seluruh dunia yang telah terbebas dari bibir sumbing di sini.

Atau, kamu juga dapat berdonasi lewat senyumanmu di sini. Untuk setiap foto dirimu yang sedang tersenyum dengan menggunakan hashtag #berbagisenyum, Listerine®—bekerja sama dengan SmileTrain, akan meneruskan senyumanmu; membawanya ke wajah anak-anak Indonesia berbibir sumbing agar mereka juga dapat membagi senyumnya denganmu.

Karena jika senyum adalah pembuka bagi banyak kenangan manis dalam hidup kita, bukankah kenangan manis akan selalu lebih indah ketika dibagi?

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.01.55 PM

www.berbagisenyum.co.id
#berbagisenyum
@ListerineID

*)Listerine® juga memiliki varian Listerine Zero, yang bebas alkohol.

 

5 Ways to Find Story Ideas for Your (Travel) Write-ups.

How do you find story ideas for your travel write-ups? How to write about a place from another angle instead of reporting about what you do on a day-to-day basis? I’ve been asked this question quite often in various occasions, so I thought I could share about it through this post:

prose

1. Follow your curiosity

You are not a cat, so hopefully, you won’t get killed (and even cats have 9 lives!). Have you ever looked at something, heard something, or read about something, and felt curious about a certain thing afterwards? Curiosity is human. We like to ‘sniff around’. We want to know what is happening, we want to know more, we want to know what will happen next. Our mind is full of chatters and questions–even about the most trivial things. The next time you are curious about something, follow it like a detective.

There was this one time around 3 years ago when I watched a TV series, Miss Advised. One of the characters used Craigslist–a listing site, to find herself a date. I was curious whether there were also people posting dating profiles on Craigslist in Indonesia. So I went in. And there were loads of people looking for ‘dates’ on Craigslist, in Jakarta–even just reading their ‘creative’ ads had given me a few hours of uninterrupted fun. Then I asked myself, do people really answer these ads? Does it really work? And so I replied to one of the ads and set myself up for a blind date. The story of the blind date–I’ll keep that for another time!

Stories that may come up: stories about exploration, about your effort in following ‘clues’, about uncovering something, about the challenges in getting the information you need, etc.

2. Keep asking ‘why’ and talk to people

When we travel, there may be many occasions when we realised that we know nothing about something: the way people dress, how they treat each other, their eating habit, the way they treat guests, their local beliefs, about why it seemed like every students in Kazakhstan were always asking me about how many languages do I speak, or about why we would see some old people in Paris walking down the street or sitting in front of a restaurant–talking to themselves.

Of course, we can always shrug our shoulders and let these things pass; or we can always try to understand these ‘unfamiliar’ things by asking people. I talked to a guy working in a villa in Bali, and it turns into this.

Stories that may come up: a feature story about someone you meet/talk to, a conversation with this person, the way he/she left some memories or give valuable life-lessons that are relevant to you, a story about that person and his/her life experience, etc.

3. Observe keenly

Did you still remember the things you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think from one of your traveling journeys? Maybe we remember what we saw–more or less, because we took pictures, but most of the times, we forgot the rest. But these small details are like seeds. When we plant, water, and nurture them, when they are ripe, they can burst into stories. To keep a journal on the things you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think on your journeys is a great way to keep these seeds. For instance, what is the headline of the local newspaper at the day of your visit?

I overheard a conversation at Musee d’Orsay one time, between a father and his son, and it made its way into this post. I played around with a memory of a city in this post. I wrote down the things I felt as I walked around the small alleys of Santorini, and it became this. I’m not saying they are good stories–but they are short drafts and snippets of what can actually come up from keen observations.

Stories that may come up: a reflection on life based on an overhead dialogue, how a dialogue you overheard reminds you of something–or enlightened you about something, about capturing a spirit of a city or an environment through the local’s conversations, etc.

4. Break your habit

If you’re always staying at a hostel, try a nice hotel when you have enough money. If you’re always staying in a hotel, try an Airbnb space. If you are always following a map, try ditching it. If you are always traveling with friends, try traveling alone. If you’ve never bought souvenirs, buy one. If you’ve always bought souvenirs, buy none. Try to do new things when you travel and break your usual habit. It will feel odd and uncomfortable–two sure signs that you’re about to experience something new. And when we experience something new, we are being introduced to a new story.

From trying out Tinder, having a picnic date with a stranger, dancing with a bunch of policemen, staying with a transgender host, hopping on into a stranger’s car at 4 am in the morning, eating horse meat, to hanging out with a bunch of high school students, each one is a story in itself!

Stories that may come up: challenges you need to face when you’re dealing with unfamiliar territories, the internal conflict of doing things you are unsure about, the way you see a place differently because you change your habit, etc.

5. Try to see things from a neutral ‘place’

Are you opposing arranged marriage? Do you think couples should get married because they love each other–not because of their compatibility towards one another? Do you think it’s shallow for a girl to not want to go to college–and opt for an arranged marriage instead? When we travel, we may see, hear, or experience things that are not in-line with our beliefs or our views of the world. It is easy for us to pass judgement instantly; but things are not always what it seems.

I always thought bitterly about India and its arranged marriage tradition; until I tried to be more open about this and started chatting with an Indian woman–who happily chose an arranged marriage rather than a college life; and with a car-rental driver–who said confidently, that of course–he would choose a compatible husband for her daughter through an arranged marriage! I may still disagree to some extent, but opening up myself to see things from a neutral ‘place’ made me able to understand the underlying reasons behind; and to accept the fact that there are couples who really fall in love after their arranged marriage!

