It happens. There are things we might lose during our traveling journeys–no matter how carefully we guard them all the time, no matter how cautious we are. There will always be something that slips through the cracks, they say. And just like everything else in life, when you lose something so dear to you, there’s this certain feeling of sadness and helplessness that envelopes you for quite some time. However, losing things (especially on your traveling journeys) could also provide a series of valuable life-lessons that may (surprisingly) release us from having to carry too many things in our lives. These are 6 things you might lose on your traveling journeys and what they taught you about living life.
photo credit: geishaboy500 via photopin cc
1. Lose Yourself.
When you’re traveling alone to faraway places, where nobody knows you–suddenly, you feel that euphoric feeling of freedom hits you, really hard. At last, you are free from other people’s preconceived judgements about you! You are free to simply be you–you are free to do whatever you like.
You are free to lock yourself in your fancy hotel room and enjoying their clean and sparkly pool until your skin smells of chlorine, instead of walking under the vicious sun to the public beach. You are free to roam around the city until 3 a.m. with a bunch of guys from faraway countries you met at the hostel’s common room, bar-hopping in a country where people don’t really speak that much English. You are free to sneak your way into a wooden house by the paddy field–where people wear loose robes, beads, and crystals on their forehead, chanting mantras and swaying their bodies with their eyes closed, laughing and crying and screaming–and you’re watching them, asking yourself whether you’re supposed to laugh, cry, and scream as well. You are free to end up in a couch with a guy you have only known for 2 days, watching movies on his laptop before ending up kissing each other passionately.
Nobody knows. It’s your secret. As you’re losing yourself during your traveling journeys, you get a chance to know who you really are–no parents to tell you what not to do, no colleagues darting uncomfortable look your way, no friends asking you to do something you are not really into. You’re free to simply being you.
This will be your chance to see both your brightest side, as well as your darkest side. You will truly know how far you can–or want to go. You will know and set your own values, and rules. You will find out about your true boundaries–things you wouldn’t do even when nobody’s watching. You’ll know what you really expect from yourself, as a person; what truly makes you proud and what disappoints you. You’ll have that opportunity to make the greatest mistake or write the greatest story of your life–and you’ll understand how important it is to live your life for yourself. Because in the end, it is your life. And it’s so tiring to keep on living it based on other people’s expectations upon how you should live yours.
2. Lose Your Belongings.
No matter how good you are in guarding your belongings, this will happen one day–that’s just the way it is. The airline somehow misplaces your luggage and it is on its way to Africa instead of Europe. Someone steals your wallet–and you do not have that much money left on your savings account. You forget about how you put your handphone on the grass next to your picnic towel, when you leave the park empty-handed. The key to your hostel room is missing. Your laptop bag is–(or maybe now it isn’t) stranded inside a toilet booth somewhere downtown.
After being swept by a sickening wave of panic, unleashing your anger to the whole world, cursing yourself (and your stupidity), wailing uncontrollably, and pulling your hair out to try to get your belongings back–to no avail, you start to feel your frustration dissipates. And then, there’s this empty feeling in your heart–somewhat scary and somewhat promising, a certain feeling of knowing that you just have to accept the fact that you have lost your belongings, and that you need to continue living without them.
And then you start counting your blessings. You’re looking at what you have, and being grateful for that. You’re thinking about how you can use these things you have to survive–and moreover, to be able to still enjoy the remaining days of your journey. You need to be flexible. You need to change plans, be okay with that, and be okay with less. And suddenly, you realize that who you are is not defined by what you have; or do not have. That you can actually get by with what you have–or you will find a way to, as long as you’re willing to.
You start reaching out to people, swallowing your pride, admitting that you need help. You talk to a stranger, some locals, your hostel owner, your friends, your parents–telling them about your misfortunes and asking them if they would be kind enough to help you. That’s the moment when you know how grateful you are to have these wonderful people in your life.
3. Lose Your Way.
Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Probably you’re too excited wandering around the city. Or you’re taking the wrong turns, hopping on to the wrong bus, or getting off at the wrong station. Probably you lose your map. Or you’re simply bad with directions, just like me. There will be times when you find yourselves lost (what an irony!) in a strange country. You are trying to trace your way back to where you were, but it seems like you keep on going around in circles–the cobblestone path and the colorful walls transforms into a confusing maze with dead-ends here and there.
