I published this essay on this blog a few years ago. Today, I am republishing the revised version of this essay, edited by Jen Campbell.

Whenever it’s raining outside, my mind always goes to a bowl of instant noodles. A steaming plate of comfort topped with egg and fried shallots, drenched in my favorite savory soup, such as Chicken Curry or Special Chicken flavor, which I loved as a little girl.

Of course, these days various instant noodle brands have come up with all kinds of flavors I never could have imagined. But, like with most things, nothing beats the classics.

I guess it’s all about how the signature taste transports you back to the old days from the very first sip: to feast on memories; to slurp a piece of nostalgia; to savor a feeling of going back in time.

***

There was a period in my life when Mother and I moved in with my mother’s parents. Every evening, after the call for Maghrib prayer, Grandmother would disappear into the kitchen and prepare a bowl of instant noodles for Grandfather.

Grandfather always opted for the Chicken Curry flavor—and he wanted the noodles to be extra soft instead of al dente. His should be topped with egg, fried shallots, boiled choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage), and a tablespoon of sweet soy sauce, all served—steaming—inside a white Chinese bowl with a red rooster painted on it.

Grandfather always had his bowls of instant noodles exactly like that, every single evening, at the same time. He would be having it in front of the TV in the living room, while watching the evening news or a soccer match. Before bringing the spoon to his mouth, whenever I was around, he always asked the exact same question: “You want this? This is delicious. You want this?”

I would shake my head and watch him in amusement as he savored his instant noodles with gusto, slurping the soup noisily. Seeing him made me believe that here, right in front of me, sat an old man who was having the best meal of his life. Sometimes, long after Grandfather finished his meal, a splinter of boiled egg yolk sat stuck in his white beard.

When (on very rare occasions) Grandmother made me a bowl of instant noodles, she would prepare it the way she prepared it for Grandfather. I didn’t like the bitter choy sum back then, but I liked the way the too-soft noodles made the soup seem way thicker, the way they absorbed the full flavor from the seasonings.

Grandmother continued to prepare a bowl of instant noodles for Grandfather every single evening, until one day she fell sick. She passed away a month later.

After Grandmother’s death, Grandfather still had his bowl of instant noodles every evening—only now, they were prepared by my mother. She took great care to emulate Grandmother’s noodles.

Grandfather would have his meal as usual, but he no longer asked me whether I’d like to have the noodles, too, and I suddenly lost interest in watching him finish his dinner. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I was simply growing up. Maybe the sight of Grandfather eating his instant noodles had stopped to excite me.

But then I realised it was because something was missing: his gusto.

I guess no one could prepare the perfect instant noodles for Grandfather but Grandmother.

My mother was a good cook, but even she couldn’t precisely copy Grandmother’s signature dish. Grandmother also knew the way Grandfather liked his sweet hot tea: the precise thickness of tea and sugar, as well as the exact level of warmth when it should be served.

A year after that, Grandfather passed away. And then no one in that house ate instant noodles anymore.

***

I am always fascinated by the fact that a bowl of instant noodles can develop its own taste. These noodles come in identical packaging, with identical seasonings, and identical instructions on how to prepare and serve them. Nevertheless, I have heard of people lining up in front of certain instant noodle street stalls, who are all selling the same brand, because ‘the noodle here is so delicious’.

I thought this would be something Grandfather would understand. Perhaps, in another life, Grandmother would have her own stall, and Grandfather would visit every day.

In Indonesia, especially in the big cities on Java island, instant noodle stalls can be found on almost every street corner. Many stay open until the small hours. One need only look for street stall signs proclaiming the word ‘Internet’.

A friend who visited from abroad pointed at those stalls one day, and asked me whether those were street-style internet cafes. I told him that it was a different kind of Internet. This ‘Internet’ stands for Indomie-Telur-Kornet (a brand of instant noodle, egg, and corned beef). It’s a bowl of comfort food for most Indonesians—especially for clubbers who roam the streets hungrily at 3 am after partying and drinking hard, trying to prevent hangovers before heading home and sleeping through the morning.

A local friend of mine would enthusiastically vouch for an instant noodle stall in another part of the town. It would take her 45 minutes to get there by car—an hour and a half if there was a traffic jam. But she would brave it all. She said this stall served the most delicious bowl of instant noodles she had ever tasted in her life.

Perhaps it was the way they prepared the noodle.

Or how long they boiled it.

Or whether they stirred the noodle or not.

Perhaps it’s due to when they added the seasoning.

Or the kind of eggs they used.

The amount of fresh bird eye chili they put in.

