There are only a few places I like in Jakarta: my office (seriously), the giant bookstores, coffee shops with bookshelves, the stretch of street stalls selling everything vintage in Jalan Surabaya, Seaworld and Planetarium (again, seriously), and… the Old Town area.

I love the Old Town not only because this 1.3 square kilometers area is very picturesque; but also because it reminded me of the pictures I saw in my history books. It gave me those “colonial romanticism” feeling (you know how I love to imagine myself living in a different era; the 1920s fascinates me the most).

A lazy stroll along this area is always a pleasant one. All those old buildings with beautiful architectures, street artists drawing your sketch or silhouette, tattoo stand, fortune-teller… It was unfortunate that several historical sites had been destroyed by the provincial government during the development of Jakarta, including Fortress Batavia, Gate of Amsterdam, and tram lane of Batavia (we had tram lane, once!).

I went to the Old Town again last weekend with my friend, Chris—me with my DSLR camera, running around taking pictures, and Chris with… nothing. “Who is the tourist, actually?” Chris laughed. “Yes, I am playing tourist!” I answered to that and mindlessly snapping some pictures again. Anyway, if you’re around this area, pay a visit to Warung Kota Tua. They have the best chicken noodles.

hanny
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Dear ___ ,

Have I told you that this journey is different? I have decided to skip all the touristy spots in Kyiv, and left my camera at the hostel. The idea was just to enjoy Kyiv from a perspective of a local—and to spend more time connecting with people: just hanging around, laughing, talking, eating out. It was fun. It was a great fun.

From Couchsurfing, I met Kyryl and his lovely girlfriend Ieugenia.

They were such a cute couple! I had so much fun taking pictures of them both, because they were so kind and fun and affectionate and down-to-earth. They made jokes out of each other, yet you could clearly see the sparks of love in their eyes as they looked at each other (I was thinking of us when I saw them).

Together with my wonderful interpreter at TechCamp, Inna (right) and her friend Anna (left),

the five of us went for a stroll around Kyiv one lovely afternoon, practicing some Russian phrases along the way; and ended up in a small Sovyet-style diner with loads of magazines and books from the Sovyet era,

attacking a plate of Vereniki (a kind of dumpling that can be filled with mushroom, beef, chicken, etc., served with sour cream)

and drinking Kyiv’s local liqeur Hrenovuha—that was made of horseradish (smelled and tasted like one, too, with the after-effect resembling eating too much wasabi).

It was raining that evening, as we got out from the diner. Inna and Anna went back home, and I went with Kyryl and Ieugenia to Ieugenia’s apartment. “It’s a typical Sovyet apartment,” said Ieugenia. “All the apartments look the same, with the same furnitures, cupboards, stoves…”

We talked all night long on Ieugenia’s kitchen table, sipping cognac and eating melon; while listening to the government’s radio playing on the background. The cold wind was blowing from the open window and it was drizzling outside. It was such a wonderful time.

Earlier that week, at the hostel, I also met Francois—a Canadian who lives in London at the moment,

and Fransisco, a Brazilian who gets fascinated by my name and kept on teasing me when we bumped into each other (Hey, Hanny *wink* Can I call you Hanny? *wink*  Hello, Hanny *wink*) and we laughed out loud every time. “Sorry, I can’t help myself. I know, lame jokes, but I just love it!” he said.

With the boys and some other Ukrainian friends, we went for a bar-hopping experience in Kyiv one night, and ended up eating chicken soup at a restaurant and spent the rest of the night conversing as we walked back home.

On my last day in Kyiv, I met Natalya Kovalienko as I walked around the artsy stretch of Andriyivzkyy  in the morning. Natalya sells arts & crafts in a street stall. She is an artist; a painter—and she painted all of the souvenirs she offers: matryoshka dolls, fridge magnets, hair combs, mirrors, jewelry boxes…

In one of my letters, I told you how I was scared and nervous and anxious when I first traveling alone, because I was such an introverted shy girl, and I doubted myself a lot. I told you that often times, I wasn’t sure that I could, that I would make it. “But soon, I started to enjoy the feeling of being on my own: of making connections, of trusting people I have just met, of initiating a conversation with a total stranger,” I said.

And this was exactly how I met you. This was how you ended up in my letters and I ended up in yours. I am glad for now I can say that when it comes to us, I have no regret. No matter what awaits us in the future, we know that together, we’re awesome, and we’re great! See you in a couple of weeks!

xoxo,
H.

hanny
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Dear ___ ,

There was the night when I went to the Opera House (opirnih thiatr), then found myself stranded in an al-fresco restaurant with a bunch of (old and new) friends—and there was another night when I went to the Irish Pub with them and some other fellows from Kyiv and Belarus. They kind of mixed up, those nights, in my memories. I couldn’t really tell which was which. I lost my sense of time when I was traveling.