You can keep going around and around and try again, and again, and again, or you can head over to someone and ask for directions. That’s how it goes in life, too. Sometimes, you need someone else’s help to show you how to get to somewhere. And when you’re about to ask for directions, the best is to know where you’re heading or where you want to go back to. Only then, the person can help pointing you out to your desired direction. There are times in life when you’re kind of floating in the middle, not sure on where you want to be, but not wanting to go back to where you were before, either. Rather than trying to go around and around in circles, seek for help, and ask yourself: where do you really want to be in this life? And it’s always a relief to have a place you can always go back to, as well. A familiar place that you can always call: home.
4. Lose Your Sense of Time.
You know those moments. When you lose your sense of time.
When you’re staying in a small town by the beach or a small hut in the mountains–those days when you have no plan whatsoever, no train to catch, no flight schedule to check, no boat waiting for you by the pier. You’re free to spend a day with yourself, doing nothing and everything at the same time. These are the days when you grab your favorite book, go to the beach and read all day long under the sun, dipping yourself in the sparkling sea when the heat becomes unbearable, having a nap with the sea breeze caressing your face. It’s one of those spontaneous days you spend with your local crush. A bunch of people with different nationalities you have just met at a local club. Your lover.
You have no idea about the time of the day. You wake up when you feel recharged. You eat when you feel hungry. You drink when you’re thirsty. You move your body when it feels stiff. You sip a beer when you feel like it. You let your senses tell you what you’re about to do instead of looking at your watch to follow a set of routines.
It’s one of those days when you go to a cooking class, learning how to make batik, taking a silversmith course… and you’re so immersed in absorbing these new lessons, enjoying each and every moment as you try to follow the instructions, giving 100% of your heart and mind into what you’re doing… and the next time you realize it, the time is up! Or it’s already sundown! You wonder, where does your time go? How come it goes away so fast?
These are the days when you’re enjoying life as it is. You’re enjoying what you do–or what you do not do. You’re enjoying the things you learn, the people you meet, the feeling you feel. Even when it seems like you’re ‘doing nothing’, you’re simply enjoying it. You’re not forcing things, you’re flowing genuinely and gracefully through it. They say, the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. How wonderful it is if we can live our lives this way, every single day, appreciating and enjoying each moment that passes us by–knowing that no matter what we do (or do not do), we are living a life without regret.
5. Lose Your Prized Possession.
Maybe it’s a lucky charm. A favorite photograph of your late parents. A special scarf given to you by a lover. An old teddy bear. A memento from your most memorable trip. These are the things you bring with you wherever you go, like a security blanket. They may not be something precious for others–but they are things that are so precious and dear to your heart. They are your prized possessions. They carry memories from times you can’t go back to; faces from people that pulls you in like gravity, nostalgia from a somewhat familiar smell and scent and sense of security.
But there are days when somehow, you lose it. Usually, you do not know how you lose it–because it’s something you have always guarded ever-so-cautiously, more than the rest of your belongings. It may take hours or days before panic creeps in, and you start looking for your prized possession–your heart thumping–only to realize that it’s gone. It’s nowhere to be found.
Losing your prized possession taught you about releasing your dependency to various things or circumstances outside of yourself. To know that no matter how careful you are, there are moments when things will fall apart. When you’re attaching yourself to something, you’re being dependent to it. You feel as if it makes you ‘complete’. Thus, subconsciously, you’re preparing yourself to be ‘incomplete’ when that something is taken away from you.
You can’t rely on things outside of yourself to make you feel better or happier. You can’t keep replaying old memories to make you feel loved or worthy. One day, there will be times when you just have to stand your ground on your own and face the reality; no matter how cold it is. Releasing yourself from dependency is knowing that you’re the only one who can transform that cold reality into a warm fuzzy place of your own.
6. Lose Someone.
It’s indeed the most painful. You can “lose” someone that doesn’t come with you on your journey at the first place, like a parent, a best friend, or a boyfriend: the people who stays where they are when you hop on yet another plane. They may not understand you, on why you need to keep going and moving around, and why you still have somewhere else to go to after all those traveling journeys you have done. They may feel like they can’t keep up with you; or that they need someone who stays–instead of someone who is constantly leaving.
