The Book.

“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.

Ubud, Bali

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.

Ubud

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.

The Traveling Words.

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.

More about TheTravelingWords can be found here. Let’s get our words to travel and touch lives! :)

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.

On The Road.

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.

Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan.

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 :)

My Life As I Know It.

So, it has been 33 days since my latest blogpostand I haven’t had the time to write more about my India trip; which resulted in 4 pending blogposts for Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur and Delhi.

Opening Shot

In one and other way, my India escape shares similar characteristics with my Santorini getaway, in a sense that I keep restraining myself from writing the experience immediately because somehow it will make the magical feeling evaporated. And on top of that, the days that follows after my coming-home seemed to go extra fast to the point that—just like Parker; a character in Nick Miller’s Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?I literally need to browse my own Facebook timeline and look at the pictures I posted to remember what had happened in my life lately:

I stayed at my friend’s apartment for a month while she was in the US and became her cat-sitter. It was actually very therapeutic in a way. Sfac is a cat with a pensive mood, and I think we get along quite well naturally because of that.

cat

And because I stayed at my friend’s apartment and packed only a few clothes with me, I found myself playing futsal in a summer dress and a pair of gold flat shoes for an office tournament. It was extremely challenging not to have your shoes flying to the face of the goalkeeper when you kicked the ball.

Futsal

The previous cat-sitter, Alisawhom I met at my friend’s apartment and the first Samoan friend I have, invited me to a charity event she organized: Love Your Neighbour Jakarta Flood Relief Fundraiser. You can no longer see the water and you may think that everything is fine now, but Jakarta’s two-legged and four-legged citizens are still struggling after the 2013 Jakarta flood. A bunch of young expats (led by Alisa) and Indonesians worked together to throw a fundraising party at 365 Eco Bar Kemang to financially support Habitat for Humanity, Jakarta Animal Aid Network, and Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centerthree NGOs that are continuing their works even long after the flood is gone. It was such a wonderful initiative, and I was more than happy to volunteer in documenting the event and sharing these pictures with them.

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 10.13.20 PM

Love Your Neighbour

Love Your Neighbour

I did a lot of cooking and grocery shopping, as well as pampering myself with visits to various coffee shops to read or write, and reconnecting with old friendseating out and catching up. I detached myself from my laptoptrying to close it down when I had finished work, and went to the pool instead. I am still not a good swimmer, but I love being in the water (or floating in the sea with a life vest attached to my chest). It’s always relaxing to have some lazy strokes under the sunthe water is cold on your skin and smells of chlorine (or salt or fish); you think of nothing.

Pool

On another note, if everything goes well (fingers crossed) I will have two books to be published this year. One in June (hints: it’s a perfect book for summer reading, especially if you’ll be traveling!) and another one in September. I have just finished the rough draft for the first book and decided to leave it for a while before I typed everything in my laptop this weekend. While working on a story, I love to re-read some books on writing because it gives me a lot of comfort and encouragement. My favorites are Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Elizabeth George’s Write Away, and Susan Goldsmith Wooldridges’ Poemcrazy.

Poemcrazy

I also spent some times writing letters and packaging stuffs for my friends abroad, again. When I am traveling, usually I will spot something that will remind me of someone (probably it’s you!): a book, an eyeshadow kit, a pack of tea, a pair of earrings, a CD, a Buddha necklace, a simple receipt with a certain word printed on it, a burst of color… anything. These things will then go inside a brown envelope and travel a few extra miles to reach you. I always love choosing the words for the greeting cards, writing names and addresses on the envelopes, getting them ready to be sent to the post office, and waiting anxiously if you’ll receive it!

Package

Mostly, I was just busy with my professional workand a new project I started with my girl Nadia. This project combines everything we both love: design, photography, videography, storytelling, beautiful words, make-up, fashion, and everything whimsical. It requires a lot of time to be on the road scouting for beautiful places; the stamina to carry a lot of stuff and get our hands dirty; as well as the flexibility of being in the outdoors for an indeterminate period of time, getting exposed to the sun or being threatened by the rainstorm. But whenever we see our final products, we soon realized why we love doing this at the first place. Expect to hear more about this on a Sunday in May this year.

Morning

Hanny

Kahlil Gibran

Nadia Sabrina

Vintage luggage.

Last but not least, I was in Singapore last weekend with the whole office (always a great bunch!). I was happy for I did the things I would not normally do: going for indoor skydiving at iFly (I did fly!), having my leap of faith from the 5-story high Parajump and sliding 450 metres long through jungle canopy and Siloso Beach at 72 metres above sea level. And to wrap it all, a guy named Enrique asked me to marry him.

Bokeh Citylights

We were standing at the terrace on the 57th floor; the wind was strong and we were speaking in English and French and Spanish. He showed me the sky with the hanging dark clouds and the city lights shining underneath and we whispered our wishes to the universe and talked about Valencia and Paris and Hemingway and laughed at each others’ jokes. When I think about it again, it was quite a romantic scene, actually.

“Will you kiss me?” he asked.
“Nope,” I shook my head.
“Hmm, if I said I’m gay, will you kiss me?”
“Maybe,” I laughed.
“Not even if I said I like you so much I want to marry you?”

I punched his right arm and we laughed and he hugged me and landed a kiss on my forehead. And no, I don’t marry him.

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 12.24.42 AM

9 Things I Miss The Most About India

Incredible India

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.