But  I had a wonderful time the night after the Irish Pub; after a few days and several conversations and long walks and taxi rides and another round of conversations and a few drinks and another round of conversations and a movie… a moment that (no matter how indirect it might be) led me to us. A few weeks later, I told my friend that expectations and imaginations could become our worst enemies. We blew things out of proportion, we didn’t see things as it was; we made things up in our mind about how things should end up and we ended up getting hurt. If life is measured by moments, what’s yours: a collection of moments you’ve missed or a collection of moments you’ve embraced?

I went for coffee with Sam that morning, she was about to fly back to London while I would still be in Kyiv for another 4 days. We had a quick stroll at Marinskiy Park—where people sat lazily and read books and kissed and bought ice creams. When Sam left, I became a solo traveler once again and took my luggage to my hostel in Andriyivsky, Uzviz; located only five steps away from the turned-out-to-be-famous Lviv Chocolate (handmade chocolate shop).

Soon, I felt at home. And I fell in love with the stretch—lines of colorful street stalls where people sell arts and crafts, the way the street performers play their guitars and dombra, the music, the chatter, the downhill and uphill gravel path, those ever-smiling grandmas with whom I practiced my Russian with… I was so happy I found my eyes got teary after a while. The vibe was just amazingly lovely.

I spent most of my mornings just to walk leisurely (sometimes with my camera but more often not), and chatted for a while with some of the street-sellers and performers: a casual Dobre Dien and Dasvidanya and Spasiba, and more phrases would come out when they encouraged me… and I ended up getting some new phrases along the way. It was a great way to spend the day before I retreated at a small cafe for lunch and then locked myself in my room to write (I had a great view from the window!).

Oh, and speaking about writing, you would be surprised knowing that I had written about you even before we met.

xoxo,
H.

hanny
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Dear ___ ,

I went for a stroll around Kyiv that afternoon. The weather was nice; it was almost dusk. I started to fall in love with the city: the wide and clean pavements, the lovely parks, the abundance of taxis, the people…

And as I was about to reach the Independence Square, this Floral Clock caught me off guard. I was thinking about time, and whether we had ever discussed it. (A few weeks after, you will find yourself asking me what do I think about love, and I will answer to that by saying: “I-love-yous? They are moments.”)

The sun was about to set when I snapped some pictures of the Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності) in Khrestshchatyk Street. The sky was so beautiful with a tint of pink and orange and purple. I stood there for a while, gazing at the Berehynia (Береги́ня) statue—the female spirit in Slavic mythology; the protector of the home, that was beautified by the fountain underneath.

As night fell, I sent a little prayer for you—for us, to those times that we would be spending together; to the chance of meeting you and to know your name and to write these letters for you. We were looking at three weeks from now, more or less. If only I knew, I would have brought you something from here.

xoxo,
H.

hanny
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Dear ___ ,

I survived my 6-hour stopover in Munich! It involved loads of writing on my black notebook, reading Nick Miller’s Isn’t It Pretty to Think So? for the second time, and of course: a few cups of coffee. It was bearable. As usual, I spent a fair amount of time watching people and making up stories about them in my head. I scribbled and looked up, scribbled and looked up… and I tried to sleep but I couldn’t.

Anyway, as a stopover-survivor, I reached Kyiv in the afternoon. The weather was good. It was actually the beginning of autumn, and they called it Indian summer: that time of the year when the leaves were about to turn yellow, the sun was warm and the breeze was cool, light rain fell occasionally, the temperature was about 20-25°C

I was overly excited!

Kyiv would be the beginning of my one-month traveling journey, and it started with TechCamp Kyiv—where I’d be meeting activists and youth leaders from Ukraine and Belarus, sharing stories and experiences about crowdfunding and fundraising for a cause.

And of course, it was always a pleasure to reunite with some familiar faces and friends, with Sam in particular.

Being the sweet thing that she is, she gave me a gift from her favorite shop in Notting Hill: a jewelry box and a scented candle with the writings: Live Well. Love Much. Laugh Often. Dream Always. And I was wondering whether the universe was actually trying to speak to me.

Anyway, James came over just now and peeped into this and asked me to write “James rocks“. So, I did. You’ll meet James later on, in about two weeks I guess, according to the calendar (if everything goes as planned). I couldn’t write more with James pestering me, so… until then!

xoxo,
H.