You can lose someone on your journey, too. Saying goodbye to a local host that has become like a sister to you after a month. Waving to a fellow traveler you have grown to fall in love with–not knowing whether the two of you could ever see each other again. Or deciding to part ways with a boyfriend you’re traveling with–as the journey you’re embarking uncovers various sides of your personalities that simply doesn’t serve both of you well anymore.
And you will lose someone. It’s bound to happen, and it’s inevitable. The people you’re closest with right now, yes, you will lose them as well eventually. It’s just a matter of how, when, and where. The people we meet are delivered into our paths to impart their wisdom and help us grow. There will be times when their ‘task’ is done and both of you need to move on.
As sad and depressing as it may sounds, the silver lining is that knowing this, you will stop taking them for granted. You will stop waiting for the “right time” to say something to them, or to do something for them. You will be asking yourself on why they are sent into your lives–and why you are sent into theirs, and as a result, being even more present and mindful when you’re interacting with them.
You will realize that whatever it is you have with them today, it is only temporary. Seize every moment and be real with your closest ones. Life is too short to be spent playing games–to postpone expressing your feelings and affections until you feel more secure or deserving; or to be spent competing for power and dominance. Whatever comes out of you, let it comes from a place called Love.
“I think I’m going to move to Ubud for a while, maybe for 3-6 months,” I typed on my WhatsApp.
It was a cloudy Monday morning in Ubud. I was sitting cross-legged on the front porch; trying to decide whether I would go for a swim or not before meeting Alfred later in the afternoon.
My phone vibrated.
“Moving to Ubud? And doing what?” Alfred’s words popped up on my screen.
“I don’t know,” I typed back. “Writing my book…”
An emoticon laughed at me. “Seriously?!!” Alfred replied. “Who the heck wrote a book in Ubud? Even Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t write her book in Ubud!”
And of course, he was right.
I decided to spend 2 weeks in Ubud; thinking that I would finally have the time and solitude to write The Book. These past few months, I had restrained myself from publishing any posts from my traveling journeys in Malaysia, Yogyakarta, Flores, and India–simply because this tiny (annoying) voice in my head kept saying: “Don’t post them now! Those stories will appear later in The Book!”
The Book is supposed to be my first non-fiction book: a travel memoir–and I have everything I need to finish it: a title, a premise, a rough outline…I even had almost 80% of the stories typed. All I need to do is type the rest of it, rewrite some parts that don’t come out as strong as I intended, and organize them to create a flowing narrative of 297 pages. It sounds so simple and easy, yet I had missed my deadline. Twice. I have no excuse, and I don’t intend to start finding one.
Every day, as I woke up to the sound of the morning in Ubud, I told myself that I needed to sit down and wrote a few pages for The Book, today. I needed to create my own Ubud’s book-writing timeline and stick to it.
I ended up doing everything but writing The Book.
Ubud kept me busy.
I bumped into some old and new friends (who happened to know each other)–and spent some days conversing with them on the back porch while munching on mangosteens. There were some days when I was on fire: typing around 6 proposals for several movements and social projects that I was about to pursue, as well as making business plans for some friends of mine–just because I felt this rush of enthusiasm and inspiration needed to find an outlet.
There were some days when I didn’t really have anything to do. And for some unexplainable reasons, on those kind of days, I kept bumping into people who practiced Reiki, spiritual healing, channeling, or yoga… to one point whereby I met a friend of a friend, and somehow ended up in a house full of statues and crystals by the rice fields near Penestanan for a kundalini meditation session–all the while asking myself, “What the heck are you doing, exactly?” and immediately answering back, “This could be an interesting story for The Book!”
When I didn’t bump into those interesting flocks, I went out for coffee or some healthy meals in one of those organic restaurants sprawled around the town; then walked around aimlessly for around 2 to 3 hours–checking out different alleys and shops and gelato bars, too lazy to even snap pictures. Other days, I would hang out with the staff at the hotel–conversing all night long by the pool while being bitten by mosquitos, listening to their life stories, and ended up explaining about meteors, eclipse, and earthquakes (“So, it’s not because of the dragon that is moving under the earth’s surface?”).