Whether they sprinkled fried shallots, or not.

It could be the brand of the corned beef and whether they served it from the can.

Whether they put in some leafy greens.

Whether they grated cheddar cheese.

Whether they added a sprinkle of salt or chicken stock.

Or maybe ‘delicious’ has nothing to do with the taste itself.

Maybe it has more to do with memories.

***

We moved out from my grandparent’s house into a rented one when I was ten. The house itself was really small. The kitchen was oddly located; it was right in front of the bathroom. But the house had a huge backyard.

Seeing it, as a little girl, I imagined us having a huge swimming pool. But my mother sensibly decided to use the space to grow peanuts.

I don’t know why she chose peanuts, but after spending a few hours under the sun in the backyard for a few months, she managed to grow 10-12 rows of of them. I might not have got my swimming pool, but Mother bought me a huge plastic bucket. On sunny days, she would fill it with cold water. I would soak myself happily; wearing my swimsuit, playing with a yellow rubber duck, while Mother worked on her peanuts.

During harvest time, we always had more nuts than we could consume, and my swimming bucket would be filled with them. You could say we were swimming in peanuts. Mother would boil several batches of peanuts for hours; I could smell them from the street. We would eat some of them, but ended up giving away most of them to our neighbors. She also made peanut cookies and peanut butter, but we kept those for ourselves.

When there were simply too many peanuts to handle, Mother would leave the peanut-filled swimming bucket outside our fence, so anyone could grab some.

Peanuts were meant for sunny days.

For rainy days, we had instant noodles.

Mother always scolded me for forgetting my umbrella—or for losing it. On some wet afternoons, when it rained heavily and I came home from school with a soaked uniform, my mother would tut at me for not having my umbrella, while—at the same time—preparing a bucket of warm water for a bath. Then she would send me to the bathroom, reminding me to wash my hair so I wouldn’t catch a cold.

By the time I finished bathing, Mother would have prepared my ‘rainy day’ meal on the dining table: a plate of warm pandan white rice with a bowl of steaming hot instant noodles; and some eggs—fried in margarine and sweet soy sauce. A glass of sweet hot tea would be ready on the side. At this stage, my mother would stop scolding me about the umbrella. She would tell me the stories of her day; or ask me to tell some stories of my day.

My mother could cook anything from rendang to gulai, from gudeg to siomay, and they were always delicious. But nothing reminded me more of the comfort of coming home than the signature smell of her simple rainy day meal: a warm plate of rice, a bowl of steaming hot instant noodle, egg fried in margarine and sweet soy sauce, that glass of sweet hot tea.

It is the smell I come home to—the taste of warmth I’ve come to long for.

***

After Mother’s passing, for the sake of living a healthier lifestyle, in the past few years, I have drastically reduced the frequency I consume instant noodles.

However, every time I come home from a long traveling journey, I still treat myself to a bowl of Chicken Curry or Special Chicken, and fry myself an egg in margarine—drizzled generously with sweet soy sauce.

For this reason, when I found an Asian supermarket in my first few weeks after moving to Amsterdam, I shrieked in ecstasy at founding the exact instant noodle brand of my country; my grandparents; my childhood; my memories.

Every few weeks now I treat myself to a packet of Chicken Curry instant noodle (finding the most bizarre excuses to validate this ‘treat’)—preparing it in a too-clean kitchen that still feels foreign to me, a kitchen that now smells of cheap margarine, fried egg, and caramelized soy sauce.

Because if coming home had a taste, to me, it would taste just like that.

hanny
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The place I like best in the world is the kitchen.

With this heart-robbing sentence, so begins the story of a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, as she’s dealing with love and loss while trying to find her place in the world.

After more than 10 years, the novel Kitchen by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto is still one of my all-time personal favourites. I couldn’t remember how often have I taken this book out from the shelf and read it again cover to cover, I could almost remember most of the words by heart. The pages have started to yellow and worn out to the point that I started to think of getting myself another copy—just in case.

A SOVIET KITCHEN, MELON, & COGNAC.

That evening, we had just wrapped up our dinner in a local establishment in Kyiv, well-known for its varenyky; a kind of Ukrainian dumpling. I enjoyed mine with gusto (mushroom-filled and served with sour cream) while Ieugenia and Kyryl told me some stories about their childhood as they remember it when Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union.

It was drizzling outside when we stepped out, just as Kyryl had predicted in the afternoon. He had sniffed the air earlier as we were walking around Andriyivskyy—dubbed as Kyiv’s most charming street, and exclaimed: “It’s going to rain later on!”