PS:  What’s so neat about all this is the fact that in the beginning of this journey, I didn’t even know that I would meet you, thus I didn’t know your name, yet. We’re still so faraway from meeting each other. Are we actually time-traveling?

hanny
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I woke up to rain. To the faint smell of pandan leaves and frangipani. The sky was dark gray. The garden were glistening under the downpour. I watched the mist floating silently in the air, astounded by its ghostly appearance. A dark and wet morning in Ubud for a bunch of depressed writers. A perfect gift. When the rain subsided to drizzles, we tip-toed to the breakfast area, to avoid stepping over the offerings (banten).

Breakfast was served in a small hut next to the paddy field. The sound of Balinese gamelan, the hush of the wind, the rhythm of the raindrops, the spores of Actinomycetes. There were three of us at the table, but we did not talk much. I sipped my coffee without hurrying.

Leaving the cottage at around 10, we decided to take our separate ways. The guys went uphill, while I sat on the edge of the bridge, looking down to the mesmerizing beauty of Tjampuhan (Campuhan) river. I could spend hours just looking at the flowing water, orchestrated by the faint sounds of the birds and monkeys from the nearby forest. It was so calming, like a therapy to ignite a sense of melancholy.

Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has spent the last decade investigating the link between negative moods and creativity. He has repeatedly demonstrated that a little melancholy sharpens the spotlight of attention, allowing us to become more observant and persistent. Forgas has found that states of sadness also correlate with better writing samples; subjects compose sentences that are clearer and more compelling. Because they were more attentive to what they were writing, they produced more refined prose, the words polished by their misery*.

That was probably the exact reason why the three of us decided to hide in Ubud for a few days.

True, it was that time of the year when they held this annual International Ubud Writers & Readers Festival—where writers from all over the world came to this little dot on the map for a series of talks, readings, or workshops. But the festival was merely an added topping. The core ingredient of our #PecahdiUbud (“Bursting in Ubud“) journey was actually the one that Forgas mentioned.

We were looking for a place where we could savor the melancholy of being silently depressed and miserable.

Ubud was just the perfect place to do this. A small village hidden beneath the lush canopy of green, with its forests, rivers, hills, temples, and October rain, far from the beach-side’s sunny celebrations. A bunch of traveling companions who could understand these shared state-of-sadness. Those who wouldn’t mind to sit together in silence—each one got lost in one’s own thoughts: racking our brains, scribbling some notes, typing stories, reading books, or gazing out into the emptiness.

In the afternoon, after a long lunch, we would wander around listlessly—only to find ourselves took our separate ways, again. Adit went to a batik workshop, Ney went to a book discussion, and I decided to sit in a class of 15 people; clutching my Vernon God Little novel while the author, DBC Pierre, was sharing his writing experience right in front of me.

When the sadness and depression overwhelmed us, we left Ubud for Seminyak and walked under the sun until our feet got tired and our skin were burning hot. That day, we waited for the sun to set in Cafe Bali, Oberoi Street. Sat lazily on a huge couch overlooking the tiny pool and the Ganesha statue, we sipped our coffee and devoured six types of desserts to wash away the bitterness.

As night fell, we climbed back up to Ubud: the wind was chilly, the air was damp, the sky was dark. A small sliver of the moon was hanging there, looking lonely. We walked past the darkness of the museum not far from our cottage, the sound of the night enveloped us. It was the museum of Antonio Blanco—a painter of Spanish and American decent who came to the island in 1952 and fell in love with Ni Ronji, a Balinese dancer, and got married to her a year later.

Love stories.

My mind was instantly filled with mythical creatures, kisses and fireworks, invisible inhabitants of the past and the future, the traces of unrequited love, explosion of tears. It was that time of the year. To celebrate sadness and misery, to welcome tears and despair, to get high just by looking at the words pouring from my computer screen. “Bursting in Ubud” was about embracing all these, to wake up again in a different morning one day and walk out with my golden slippers, sunglasses, shirts, and shorts—heading to the beach with a burst of laughter.

__________

*) p. 77, The Unconcealing, a chapter from the book “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer.

hanny
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When travelling alone, I am the kind of person who will be spending as much time to do things I am interested in, in places I am most attracted to. It is never about the number of places I have visited or photographed, and it is definitely not about walking around with a tourist map in hand, check-marking the sites flagged as “must-seen” by others.


Travelling alone is about a journey that is taking place inside of me. It is about waking up very early or very late. About enjoying or skipping breakfast. About wandering aimlessly or looking for a particular spot. About sitting in one small patisserie—reading poetry books for 2.5 hours straight or fluttering from one art shop to another in 15 minutes. About coming back to the hotel before dark and writing in my room or going out after midnight to take a peek at the bars or having a very late dinner. It is about what I feel like doing. It is about slowing down and taking a deep breath. About stopping and being still. About following where your heart is taking you. About not being in a rush.