Stories that may come up: unveiling the reasons behind why people act or think a certain way, background about a city/country’s cultural or political history that affects the way they interact or behave with each other, busting myths or breaking the stereotypes about a certain place, etc.

So, are you ready to find your (story) ideas?

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.01.55 PM.png

If you’re interested in narrative travel writing, maybe you want to check this class to be held in May by my friend (a travel writer and a senior editor, too), Windy Ariestanty. Have fun! 🙂

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.09.36 PM

“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!

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.58.46 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.02.50 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.01.55 PM

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

How We Say Goodbye When Summer Ends

Our retrouvailles marked the end of summer in your city. The city I came to love despite its constant windy chills and random rain showers: in summer.

We remembered the couch—with plush pillows and soft blankets thrown carelessly over its surface; something that reminded us of the chaotic beauty of a studio of an artist. We spent so many times snuggling there; our excuses were the cold, the wind, the rain, and the little time we had. We were surrounded by bookshelf, spice rack, Amy Winehouse, and the faint hum of the world outside: the trams, the bikes, the planes, the still sound of the canals, the rustles of the leaves at the park nearby.
how we say goodbye when summer ends

I came to love the park much more than I ever did when I was there—and I never thought that this was possible, since I had always loved parks with all my heart. When we were outdoors, we spent most of our times riding or walking through it on our way home or on our way to the museums; as it provided us with a lovely shortcut from the busy streets where bicycles whizzed by in incredible speed. We had a picnic when the sun was up: reading books, sharing a generous portion of French sausages and seaweed burgers, sitting leisurely overlooking the lake while talking about our future plans and the end of summer that would also mark the end of our time together.

Probably it was this: the realisation that the clock was ticking (or maybe it was the cold), that made us clutched to each other ever-so-tightly as we zigzagged on your bicycle under the city’s rainy evenings, humming some random songs that came to mind while the street lamps shone their damp lights on us like dim stars hanging low. Or kissed abruptly at the park; behind the supermarket alleys; at the coffee shop; in a bookstore; in front of a closed shop—its roof invested by spiders—as we sheltered ourselves from the hard rain;  or by the street-side of the museum complex—where a couple interrupted us to ask whether they were close to Louis Vuitton store.

***

We had cold mornings, cold afternoons, and cold evenings altogether—and I had no intention to go out on those days. I found solace on the couch, reading your 25th Hour, my feet stretched out on the coffee table, my upper body got buried underneath the soft blanket, while you were working all day and stopping every now and then only to make cappuccino, buy groceries for breakfast, prepare lunch, open a bottle of wine, cook dinner, or hug me in random intervals.

On the rare occasions when you managed to convince me to go out, we would savour food from exotic places with exotic smells of exotic spices before retreating to a beer place for some warmth and random conversations about everything we could think about. We would leave when it was late, and most of the times it had grown colder outside; and I would flinched as the chill hit my face when you opened the door.

When a girl told a guy that it-was-cold, she was simply asking to be hugged.

And you would give me a hug and rubbing my upper arms for a bit of extra heat as we ran to the bicycle, laughing and looking forward to the promises of warmth: that we needed only to brace ourselves against this cold for a little longer and home would welcome us in just a little while.

***

My initial memory of your place was the bookshelf.

I sinned from judging people based on the books they read, and as you prepared some drinks for me that afternoon, I stood in front of your bookshelf and browsed the titles lining up there only to find out that I had also read most of the books you had.

When you showed me the terrace—overlooking the artsy neighbourhood—I noticed a string of Tibetan prayer flags on the porch of one of your neighbours.

That evening we found ourselves enjoying a live Nepali classical music concert in a small cafe on a hipstery street. People had beers in their hands, nodding their heads to the beat of the tabla, and some were clapping their hands. Soon after, in the dark, we danced to the last song being played with a bunch of friendly Nepalis who had lived in your city for quite some time. We were all just a bunch of shadows moving in unison: people from faraway places with stories of romance and heartbreaks altogether. As the music wafted in the air, around us, the boundaries between friends and strangers disappear.

We jumped and clapped and swayed. And laughed—not because there was something particularly funny, but because we were simply happy. Probably that was the best kind of laughter after all.

***

There were things I didn’t tell you after we parted in front of the supermarket at the end of that cold summer, when we said goodbye as abruptly as we kissed the previous days:

About how I had prepared myself to forget—not because I wanted to, but because sometimes forgetting is better than remembering; the way sometimes the anticipation of disappointment is a much safer option than the anticipation of hope.

About how I dragged my suitcase across the park to be at the other side of the city, and it was raining, and cold, and I was clutching to my phone for directions—but the screen got wet every five seconds or so, after a while I gave it up and pocketed it, couldn’t care less about finding the shortest route to get to where I should be.

About how the park was full of life despite the weather and about how when I got too tired of circling around with my blue suitcase, I sat on a park bench—the raindrops were falling over the hood of my parka jacket—and cupped my hands on my cheeks; both felt oddly cold.

About how I just sat there and for quite a while I thought I could smell the wet soil, the lake, the leaves, the grass, and the grey clouds above. And about how the thought of a warm bed, a cup of Chocomel, and Chinese takeout finally got me going.

***

Distance was a funny thing. We might have thought about it silently as we had our banana smoothie in the morning or our rooibos tea in the evening—though we didn’t really want to go further into it.

I have always believed that distance is not measured in length. It is measured in faith.

And the farthest distance is one that is not crossed. But it was you; not me; that had decided to cross the distance that day, and I was thankful that you did, that you braved it out, that you tried. Because if I was not afraid, I, too, would.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.01.55 PM