He was right.

We huddled together in front of the establishment, thinking of what to do next. We didn’t feel like going out, but we were still eager to converse some more. So Kyryl said, “Let’s go to Ieugenia’s place, then. We can just hang out there. This way, you can also see the typical Soviet flat!”

The drizzle turned into the pouring rain, so Kyryl stopped a taxi. I sat at the back with Ieugenia, and off we went to a ‘typical Soviet flat’. According to the couple, old apartment buildings in Ukraine built during the Soviet era have identical rooms. “All the furniture, the desk, the chairs, the bed, the stove, the layout, everything is identical!” said Kyryl with much amusement as we climbed the stairs to Ieugenia’s flat.

When Ieugenia opened the front door, I gasped at the view of a ‘typical Soviet flat’ and gasped some more as she gave me a short tour. I felt like I had just transported back to my childhood home in the ’80s. All the furniture and the electronic appliances were the ones I recognized by heart from the times when I was still too short to touch the kitchen counter!

The tube television, the radio, the stove, the cupboard, the washing machine… I kept on pointing at them and laughed nostalgically: “I had one exactly like this when I was little! And this! And this!”

We spent the evening sitting in a ‘typical Soviet kitchen‘ that looked exactly like the kitchen in my childhood home where I could find my mother frying egg with margarine. The similarity was so striking, even to the table cloth.

Kyryl served cognac and cut some melons (“This is not something Ukrainian, to eat melons with cognac,” he laughed. “But this is the only thing we have lying around. And the melon is really good! So sweet!”). We sat there for hours, talking, while the government’s radio was playing some songs in the background.

The tint of its static sound reminded me of the days when I was 8 and found the short wave (SW) switch on my parent’s old radio. That day, all of a sudden, my room was filled with foreign languages: a different kind of strange sounds I didn’t truly comprehend. They came all the way from faraway places: Australia, Britain, Germany, China…

I listened to these radio broadcasts ceremoniously, as if it was my one-way ticket to get transported to another world: a magical one.

I was a kid who found the SW broadcast to be way more interesting than television. I sprawled myself on the floor, one ear glued to the speaker, listening to foreign people reading news in foreign languages from faraway countries. My mother was the one who told me that it was, indeed, just a news broadcast.

However, to me as a little girl, it was a promise. A promise that there was another kind of world out there, a world I felt so close and so attached to, as magical as those foreign voices wafted around my bedroom.

TRAVELING THE KITCHENS.

When I came to think about it, the SW radio broadcast was probably the first impulse I had as a little girl to dream about traveling. And when it comes to the kitchen, as a little girl I spent most of my time in it, watching my parents cook.

I squatted near the oil stove when my mother cooked a huge pan of chicken soto (clear herbal broth with turmeric and herbs) for the New Year, and enthusiastically took the small duty of brushing egg yolk on top of about-to-be-baked kaasstengels (Dutch-Indonesian cookie) as if it was a great responsibility. I hovered around my grandmother as she cooked instant noodles inside a dented pot (the bottom was blackened after years of use) for my grandfather. I adored the smell of the kitchen as my father made scrambled eggs with stinky beans and sweet soy sauce.

Later in life, as I traveled around either for business or pleasure, I found myself ‘adopted’ by a kitchen, again and again. It was in the kitchen that I could experience those moments when I was still technically a stranger but didn’t really feel or being treated like one.

A Filipino lady who lived in Kuala Lumpur took me to her kitchen and taught me how to cook chicken with potato, tomato, onion and cream.

In the remote island of Sawendui in Papua, I squatted in front of the communal outdoor kitchen, along with the dogs and a cat, while the village women cooked rice, mussels, and shrimp the men had just caught a few minutes earlier. In a transmigration village in Pontianak, I let my eyes got teary from the smoke as the village women cooked rice, vegetables, sambal (Indonesian hot relish), and salted fish over a wooden stove. They were chatting and laughing as they cooked, the sounds of pots and pans and plates as they bumped into one another were simply musical.

I loitered around Ian Curley from Conviction Kitchen in Jakarta as he prepared beef tartare and leek salads, and sat right in front of the kitchen during breakfast in Blixen, an artsy brasserie in Spitalfields, London, watching the Chef manned the kitchen staff in awe: reading orders aloud, giving instructions on what to prepare next, and inspecting each plate before it was served to the customers.