Santorini is the perfect place to do just that. Nobody is scurrying or honking or yelling or cutting in line. It is like seeing the world moving in slow motion, and it is such a wonderful scene to watch. You can see how people move their hands. The way the wind ruffles somebody’s skirt. The color of someone’s eyes. The freshness of the tomatoes on your salad bowl. The shapes of doors and fences and rooftops. The sound of a lizard moving lazily on the gravel path. This is a small island where everybody knows everybody. Where one is always somebody else’s childhood friend. Where people actually go to the beach or to the hills by bringing along their canvas and paints or guitar; then spend hours there, painting or strumming—just like in the movies. Where the streets and shortcuts and alleyways become amazingly familiar to you in just a day or two (“It’s really difficult to get lost here, trust me,” said G—the owner of the hotel where I stayed, when I told him that I have a very poor sense of direction. He was right).

On my first day, I tried my luck (and courage) in taking the shortcut from the hotel to the city center. Instead of following the main road, I climbed the alleyways behind the mini market, walked past people’s homes and establishments, took pictures of everything beautiful while trying to avoid stepping on the fresh donkey manures. I did well. I went out (somehow) at the right alley, just before the bus station at Fira’s city center. From that day on, I got all the courage in the world to take shortcuts and alleyways to some small villages nearby, never once got lost.

Later that day, having seen the photographs, G was surprised knowing that I had snapped a picture of his family’s old cave house. “How did you find it? It is hidden from the street…!” (well, I did take the road less travelled!). G’s father and grandfather was raised in this cave house, a traditional house—built deep into the rock face—of the locals in Santorini. At the moment, most cave houses have been sold or leased as hotels/villas.

“The cave house is empty now, and we’re planning to sell it as well,” said G.

“Must be hard to let go of such a precious family possession. It holds the family’s history,” I replied, reminded of a friend of mine who had recently sold her family’s old house.

G just shot an ‘it-is-OK’ smile.

I wandered around Fira’s city center that afternoon. The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was blowing hard and cold—enveloping me in the fresh and salty scent of the Aegean sea. Wrapped in my pink cardigan, I climbed up past the little shops selling local delicacies; Vinsanto wine and olive oil in pretty bottles, to the stretch overlooking the caldera.

{Note: The present-day crescent shape of Santorini island is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion some 3,600 years ago. This created the current geological caldera; a giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular, and measuring about 12 by 7 km, surrounded by 300 m high steep cliffs on three sides.}

I just sat there for I didn’t know how long; mesmerized by the stunning view and the fact that I was actually here, standing right in the middle of my fairy tale. How far can a dream take you? I would say, far. Really far.

———-

On these series:

hanny
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This afternoon, I picked up a book at a lovely bookstore hidden in the midst of Oia’s endless gravel path. It was a poetry book called “A Greek Quintet”, an anthology of poems by Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis and Gatsos. A few hours later, I found myself stranded in a small patisserie overlooking the Aegean sea, enjoying a huge cup of pistachio ice cream and the fruity-sweet Vinsanto wine. I flipped open several first few pages of the poetry book, and my eyes landed instantly on The City. If you do believe that there’s no such thing as coincidence in life, then I’d like to share this poem with you.

The City by Cavafy

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed
them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighbourhoods,
will turn grey in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things
elsewhere;
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

No matter how far one goes (or runs away for that matter), one will always meet oneself again and again and again and again.

αγάπη, H.

hanny
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Bokeh (originally  /ˈboʊkɛ /ˈboʊkeɪ / boh-kay, and also sometimes heard as  /ˈboʊkə/ boh-kə, Japanese: [boke]) is the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image.

I’ve been in love with those lovely bursts of lights for a long time—even way before I knew that they were called “bokeh”. The term itself comes from the Japanese word boke (暈け or ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji (ボケ味), the “blur quality”. The Japanese term boke is also used in the sense of a mental haze or senility. The term bokashi (暈かし) is related, meaning intentional blurring or gradation. The reason why I love “bokeh”? Maybe because it gives the impression of things; seen through a pair of teary eyes. There’s this certain sadness, certain beauty, certain silence… like not fully knowing someone you love. Like being drawn by a secret. Like the curiosity of wanting to see things clearer. But you just can’t. You can’t come closer. Because you’re afraid that reality might turn ugly on you. Because you’ve learned that some things are more beautiful to be seen from a distance. Or maybe you’re just afraid of getting hurt, again.

A short trip to Taipei gave me a wonderful opportunity to capture that certain feeling: like… the feeling of missing someone?

H.

hanny
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TAKE WHAT YOU NEED
Hi. I'm HANNY
I'm a published writer, a creative content consultant, and a stationery/blog designer based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am!

hanny

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