But most of the times, I would find myself sat lazily somewhere: reading a book, sipping watermelon juice, watching people, and then went back to my hotel–took a cold shower, wrote a long letter for my muse, and fell asleep.
It sounded like a vicious cycle, but the funny thing was: it actually didn’t feel vicious at all. I wanted to feel guilty because I didn’t touch The Book while I was in Ubud, but I just couldn’t.
It has been around a month since I got back from Ubud, and this week, I started to revisit The Book again. I realized that a ‘rough outline’ I have at the moment was not enough. This time, I committed to tighten it, restraining myself to edit (and re-edit) my stories before I could get that nice flow of narratives mapped out in a final outline.
It was not an easy task. To be honest, I hate making outlines–especially detailed one with so many bullets and sub-bullet points. I always think of myself as a ‘spontaneous writer’ and outlining just doesn’t work for me. However, deep down inside, I know that I won’t go anywhere if I am still unsure of where I should place my stories on The Book. I can keep on rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and it will never get done. The stories will simply get lost somewhere in the middle of it all.
And then it hit me. Right there. When I thought about ‘getting lost’.
I laughed at myself for a while, as I realized that ‘getting lost’ was actually my way of exploring a city when I travel. I am too lazy to read a map, I am not good in remembering routes (too busy noticing the small things along the way), and I get disoriented quite a lot–to the point that I could even get lost in a big shopping mall. I don’t plan things. I don’t keep a list of places I want to see. I don’t aim for landmarks or museums or souvenir shops. I just… go.
Now I know why mapping out The Book’s outline feels so darn hard since the very beginning.
Walking around aimlessly, not really heading anywhere, and letting the city I visit opening itself up to me as I get lost in it–that is how I travel. And The Book, indeed, is my travel memoir.
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.
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 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.
This is my typical morning in El Nido: woke up at around 7 or 8 in the morning, had a shower, and walked lazily to the small hut in the inn’s area; had my morning dose of coffee, toast, and omelette; and sat there for around an hour—enjoying the view of the ocean and the cliffs while listening to the melodious sound of the waves.
Then I would be taking a walk by the beach, dipping my feet in the water, joining the kids who were playing catch, taking pictures… and breathing in the fresh morning air. It smelled of summer and flowers and daydream.
El Nido town is very small; you could walk your way everywhere. After taking my morning stroll at the beach, I would just wander around the streets—checking out the small cafes, still-closed bars and restaurants. When I looked up, I could see the sky and the cliffs surrounding the town.
When the sun became too hot to bear, I would just sit at a small diner in front of La Banane’s hostel—having iced coffee, juice, and cheeseburger for a quick lunch while conversing with the owner; a very friendly lady. When she saw me reading a book there while munching my cheeseburger, she said, “Why don’t you just come inside the hostel? We have a terrace there, and you can read there. Will be more convenient than reading here, and cooler, too!”
Afterwards, full and a bit sleepy, I would retreat to my hammock at the inn to read and write; glancing at this view every once and a while.
One afternoon, as I sat there, a pretty little girl came by and watched me taking pictures with my DSLR. She wanted to try, so I taught her how to snap some pictures. And then she saw me taking pictures with my iPhone, and she wanted to try, too. Her name is Maria, and we spent that entire afternoon taking pictures of the beachside.
Then her mother, Lani—who turned out to work in El Nido arranging tours, came along and we chatted for a while under the shade. She brought along a plate of Philippine’s typical jelly (she said), made of coconut milk. It was really refreshing for such a hot and humid afternoon!
Not long after, Maria’s brother, Klein, joined us and took pictures of everything, too. They are so cute—and they definitely know how to pose in front of the camera!
“There will be two couples going for island-hopping tour tomorrow,” said Lani afterwards, when I asked her about the island-hopping tour in El Nido. “Why don’t you just join them, so you can split the cost and do not have to hire your own boat?”
I agreed to that. Deal. It would be two couples on their honeymoon and yours truly, alone.