I assisted the making of ricotta dessert with honey, orange, and cinnamon for Christmas lunch in Albiate, Italy, shredding the zests of the fresh-picked oranges while the family’s black cat, Pepe, slept soundly under the kitchen table; then hovered over Elena (an Italian girl who speaks Mandarin) in another kitchen next door as she made red wine risotto. I borrowed the kitchen a few days after a visit to the Esselunga (supermarket) to make sambal goreng ati (liver, potato, and shrimp cooked in spicy coconut milk) for the family.

I spent a day smelling of coconut milk and garlic in a spacious kitchen in Amsterdam to make gado-gado (Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce), rendang (slow-cooked meat in spicy coconut milk), tofu and eggplant gulai (Indonesian curry-like sauce), as well as mojito cheesecake for a New Year’s Eve dinner party.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMEONE, SPEND TIME WITH THEM IN THE KITCHEN.

There’s always something magical and meditative about spending some time in the kitchen: either it’s for cooking dinner, preparing breakfast, baking cakes, brewing coffee, or simply watching someone getting busy around the kitchen counter.

The living room is too polite, the bedroom is too intimate, the terrace is too open, the bathroom is too weird, but when someone took you to their kitchen, you’ve somehow been taken in. You’ve crossed the line between a guest and a good friend.

It is in the kitchen that stories were being poured out over pans and pots and kettles and bowls; just like in the old days when women cooked together for a festivity and whispered their hearts’ secrets as they washed vegetables, peeled garlic and onions, boiled chicken broth, marinated fish in salt and tamarind, and scrubbed their turmeric-stained fingers with cucumber and key lime.

It is mostly in the kitchen, around the dining table, or over a kitchen counter, life-changing news was brought out to the open. It is in the kitchen, those family members who do not see or talk to one another as often as they like bumped into one another as they’re about to grab something from the refrigerator.

Because in the kitchen, even in such circumstances when nobody was talking, the silence itself tells a story. Just like the faint sound of the soup in a pan, discreetly boiling over a small fire.

Dream kitchens.

I will have countless ones, in my heart or in reality. Or in my travels. Alone, with a crowd of people, with one other person—in all the many places I will live. I know that there will be so many more. [Banana Yoshimoto]

hanny
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Three days after arriving back home, still I haven’t unpacked, haven’t gone out, haven’t met anyone, and haven’t done anything productive—apart from replying to some emails that need to be replied, and meeting deadlines. I am that kind of person. After being surrounded by a lot of people or being on the road for a long time, constantly moving and bumping into others—I need my downtime. I need to recharge. I need a break.

I need to pause.

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Do you need to be alone to recharge?

I’ve known some friends who can be on the road for what seems like an indefinite period, moving from one city to another every 3-4 days, then coming back home and heading out to see some friends directly from the airport. The next day, they would have had some meetings or meet-ups, attended events, edited pictures, and wrote some articles about their travels, went to the gym, unpacked, plus organized another trip.

I envy them.
I envy people who do not need downtime.

Those who live their lives like an Energizer bunny. They are so energized. So active. So unstoppable. It seems as if they could do so much in the first few days they came back from their traveling journeys, while here I am, still enjoying the feeling of not having to go anywhere or to do anything, savoring the privilege of being alone.

These past few days can be simply summarised into coffee – books – bed – movies – lunch – books – bed – coffee -movies – bed (insert ‘work’ only when really necessary—meaning, deadline is tomorrow).

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This is how I recharge. To recover from travel-lag. To readjust the pace and pattern of my day. I live best the way I travel best: slowly.

There are 2 places I would dearly call home.

My real hometown in Bogor, and my adopted little town of Ubud.

Both are easy to navigate because each one is a donut: Bogor with the Botanical Garden to fill in the hole, and Ubud with its Monkey Forest.

Both are small towns (my boyfriend still finds it funny whenever I refer to Bogor, with a million people, as a small town) with access to networks, opportunities, and vibrant creative communities trying to make a difference. Only an hour away from Bogor, there’s Jakarta: the capital of all things shiny—while an hour or two away from Ubud, there’s Sanur and Seminyak: the hubs for any kind of jobs imaginable.

Both hometowns host loving friends and families (I once wrote that home is any place where you’ll be missed, while the boyfriend said that home is wherever your wi-fi connects automatically).

They are both small enough for you to bump into old friends (or exes!) in public events, restaurants, and coffee shops, but big enough should you want to exile yourself in the faraway villages or hide in the mountains. Nature provides plenty of breathing spaces not far from the center, and the arrays of mouth-watering street food deserve no such thing as a diet.