1-India-BeautifulBuildings

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.

1-India-TheFood

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.

1-India-TheBirds

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!

1-India-Squirrels

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.

1-India-Books

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.

1-India-QutbMinar

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*

Incredible India - Blokes at the Outdoors

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.

1-India-Colorburst

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.

1-India-Geeta

I miss India.

Nesting in El Nido, Palawan (2)

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.

El Nido Marina Garden

EN-MorningViewCoffee

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.

EN-MorningViewChildrenPlay

EN-MorningViewCliff

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.

EN-TownCliff

El Nido

El Nido

El Nido

El Nido

El Nido

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!”

EN-LaBanane1

EN-LaBananeBurger

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.

EN-MorningViewFence

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.

El Nido Girl iPhone

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!

EN-Maria

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!

El Nido kids

EN-MariaKlein

“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.
Whatever >__<

Lost in Taipei: 1. A stroll in the evening

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.

 

Stranded in Almaty | 4. Souls

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) IndonesianCowok 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

Stranded in Almaty | 3. Places

OK, are you ready for a blog-tour around Almaty, Kazakhstan today? Let’s go!

1) Republic Square. I think every city has this kind of place. You know—a spot where you can do something and have your wish granted. Or in some cities, if you drink the water from a certain well, for instance, you’ll get a chance to visit the city again. In Almaty, there’s a monument with this ‘bronze book of wish fulfillment‘ with the imprinted palm of President Nazarbayev on it. What you need to do is to place your palm there, make a wish, and… well, InshaAllah, it will come true :)

2) Panfilov Park & Zenkov Cathedral. If you know me well enough, you know that I won’t miss a chance to visit public parks. Almaty is blessed for having lots of public parks that are well taken care of, with flowers, trees and benches. Panfilov Park is well-known as the “wedding park” for the locals, because a lot of couples do their pre-wedding photo shoot here. The jewel of Panfilov Park is the ever-colourful Zenkov Cathedral.

3) KokTobe. I am a fan of cable cars, so a ride to the mountain of KokTobe was just amazing. I went there during sunset; and being able to see the last ray of sun disappearing in the sky with that wonderful orange-pinkish light made me really content.




There were loads of thing you could find in this recreational area: from people selling souvenirs to different kind of games; cafes and restaurants to roller-coaster ride. Yes, roller-coastering your way down the mountain. How cool was that!

4) Green Bazaar. Local market is always an interesting place to visit; because you can see the locals doing their daily activities, shopping for fruits, vegetables, meats, and many more. Of course, you can also find fresh horse meat here. The best thing I found in the Green Market? A kind of smoked cheese that looks like a bunch of enokitake (enoki mushroom); that can be munched while we’re sipping beer or wine. But the highlight of the day was to see Jim shopping for spices, assisted by our new Kazakh friend, Bota—who continuously asked the seller (on behalf of Jim) on which spices should be used for which dishes.

5) Medeu. This is the mountainous area where the olympic-sized ice-skating stadium was located. I went to Medeu at around ten one night with Jim and Sean, accompanied by our new Kazakh friend, Zhamilya, and her boyfriend Alex. It took us 20-30 minutes to reach Medeu by taxi. Though there were several cafes or restaurants in Medeu, we met several groups of people who actually brought their own ‘picnic’ baskets; a bottle of wine (or vodka), plastic glasses, as well as some chips and… hookah! (Alex had also brought a bottle of drinks and some plastic cups with him. Cheers to Almaty! *clink*). Apart from having a midnight picnic while enjoying the breathtaking view, you could also stroll around Medeu on the back of a horse (they have tall and huge horses here!). Medeu is really cold, so you better wrap yourself in overcoat and boots!

6) Arbat. Arbat is the most artsy stretch  in Almaty, where you can find people playing instruments, dancing, or sketching. You can have yourself being sketched there as well! If you’re crazy about accessories and cute stuff, people are selling everything from lucky charms, earrings, necklaces and bracelets to cute matryoshka fridge magnet. There are several hip cafes, restaurants and boutiques here. The street is lively with youths and young couples.

7) Almaty’s Museum of Art. Consider it my lucky week in Almaty. During my stay, Almaty’s Museum of Art hosted “Treasures of France” exhibition—where they displayed French art and culture from Renaissance to this day. For the first time, about 400 works from 40 largest museums of France, such as the Louvre Museum, d’Orsai Museum, Versailles Palace, National Museum of Modern Art – Pompidou Centre, and the French National Library, are exhibited in Kazakhstan. I went to the museum with two new Kazakh friends, Ulan and his sister, Zika. The entrance ticket is KZT 500.

We spent almost 5 hours there, just looking at loads of paintings and sculptures from one room to the next. I adored the Laloue paintings and the photoworks of Henri Cartier-Bresson; they were magnetic, I kept finding myself being drawn over and over again into their works. There were also some “booths” where we could listen to some French music via headphones. Zika and me danced along to the songs from our headphones—mindless of how other visitors were staring at us doing this “silent disco”. Too bad we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the exhibition.


And then I spent the rest of my time in Almaty to read books in the parks and stroll around the city. Walked past the amusement park and heard the faint scream and laughter of the visitors,


climbed down to the side of the reservoir and looked at the graffiti on the walls;

watched some teenagers riding horses,

and… yes, I was sick throughout *cough*. But it was fun, nonetheless.