As I stepped out from the hotel that evening, it was pouring outside. I fetched my umbrella and waited for a cab, hopped in, and sat with my nose glued to the backseat’s window—capturing the beauty of raindrops and city lights. It was gorgeous.
There were around ten of us that evening. Everybody had just met everybody else a few hours ago. Our Taiwanese friends brought us to this ‘hip’ mall in Xinyi District called ATT4FUN. They said there was a new Thai restaurant opening up, and we should try it because the food was so good. I know, I know, like we’re in Taipei and we’ll be eating Thai food? But, I was hungry. I needed rice. Thai food would do. The restaurant was called Bangkok Jam. And the food—yeah, it was so darn good, especially the spicy mango salad. Oh, and those chicken in pandan leaves! And the tom yam soup! And… well, apparently, I was really hungry (later on I realized that we have Bangkok Jam in Jakarta, too).
My Taiwanese friend: “Would you like to try some Taiwan beer?”
Me: Sure, what does it called?
My friend: Taiwan beer.
Me: Like, the brand?
My friend: Yeah, exactly that.
And it was (literally) called Taiwan beer, indeed. It tastes like… a beer. A beer that you drink in Taipei. Okay, I know. I suck :P
Taiwan in the evening. The occasional drizzle. The wide pavements. City lights. Such a good friend for those who would like to stroll around lazily, with nothing in mind. You could just sit on a clean and comfy bench when your feet got tired: sipping a cup of coffee from a carton cup, nibbling on some snacks, reading books, watching people. Suddenly, I felt Adele-ish.
Being me, of course, the highlight of my Taipei journey was Eslite. Imagine a bookstore that opens for 24 hours, with 7 floors full of books, stationeries, and art & craft supplies. Heaven! You could see people reading there, sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor. Some teenagers were occupying rows of wooden desks—studying solemnly. Wait. Was this a bookstore or a library?
I found myself got overly excited and overwhelmed, surrounded by tall bookshelves lining up and books with wonderful covers from all around the world! I jumped excitedly from one section to another, flipping over some gorgeous-looking illustration books and gasped and sighed and gasped and sighed. It was just too much, that in the end I came out without buying any books. I know. I just… couldn’t make my choice in such a short period of time. I got only… 2 – 3 hours max? I mean, come on! *drenched in tears*
Coffee should ease the pain. There was this cute Starbucks counter on the street—with cartoony poster in pastel colors. Taipei was full of cute stuff and drawings like that. Just mentioned it: billboards, road signs, city maps, advertisements, posters, brochures… probably watercolor artists and illustrators stood better chances of making a living in this part of the world.
The other evening, we had seen a display of an uber-cute artistic work at Taipei 101, the landmark of Taipei that used to be the tallest building in the world.
Look at this Taipei 101 mascot, called “Damper Baby” (a 730-ton tuned mass damper that acts like a giant pendulum to counteract the building’s movement; reducing sway due to wind by 30 to 40 percent). Could you see that the mascot was actually designed out of the number 101? :D
Riding the elevator up to the observatory on the 89th floor, I sat in front of a glass wall overlooking the city, covered in fog. The city lights were disappearing. Everything was gray and white and dark blue. The open-deck on the 91st floor was closed that day due to the bad weather and the strong wind. I treated myself a cup of green tea and sat on a bench, resting my feet; then took more pictures of me with the ever-popular Damper Baby. We actually looked alike.
The night had fallen. The youths and the elders came out in couples, holding hands, landing light kisses on each others’ cheeks. Earlier that afternoon, a Taiwanese guy, D, mentioned about The Raid when he knew that we came from Indonesia. He said The Raid was one of the best action movie he had ever seen. The movie was definitely a big hit in Taipei, too.
There was this one particular evening when I got into my hotel, dead-tired, and just went straight to the bathroom for a quick shower. As I finished up, I realized how beautiful it was: bathing with the city lights twinkling around you. And then it registered to me, way too late. Wait, why did I see these city lights from the tall buildings? Oh. The bathroom had these glass walls, and apparently, I forgot to close the curtain.