Nevertheless, the silent contentment of being home is simply that: being home.

beradadisini being home (stocksnap)To wake up on the same bed where you’ve cried yourself to sleep when you’re still an angsty teenager. To be surrounded by your overloaded bookshelves. To have your dog jumps on you because she wants to play. To talk to your Dad about how you’ve managed to float like a starfish in Raja Ampat.

To walk around the house with that old shirt and pants you’ve had since you were 17. To cook whatever you want because the kitchen utensils are all there, waiting to be put into good use. To create new therapeutic ointments with coconut oil and your growing collections of essential oils. To put your clay mask on and compress your eyes with slices of cucumbers.

To start your day with a set of routines you’ve developed throughout the years. To know what everything is for, where everything is stored, and how everything works.

To feel as if you can go anywhere, but at the same time not wanting to go somewhere else.

Probably, as much as it’s a convenient place, home is more of a feeling: about knowing that no matter how far you go, you’ll always find a place to go back to. About remembering your root and who you truly are. About being you when nobody’s noticing. It’s a feeling of knowing that you are free both to leave or to stay.

It’s about that yearning that keeps tugging on your heartstrings when you’re away.

Whatever that yearning is, it’s home.

______
PS: If reading is one of your favorite down-time, you might want to check Bookmate–a mobile reading app where you could find tons of fiction and non-fiction books. If you’d like to try the premium access for free for a month, insert the code readwithhanny here. I have a shelf there storing some of my favorite books about writing, Writer’s Reads.
hanny
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Indonesian Coffee Culture

Indonesian Coffee Culture

My boyfriend found out that I have sinned. He watched me in mild horror as I disgracefully sipped my well-deserved cup of cappuccino, after attacking some slices of Quattro Formaggi for dinner. An Italian, he knows and adheres the commandments of Italian coffee culture by heart: that cappuccino, as well as other ‘milky’ coffee, can only be consumed in the morning, and never after a meal.

OK, so I have sinned. And from then on, I have sinned continuously by repeatedly breaking the commandments. What can I say? I just enjoy drinking coffee.

***

For some reason, coffee has never had that huge of an impact on me.

I never felt my heart beating faster after gulping down an espresso. I don’t feel suddenly awakened or energized after consuming it. I can drink coffee before bed and sleep soundly for the next 8 hours.

Maybe I am dysfunctional—or somehow, have developed an inherited immunity towards caffeine.

My parents used to be heavy coffee (kopi) drinkers. My memories of a good morning was to wake up to the heavy and acidic smell of kopi tubruk for my Father (tinted with cloves and tobacco from his kretek cigarette) and the sweet and milky kopi susu for my Mother.

It has become a signature morning smell I’ve grown up with. Something to let me know that everything is okay.

The smell of coffee in the morning means it’s a good morning: where I can find my parents in the kitchen, sitting together, talking over their hot cup of coffee—not fighting, or arguing, or a kid’s scariest nightmare: disappearing. Thirty years later, I still find it comforting to wake up to the smell of hot coffee in the morning.

The smell brightens up my day.

***

When I drank my first coffee, it was love at the first sip.

I have always asked Mother for coffee since I was probably 6 years old.

Every week, we would go to a coffee-smelling stall in Pasar Anyar local market where she bought a pack of freshly ground coffee wrapped in brown paper. It could be one of my favorite stalls in the market—apart from the stall where they sell the latest Japanese comics about ballerinas and the one selling MSG-loaded chips.

But every time I asked for coffee, Mother always said no.

“It’s not for children. It’s for adults. If children drink it, they become stupid,” she said while sipping hers.

I had no idea why Mother suddenly decided to let me drink half of her kopi susu when I was 13. Either she thought I was already an adult by simply being 13, or she didn’t mind if from this point forward I would be stupid.

However, I am forever thankful for the chance, the long awaited opportunity: my first encounter with adulthood.

I still remember the sweet and slightly bitter taste of it, the combination of my hometown’s most famous Liong Bulan coffee and condensed milk: the way it glided so smoothly on my palate, so thick and heavy yet smooth and creamy.

It was bliss.

And I have never stopped drinking coffee ever since.

***

I drank more coffee during the times when I religiously watched Gilmore Girls series aired on TV, never missed an episode.

The way mother and daughter started their morning with coffee and went about their days with more sounded like a heartwarming concept.

Plus, I have always rooted to be the straight-A bookworm daughter in the series: I wanted to be Rory. To be like her, I study (carrying my pen & binders everywhere), read books, and drink coffee.

You may have concluded by now that my teenage years were anything but rebellious.

***

Indonesia may be most well-known for what people dubbed as the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak or Luwak coffee.

The ripest coffee cherries are eaten by an animal called Luwak (a civet/palm cat), and the undigested coffee seeds that come out from the Luwak’s feces are collected to be made into your steaming cup of Kopi Luwak.

However, if you’d like to try it, please take the time to find out the source of your Luwak coffee beans, or get certified ones. Due to the high demand for these expensive coffee beans, sadly, there have been many practices of people capturing civets for coffee farming under cruel caged conditions.

As I grow up and the chance to travel around Indonesia occurs, I have the opportunity to taste many kinds of Indonesian local coffee mix.

When visiting a remote village, stopping halfway for some rest in an unknown part of a town, or simply needing a down-time after a long journey, spending some time in a warung kopi—traditional coffee stall—is always a good idea.

Here, sitting on a bench from wooden planks or a set of colorful plastic chairs, you can always have a nice cup of hot coffee with snacks like sticky rice, steamed cassava, sponge cakes, and sweet or savory fries; while eavesdropping on the locals talking about politics and latest celebrity news.

If you enjoy drinking coffee (kopi), here are some Indonesian local coffee mix you may want to try:

Kopi Tubruk.

Coarse coffee grounds are mixed with sugar (sometimes palm sugar) and boiled water is poured over it. You’ll need to wait for the hot water to ‘cook’ the coffee. It is ready to drink when the floating coffee grounds have all settled to the bottom of the cup.

Kopi Susu (milk).

Kopi tubruk with condensed milk instead of sugar.

Kopi Jahe (ginger).

Adding hot ginger water to your coffee instead of plain water. You can also find some with crushed ginger (sometimes lightly grilled) dropped into the coffee.

Kopi Ijo (green).

In Tulungagung, you can find a greenish coffee with a smooth texture. The greenish coffee beans are roasted over firewood.

Kopi Talua or kopi telur (egg). 

Well-known in West Sumatera, it’s a mix of coffee, sweet condensed milk, egg yolk, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon to be shaken until it’s foamy. There will be 3 layers on your cup: the custardy mix at the bottom, the coffee itself in the middle, and the foam at the top.

Kopi Joss or kopi arang (charcoal). 

You can find this one along the railway station of Tugu in Yogyakarta. It starts with coffee powder and sugar, as usual, hot water being poured over it, then a red-hot piece of burning charcoal from the stove’s fire will follow suit. For Indonesians, the sizzling sound of the burning charcoal hitting the coffee would resemble something like: “Josssssss!” Hence, the name of the coffee.

Kopi Durian. 

Either you like it or hate it: a piece of meat from durian fruit is mixed and stirred in a cup of hot coffee, resulting in a sweet, thick, and creamy coffee drink. Can be found in Bengkulu, but you may want to skip it if you have high blood pressure!

Kopi Kothok.

Popular in the small towns along the north coast of Java, like Rembang, Blora, Pati, and Cepu, to name a few. The coffee beans are roasted with shredded coconut. Then, coffee powder and sugar are boiled together with water.

Indonesia produces between 650,000 to 750,000 tons of coffee beans a year and is the fourth-largest coffee producer after Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. Italy, the world’€™s largest coffee consumer, has become the main export destination for our coffee growers.

Do you come from a country with a strong coffee culture? Are there any local or special coffee mix in your area I need to try? Or some commandments I need to know before my visit?

***

I still start my morning with a cup of coffee.

These days, it has become more of a ritual rather than a necessity. It just seems like the right smell to wake up to, the one that reminds me of good days, somewhere far away in my tightly-kept memories.

I choose coffee shops over tea parlors every time, stacking a dozen of Torabika Susu instant coffee powder when I travel, and—despite the disapproving look from my boyfriend—still order a cappuccino in the late afternoon, after a late meal.

When I am lost or stranded in a strange country, in an unfamiliar city, in an uncomfortable situation, I let myself be comforted by a smell of coffee: it could be black and strong, sweet and milky, light and chocolatey, and it doesn’t matter. I will follow it with my nose diligently, tracing the air for a sign of that earthy smell: a smell that keeps me rooted to the ground.

I know that I will always be in a safe territory the moment I step into a coffee shop, a coffee stall.

I know what to expect, what to smell, what to see, what to hear, and what to order. I know the cups—whether it’s plastic, carton, or ceramic—will snuggle perfectly inside my resting palms. I know that I wouldn’t need extra sugar. I know the coffee won’t burn my tongue if I let it sit for 2.5 minutes.