That evening, after spending some time at Medeu, I found myself stranded in a cafe—eating some cheeseburgers and sipping Georgia wine with Zhamilya, Alex, Jim, and Sean. Suddenly Alex asked, “Hanny, is it just you—or Indonesians are all very happy people?” I have heard this kind of comment quite often since my very first day in Almaty. People were asking why I was always smiling and laughing. I didn’t realize it, really. And I didn’t realize that people actually notice. I’d like to take that as a compliment, and I’d like to say that I think, Indonesians are a bunch of naturally happy and friendly people. Aren’t we? :)
And what about the Kazakhs? Though they might not be the forever-smiling kind of people (I think it’s more about how people with different cultures express themselves in different ways), I found their hospitality and sincere friendship heartwarming. Some students who volunteered at TFCA 2012 didn’t hesitate to strike a conversation and ask questions. They’re so enthusiastic and curious. They want to connect. I found this attitude very amusing.
One of them is Bota Ilyas (her name means “camel eyes”). She volunteered as my translator for TFCA 2012 event, and we connected so well that we spent the rest of my Almaty days together.
Bota taught me Russian: ya svobodna, ya kachu parnya (I’m free, I want a boyfriend). And I taught her (and her friend Madina) Indonesian. Cowok cakep means handsome guy, I told them. The girls giggled. They said they wanted to say this phrase aloud when they spotted some handsome guys. “They wouldn’t know what it means!” the girls giggled again. Of course, when three girls spent some time together, sooner or later, they would be talking about relationship: love and guys. Bota is also very pretty—as I laid my eyes on her for the first time, I knew that she would look great in front of the camera. On my last day in Almaty, we spent half a day to do a photo session together. It was fun!
Ulan Scheff and her sister Zika Gabdusheva took me to the Museum of Arts for the French painting exhibition and accompanied me to walk around Almaty one day. Later on, I found out that they live 1 hour away from Almaty and needed to catch a bus before 9 pm. They actually came to Almaty just to go to the museum and spend that day with me. I couldn’t be more touched.
Timur (Tima) Azizov was volunteering for TFCA 2012 as well (girls, he’s still in high school, he plays piano and basketball, and he doesn’t drink). On my last day in Almaty, Bota, Ulan, Tima, and myself went to Omega Sector—the game center for teens in Almaty, and tried our luck playing Guitar Hero. None of us had played Guitar Hero before, and… well, we felt bad for everyone in the game center who were forced to hear us play :D But anyway, we could finish one song that day, and it was quite an achievement!
I felt young in Almaty, thanks to spending my time with a bunch of high school and university students! *love*
Apart from my new Kazakh friends, I met some awesome speakers of TFCA 2012 as well. They are a great bunch. I missed them much when they left Almaty. Two of them left something behind for me: a book and a strip of paracetamol.
Jim Williams who is now back in Islamabad, Pakistan, gave me his Lonely Planet Central Asia book. “Why? Don’t you need this?” I asked. “No worries. I can get one again,” he said, handed out the book. Maybe it was a sign for me to pack up my bag and do my Central Asia tour next year?
Sean Knox is my saviour in Almaty—the one who brought me some paracetamol from the pharmacy when I was down with high fever.
“I got loads of mentions in Twitter from Indonesian teens,” Sean laughed. He showed me his Twitter stream; with his Twitter handle @smk. “SMK in Indonesia is like… what? A kind of school? Indonesian teenagers keep checking in or posting stuff saying that they’re in SMK this and SMK that, mentioning me!”
Sean got me for the first time when he told me about how he had sold everything that he once had; and decided to backpack all over the world. It takes a lot of courage to do that, I believe. To leave everything behind and pack all your life in a cabin bag. Which may not be a bad option. After all, we only live once. And I am pondering over the idea at the moment.
“How did it happen?” I asked. “Have you planned this for a long time, or was it just an impulse?”
“I attended a travelers’ gathering one day,” Sean answered. “I met people who have backpacked all around the world for months, even years. And then it hit me: if they could do this, I could do this, too. And so, I left.” Now Sean is traveling across South East Asia. Last seen in Koh Tao, Thailand.
From my previous traveling journeys, I realized that the places I cherish the most are places with names and faces; places where stories and dreams are being shared with someone you have just met for the very first time; places where you arrive as a stranger and depart as a dear friend | @beradadisini