As its thick bittersweetness and slightly creamy texture bursts in my mouth, I sometimes wonder how drinking coffee makes me really feel—only to keep coming back to the same conclusion: that it makes me feel like an adult.

It can’t be so bad, being an adult, I tell myself if it can actually taste this good.

hanny
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I WAS 17, typing away from my desktop computer in my room from 7 pm to 3 am, non-stop. The fan was blowing to keep the CPU from overheating. We didn’t have an air conditioning unit back then. I typed letters I would never send, grammatically incorrect short stories in English, angry poems, sad poems, almost-love poems, teenage novellas, and many unfinished novels I kept on revising.

I was 17. I was lonely and sad.

I felt unwanted, unattractive, and unaccepted in a world that didn’t really belong to me. I ran into my books (they make me laugh, they make me cry, but they never hurt me) and my writings (my most genuine company). But books, with stories written by someone else, were like the world I didn’t belong. They were out of my control. Writing, however, was the opposite.

And that was how, when I was 17, I learned about the balance of life.

I wrote about things I’d like to experience. About things, I couldn’t (or too afraid to) experience in real life. In the afternoon, he was a popular guy with a popular girlfriend, and I was the best friend who silently loved him. In the evening, I wrote about how the popular guy fell in love with his best friend, eventually. Realizing that she was the ‘perfect match’ all along. Finding out that his popular girlfriend had been cheating on him all along. But the best friend was already in love with a more popular guy who had been kind to her all along—who had silently loved her all along.

It was only in these stories that I became cute and beautiful, cool and confident, rebellious and couldn’t care less of what other people think of me.

But the morning always came, and I had to go to school.

***

I HATED high school because I wanted to learn, not being lectured.

I wondered if high school would be better if I chose social major instead of natural science. Unfortunately, at the time, I hadn’t had the courage to choose anything for myself. So I tried to skip as many classes as I could, legally: being too active in the student body so I needed to visit other schools and attended school meetings, signing up for debate team and English-speaking club so I needed to spend many days competing in different schools or campuses, offering myself to help the choir team if they didn’t have enough people to sing that day… anything, as long as I didn’t have to be in class.

In the afternoon, my math teacher called me stupid numerous times, scolded me because I often missed his class during the month of the debate championship. In the evening, I wrote about a math teacher who looked down on his student and bullied her all the time. At the end of the semester, the student won numerous awards in various poetry-reading competitions and she made the school famous.

The day I found the Internet in college, I started reading about stars and supernovas, black holes and mutations, literary critics and the beatniks, Freud and Jung. I couldn’t stop asking more and more questions about the things that had always intrigued me, because it seemed as if the search engine had the answers for them all.

And then I found out about blogging. Where I could just write and threw my words away to the world, for some complete strangers to stumble upon them accidentally. It was the days of Blogspot and Livejournal and Friendster blogs. WordPress came last.

The blogs were my ways of both reaching out and reaching in. And I never stopped ever since.

***

MY FRIEND once told me that my blog is reserved for those who are heartbroken.

Maybe because in the old days, I wrote about sad things. I was sad. I didn’t know happiness back then. It was such an abstract concept. Sadness fuelled my writing in such a way that got me somewhat addicted to it. I couldn’t write when I was happy. So I made myself sad, sometimes subconsciously, other times consciously.

But I was tired of being sad. The idea of a troubled and angry writer didn’t excite me anymore.

I used to daydream about being broke and living in a rundown flat without electricity; about working as a waitress in a small jazz club and writing under the candle light at night. I used to romanticise the idea about being a struggling miserable writer. It sounded like an indie movie.

Then Rory Gilmore came along. She made me thought about how I, secretly, have always wanted to be happy. And so I braced myself to cross over. To be happy; even if it meant I had to lose my writings.

It was true that I couldn’t really write for quite some time, but then I started learning to write as a happy person. I learned about it all over again. When I came to think about it, the blog was all about that: about me, learning to write—and about me, learning to understand myself.

***

I AM 33.

I remembered how in my early 20s I found my childhood friend and got reconnected with her when we stumbled upon each other’s blog. About when in my mid-20s, I giddily launched an idea for a social movement with my best friend in the blog, and kind people shared the post to the point that we got more support than we thought possible—that 8 years later, the movement is still running.

About how people I didn’t know reached out to me (or I reached out to them) from the blog, and we poured our hearts out as if we had known each other for years, and then we became friends.

I remembered how in my late 20s I got hosted in New Delhi, India, by an Indian blogger who knew me through the blog.

About how I shrieked and jumped around the room in happiness when my Santorini blogpost got featured by WordPress for the very first time—a few days before my birthday. About how I still shrieked and jumped around the room when some of them got featured again in different years: The Answer, My Saturday with Mishka, Why I’m Keeping My 100-List & The Things I’ve Crossed Off in 2015, and recently, The Short History of Instant Noodles.

I remembered when a month before my 33rd birthday, an editor from WordPress, Cheri Lucas, contacted me and asked if she could make a profile about my blog in the Discover section of WordPress.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI remembered how, in some of my lowest days, I found comments or messages from people I didn’t know in or through the blog; saying that they had gone through the things I went through, saying that they could relate to my stories, saying that they enjoyed being around and read along, and then my days became instantly better.

***

THE blog has been running for 10 years.

I didn’t remember it at first. WordPress reminded me when I woke up this morning. It’s been quite a journey.

Some of my friends decided to create a new blog after a few years. Some said that the old blog didn’t suit them anymore. That some of the things they posted years ago embarrassed them. I understood what they mean. I did feel a certain level of embarrassment when I flipped through my first few blog posts here, but I decided to keep them around.

Because they simply reminded me of who I was. About how my writings grew with me.

I once read that we tend not to notice how far we’ve come until we looked back to where we were 3 years ago, 7 years ago, 15 years ago, 25 years ago. For this reason, sometimes, I look back. It keeps me humble when I read my old posts once again and be reminded of where I came from. It keeps me optimistic to know how far I’ve come. It keeps me wondering about what I would see when I look back to this moment 10 years from now.

It reminds me that no matter how much I’ve been broken, I am still here.

hanny
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One day, you’ll understand that the highest compliment you could ever receive is having someone who is with you; instead of having someone who wants to be with you.

By then, you’ve learned the hard way: that promises are not that difficult to break, that people don’t always mean what they say, and that hearts will always change course. When the day comes, you’ll just get it: that the highest compliment you could ever receive has nothing to do with having someone who wants to spend the rest of his life with you. The highest compliment you could ever receive–on the contrary, has everything to do with having the one who is with you: right here, right now.

The most precious gift one can give you is time: the willingness to spend one’s time with you–conscious about the fact that one will never know how much time one has left in the world. What makes us think that we will always have more time? What makes us believe that there will come a perfect day when we will feel better and stronger and bolder… and only when the day comes, then we can offer more of ourselves and our love to the one that deserves it? How do we know that this perfect day will ever come? And even if this perfect day does come to us, what makes us think that the one we love will still be around?

One day, you’ll understand that I-miss-you is actually one of the saddest words one could ever say to you. You used to blush and giggle to the sight or sound of the three words until you started to hear the unspoken words accompanying the three. I-miss-you means I-want-to-be-with-you (but I’m not). I-miss-you means I-want-things-to-go-back-the-way-they-used-to-be (but they’re not). I-miss-you means I-want-us-to-be-together (but we’re not). Now you realize that there are conscious options in every I-miss-yous; conscious options not to do something about it but simply saying it–though we know that we may not have more time.

The best I-miss-you one could ever get is the I-miss-you that is never spoken. Because the one who wants to be with you is there with you; the one who wants things to go back the way they used to be is currently making an effort to do so, and the one who wants the two of you to be together is sitting by your side: holding you as if it’s the most pressing thing in the world one is supposed to do.

Someone who loves you doesn’t need to hear a promise of forever-ever-after. Someone who loves you is not waiting to finally end up with the best version of yourself. Someone who loves you is not looking forward to the day when you can offer what you think she deserves.

Someone who loves you simply wants to be with you–for who you are, with all your flaws and imperfections, right here, right now. Someone who loves you simply wants to hold your hand and look into your eyes in silence and kiss you and smile at you with all of her being and tell you how much she feels for you, right here, right now. Someone who loves you knows that we have no idea about how much time we have left in the world, and precisely because of that, someone who loves you makes a brave and conscious option to spend that time with none other but you: right here, right now.

So be here. So be there.

hanny
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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.

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 judgments 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.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a novel by Lewis Carroll

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 transform 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 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 to point you out to your desired direction. There are times in life when you’re kind of floating in the middle, not sure 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 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.

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photo credit: DC Ross via photopin cc

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 pull you in like gravity, nostalgia from a somewhat familiar smell and scent, and a 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 on 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 on 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 in the first place, like a parent, a best friend, or a boyfriend: the people who stay where they are when you hop on yet another plane. They may not understand, 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 on 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 by 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 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.

photo credit: geishaboy500 via photopin cc
hanny
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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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